Friday, April 7, 2017

The time for advise and consent is now, Mr. President

Last night, while many of us throughout America were either sitting down to Thursday dinner or enjoying an evening of "must-watch" prime-time television, the U.S. made a direct attack of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria (where it was already early Friday morning) in retaliation for the gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians by the Assad regime.

The attack represented the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and President Donald Trump's "most dramatic military order since becoming president."

The airfield strikes denoted a very big change in U.S. policy – and it was done without the President seeking congressional approval. "Assad's vicious brutality demands a response," said Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) on his Facebook page. "But this country doesn't fight wars without giving the American people a say." Many others in Congress conveyed the same thoughts as Kennedy.

There's a lot to digest here and both American and international media are weighing in on this story of world consequences. It's front-page "real" news across this country and the video images have been splashed all over various American cable TV news networks almost continuously since last evening.

There's one little thing that I am just a little troubled by. Perhaps, you are, too. The President said during his speech to the nation Thursday, delivered from a makeshift podium inside Mar-a-Lago, where earlier he had been hosting a dinner for the Chinese President: "No child of God should suffer such horror." Hmm. ... So,  he sees them now as children of God, but not when they are trying to escape the danger of civil war and chemical weapons?

Air strike or not, Mr. President, we must welcome Syrian refugees into our country like our good neighbors to the north, Canada, have been doing with dignity and humanity for some time. The time to act, sir, is now.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A New Orleans diary: Why food matters in the Big Easy

Domilise's / Nothing fancy or elaborate.
Just one of the best meals in the Big Easy.

New Orleans takes its food seriously – gumbo, red beans and rice, and beignets come to mind – and it's been said that you can't come to the Big Easy and not eat a po-boy sandwich. So, why not try the best – even if it's made to order in a hard-to-find location up river from the French Quarter, where parking is difficult at best and getting a table (there are only five) or a seat at the bar (there's about 10 of them) is a matter of good timing. Yet, despite all of these obstacles, the locals swear by this hole in the wall kind of place.

Domilise's Po-Boy and Bar consists of a single-room bar
and dining area with five tables and about 10 bar seats.
Such it was on a recent Friday afternoon while visiting New Orleans that my wife and I dropped in at Domilise's Po-Boy and Bar, tucked away at 5240 Annunciation Street (corner Bellecastle), and treated ourselves to a po-boy sandwich for lunch. We had an hour to kill before we had to be on the highway headed west toward Lafayette in the Acadiana region of Louisiana to attend our nephew's wedding celebration.

We first visited Domilise's back in 2001 – pre Hurricane Katrina – and it was an enjoyable experience. So it was on our next visit to New Orleans earlier this month, we knew we wanted to revisit Domilise's.

Domilise's Po-Boy and Bar is an Uptown New Orleans restaurant known for its po-boy sandwiches. For the uninitiated, a po-boy is a traditional Louisiana sandwich served on baguette-like New Orleans French bread that's known for its fluffy center and crispy crust. The restaurant was founded in the 1930s by the Domilise family, who I learned lived in the house above the single-room bar/dining area. It was run by Sam and Dorothy "Miss Dot" Domilise for more than 75 years until her death in 2013. Although it was closed during Hurricane Katrina, since reopening Domilise's has been more popular than ever – acclaimed by many, including CNN's Anderson Cooper as well as Anthony Bourdain, who once filmed a spot on location for his Travel Channel program No Reservations.

My Domilise's meal /
A delicious ham and Swiss po-boy,
Zapp's New Orleans kettle-style chips,
Barq's root beer.
During our recent visit, my po-boy of choice a ham and Swiss cheese dressed with spicy Cajun mustard, shredded lettuce and pickles while my wife opted for a turkey dressed all the way. Both were made with love by the sweet ladies who manned the kitchen. The reasonably priced menu is full of excellent choices, including shrimp, oyster, catfish, roast beef and sausage, and come in two sizes: small and large. The small was plenty large for my appetite. Along with my fabulous po-boy, I complemented my "meal" with a bag of Zapp's New Orleans kettle-style potato chips and a bottle of Barq's root beer.

We sat at the bar sipping on our sodas and munching our chips – and soaking up the vibrant atmosphere – while our po-boys were being prepared with TLC, waiting for a table to open up. By the time our order was called, a table materialized by the back entrance. Nothing fancy, but plenty of space to spread out and enjoy our delicious – albeit sometimes messy – po-boys. Looking around as we ate, I couldn't help but notice we were likely the only tourists mixed among a crowded room full of white- and blue-collar locals who swear by this place for a great meal.

