Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Public Art Now

Greetings, greetings.  I write again from my couch, my after hours desk since the armchair is for work hours and the dining table is a carnival of mask sewing and letter writing.  I should give you a proper update on COVID-19 (it's bad) but I can't just now because I've had a question rattling around in my head for a few days and last night my subconscious presented me with an answer.

Right now across the U.S. and parts of the globe, the outrage for how people of color have been treated is manifesting in many ways, including in the form of response to public art, or visual culture if you will.  And it is happening in so many places and in so many ways it is hard to keep track, but most notably the statue in Richmond Virginia of Robert E. Lee has been the spectacular canvas for uncommissioned public art (some call it graffiti) as well as project images at nighttime.  This statue, just this afternoon of July 1, 2020, has been taken down. 

In the past weeks, several public sculptures of conquerors/colonialists/lost causes/racism have been taken down in public acts of protest.  The dialog on social media has been fascinating as people advocate/complain/try to digest/explain.  The comment that has stuck in brain though:  Did you ever learn anything from a statue?  Forgive me poster of this question, I'll try to track you down but I foolishly relied on my ever overburdened brain bank to remember who posed the question.  The question really stuck with me though--I've been mulling it over for a few days because part of the question also involved the aspect of what did you learn from the statue itself, not from any signage or plaques on/nearby? 

So first, shaking down the memory bank.  Sculpture.  Have a seen a sculpture recently?  My most recent specific "going to a sculpture"activity was waaaayy back in early C19 times, before the shelter in place order, when a good friend and I agreed to meet for a walk on a rainy afternoon on a nearby famous campus and she famously said "I'll meet you at the Gates of Hell."  This particular nearby campus is known for being awash in Rodin, so we had plenty of sculptures by him to review, including aforementioned Gates of Hell.

But what did I know of that giant sculpture, and did I really stand to interpret it, before immediately seguing into gossip with my pal and steering her toward what I wanted to see, the Arizona garden?  Reader, I did not.

So I had to work my brain a little harder.   Sculpture, sculpture.  Fountains probably don't count in this in moment, and I've only seen the Trevi fountain in pictures, anyway.  Sculpture....and suddenly I was awake at 2 a.m. and rush of memories came back in surprising detail.

My first year at San Jose State University was luckily the same year that the monumental sculpture of Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos was unveiled on campus.   I had not known prior to accepting the position at SJSU that the world famous image of Smith and Carlos and Peter Norman on the medals podium, Smith and Carlos barefoot, each with one hand gloved and raised in protest, heads bowed as the national anthem played, was a watershed image in civil rights and university history.  But I was there that fall day on campus when this huge, literally larger than life sculpture by Rigo23 was unveiled and the two men who had taken their moment of triumph on the world stage to speak for others were there to see it, almost 40 years after.   Interestingly, the presence of the sculpture on the campus was due to student activism--initially when the student athletes, who were part of the famed Coach Bud Winter Speed City track team, returned to campus, they were not warmly welcomed by parts of the community by their actions were defended by President Robert Clark. 

But to get back to the statue--to see this representation of the two Black athletes, the details true to life through the use of 3D scanning technology to create the ceramic tiles mounted on a steel frame and the faces made of bronze.  If you look closely at pictures or get to see it in person--what do you see?  It is more than raised fists--it is the button they are both wearing for the Olympic Project for Human Rights, it is also the fact they are barefoot, taking their shoes off to represent the poverty and injustices faced by Black people in the late 1960s.  I know these details because I was there to see the statue unveiled, to hear both men talk about their lived experiences, and then to have it be part of my work life landscape, a gathering place, a destination, a reminder. 

As Maureen Margaret Smith writes in her article "Frozen Fists in Speed City" the sculpture represents many things to many people.  For the University as an entity, the opportunity to show delayed respect to students that went on to become civil rights icons, and in that moment of commitment would lose countless financial opportunities for sports celebrity.  I recommend reading the autobiographies of both John Carlos and Tommie Smith for how they have negotiated their legacy and their current work.

I can't let this discussion go by without mention of Dr. Harry Edwards, whose name I did not know that fall day in 2005, but would come to know in 2016 when this organizer of the Olympic Project for Human Rights came to campus to initiate the process of donating his archives to the SJSU Library.  Nowhere on the sculpture do you see the name Dr. Harry Edwards, but he played a pivotal role not only in this protest but in protests that have happened in the past fifty years where people who use their bodies to play the sports, win the races, make the points are not respected off the field. 

