Monthly Archives: April 2014

Review: The Mind at Work

The Mind at Work

The Mind at Work

Reading the first chapter of The Mind at Work by Mike Rose convinced me that I had to write a review. A waitress describing how she liked being busy, how when tasks started to pile up she would get in the groove and do her best work. I spent a dozen years as an automobile mechanic and that statement exactly mirrors my experience.

So much in the book rang true about my years of experience in the world of “unskilled” work. Workers who co-operate in spite of pay sachems set up to make them competitors. Young workers learning their tools so well that they become extensions of their hands. Learning to handle variations in routine jobs like those caused by rusted and corroded bolts. Mike Rose understands the connection between hands and the mind. He sees that jobs our culture assumes to be mindless in fact require a great deal of thought and skill. I abandoned auto repair as the way I made my living after I grew tired of people dismissing me after seeing my callused and stained hands. More people than the educators that Rose wrote it for should read this book.

My one issue with the book is a few undocumented quotes. One from labor historian David Montgomery I would have liked to look up. Of course what I see as a lack of documentation could just be the oversensitivity of an over fifty undergraduate student.

(Rewritten from my original posted to LibraryThing March 2008)

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Review: An Idea Whose Time has Come

Todd Purdum's An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Todd Purdum’s An Idea Whose Time Has Come

This year, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Todd Purdum’s book “An Idea Whose Time has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964” examines the efforts made by the White House and congress to pass, and to stop, the bill. Journalist Purdum’s work is strong support for the argument that the best training for writing history is to write the news.

Knowing some of the history can add to the narrative. A Republican Congressman, working with Kennedy on the early stages of the Civil Rights Bill, tells a friend that he plans to ask Kennedy for help acquiring a NASA electronics research facility for Purdue. He says “My inclination is to talk to the president personally, but he left Washington this morning for a trip to Texas”. While not every line in the book gives the punch to the stomach that one does it is overflowing with evidence that “The past is a foreign country”. Fiscal conservatives opposing a tax cut because it is too expensive? Democrats and Republicans working together for the good of the nation? Politicians voting their conscious? It tempts the reader into nostalgia for the “good old days” until Purdum points out that as the Senate debated the bill the FBI dispatched hundreds of agents to search for three missing Freedom Summer volunteers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman.

Many of the names were familiar to me because the players were active well into the 1970s, a few into the 80s. Even though their actions were unfamiliar, their names were not. I was seven when the events took place. Purdum includes background on the major players which was helpful in understanding the beliefs and experiences that they brought with them to the debate. He also spent time explaining how they fared after the bill passed. These details were both helpful and informative to me and I suspect that any reader younger than me will feel the same.

Purdum’s book covers important events in our nation’s history and manages to make the story as readable as a novel. If you believe politics never changes you must read this book and see just how much change the last half century has brought.

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The Taft Museum and Cincinnati’s Conventions

Taft Museum building

Taft Museum

I have lived within fifty miles of Cincinnati my entire life and several years ago, while I was finishing my degree at Miami University, I learned to respect local history. Nothing can put you in the presence of history as fully as being where the history took place. Jill Lepore, Harvard professor and author put it much better than I can, “Studying history is like time travel, that way. It brings you someplace else, some time else. I mostly feel that way—transported—when I’m in the archives, when I open up a box of someone’s papers, pull out a folder, and begin reading something someone wrote, a long time ago, on a piece of paper. I get that feeling in other places, too. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt closer to the past than when standing at the end of the Long Wharf, in Boston, with my students, looking across the harbor, and across the sea, talking about how many days on board ship it would have taken for a Tory to get home in the last days before the American Revolution began.” (1)

But I have to confess that I haven’t I visited all the local history sites. I can’t say that I don’t know about them, most of them anyway. I have known about the Taft Museum for most of my life but, as much as I enjoy museums of all sorts any reason I might come up with would only be an excuse. My first visit was March 15th of this year and I wish I had not waited so long.

