Thursday, July 31, 2014

Band Review: From The Sticks

From The Sticks was pretty fun listening. Their songs are catchy, and there's a sort of a stripped down pub feeling to them. The music works for socializing.

I had been through the music alone three times before I checked out the videos, and I felt like those were lacking. There are creative effects used in the videos for "DMT" and "Ocean Flaws", but they don't feel very substantial, and then wondering if the videos sold the songs short, I started thinking that maybe the songs weren't very substantial. Then a slow and quiet cover of Blink-182's "Dammit" seemed to confirm that.

I started thinking of the band as more bubblegum music, but there are two important things about that. One is that the music in no way feels manufactured or canned, which is really important. The other factor is that I hadn't been thinking that until I saw the videos, so just listening to the music does not give the same impression, even though you would probably still describe the music as light and fun. "Boom Boom" may be the vest example of that vibe.

I do think there is room for some additional heft to the music, but not everything has to be heavy. I know the word "pop" has taken on a lot of negative connotations, but if we were back in the time where it wasn't an insult, I would call this likable pop. Ska fans should probably check it out as well.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I won't shut up

It's funny how things work out. As I was writing yesterday's post, which along with the post before that was inspired by Stephen A Smith continuing to be awful, after I had already written about that, I was getting to the part about constant comments to women in general to shut up. I wondered if I should elaborate on that, and was thinking of different examples, but decided not to. Suddenly, one of my examples went live again.

Just to be clear, I don't expect that anyone is going to quit being awful because of my writing. I don't have a big enough audience for that, and people with much larger audiences don't really get anywhere either. I just mention it because sometimes I worry that I repeat myself, but I see now that everyone else is too.

Let's talk about general admonitions to shut up. Yes, I knew about Justin Lookadoo spouting off that "dateable" girls know when to shut up, and I found that easy to ignore because he is so ridiculous, and the kids he was speaking to knew it. And Steven L Anderson, best known for praying for the president's death, but also known for feeling that women even saying "Amen" in church is too much expressing their opinions, how can you take him seriously?

It started to get to me as I was thinking about a specific young girl's problem, and how everything she says is discounted by the people she needs help from, and I was thinking about it on a day when I had read about another conservative leader saying something about women needing to be quiet.

I can't find that article and who it was. It was not about the GOP's newest attempts at strategy, where they need to connect with women on an emotional level instead of an intellectual level. I keep thinking of Phyllis Schlafly, but I think that was because she had said a different offensive thing that same day.

I shook the article off when I saw it, because it just wasn't that surprising, but then thinking about my friend, it doesn't matter that it's not surprising. It matters that it is so prevalent that people get silenced.

It happens to different groups, but it seems to happen to women most of all.

Women who point out structural problems get abuse rained down on them. I've been seeing a lot of that:

It comes from other women sometimes:

It comes to people from both genders who try and speak out about issues that disproportionately affect females:

And an example of it showed up in my timeline again, just as I had decided that I was not going to write about it. Therefore today I wrote this, and it is good that it is my day off, because it was getting really long. The example will wait until Monday. 

Edited to add, the article I could find was not about the Prime Minister of Turkey, but whoever it was, they could be friends:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Failure of imagination

I am a devout Mormon. I believe it, I live it, and I am in church on Sundays. In the Pacific Northwest, possibly as a reaction against all the hippies, it is common for church members to be politically conservative, though I am not. What I am getting at is that I frequently hear people whom I know to be very good people say horribly stupid and insensitive things.

I know this happens with other denominations too, and in other areas. I am not the most fun person to say something stupid around, so it could happen more too. And yes, some of them are not actually that good people, but for the ones who are, I really believe one issue is that their goodness limits their ability to imagine some kinds of badness.

For example, at one point there was some talk of kids these days, and that old chestnut was brought out about parents being too lenient, and how we were all spanked and turned out fine, but now everything is child abuse.

Yes, spanking was much more common when we were kids. I don't actually think that is the reason we turned out fine, but parents who were otherwise loving and nurturing who also spanked would not necessarily ruin a childhood.

That doesn't mean that there's no such thing as child abuse, and while they knew that on one level, I think there is also a failure to grasp that there are people who do not love and nurture their children like they will. When talking about a concept in the abstract, they imagine people like themselves, who are basically good.