Ok, I'm a little tired and I'm not doing justice to this topic at the moment, revisions to come in the next draft.  But think about it--what have you learned from a sculpture? 

Further reading:
Beyond Bronze

Smith, Maureen Margaret. "Frozen Fists in Speed City: The Statue as Twenty-First-Century Reparations." Journal of Sport History 36, no. 3 (2009): 393-414. Accessed July 1, 2020.

Fifty years later, Peter Norman’s heroic Olympic stand is finally being recognised at home.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Crime and Comparison

Greetings from my living room, where it is a sunny morning.  Mr. Bookcharmer has taken the stairs to his office and I'll commence working downstairs after this post and my second cup of coffee.  There is so much to say about the pandemic, but I have two points to make today. 

I had been waiting since the beginning of 45's "presidency" for the moment when he would simply give up and walk away, publicly and on camera, from responsibility.  I knew it would happen, and Monday May 8th it did.  It has been well documented by the world's press that after three female journalists asked him actual questions instead of letting his gaslighting continue that he turned his back and walked off.  Let's have a few descriptions of the event, The Intercept covered it well:

"The president’s meltdown came after Jiang put him on the spot by asking him why he was boasting about the United States having now performed more coronavirus tests than any other nation. “Why does that matter?” she asked. “Why is this global competition to you if every day Americans are still losing their lives and we’re still seeing more cases every day?”

The president responded by lashing out at the Chinese-American reporter from West Virginia, telling her, nonsensically, that she should “ask China” her question about his obsession with testing statistics. Trump then tried to end the exchange by calling on Collins for a new question, as the White House staff cut off the mic so that Jiang’s response could not be heard, but the CNN reporter waited for her colleague from CBS to get a chance to follow up.

Jiang — who was the target of a racist joke by a White House official in March — pressed Trump on the thinly veiled racism of his reply. “Sir, why are you saying that to me, specifically, that I should ask China?” she asked, after the mic had been reactivated. After Trump replied by claiming that he would say the same “to anybody that asks a nasty question like that,” he pointed at Collins and said, “Please go ahead.”

Collins, however, again waited for Jiang to finish, which she did, by saying, “That’s not a nasty question. Why does it matter?”

Trump then tried to punish Collins by skipping her and calling on Alcindor to ask the next question instead. When Collins objected, “but you called on me,” Trump said, “I did and you didn’t respond, and now I’m calling on the young lady in the back.”

Alcindor wrote later on Twitter that instead of jumping in, she gestured at Collins to proceed. When she tried to, after saying, “I just wanted to let my colleague finish,” Trump threw up his hands in frustration, declared the event over and turned on his heels."

See the whole piece at

So there it was, the public moment of walking away from his sworn duty.  What I found interesting is that no one in his office dared to step up to the podium and try to rescue the moment.  No "let me take that question" or "let's take a break and resume."  Nope.  That's it, just walking away.

In contrast, here in California, Governor Gavin Newsom gives a daily livestreamed press conference.  He speaks on the latest statistics and plans, turns the microphone over to experts for them to speak on topics of their speciality, and follows up with questions.  I'll confess I am agog over this Governor who speaks with gravity and concern each day and can answer any question with confidence and absolutely no aggression.  Questions clearly designed to provoke him are me with a slight nod and an even tempered response. 

So among the many questions buzzing in my head:  how and why can things be so different on opposite sides of my country.  Both 45 and California's governor are white men.  Both are business men.  Both have families.  Yet one flees from hard questions and one submits to them gracefully.

I recently finished reading Robert Caro's memoir Working and am planning to get my hands on his book The Power Broker.  At this time, as at all times, the understanding of power, and how power is gained and wielded has profound consequences for our ourselves and our communities.

Ok, coffee's finished and I need to commute to the other side of the living room to my work set-up.  'Til next time, your Bookcharmer.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Shelter in Place

I don't think I've posted in quite such an of the moment moment before, but today's announcement from the County of Santa Clara has me feeling the need to document this...moment?  More the feeling.  I've been feeling ok about all the shelter in place/work from home/don't go nowhere--a little concerned but mostly ok.