The house, the museum building, was built, as best can be determined, around 1820 by Martin Baum. The next owner was Nicholas Longworth, a man that worked hard to establish a wine industry in the United States. He hired an African-American painter, Robert S. Duncanson, to paint murals in the homes entrance way. This was during the era when Dr. Daniel Drake was working to bring quality medical education to the city and Cincinnati was on the borderlands between slavery and freedom. I am sure Longworth endured criticism for entrusting his home’s appearance to someone not white. Anyone privileged with an invitation into his home would have seen that he made the right choice.

David Sinton was the buildings next owner. His daughter, Anna, married Charles Phelps Taft in 1873 and they lived in her childhood home until their deaths in the 1931 (her) and 1929. (him) They left the house to the city of Cincinnati for use as a museum. It opened a year later in 1932. Today, the museum is rightfully proud of their African American artist in residence program. This has to be in honor of Duncanson whose amazing murals still adorn the entrance way. As it turns out one of the paintings I had been admiring a few weeks earlier in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art was by Duncanson. The Tafts traveled the world as wealthy art collectors during the Gilded Age. They had exquisite taste, by which I mean they loved the same shades of blue as my wife.

In 1908 Charles Taft’s half brother accepted his party’s nomination for president of the United States on the Taft Museum’s front porch. A few blocks away the first presidential nominating convention outside the original colonies was held in Cincinnati at the Smith Nixon Piano Company. I have to assume that their building included a performance hall. The convention was an interesting affair with armed men breaking into the hall at one time and insisting they be seated as delegates from Missouri. The Official Proceedings were published and are available on Google Books. Delegates from California participated for the first time in choosing a presidential candidate. Travel was a little different then, they sailed to Nicaragua, took a railroad across to the Gulf, sailed to New Orleans, then took a steamboat to Cincinnati. When they reached their decision Buchanan was notified at his home in New York by the very latest in communications technology, telegraph.

Rutherford B. Hayes was nominated in 1876 by the Republican Party during a convention held in Cincinnati’s Exposition Hall. I am looking for proof that this was the same hall built on what is now Washington Park for the World Industrial Expositions, early international trade fairs which were popular in that time. Four years later the Democrats nominated Winfield S. Hancock in a convention held at our Music Hall. In 1892 it was the Prohibition Party that used Music Hall to hold its convention. They nominated John Bidwell and he got the most votes any Prohibition Party candidate ever earned, 270, 770. When the Progressive Party nominated John La Follette in their 1924 convention held in Cincinnati I can only guess that they also used Music Hall. I understand that the Republican Party is considering Cincinnati for its next convention. It won’t be in Music Hall but it would bring even more history to the city.

 

1. http://teachinghistory.org/issues-and-research/roundtable-response/24063

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Review: The Bald Headed Hermit and the Artichoke

The Hermit & Artichoke an Erotic Thesaurus

The Hermit & Artichoke an Erotic Thesaurus

    When I first heard the title of this book, The bald-headed hermit and the artichoke, before I ever knew what it was, it brought a smile to my face. When I saw the full title, The bald-headed hermit and the artichoke : an erotic thesaurus, I realized that it was not just my dirty mind, the title did have hidden meaning. Not well hidden, but hidden. I was curious but unwilling to spend money to satisfy my curiosity. I waited several years before i found the book on PaparBackSwap.Com. Honestly it was worth the wait.

    Naughty language is, lets be honest, colorful. Any heterosexual male knows how to draw attention to a thing of beauty, “Look at that (singular noun) or look at those (any plural noun)”  But there are entire vocabularies of naughtiness outside the realm on hetero males. They are in here and they are entertaining, educational, very colorful, and not for the prudish.

    The book and some of its reviews make claims of scholarship but the inclusion of a scattering of small poorly reproduced photos exposes that as a lie, at least in my opinion. The book is no more scholarly, or less entertaining than Charles Funk’s collection of old sayings, “A Hog on Ice and Other Curious Expressions”.

    Of course if you are easily offended you should not bother with this book, it is also definitely not suitable for most workplaces. However, if you need just the right word to express your disgust with a scatological turn of phrase or want to exactly express your admiration for an anatomical specimen of any gender then this is the book for you.

* I originally wrote this review for LibraryThing.com in August of last year. I did some rewriting and am posting it here now because, honestly, when my wife is out of town I barely function.

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