I was thinking about this because of Stephen A Smith's apology, and especially Cari Champion's comments about his humanity and that wouldn't have been what he was trying to say. No, I still believe he really does believe that women provoke their abuse, and that his updated apology was still more about him and his good women than any changed understanding.

I do believe he is not likely to beat a woman, and so his coworkers can stand up for him -- he doesn't support domestic violence! However, maybe that is also why he finds it so easy to feel like the woman must have done something. He knows that Rice (and Mayweather and Chad Johnson) is a professional athlete with a powerful body who better know how to control his temper, but he still can't get away from wondering what she did.

Maybe Smith doesn't know what it is to have a bad temper that you have never learned to control because you get so much positive reinforcement, or you had it kind of controlled until the last concussion. He probably doesn't know what it is like to be a controlling abuser who knows how to spot vulnerable targets, isolate them, and put them through Hell, but that is something that happens. There are predators, and for a normal person, that is hard to imagine.

Perhaps it is a failure of empathy. It could be a scary thing to empathize with someone scary, but we don't even have to go there if we will allow ourselves to empathize with the victims by letting them talk. That's why it concerns me when there is so much focus on telling women to shut up.

And I know there are a lot of male victims of abuse, and I know there are a lot of attempts to silence minorities on the internet, though that seems to be especially women. I will probably spend more time on that, but the message for today is listen.

You do not know everything about the world or about everyone else's experience. You do not have to.

You do need to understand that you do not know it all, and you need to let other people have their own voice, like you get to have yours.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Stephen A Smith again

I take a long time to get to writing about things. This happens mainly because I always have other things to get to first, and it works for me because I don't want to be leaping to conclusions, so having time to reflect and consider strikes me as positive. Also, it does give people time to get into more trouble.

Wednesday I posted about Stephen A Smith's defense of Mark Cuban. That was in late May, so the dust should have been pretty well settled, but I kept seeing things about him, here and there. Some of that was his defense of Tony Dungy, but then things really exploded with his comments on Ray Rice's two-game suspension for knocking his then-fiancée unconscious. Smith put his foot in it, caught some blow-back, and continued digging deeper with his attempts to explain himself, and why he really didn't say anything awful; he had just been inarticulate.

By today there is a somewhat better apology with no explaining thrown in, which I suspect has happened because someone has told him it was necessary - he has the exact same demeanor that he had before. Still, I want to examine the original comments more closely, and I am doing this relatively promptly, which I know is unusual. Sorry for anyone who gets whiplash.

First of all, I want to thank for putting up a transcript. I had listened to the recording a few times, but there is a lot in there, and there are some actual problems with articulation - though not the ones Smith thinks he has - so having someone capture it in print is very helpful:

There are some interest points leading up to this. Last year Smith was able to interview Floyd Mayweather talk about how awful his 87 days in prison were, without asking about the battery domestic violence and harassment charges that got him there. Of course, other things he has said indicate that he found it hard to believe Mayweather's guilt. I mean, who ever heard of a boxer hitting someone?

I also want to reiterate he is always on the side of the structural power. Cuban's racism and Dungy's homophobia are understandable, and the big strong males who make millions of dollars well, maybe she's lying, or maybe she just had it coming. Okay, no, she didn't really have it coming, because that's a horrible thing, and it would be illegal, but she still started it.

Now, just for fun, the point by point analysis:

“We know you have no business putting your hands on a woman. I don’t know how many times I got to reiterate that. But-"

You will need to reiterate it at least once for every "but". When you say something true and follow it with "but", that's a pretty good indicator that crap is coming.

"as a man who was raised by women, see I know what I’m going to do if somebody touches a female member of my family. I know what I’m going to do, I know what my boys are going to do. I know what, I’m going to have to remind myself that I work for the Worldwide Leader, I’m going to have to get law enforcement officials involved because of what I’m going to be tempted to do."

As I condemn violence I admit my own proclivity for it, except that my violence will be in your defense, not against you. Me strong man! But I'm down with women; I was raised by one!

"But what I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family, some of who you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this what, I’ve done this all my life,"

He's really starting to stumble here, but I think he is saying that he has at times gotten female relatives jobs and his male cohorts have met them, which makes the upcoming reference to hands being put on women fascinating.

"let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions,"

Comment withheld at this time.

"because if I come, or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you."

Okay, this sounds to me like at least one of his relatives has been harassed in a job he has procured for her. I'm guessing more of a groping than a beating, but again, why is he making it about him riding to the defense?