Today's press release highlights just how very serious this situation is:

Through May 3rd 2020

"Use of playgrounds, dog parks, public picnic areas, and similar recreational areas is prohibited. These areas must be closed to public use.
Use of shared public recreational facilities such as golf courses, tennis and basketball courts, pools, and rock walls is prohibited. These facilities must be closed for recreational use.
Sports requiring people to share a ball or other equipment must be limited to people in the same household
Requires essential businesses to develop a social distancing protocol before April 3
Most construction—residential and commercial—is prohibited
Funerals limited to no more than 10 people attending
Essential businesses expanded to include service providers that enable residential transactions (notaries, title companies, Realtors, etc.); funeral homes and cemeteries; moving companies, rental car companies and rideshare services that specifically enable essential activities
Essential businesses that continue to operate facilities must scale down operations to their essential component only

Social distancing is the most powerful tool to slow the spread of COVID-19, a virus so new that it has no approved medicines or vaccines"

First I have to say a respectful thank you to the county health officers and other local government leaders who are laying forth this plan.  It won't make you popular but it will save lives.  People are struggling with this new not normal and the fallout is seen on social media posts and other places online where people can comment freely. 

No approved medicines or vaccines.  In a country where many people are conditioned to work when they are sick, staying home while healthy to prevent being sick is proving difficult, as is for many the need to stay away from beloved institutions be they coffee shops or bookstores.  We worry about how to protect what may already be gone. 

So I'm sitting with the gravity of this message.  I know it is for the absolute best and I'm deeply grateful to the people making these firm and must be regarded regulations.  But the seriousness does raise the hair on the back of my neck, too.  No vaccines, no approved medicines.  Add on to that the lack of sufficient medical equipment no wonder that preventing the spread of COVID-19 is a vital strategy.

The dominant American culture I have experienced/witnessed  is one of ambition and busyness.  Work hard, stay busy, plan, thrive, excel...we have been on the go with our commuter mugs, incredibly long commutes, and not taking vacation days.  What we do for work has often defined us as who we are as individuals.

Taking a moment to pause here and think about the context for this, feeling again the tension of gratitude for people with the knowledge and foresight in my county and state who are willing to throw this blanket of protection over us and fear for the other parts of the country whose leaders did not/could not/would not. 

To my California governor and my Santa Clara County leaders...thank you. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Abundance of Caution

It was breathtaking how fast we went from events being cancelled out of "an abundance of caution" to county then state wide shelter in place order.  Really fast. 

The past three months, the end of 2019 and the insanity that has been the beginning of 2020--I lived every day of it, awake and aware mostly except for some nyquil filled nights at the end of December and end of January when I had flu then a bad cold.  But the bad news went whizzing by too fast to make sense of it.  I kept thinking "I'll write when things have settled down, when I can look back and make sense of things."


I have no explanations, only evidence of the wide range of human behavior ranging from absymal to typical to heartwarming to sublime.  Unfortunately, the actions of the abysmal threaten to overwhelm the typical, the heartwarming, and certainly the sublime.

A virus called COVID-19 that is making its way around the globe has stopped all kinds of everyday life and sent into hyperdrive the necessary actions of healthcare workers.  Mr. Bookcharmer and I are both working from home, and the cat couldn't be happier.  We are profoundly grateful to be home together and have elbow room and bandwidth for work to happen and enjoy online socializing with friends. Our immediate families seem to be safe and secure...and so we wait.

To do nothing, to stay home, to keep to ourselves.  Perfect for homebodies such as ourselves, but we don't have kids to get through school or small businesses to run or other outside responsibilities. 

I have long recalled Stephen Jay Gould's observation about Americans' lack of scientific literacy.  He described it as if you offered someone a chocolate truffle, and the person ate the wrapper instead of the chocolate.  I enjoy his perspective on science--that it is so fascinating, so fantastic, that there is no need to make things up.  The lack of funding for all kinds of education is sadly evident and will become more painfully so in the coming weeks, but the lack of education in science and the gatekeeping of access to higher education is but one chasm we will all face in trying to get over all the hurdles COVID-19 is about to put in front of us.

There have been many sickening scandals brought to light in the past 18 to 24 months, more than one person can reasonably have been expected to keep track of but here is one recently come to light that I feel the need to document.  Remember that thing called insider trading, that congresspeople aren't supposed to do?  That Martha Stewart went to prison for doing?  Well.  I"m just copypasting from the Mother Jones website because I can't think of reasonable language to describe the following:

"Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) denied he had done anything wrong by dumping stocks days before the market crashed due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, Burr and two other Republican senators were revealed to have sold millions of dollars in stock in late January and early February, around the time members of Congress began receiving in-depth briefings on the potentially cataclysmic effects of the outbreak. Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, sold between $628,000 and $1.7 million in publicly traded stocks—and didn’t buy any new ones—starting on February 13....On Thursday, the Daily Beast also reported that Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and her husband—Jeffrey C. Sprecher, who is chair of the New York Stock Exchange—may have made improper trades. Starting on January 24, the day the committee she chairs received a briefing on the coronavirus, Loeffler and Sprecher reported they made 24 stock sales, worth millions. The couple also made only two purchases, including buying shares in Citrix, a company that specializes in telework software."

