The Other Freestyle: Recovering 80s Latin Dance Music

I was wandering through a street fair off Canal Street a few years ago when I came across a stand selling bootleg CDs of hip-hop, rock, and many other genres.  The discs were mixes, rather than outright copies of already-released albums.  I had, of course, seen both in Manhattan, having picked up a $6 copy of Beck’s Guero on Varick Street and some amazing, educational anthologies of bossa nova and Americana near St. Mark’s Place in years past.  I did not know what I was in for when I visited this vendor, though. One CD was labeled Best of Freestyle.  Though I did not recognize the names – Nice N Wild, Sa Fire, Freeze – I assumed they must be old-school rappers of hip-hop’s golden age, … [Read more...]

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

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...]

Greenberg to Koufax to Valenzuela: Ethnicity, Identity, and Baseball in “Chasing Dreams”

The 1965 World Series would prove groundbreaking. It marked the first time that two professional baseball teams from west of the Mississippi – the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins – competed for Major League Baseball’s title. More importantly, it was the stage upon which Sandy Koufax weaved the narrative of his greatness and by extension highlighted Jewish America’s connection to the national pastime. Having sat out Game 1 due to its falling on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and then struggling through a less-than-stellar Game 2 outing, Koufax bounced back with magisterial performances in Game 5 and the now-famous Game 7 in which he pitched a complete game shutout, striking out … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part IV: Compton as bellwether for urban America

Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance of “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright”, with its #BlackLivesMatter theme and political overtones, struck a chord with many viewers. In a night of standout performances including the Lady Gaga tribute to the late great David Bowie and the John Legend/Demi Lovato led multi-artist homage to the artistry of Lionel Richie, Lamar sent a clear message to viewers in an election year in which the African American electorate – both in the democratic primaries and general election – will exert a pronounced influence on the ultimate result. More so in regard to his second album, good kid, m.A.A.d.city, but to some extent his first, Section 80 as well, Lamar’s own … [Read more...]

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

“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...]

Privatizing the All Volunteer Army: Gender and Families in the 1990s and Early Aughts

[Editor's note: This is the final installment in ToM's three part series on social welfare policies in the All Volunteer Army using Jennifer Mittelstadt's new book The Rise of the Military Welfare State as our guide. Parts I and II can be read here and here.] In his assessment of post-1945 army housing, the late military historian William C. Baldwin pointed out that programs aimed at increasing housing stock for military households often followed trends in private sector. So when privatization and deregulation emerged as central themes in government run housing programs and elsewhere in the 1990s, the military soon followed. For our purposes and because we will return to it later, … [Read more...]

Feminism, Evangelicalism, and Social Welfare in Ronald Reagan’s Military: Part II of Jennifer Mittelstadt and The Rise of the Military Welfare State

[Editor's note: This is part II of ToM's three part series on the AVF via Jennifer Mittelstadt's recent work The Rise of the Military Welfare State. Part I can be read here.] Even as governor of California, Ronald Reagan had celebrated military service. He held up the Vietnam War as “a noble cause,” wrote Edmund Morris in his biography of the president, “every returning serviceman, dead, alive, or drug addicted, a hero. He held prayer breakfasts for them, and celebratory receptions for as many as he could crowd around his hearth.”[1] Moreover, like Milton Friedman and others, he questioned the validity of the draft. “Why can’t we evolve a program of voluntary service? I don’t want the … [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)

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...]

ToM’s Cultural Christmas Hits

Well, it’s that time of year again. If you’re Protestant or Catholic, you struggle with the stresses of finding presents and slogging time with that uncle/aunt that stalks your nightmares. “Please God, don’t let me have to discuss geopolitical politics with Uncle Lew.” For those of you outside the Christian faith, you get to endure endless commercialized ritual-as-holiday, hoping your kids don’t demand the latest version of Guitar Hero or the Star Wars BladeBuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber in emulation of their gentile peers. Conversely, you also get to listen to some folks blather on about the "War on Christmas," the most unlikely of figurative or literal conflicts known to Westerndom. No … [Read more...]

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Millennial

Occasionally, when I’m speaking to a class of 100 18-year-olds, I make the mistake of referring to them as millennials. Then it occurs to me: these people might not even be millennials at all. Their first memories are of 9/11, if even that. (It used to be that students’ first memories were of the OJ trial or the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics. Time passes). They weren’t old enough to vote when Barack Obama was first elected. In short, they are very far from the same age cohort I’m in. Of course, the peculiarly American obsession with generations is, as Henry Ford might have said, bunk. We obsess over generations the way we obsess over decades, as if either one was a self-evidently … [Read more...]