"So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that that doesn’t happen."

But what about those men that are serial abusers?

“Now you got some dudes that are just horrible and they’re going to do it anyway,"

Thanks for noticing!

"and there’s never an excuse to put your hands on a woman."

I'm not sure why you would feel the need to say that, unless...

"But domestic violence or whatever the case may be, with men putting their hands on women, is obviously a very real, real issue in our society. And I think that just talking about what guys shouldn’t do, we got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn’t happen."

Is that with the horrible guys that would do it anyway, or...

"We know they’re wrong. We know they’re criminals. We know they probably deserve to be in jail. In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a 2-game suspension which we both acknowledged."

These would be much stronger statements without the "probably".

"But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation,"

It's not real, but study it. Why?

"you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way. And I don’t think that’s broached enough, is all I’m saying."

He's right. We spend far too much time talking about how people who make a living from violence for entertainment end up having violence spill into their personal lives, and way too much time talking about the objectification of women, or how people with wealth and fame abuse that. We totally need to spend more time talking about how you can prevent hair-trigger tempers from going off. There's not enough people talking about how women need to know when to shut their mouths.

"No point of blame.”

I am so glad you said that; I was totally confused.

And yet, I do not think Smith is really a bad person. I think he is sadly lacking in self-awareness, and kind of an idiot, but the mistakes he makes are really common ones, and make a lot of people feel really satisfied. "See? The black guy says it too!"

So he is a frustration, individually, but he is part of a larger systemic problem, and I'm still trying to wade through what I want to say about many things.

Anyway, here are some good links related to this story, and my original post.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Band Review: Black Sonic Revolver

Black Sonic Revolver is an independent band out of Manchester, and they stand as good representatives of one of my favorite music scenes. With a fairly minimalist set-up they deliver a rich sound that evokes a lot of classic rock and British Invasion sound.

The guitars sometimes seem a little fuzzy, and sometimes a little more jangle, but they always combine with the percussion and vocals in a way that gives the right groove. It's not that it would really serve as dance music (maybe "Play Along"), but it is good listening.

They were up for review a few months ago, it said they were supposed to come out with a new album on May 5th, so I put them on the back burner, checking periodically. Monday as I was selecting this week's bands the album was suddenly there, and had just gotten there, with a release date of June 21st, 2014. Sometimes things just work out.

B.S.R. is available via iTunes and Amazon, and can be previewed on Spotify.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Band Review: He Whose Ox Is Gored

He Whose Ox Is Gored is a four member band from Seattle, Washington.

While they would generally be considered a rock band, a friend of the band coined the term "Doomgaze", and that seems to fit the combination of heavy and introspective. They also reminded of Torche a bit, and sludge, but there are otherworldly elements that they introduce with synthesizers that make sludge not quite the right fit.

Songs border on the instrumental, with dramatic delivery. Their newest EP, with tracks "Nightshade" and "Charming the Snake", gives a good feel for the rest of the music. Music is available via Bandcamp, but the band is also touring now with dates primarily in the West. Tour dates can be found at

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


There are a lot of interesting things about what is going on with Sterling and the Clippers, which I may get back to. For now, I want to talk more about Mark Cuban and Stephen A Smith.

I do find it kind of interesting that there has been some concern about holding team owners to any expectations for how they conduct themselves, because it makes me wonder what would be found upon closer inspection, but that would just be speculation about rich people being awful; I'm not going to worry about that right now.

So let's just go right to the quote from Cuban's interview with

"If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it's late at night, I'm walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there's a guy that has tattoos all over his face, white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere, I'm walking back to the other side of the street, and the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of."

Let's break that down a bit. In the admittedly small group of people that I can think of with face tattoos, there's only one who does not have a prison record that I know of, and that's Lars Frederiksen of Rancid, whom you could reasonably describe as a hard-core punk rocker.

Frederiksen could have a rap sheet that I don't know about, but he also worked out skateboard donations for shelter teens, so he may be the exception that proves the rule. Regardless, I know that a some of the better-known facial tattoos are either signs of having killed or willingness to kill, so that is a pretty serious thing. I don't like to judge people by looks, but if someone does not feel safe around a stranger with a shaved head and face tattoos, they may have a point.