Oh, another one I can't let pass by without mention:  the 45th president felt it important to spring Former Governor and convicted felon Ron Blagojevitch from prison early.  Yes, of all the people justly imprisoned, 45 wanted Blagojevitch loose. 

Oh, and the House impeached 45 but the Senate did not.  Adam Schiff's speeches on the floor of the House should go down in history, as should the vote of Mitt Romney, but the obsequious forgiveness of the rest of the Senate....

So that's where we are today.  I can't make sense out of any of it. 

However, you and I will have some time to think about things since we aren't going to the movies or dance class or even the car wash. 

Let's fill our brains with some good music in the meanwhile.  I'm over the moon for the Folk on Foot podcast and I just discovered the archives of concerts on the Caffe Lena youtube channel

Stay home, wash your hands, and be well.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Everything Matters

Reader, I don't want to imagine worse for our world then what is happening now:  the most devastating of hurricanes, continuing gun violence, world governments in chaos from Hong Kong to the U.K. to right here at home.  However, if Game of Thrones and 2019 have taught us anything it is to be prepared for yet another turn for the worse.

I'm here to tell you two things:  Everything matters and I'm still optimistic.

First of all in the Everything Matters category--don't you listen to anybody, including yourself, if you hear it doesn't matter what we do.  Everything matters.  Every moment.  Every opportunity you have to refuse plastic, walk or bike or take public transit, to connect with someone, to offer kindness.  To be humane.  It is the everyday practice of humane acts that is going to pull us out of this dreadful situation.  Go new places.  Tip generously.  Give money and time.  And talk.

That gets at the second thing:  I have finished reading Rising out of Hatred:  The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow.  This is a well written book, a testament to Saslow's skill as a journalist.  The heart of his investigation is the mental shift experienced by a young man who had been raised in a community of white nationalists, even raised to be a leader in that community.  He grew up as Derek Roland Black and in his experience of attending a small college in Florida he met other young people who not only challenged his views but embraced him and never gave up on him.  I am awed by their intellectual rigor, stamina, and determination.  I remember lots of long conversations in college, but ultimately we all retreated to our own corners and more firmly grasping what we brought to the conversation.  Granted, most of of were pretty liberal to begin with so our conversations were not nearly as intense as the ones recorded by Saslow.  I recommmend you read the book to see the process that unfolds--how a campus community becomes the location of a life changing dialogue.  It will remind that in the end, all we have is each other and that can be more than enough. Hate can be learned and unlearned.

In closing, I am remembering to tell you about a third thing everyone should know about:  the 1619 project.  This is a monumental piece of work that first appeared in the New York Times and is available full text along with curriculum materials at 

Read it, share it, think about it.  It isn't too early to be planning an awkward Thanksgiving!

Kidding, but only sort of.  Things will only get better when we face down and get through the awkward moments and learn to work together, get together, get along.  Denial and lies do not bring truth and without truth there will be no lasting peace.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dealing with 2019

Dear Reader,

I assume that you may also be experiencing the sensation of being appalled at a disorienting speed.  But I'm checking in to remind you that we are almost halfway through 2019 and while we need all the time and energy we can muster to turn out progressive Democratic candidates in 2020 and get them elected in record numbers I suspect that many among us want to fast forward to a better future and be done with this mess called 2019.  So take the time to celebrate the wins and be energized by them.  Here is my current list of groups that you should know about to stay informed and galvanized: 

Sister District: Wow, do I appreciate this group.  Their mission is specific and strategic and successful:  identify candidates running for state legislatures that will flip a state from red to blue.  Go check out their candidates!  This group also activates communities through postcarding, phone banking, and other creative projects that bring people together. 

Raices: an important refugee aid project in Texas that assists refugees seeking asylum.  Please support them financially if you can as well as signal boosting their efforts as widely as possible. 