Domilise's Po-Boy & Bar /
Uptown at the corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle.
As Tom Piazza points out in his insightful 2006 book Why New Orleans Matters, "the real neighborhood places, tucked away usually in some unlikely corner of a residential street, animate the day-to-day grass roots culinary life of the city. There is nothing fancy or elaborate about these places to say the least, but also nothing humdrum or mass-produced, or even lackluster ... It is a point of honor to make food that tastes good – I don't think a New Orleanian would even understand the concept of turning out blah food so you could just eat and run.

"You can go into the most unassuming place – say, Domilise's, a sandwich shop with a hand-lettered sign in a very modest corner house a block from the river in a residential uptown neighborhood – and get a meal that you will remember for the rest of your days. Or at least for the rest of the day."

Indeed, you see food is a part of the rhythm and life of New Orleans, and it doesn't get much better than this. There's a reason that Domilise's is one of the best at what they do.

Photos: Cover photo courtesy of Google Images. All other photos by Michael Dickens © 2017.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Resolved: It's time to READ more books

We're a week into March – spring is almost here – and although I didn't formally jot down any New Year's resolutions for 2017, if I had, one that would have been near the top of my list is my desire to read more. "So many books ... so little time," reads the slogan printed on one of my tattered, well-worn navy-colored t-shirts that I bought a few years ago at The Elliott Bay Book Company, situated in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. It happens to be one of my favorite independent booksellers in the entire country – and it's always on my things to do list whenever I visit Seattle.

When I say to you that I want to "read more," by that I mean read more books. While I stay abreast of current events by reading The New York Times daily, both in print and online, and give a good read to periodicals like The New Yorker and Monocle, the London-based monthly that covers world affairs, culture, food and design, now, every day is like engaging in an American Civics class thanks to the narcissist behavior and dystopian actions of our current president. And, I should mention that perusing my Facebook news feed has become a necessity in order to stay current on what's trending with POTUS 45, too.

But, what about books, you ask? Yes, books, remember them? Books are the foundation behind what made one of the most successful online retailers. Before Twitter, before Facebook, before Netflix, before texting sapped all of our intellectual energy, there were books. I have several bookshelves at home that are lined with hundreds of titles that I've bought or received as gifts over the years. Let's see, I'm proud of my collection of books by The New Yorker writers Roger Angell and Calvin Trillin, among many, and I enjoy reading books about baseball, my favorite sport. However, a few years ago, in a space-saving and budget-cutting effort, I trimmed back on the number of new titles I bought and, instead, decided to start making better use of my local public library.

Looking back on 2016, I can say without boasting that I made good use of my Oakland Public Library card. I checked out about a book a month. One thing I've learned about libraries is this: If you're willing to wait for a popular best-seller or a new title to become available, checking out library books is a good way to save money (and, I might add, bookshelf space) while also showing support for our public libraries.

Both Comedy Central's The Daily Show and the New York Times Book Review are pretty good indicators for learning about good books to read. Before he left The Daily Show, former host Jon Stewart always brought out the best in authors. You could judge by his interest in a book if it was worth reading. New Daily Show host Trevor Noah is carrying on the tradition begun by Stewart.

Among the books which I read during 2016 were:

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert Reich.

• I'd Know That Voice Anywhere by Frank Deford.

Jackson, 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America by Calvin Trillin.

Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins and Shop Around: Growing Up with Motown in a Sinatra Household, both by Bruce Jenkins.

Indentured: The Inside Story of Rebellion Against the NCAA by Joe Nocera.

Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession by William Skidelsky.

Among the ties that bind these titles are my interest in non-fiction, memoirs, sports, and music. And, of course, good writing and good stories always garner my attention.

Looking ahead, I ask: Is it possible that I can increase my output this year so that I'm reading an average of a book a month? Let's see, I've already started Writings on the Wall: Searching For a New Equality Beyond Black and White by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and I'm nearly finished with the current Michael Lewis book, The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. 

Also, I received Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler's Journey Through the Soul of the South by Susan Puckett as a Christmas gift from my brother, and I recently bought an autographed copy of Trevor Noah's Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood. 

Finally, I've got Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, the acclaimed 674-page memoir by Elvis Costello that spans his almost four-decade music career left over from last year's reading list that I would like to start this year.

There's plenty to look forward to reading while trying to forget everything that's going bad with our democracy, thanks to a certain POTUS. Now, if I can just remember to stop turning on the TV.