Now, what was that other scary thing? A black kid in a hoodie. Right. You know who wears hoodies? Everyone. My kindergarten teacher sister wears hoodies. Middle-aged people out jogging wear hoodies, but also younger athletes, because they are often part of a team uniform, and marching band members often wear hoodies. I just saw a picture of Mark Zuckerberg in a hoodie, so very rich people can wear them. Yes, there are people who question his business practices, but I don't think anyone's going to cross the street out of fear of Mark Zuckerberg.

I saw a pink "Bride" hoodie that I believe was intended for bachelorette parties. There are lots of superhero-themed hoodies out there, so fans of comic books and movies apparently wear hoodies. I guess the scary part is just that he's black.

I don't remember hoodies being a big deal before Trayvon Martin's death -- before that most sartorial criticism seemed to be directed at sagging pants and backward baseball caps -- but okay, if Trayvon is going to be the symbol of scary black youth let's go back and get that story straight: he was unarmed. He was not the danger. He was walking back to his father's house from the store, which is neither illegal or dangerous to others, and it was only dangerous to himself because of racism that associates dark skin with crime and fear.

That brings us to ESPN commentator Stephen A Smith defending Cuban. "All of those folks ignored the part that he said about the white guy!" No, they didn't. The part about the white guy presented a false equivalency, and Smith bought into it.

"Sometimes it is about how you represent yourself, it is about how you present yourself."

Except that if you are wearing jeans and a hoodie, presenting yourself the way countless white teenagers do, you will still look like a criminal because you are black. I guess you need to wear suits all the time, but then I just read about a black man getting mocked behind his back for wearing a suit to an interview at a tech company, because that meant he wouldn't fit in with their casual vibe. There's no clear path to victory there. The game is rigged.

"And I don’t care who in the black community disagrees with me — I’m not interested in their disagreement on this particular issue because they are not looking at the bigger picture here."

For this, Smith has been called refreshing and brave. Standing with power is not brave.

Smith called Cuban honest, but accepting the surface story is not honest.

What would really be honest and brave is really taking an honest look at the system and finding the injustices in it. They have both made it, so to speak, so there's less incentive for them to do so, but again, just staying comfortable is neither honest nor brave.

Yes, some people make it. Barack Obama became president. Stephen A Smith became a sports commentator. Morgan Freeman became a respected actor. Yes there was hard work in all of that, but that doesn't negate all of the obstacles that are set up and have been in place to weaken education, demoralize, prevent the accumulation of wealth, and to criminalize so that no one blinks when you say an unarmed teenager looked dangerous because of his hoodie.

That is a corrupt system that leads to abuses. It means you can have for-profit prisons where people get warehoused for violations that have nothing to do with public safety and that are not equally enforced. It means that corners will be cut on food and medical care.

It means a water department will cut off water in areas that are black, and they say it's for late payments, but the abandoned properties are still getting water, paid bills are somehow not resulting in the water service being restored, and it really all seems to be a move toward privatizing the water company and emptying certain neighborhoods for redevelopment.

It means that black people who are in auto accidents and need help are shot by the people who should be helping them, but it's not a crime because who wouldn't be scared of a black person?

It seems that there would be a lot of work for brave and honest people to do here. It's a pity that with the resources Smith and Cuban have, honesty and courage are not among them.

Related posts:

Also, this is a pretty good piece on the Sterling situation:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


This last round of reading softened me up on W.E.B. DuBois a bit.

One thing I have found is that though I am getting over it, I was once very easily swayed by the opinions that I read if they at least sounded logical. So if other writers were frustrated with DuBois, I picked that up, and so when I was reading more recently about his efforts against Marcus Garvey, my response was more like "It figures" than to reflect more on that.

Reading about Ida B Wells, it was clear that this sort of thing went on all the time. This should not have been a surprise. I have seen the same thing happen with dog rescue groups. It doesn't matter that everyone cares about the dogs; this person disagrees on how to do it, or whom to work with, and bitter feuds develop, turning people with at least some common goals into bitter enemies who sabotage each other.

I could be mad at DuBois some more for the sake of Wells, and if it comes to a fight, I will always choose her. One thing that helped though was there was more to be mad at with Booker T. Washington.

