Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thoughts: Of Shakespeare, summer and sonnets

One of my favorite urban escapes is Shakespeare Garden, tucked away near the California Academy of Science and the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. It's quiet, serene, and meditative. It's filled with shady trees and an abundance of pretty flowers. There's even a sun dial.

The garden is absolutely beautiful. I love, love, love it.

At the entrance to Shakespeare Garden
in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

As the number of remaining summer weekends can be counted on one hand, it only seems fitting to take time out from our hurried lives and think fondly of Shakespeare, sonnets and summer days.

Shakespeare Garden sun dial /
Count only sunny hours.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And too often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

By thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

~ William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Of Shakespeare, summer and sonnets.

The history of Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park dates back to 1928 and was the brainchild of Alice Eastwood, who served as the long-running director of botany for the Academy of Sciences. The California Spring Blossom and Wildflower Association originally established the space as the Garden of Shakespeare's Flowers.

Flowers and plants have always played an important tool of imagery throughout Shakespeare's literary masterpieces. In this Shakespeare Garden, there are over 200 flowers and plants dotting the beautiful and colorful landscape, including: poppies, mandrakes, daisies, violets, lilies and roses.

The quiet and the beauty inside Shakespeare Garden /
Standing near the back wall looking towards the entrance.

All photographs of Shakespeare Garden by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Curt Flood: An every day reminder of one of America's past baseball heroes

Beyond boundaries / Outside Curt Flood Field in Oakland, Calif.

As the Major League baseball pennant races heat up across the country, here in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Giants have gone from first to worst while the Oakland A's of Moneyball fame continue to fight for survival, remaining at or near the top of their division, while playing in what one local sports columnist labeled the Oakland Coliseum as "the greatest terrible place on Earth."

While San Francisco has played center stage to many of baseball's greatest stars -- Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey of the Giants come to mind -- as well as one of the game's biggest anti-heroes, Barry Bonds, across the Bay in Oakland, most of its greatest home-grown talent like Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Willie Stargell have earned their accolades elsewhere.

Then, there's Curt Flood, a Major League baseball player, who spent much of his career as a center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Curt Flood / Won seven consecutive Gold Gloves
for the St. Louis Cardinals between 1963-69.
Born in Texas but raised in Oakland, Flood played in the same outfield as Robinson and Pinson at West Oakland's McClymonds High School. Each became a major leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1950s. After two seasons, Flood was traded by the Reds to the Cardinals in December 1957. For the next twelve seasons, Flood became a defensive fixture for the Cardinals, winning seven consecutive Gold Gloves, making three All-Star teams, and winning two World Series titles. In 1969, he collected the first hit in a major league regular season game in Canada. During his career, Flood hit .293, knocked out 1,861 hits and drove in 631 runs.

However, despite his outstanding career on the field, it was outside the lines that Flood developed his principal legacy to the Summer Game. Flood became a pivotal figure in the labor history of baseball when he refused to accept a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies following the 1969 season, and he ultimately appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Flood believed that the decades-old reserve clause that Major League Baseball employed was unfair because it "kept players beholden for life to the team with which they originally signed, even when they had satisfied the terms and conditions of those contracts."

Flood's rebellion against the baseball establishment came at a period of time when the U.S. was coming apart at the seams. We were at war in Southeast Asia, marching for civil rights through the South, and dealing with the tragedy of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. As a country, we were losing great Americans who were dying for the rights of others.

Curt Flood refused a trade to the
Phillies after the 1969 season.
In his 1971 autobiography, The Way It Is, written with Richard Carter, Flood cited the Phillies' poor record and dilapidated Connie Mack Stadium, and for what he believed were "belligerent -- and, racist -- fans" as reasons for refusing to report to his new team. He forfeited a $100,000 contract for the season and, instead, chose to pursue his legal options with the blessing of the the players' union head Marvin Miller and the union's funding.

In a December 24, 1969 letter addressed to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood demanded the commissioner declare him a free agent. He wrote:

After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.

"It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.

No doubt, Flood was influenced by the civil rights events of the 1960s taking place throughout the United States. In Miller's 1991 book A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business of Baseball, the union head recalled that in a meeting with the executive board of the players' union, Flood said: "I think the change in black consciousness in recent years has made me more sensitive to injustice in every area of my life."

Flood v. Kuhn (U.S. 258) was argued before the Supreme Court on March 20, 1972. Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, Flood's attorney, argued that the reserve clause depressed wages and limited players to one team for life. Meanwhile, the counsel representing Major League Baseball countered that the commissioner had acted "for the good of the game."

On June 19, 1972, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 with one recusal in favor of Major League Baseball, invoking the principle of stare decisis ("to stand by things decided"). It cited as precedent  a 1922 ruling in Federal Baseball Club v. National League (259 U.S. 200).

While Flood's legal challenge was ultimately unsuccessful, it united major league baseball players in solidarity as they fought against baseball's reserve clause and sought free agency.

Curt Flood / "Left a legacy of fairness."
Flood sat out the 1970 season and returned briefly in the next year and played in 13 games for the Washington Senators, who acquired him from the Phillies and signed him to a $110,000 contract. He hit only .200 and his defensive skills showed deterioration. He retired after the 1971 season. Four years later, baseball's reserve clause was nullified by an arbitrator and it paved the way for free agency.