Mueller She Wrote:  Thank goodness for this website and podcast--it is the sanity saving breakdown of news that will make you laugh and help you temper your outrage into action.  Love.This. Podcast.  These fine women have been tracking the Mueller Report for over two years so you have a lot to catch up on but you'll love every minute.  Right now they are providing the community service of reading every unredacted line of the Mueller Report so that is a good way to digest this long and significant document. 

Those are 3 groups that help keep me sane and grounded.  What do you recommend? 

Part of what makes this time so turbulent and perplexing is that there are some solid wins contrasting with the abysmal news that can feel overwhelming.  What is this world that can celebrate the (underpaid!)  USWNT winning the world championship while the Current Occupant of the White House is embroiled in truly repulsive lawsuits regarding sexual abuse of _young women_ which is so profoundly upsetting I can't even type about it here but if you need the details find a reputable news outlet and search the names Epstein and Acosta but warning:  you will be enraged.

If you are already outraged or freshly outraged, let's level up together.  Don't get stuck, don't get burned out because there are some important things to celebrate.

Let's focus on the one and only Megan Rapinoe of the USWNT and her galvanizing speech, watch the whole thing here:

Highlights of her speech:

“This is my charge to everyone. We have to be better. We have to love more, hate less. We’ve got to listen more and talk less. We’ve got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility, every single person here, every single person who is not here, every single person who doesn’t want to be here, every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree, it’s our responsibility to make this world a better place.”

Get yourself your favorite snack of choice, container of ice cream or huge bowl of popcorn and have a youtube party of the USWNT parade, rewatch those winning shots, and revel in the image of Megan Rapinoe with her arms spread wide in celebration or holding a trophy in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other.

And grin widely at the women and men at the parades and speeches chanting "Equal Pay!"

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Furlough, Flickr, and the Future

Well it's 2019, where to start?

I write at a time when the Federal Government has resumed after an entirely nonsensical shut down orchestrated by the most useless of electeds.  I write to praise speaker Nancy Pelosi for galvanizing the democrats and standing strong against the entirely useless idea of a border wall. 

When the government was shut down for some 35 days, I was reminded of the dispiriting days of 2008 when the state of California furloughed employees for 2 days a month, resulting in a ten percent salary cut.  Besides the pressure of completing the same work in less time and getting paid less for it, I recall the bitter taste of disrespect for my work as a librarian and a university employee.  I can't imagine being a federal employee who does critical work for agencies like NASA, the EPA, the Coast Guard for goodness sake, and being told not to come to work.  The government of people you serve that need you can't see its way past compromise and negotiation. 

Again I say praise to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who it seems is one of the few people in national leadership who has the temperament and presence of mind to reject the idiotic demands of the current occupant of the White House. I am encouraged by the number and quality of women elected to national office in this election cycle.  It is hard to be patient at this time for change at a time when issues like the environment, homelessness, and public health are such significant problems.  When will we learn?  When will be do better by our own country?

The future is a bit on my mind lately because I have to take a close look at some images of the recent past.  My once beloved Flickr is finally admitting that hey, endless free digital storage isn't really going to supported by some advertisements.  Back in the day I adored Flickr and I don't regret any of the time I spent there--I saw so many beautiful photos there and I know that my photographic activity and skills improved as a result.  I loved the "groups" where I could happily admire photos of flowers, dogs, buildings, and photo styles.  But the time to pay the digital piper has come, and I either have to pony up and pay for a subscription or lose easy access to about 5,000 photos.  Sure, I have the digital photo cards, but am I going to reload them somewhere else?

It is an odd thing to curate your memories--sure, I've sorted through the odd box of old letters or postcards before moving and deciding which ones to keep, but to suddenly start looking at 5,000 some memories of the past ten years?  They aren't physical objects so I can't do the "spark joy" test (google Marie Kondo if you don't get that) but there sure are a lot of memories and experiences recorded in these digital objects.

It makes me think about where our country will be in the next ten years.  Despite the incredible tools for planning, documentation, and communication that have been deployed in the past ten years, there is so much work to be done in terms of equality, equity, and compassion in building a peaceful and healthy environment. 

So, signing off now to begin my attempt at sorting my personal digital archive...but as usual I will direct you to some good projects to support:

As always I recommend Donors Choose, and here is a classroom my family is supporting: because National Poetry Month is around the corner:

And also, take time for an in person or virtual visit to National Museum of African American History and Culture, who is leading the way in using physical and digital objects to learn from the past: and click on their Donate page while you are there!