It may not be fair to vilify Washington either, but the part that I keep getting stuck on is that he thought that respectability would be the way to stop lynching. He knew that most lynchings weren't really about the black men raping white women - he admitted that. He should also have been able to see that the industrial-based education he focused on would not bring that much respect if Southern white leaders were so willing to see it happen. He still promoted the idea that acting nice would solve the problems. Achieve respectability.

Respectability was what drew the lynching! Financial success was attacked. The Memphis Lynching that politicized Wells so much had nothing to do with rape; it was an effort to remove financial competition. Yes, when the arguments would come up, people would talk about protecting women, but that's not why they did it.

I am more aware of this because of seeing similar calls for respectability on the internet. Respectability is not a solution. Clothing or language use may be cited as a reason to dismiss what someone says, but they would find another reason, because the real problem is the ideas.

I'm not saying that presentation never matters. In the 60s marchers dressed well and were polite and non-violent because they were fighting a stereotype, and those images were carried by television and they affected people. You may also have noticed that they didn't end racism or oppression.

I guess there are two points I want to make here. One is to not believe that if you just ask nicely enough and are patient enough, it will all work out. There is no precedent of that being true. The marches were important for image, but they were done in conjunction with economic pressure like boycotts, and court cases, and nothing came easily despite everyone being very clean and polite.

The related point, and this is convenient since asking nicely does not work, is that niceness is not owed. There is no obligation to make sure that the person who is profiting from your oppression does not have to feel uncomfortable about it.

This is something John Howard Griffin wrote about his experiences with Black Like Me:

“Our townspeople wanted to ‘keep things peaceful’ at all costs. They said I had ‘stirred things up’. This is laudable and tragic. I, too, say let us be peaceful; but the only way to do this is first to assure justice. By keeping ‘peaceful’ in this instance, we end up consenting to the destruction of all peace—for so long as we condone injustice by a small but powerful group, we condone the destruction of all social stability, all real peace, all trust in man’s good intentions toward his fellow man."
You can't keep the peace if you don't have it in the first place. When people are telling you how to act, it's important to understand what goals are really being served.

Related posts:

Monday, July 21, 2014

No television pilots here

I think I have some more things to say about my Black History Month reading for the year, if I can come up with the right order and words.

One of the books I read was Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves by Art T. Burton.

I had added it to my reading list as soon as I found out that the book existed. It sounded interesting, but also I had this idea that maybe there could be a television series in there. Reeves sounded heroic and fascinating. It could fill a need for providing some diversity and undoing some of the historical whitewashing of the past. Also, there has been some success with shows set in the West - "Deadwood", "Hell on Wheels" - it just seemed like there could be some potential there. Once I was reading the book I felt differently.

It's not that Reeves was not heroic or fascinating. He was pretty cool, and while the book was pretty dry as it brought out every bit of source material imaginable, there was still some cool information. There was also a lot that was depressing.

The article about the book had mentioned a large family, but not how much his travel for the job would have kept him away from them. It didn't mention him being away when his first wife died, or some of his children getting in trouble with the law. It didn't mention the frequent slander that newspapers printed. He got praise too, and had loyal friends, including Belle Star, but there were some downsides. The article didn't mention that he found the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling demoralizing, though that shouldn't have been surprising at all if I had been thinking about dates.

Also, things ended up sounding somewhat less interesting in the book. While the commitment to accuracy was honorable, it made for a more boring tale, because often there are records of the people arrested during a certain run, but not how the cases resolved, or often that they were acquitted. The result is that often it feels like even being a remarkably successful lawman didn't do much good, and that can be totally valid, but there are already plenty of shows like that.

I'd had similar thoughts about Chang Apana, a Hawaiian detective who was closely associated with the Charlie Chan character, so I read Yunte Huang's Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History as well.

It was pretty similar. There are more successfully resolved cases. He took down an opium den full of forty people with a crack of his bullwhip. Yes, the reputation he already had helped, but it's still pretty impressive.

And as impressive as he was, and respected, his chief of police still decided to try and get everyone of color to take early retirement, and despite Chang Apana's determination to fight it, illness ended up making retirement necessary. Also, the reason they wanted to force people out is that some white people were convicted of manslaughter for what was really the murder of a brown person, and even though higher ups voided the sentence after an hour in jail, you can't have things like that happening.

Basically, nothing felt the way I thought it would. There were amazing people with adventures, and they did defy stereotypes, but it wasn't this exultant thing, maybe because the stereotypes remained so deeply rooted.