On January 20, 1997, Flood died of pneumonia from complications due to throat cancer. Later that same year, Flood's legacy was acknowledged in Congress through the Baseball Fans and Communities Protection Act of 1997. It was numbered HR21 (Flood's Cardinals uniform number) and was introduced in the House of Representatives on the first day of the 105th Congress. The legislation established federal antitrust law protection for major league baseball players to the same extent as provided for other professional athletes. The Curt Flood Act of 1998, which was similar to the House's legislation, was introduced in the Senate and enacted into law the following year.

Flood, who San Francisco Chronicle baseball writer Henry Schulman once wrote "left a legacy of fairness," has been described by many as "pioneer, hero, legend, and freedom fighter -- a sort of all-star in the world at large."

In the book Reconstructing Fame: Sport, Race, and Evolving Reputations, David J. Leonard writes about Flood: "The man who was daily denounced and virtually banished from America has since been compared to Dred Scott, Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks as a great American." In the same book, Leonard quotes journalist George F. Will, who said of Flood's contribution to baseball: "Few have ever matched the grace and craftsmanship Curt Flood brought to it as a player. However, none have matched what he did for the game as a citizen. ... He once said, 'I am pleased that God made my skin black, but I wish He had made it thicker.' Friends of baseball, and of freedom, are pleased that he didn't."

A welcome sign to Curt Flood Field
in Oakland, Calif.
In paying tribute to Flood, the city of Oakland renamed a baseball and athletic field in his honor several years ago, Curt Flood Field, that is a little more than a mile from my home. I've driven by it numerous times. Most of the time, I've noticed, the baseball field lies empty and it looks a bit tired and worn. A local high school baseball team and other youth sports groups use the facility that is located at the well-travelled intersection of Coolidge Avenue and School Street in a mixed-race urban neighborhood.

Sometimes, I wonder, if you were to ask most of the kids who play on the field about who Curt Flood was or what he did for them and the Summer Game, would you get more than just a blank stare?

Photos of Curt Flood Field by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.
Photos of Curt Flood courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A simple question with a complicated answer: Where do you want to live?

Copenhagen Concert Hall at night. /
The No. 1 best global city according to Monocle.

Our cities are designed for living, working, cultural entertainment and late nights. Even fresh starts. Some cities have it figured out, some don't.

From transportation to green space, retail possibilities and residential settlements, it's always interesting to find out what makes a good city a great place to live.

The July/August issue of Monocle
rates the 25 best global cities.
Each summer for the past seven years, Monocle, the London-based global magazine that's a must-read for its coverage of international affairs, business, culture and design, has presented a special quality of life rankings with a top of the world list of the 25 best global cities.

"Too many major cities, including some of our top 25, all but shut down on a Sunday -- we believe a city should be a seven-day operation," writes Monocle's Steve Bloomfield and Michael Booth, in the introduction to this year's top of the world list, which appears in the magazine's July/August 2013 issue (issue 65, volume 07). "We asked our team or correspondents and researchers to judge how easy it is to arrange a spontaneous dinner with friends on a Sunday night. Are the restaurants open? Can you buy groceries and wine?"

Other common factors which Monocle studied include: crime rates, weather, education, health care, transportation and "an airport with a host of international destinations." Of course, it helps if a city has good plazas and outdoor cafés as well as art galleries that stay open late and museums that are free, too.

It did not surprise me that few U.S. or North American cities made Monocle's Top 25 -- Honolulu at No. 17 was highest ranked while my beloved San Francisco ranked 24th. Nor, should it be surprising that six of the top 10 were European cities, including this year's No. 1 Copenhagen.

No. 14 Paris /
The Pyramid at the Louvre is always a buzz of activity.
Why did Copenhagen rank No. 1 and not Paris (ranked No. 14) or London (which did not even rank in the top 25)? Here's why: "World-conquering urban quality of life requires the trickiest of balancing acts -- between progress and preservation, stimulation and security, global and local. Perfection is unobtainable, of course, but Copenhagen is striking one of the best deals right now.

"The Danish capital has hit the top spot this year not just because of its daring art scene, its matrix of cycle super-highways and its pioneering approach to street culture but also its ability to define itself as a global city. Copenhagen's wonderful self-reinvention continues to impress."

As for what the magazine said about San Francisco, in a nutshell it wrote: "Northern California's spectacular city scores high on tolerance and urban verve but tech-dollars continue to drive up the cost of living." I'd have to agree. As much as I would enjoy living in the Inner Sunset, within walking distance of Golden Gate Park, the cost of buying or renting is somewhat prohibitive. Thus, living across the bay in Oakland, I believe, is a better value.