It may simply be that I got into a darker frame of mind, and so nothing seemed promising anymore. That being said, I never really thought I would be the person developing those materials, so maybe there is someone out there who can do it right, and they will know when they read it. Maybe I will draw some short comics. Right now I am still in a learning phase, and I feel like something interesting is going to develop in my own life soon, but I do not yet know what that is going to be.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Band Review: XO Stereo

I was a little reluctant to do XO Stereo now, because I can only find on song by them. However, it's a pretty good song, and is for sale, so maybe that is reason enough:

Based in Los Angeles, XO Stereo is a rock band with members from The Hollowed (Cooper Campbell, vocals), From First to Last (Jon Weisberg, bass), and LoveHateHero (Justin Whitesel, guitar and keyboards).

Having listened a little to the other bands, I feel like XO Stereo is a little more sophisticated. That may be that everyone is more experienced, or just the way that this collaboration comes out, but it could also be that basing an opinion on only one song is highly speculative.

It at least seems fair to say that they should do more.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Band Review: Dan Woko

Dan is a singer/songwriter from Stoke-on-Trent and was formerly the frontman for Translucid.

Generally when musicians follow me on Twitter and I add them to the review list they are actively looking for gigs or selling music of have something to promote. I am not sure that is the case here.

There are primarily two listening options. Youtube has a few videos, all live performances but some in venues and some done at home. With Soundcloud there is a more random mix, including fragments of songs that were being worked on and can be found in other files in their completed form.

As a lot of it is only Dan and a guitar, there is kind of a busker feel to it. He does that well, being natural in front of the camera, and performing well, but it doesn't have a really unified feel, especially on the Soundcloud side. If they are being used for marketing it is probably not effective, but it seems like they are more for just sharing, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The key track to hear is probably "One of These Days", and you can watch a video of Dan performing it, or listen to both a finished and unfinished track at Soundcloud.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Library memories, Eugene

I think I got my Eugene City Library card fairly early in my college career, but I mainly remember using it during my senior year as I tried to find everything written on the Buffalo Soldiers ever.

Most of what I remember finding there was related to African American studies. There was a book of humor that was well-written but fairly uncomfortable, some James Baldwin, and one book with lots of material from former slaves, like letters, interviews, and speeches. At one time I thought it might be one of John W. Blassingame's collections, but now I think it might be from Herbert Gutman. (My favorite things about Goodreads is easily being able to track what I have read and when.)

Anyway, I was flipping through it and found some letters from former slaves. One was familiar because it was in the manual from Professor Taylor.

Dr. Quintard Taylor Jr was the professor who led my seminar, African Americans in the American West, but before that I had taken two terms of The African American Experience from him. I only took two terms because I had been working during fall term, but I was very grateful when he loaned me the fall term manual. 

The class textbook was John Hope Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom, but Dr. Taylor had also assembled a collection of supplemental materials. The familiar letter was from the Winter term class, HIST 252. It was the one from Laura Spicer's first husband, asking for some hair from the children, and pleading with her to marry again. Slavery had separated them, and he had a new wife and children by the time they were free.

That letter had moved me, but in this book it was right next to another one that made me smile. A former master had apparently written to his former slaves asking them to return as employees, and while it was clear the actual answer was "Hell No!", what Jourdan answered drove it home in a much better way.

Laura's letter was tragic, but Jourdan's was triumphant, and it felt good to me that there could be triumphs.

I really wanted Professor Taylor to see it, so I checked the book out, and he took down the information, and I got the impression he was going to add it to his booklet for future terms.

I then returned the book and continued my studies, because that's what you do, but I always remembered that letter and wanted to read it again. I would occasionally do internet searches, generally searching on "Grundy has a head for a preacher" because it was the sentence I could remember most exactly.

I never found it by searching, but one day there was a headline about a letter that I knew had to be it, and it was. And people didn't believe it.

There were so many comments doubting that any slave could really write that, and whether it was just doubting the level of education or that slavery was really that bad, it was all sickening.

Yes, slaves did not get the best educations, and Jourdan did in fact dictate the letter, not write it himself, but that doesn't mean that they can't have wit, or sarcasm. And for everyone thinking it was made up, I knew it wasn't. I had seen the letter and loved it years ago, and the book had been published and in a library long before I found it.