No. 19 Vancouver, B.C. /
This western Canadian city hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Here's Monocle's world list of the 25 best global cities for 2013:

1. Copenhagen
2. Melbourne
3. Helsinki
4. Tokyo
5. Vienna
6. Zürich
7. Stockholm
8. Munich
9. Sydney
10. Auckland
11. Hong Kong
12. Fukuoka
13. Kyoto
14. Paris
15. Singapore
16. Hamburg
17. Honolulu
18. Madrid
19. Vancouver
20. Berlin
21. Barcelona
22. Amsterdam
23. Portland (Oregon, U.S.)
24. San Francisco
25. Düsseldorf

No. 22 Amsterdam /
The city's bicycle culture and canals are an appealing.
In looking over Monocle's top 25 best global cities list, I've been lucky enough to have visited eight of these cities in my lifetime -- Copenhagen, Helsinki, Paris, Honolulu, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Portland and, of course, San Francisco, which I get to see nearly every day. There are many more on Monocle's list I would love to visit some day in the future like Sydney and Berlin.

Does the perfect city exist? Not likely. Will it ever? Probably not. And, of course, what works for some of us, doesn't for all of us. Yet, it's nice know that there are a handful of good cities throughout the world whose quality of life makes me want to live there some day.

No. 24 San Francisco /
The de Young Fine Arts Museum in Golden Gate Park.
By the way, one reason the San Francisco Bay Area (which has been my home for nearly 18 years) is a great place to live is because it is easy to arrange a spontaneous dinner with friends on a Sunday night; great restaurants are open on Sunday nights; and you can buy groceries and wine on Sundays, day or night.

And, having a Major League baseball team -- the San Francisco Giants -- that's won two World Series titles in the past three years is a nice bonus and adds to the quality of life, too.

Where do you want to live?

Photo of Copenhagen Concert Hall courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Photo of Monocle courtesy of monocle.com.
All other photos by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

March: Transforming an American civil rights icon into a geek celebrity

John Lewis rose from the humble beginnings of growing up poor on an Alabama sharecropper's farm to become a national leader of the American Civil Rights Movement and, later, a conscience of the Congress. He has lived a life committed to justice and nonviolence.

Now, imagine this same American civil rights icon and admired politician transforming into a geek celebrity. When he's not being the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation, Lewis has shown he's just as comfortable being surrounded by librarians and the Comic-Con crowd as he is being around politicians on Capitol Hill.

March, a graphic novel
trilogy by John Lewis
Lewis has written a graphic novel trilogy, March, and the first book in this series of three will be published next week by Top Shelf Productions. It's a remarkable and vividly-told memoir of his lifelong struggle for civil and human rights.

Book One illustrates Lewis' life as an African-American boy in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down Jim Crow segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins. Lewis' leadership in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. is relived in March, and we learn what happened and how it happened. (Eight days after the "Bloody Sunday" protest, former President Lyndon Johnson sent the Voting Rights Act to Congress.)

Lewis collaborated with writer and congressional aide Andrew Aydin and award-winning cartoon artist Nate Powell on March. Aydin adapted the strong narrative of Lewis' story to the graphic page and Powell richly illustrated it all in black and white. As a student, Lewis was inspired by the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. So, it should come as no surprise that Lewis would turn to the graphic novel format in which to provide another story about the American civil rights movement.

Now, everyone from CNN to Comedy Central is lined up to interview Lewis, the only sitting member of Congress to write a comic book, in the coming days. (He is booked to appear on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report on Aug. 13 to promote March.)

March has generated good reviews and drawn universal praise in advance of its Aug. 13 release.

"Congressman John Lewis has been a resounding moral voice in the quest for equality for more than 50 years, and I'm so pleased that he is sharing his memories of the Civil Rights Movement with America's young leaders," wrote President Bill Clinton on the book's back cover, in praise of March. "In March, he brings a whole new generation with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, from a past of clenched fists into a future of outstretched hands."

As a young activist, Lewis once stood along side Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the "March on Washington" in the early 1960s and delivered a keynote speech at the march. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during its most productive years, Lewis was one of the "Big Six" leaders in the American Civil Rights Movement and the young upstart played a key role in the struggle to end legalized racial discrimination and segregation. Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom rally 50 years ago (its golden anniversary is Aug. 28) and, sadly, is the only remaining speaker of the event alive today.

Now age 73, Lewis has served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987, where he represents the 5th district of Georgia. In his distinguished career, Lewis has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barrack Obama, the first African-American President.

Rep. John Lewis signing March
at the American Library Association
summer conference in Chicago.
In June, at the American Library Association national conference in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to meet Lewis (I was third in line) and receive a signed "advance look" copy of March. (At the Comic-Con pop culture convention in San Diego last month, I learned, lines for Lewis' appearance were so overwhelming that fire marshals almost shut the event down.)

After signing my copy of March, Lewis extended his hand to shake mine. I thanked him for his lifelong dedication to civil rights and public service. I'm sure he hears this kind of praise all the time from his constituents and admirers. Nevertheless, he seemed appreciative of my words and thoughts -- and my interest in his book. Lewis looked me straight in the eye, smiled enthusiastically, and wished me well.

On this summer Sunday afternoon, it was too good an opportunity to not make the effort to be there for John Lewis and, personally, say "thank you" for his struggle of a lifetime to build a beloved community.

Photograph of Rep. John Lewis by Michael Dickens (copyright 2013). 
Image of March courtesy of Top Shelf Productions.