Actually, it is not impossible that I played a part. If Dr. Taylor did include the letter with his lesson material, well, he's had a lot of students so that would lead to more people seeing it. My classes with him were in 1992 and 1996, so there's been some time.

I guess that's my brag for the week, but there are two more points here. When I started thinking that it might have been Blassingame, it was after reading The Slave Community and starting to realize just how much raw data he amassed. You can find gems while doing this, but a lot of is routine and tedious. It's also necessary; the pattern that you notice in the records of three plantations may be an anomaly, but when you go through hundreds of records (or thousands) you get a clearer view.

There are amazing letters like Jourdan's, and heart-wrenching ones, and also boring ones, but over and over former slaves do communicate and testify and it is only the ignorance of the posters on the one article that allowed them to doubt the letter's veracity.

My other point, and I can't properly attribute this, is that I had read something a few months ago about how it is important for boys to read books with different types of protagonists. They learn empathy in this way, especially at certain ages, maybe around third grade.

I do not doubt finding protagonists of color is an issue, but I know that boys are actively discouraged from reading books where the girl is the main character. Girls can read about boys, but boys won't read about girls - they say the same thing about movies. Put it together and this gives us a world where boys don't even fully recognize girls as people and there is a system holding that in place. Consider more about what is out there for books and movies and images, and how representation goes, and it's chilling.

I mention it in this context because it goes back to the Libraries and Democracy post, and especially the linked article on opportunities for literacy based on the economic status of the neighborhood. In a library you have many different books and in a well-staffed one you have librarians helping guide children to appropriate books. You have story time. Exposure to other viewpoints is available. There is so much good that can be done. There is so much good that is desperately needed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Library Memories, University of Oregon

Yes, yesterday's post was set at the University of Oregon, but focused on the Knight Library. Early in my college career, I thought people were going to the "night" library, which I imagined to be a place for evening study. It sounded reasonable enough, but I was mistaken.

As stated in the previous post, people seemed to use the Knight Library more for study space than for its contents, but there was not only the Knight Library. We also had a Math and Science library. I know, because I worked at both of them.

It was part of my financial aid package. Previously, with no financial aid package, the only campus jobs I had been able to get were all in the dining hall. I was grateful for those jobs, but the libraries were better. Both had great supervisory staff, and I still remember them fondly, but the libraries were easier, more interesting work.

The Math Library was in Fenton Hall, and mainly notable for how very quiet it was. I would find a few books to shelve on the average shift, and I might see someone there once in a month of shifts, but that was it. If I was ever going to be murdered during college, that would have been a good place to do it, but the odds of someone thinking of looking for a victim there seemed low, because that would involve knowing where it was.

The Science Library, in Onyx Bridge Hall, was bigger, newer, and livelier. Those materials were being used all the time. I know because there were always things to shelve, and one of the things that we would do when other things were caught up was check shelves to see if things were in order, and they never were.

There were some books, but I would guess 90 percent of the materials were scientific journals. There were fairly traditional things like The Lancet or The Journal of the American Medical Association, but there were also fun things like The Journal of Irreproducible Results and The Worm Runner's Digest. If those last two don't sound familiar, I had not heard of them before either, but just reading a letter correcting faulty reasoning in a previous issue's article on conjoined twins in gummy bears, well, academic journals don't need to be stuffy.

There was never a lot of time to get caught up in anything, but there were always ideas there. It was during this time that I got into Smithsonian and Psychology Today magazines. It wasn't just the library -- that was helped by a Smithsonian found on a train, and a Psychology Today cover in the campus bookstore that looked interesting. However, it was at the Science Library that I saw the Smithsonian with the cover of Vermeer's Girl with a pearl earring, and one of my coworkers told me no matter who saw the painting they thought they girl looked familiar but could not place her. Now we all just think she looks like Scarlett Johannson.

(It was an excellent article too. The description of View of Delft, and how Proust referenced it in Remembrance of Things Past, was the first thing to make me really start noticing portrayal of light in painting.)

Still, there were three things that came to me in about a week's time that probably made the biggest impression. Two were books that came through, one on a cart and one at the desk.

The first was Robert Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies. Based on the eye-catching headline I read the first part, that all of our ideas of the duck-billed dinosaurs (hadrosaurs) were predicated on a damaged jawbone found for the first specimen, and finding correct specimens did not change that. If Bakker overreached on deciding that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, the ideas on shallow seas patterns of extinction still seemed brilliant to me.

Then on a book cart I found The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals: From the Lost Ark to the New Zoo and Beyond by Karl Shuker, focusing on animals discovered since 1901. I hadn't realized how new some species were. Obviously they existed, but we didn't know about them.

The third book was shown to me, which is why I don't remember the title. An older gentleman showed me a passage that referred to finding archaeological evidence of maize in India before Columbus visited the Americas, where it was commonly believed to have been discovered. After finding this article, I'm pretty sure the man was Carl L. Johannessen:

Anyway, the way these worked together, coming so close together, was that I concluded that science must be a constant process of learning that you were wrong. Because of that, scientists should be remarkably humble people, though I'm not sure investigation would bear that out.

Bakker may have gotten some things wrong, but he changed the way people were thinking so they could figure it out. Jared Diamond did an amazing job with Guns, Germs and Steel, and he inspired many people with it. The word is that he got some things wrong too, which is not terribly surprising considering how many different disciplines he touched on, but the reason people can point to mistakes is because he took a risk and got them thinking.

Actually, I think one of the people Diamond inspired was Charles Mann, who wrote 1491, and if you think that trying to correct entrenched wrong ideas is easy, especially in anthropology, you need to read his book. You are wading into a pit of vipers, but it's valuable, and inspirational.

All of those things inspire me. There are so many incidents where I remember the time and place of discovering a book so clearly, because it was an important moment and the library made it happen. Libraries bring many books together, and they bring the humans together with the books. Together there is the sharing of knowledge, but it is not static. It can kindle other ideas, lead to new quests for knowledge, and even change us as people.

That's what I will try and drive home tomorrow.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Library memories, Balzac

Discussing libraries with a friend, one thing she mentioned was that she never really used her University's library. People went there to study, but did not really use the collection there.

While that probably changes based on your major, this was largely true of the Knight Library at University of Oregon too, but I personally had three exceptions.

One happened during that horrible summer where I tried staying in town despite not being enrolled in classes. Just needing to get away I went to the library and got lost in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I didn't end up finishing the book until years later, but that memory stayed with me. It was kind of an oasis in a really bad time.

Another exception was for my seminar. Every history major had to complete a seminar class. There were weekly reading assignments that would be discussed in class, plus a twenty page research paper. The reading assignments were often articles from various historical journals, and each class member trying to track them down individually would have been impractical, so Professor Taylor had a shelf set up with what we needed, and that worked. Even if you ran into one of your fellow students, there were usually four or five articles, so it was workable. That term I was in the library every week.

If the first use was essentially pleasure, and the second was totally coursework, the third one was somewhere in between. I took a French Literature class on Balzac and Stendhal. My memory says I bought the required books of course, but I just did not understand one of them, Balzac's Une Affaire Ténébreuse, but part of me wonders if I tried saving money by not purchasing the books and just checking them out. What I know for sure is that I tried reading it in Spanish. (They did not have it in English.)

Technically my French is probably better than my Spanish, but I was kind of desperate. Eventually I realized that was how the book was supposed to be. There is a plot, and subterfuge, and the whole affair is murky, which is basically what the title tells you is going to happen.

I struggled with that one. One thing that had really stuck out to me though is that there were two female characters who seemed remarkably similar to Louise de Rénal and Mathilde de la Môle (from Stendhal's Le Rouge et le Noir), in both physical description and personality type, and then in their respective fates.

I went on about this in the final comparison essay, trying to reach five pages, even though the professor said it did not really need to be five pages after requesting a five page paper. That made about an extra page of rambling that she felt was pointless.

Reading that I though but there was a point, because really it was like both authors were showing a previous and a current model of French womanhood, and while both would suffer greatly only the newer one was strong enough to survive it, and if you have that coming from two different authors, that would seem to reflect something, which would have made a lot of sense to try and articulate in the essay, but the idea had still been forming there. I knew there was a connection, I was still getting it.

Anyway, if discovering Un Asunto Tenebroso was not particularly helpful, there was quite a bit of other Balzac there, in various languages, and his range was surprising. I did not read everything available, and I don't know that I really like Balzac enough to try and read all of La Comédie Humaine. After reading through The Girl with the Golden Eyes, I at least get why they sneer "Balzac" that way in The Music Man.  

(It's not every day that you go to murder your lover only to find her already murdered by her other lover whom you instantly recognize as your half sister.)