Photo: Stained glass sign at The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, courtesy of Google Images.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Stitches West: So much yarn and fiber = so much fun

Skeins and skeins of colorful yarn / The scene outside the Yarnover Truck,
a mobile yarn boutique, on Saturday morning at Stitches West. 

Last Saturday, my wife Jodi and I attended the 2017 Stitches West yarn and fiber exhibition in Santa Clara, Calif., where we connected with many of our fiber friends. When you're the husband of a knitter, like I've been going on nearly 20 years, you set aside the last weekend in February for the fiber arts – and embrace the creative experience.

Ball So Hard /
Neighborhood Fiber Company's slogan.
I've been Jodi's regular companion – and I'm proud to be her yarn enabler, too – at this annual gathering for more years than I can remember. Together, we've seen it grow into one of the West Coast's premiere fiber arts events.

Although husbands and boyfriends makeup a very small percentage of the ever-growing yarn and fiber crowd at Stitches West, I attend willingly and feel uninhibited, totally at ease. If you've ever been tempted by the fiber arts, whether it be knitting, crocheting or spinning, the Stitches West marketplace is the place to go see. After all, there's so much yarn and fiber, which can only mean one thing: So much fun.

Upon entering the Marketplace Hall, which we did when the doors opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday, knitters and their enablers are easily tempted by row upon row of booths filled with colorful and luscious yarn and gorgeous fiber that's not only attractive to look at, it's also lovely to touch, too. It's the place to plan the perfect sweater, find fiber friends, and gain new perspectives – even take an engaging class.

Miss Babs Hand-Dyed Yarns & Fibers /
Inspired by nature.
Our first stop of the day inside the Marketplace Hall was at Miss Babs Hand-Dyed Yarns & Fibers, whose booth is always an inspiration for lovely designs and colorful fibers. Miss Babs is Babs Ausherman, a hard-working, insightful fiber artist and online retailer of hand-dyed yarn and fiber and patterns based in Mountain City, Tenn. I've learned that she was raised in a family of creative types and entrepreneurs – and she believes that a good day's work is good for the soul.

I've had the pleasure to visit and talk with Miss Babs each of the past several years when she comes to California. I appreciate her sharp wit, artistic and creative flair, and her thoughtfulness. From her, I've learned that color ideas come from everywhere – especially when they're inspired by nature.

A Verb For Keeping Warm /
Beautifully decorated and inviting for knitters.
From there, it was on to see our dear friends Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez, whose naturally-dyed A Verb For Keeping Warm yarn and fiber have made their bricks-and-mortar shop a haven for knitters and fiber artists close to home in Oakland. Their booth each year is always beautifully decorated and inviting. As always, whenever we drop by the AVFKW booth, it's abuzz with newly designed and naturally dyed yarn and fiber, and plenty of knitters perusing the yarn and fiber as well as patterns and project bags.

We also paid a nice visit to Neighborhood Fiber Co., based in Baltimore, whose uniquely hand-dyed yarn is inspired by urban landscapes.

After a leisurely lunch with a couple of fiber friends, it was time to renew our friendship with Robin Senour, a glasswork artist from Berkeley, whose witty Sacred Laughter artwork and philosophy ("Bring more art into your life") we admire and adore. On Saturday, we bought out tenth piece of Sacred Laughter, a badger from Senour's "Wind and the Willows" fairy tale collection. Over the years, we've made many friends among the yarn and fiber vendors and artisans at Stitches West – and it's always nice to be recognized like an old friend by them.

After one last pass through the aisles, where we renewed our acquaintance with Kira Dulaney of Kira K Designs – she shared with me the great news that she had just completed creating her 100th pattern in 10 years – and we also met the good folks from The Knitting Tree, L.A., it was time to make full circle by returning to Miss Babs to purchase some skeins of lovely and colorful yarn and say goodbye until next year.

Looking back, as my appreciation of the fiber arts continues to grow, I will always enjoy making time to explore the creative process and to find out what inspires these remarkable fiber artists.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Because none of us is as smart as all of us

Podcasts are a genre of narrative audio that have taken off in recent years. There are plenty of podcasts devoted to politics, sports, fashion and music. Search long enough and you will find podcasts devoted to topics like knitting and English football, too. While some podcasts lack polish, others sound like NPR programs. One thing they definitely are is portable.

One of my new favorites is "Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly," a podcast that's about the economy, technology and culture. It's motto is: "Because none of us is as smart as all of us."

"Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly" is hosted by Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood, and they use their collective expertise "to connect the dots on the topics they know best, and get help from listeners and experts about the ones they want to know better."

Prior to its launch last month, here's what Kai and Molly wrote on the podcast's website: "Here's what we think when we say 'smart.' Facts and figures? Sure, but not enough. Analysis and opinion? Absolutely, but still not quite there. Understanding, historical context, research and connecting individual stories as pieces of a larger whole? Now we're talking.

"We want to focus on analysis and understanding, not on headlines and talking points. And we each have our own expertise, but we know we're not always going to be the smartest people in the room.

"You have your own smarts. And together, we can all get just a little bit smarter."

"Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly" releases a new episode each week on Tuesday – it can be downloaded via iTunes or you can listen to it on the podcast's website – and the most recent one, "Reputation in the Age of the Protest Economy," made its debut on Feb. 21. It featured a conversation with Sallie Krawcheck, founder and CEO of Ellevest, an investment platform for women.

On the podcast's website,, to draw in listeners for a recent latest episode, "It's the Economy, Cupid," it teased: "Time to take a look at a big thing that's getting lost in the first four weeks of the Trump administration. Hint: It's the economy. Other highlights: a cameo by David Frum, senior writer for The Atlantic, answering the show's "Make Me Smart" question: "What's something that you thought you once knew, but turns out you were wrong about?" Later in the same episode, Kai and Molly talked with Eric Bickel and Michael Weis of the Quantify Louisville blog. What they do is to take publicly available data from the city of Louisville, Kentucky, then look for stories hidden in the data. How cool is that! Bickel and Weis spoke about specific ways in which to judge the value of any given statistic.

On earlier episodes, Kai and Molly talked with Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, author of the book The Attention Merchants, who coined the phrase network neutrality, "which is the principle that internet service providers should enable equal access to all content and applications, and not favor one source of content over another." Also, they spoke to Scott Phoenix, co-founder of Vicarious, a company that is trying to build a new kind of artificial intelligence, and to Autodesk CEO Carl Bass.

"Our ultimate goal at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country," Ryssdal said prior to the podcast's launch. "Right now it's especially important that we work together to identify and understand what's truly newsworthy. This is exactly what 'Make Me Smart' does."

Adds Woods: "'Make Me Smart' is really a passion project for both of us. It's taking what Kai and I already do at Marketplace and putting it into a new format that allows us to go beyond what we can do on air. This podcast will let us press pause on what's newsworthy and dive even deeper into the topics that people not only want, but need to hear about."

Photo: Courtesy of Marketplace and American Public Media.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Nike: Equality has no boundaries

LeBron James during the filming of Nike's "Equality" commercial. /
"We can be equals everywhere."

On Sunday evening during the nationally televised Grammy Awards program, Nike debuted a short film about #EQUALITY. It's message was clear: Equality has no boundaries.

This extraordinary 90-second spot, filmed in black in white, was directed by Melina Matsoukas who has two Grammy Awards for her work on Beyoncé's "Formation" and Rihanna's "We Found Love." It features NBA great LeBron James and co-stars American athletes Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, Megan Rapinoe, Gabby Douglas, Victor Cruz, and Dalilah Muhammad.

"Equality" has already received more than 4 million views on YouTube.

The central theme of "Equality," which also features actor Michael B. Jordan in a cameo as well as narrating the script, and singer Alicia Keys covering Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," is this: "The Equality and fairness prevalent in major professional sports should transcend into broader society."

As part of Nike's Black History Month campaign, their initiative aims to "inspire people to take action in their communities."

The voice over in the film (Jordan) says "if we can be equals here," referring to a basketball court, then James says "we can be equals everywhere."

Writing in ESPN's "The Undefeated" sports, race and culture website, writer Clinton Yates said: "Using a street art metaphor to make a point about in-your-face activism is not only effective, but for many who'll likely see this ad, perhaps familiar."

It made an impact with me; I hope it makes an impact with you.

Is this the land history promised?
Here within these lines.
On this concrete court. 
This patch of turf.
Here, you're defined by your actions, not your looks or beliefs.
Equality should have no boundaries.
The bonds we find here should run past these lines.
Opportunity should not discriminate.
The ball should bounce the same for everyone.
Worth should outshine color.
If we can be equals here, we can be equals everywhere.

A postscript: Nike has released a behind-the-scenes look at "Equality," which is worth a good look. It showed what equality means to each of the athletes involved. Said Rapinoe: "Being a woman in sport, first of all, equality is not always something that we're privy to. And being a gay woman in this country, in sport, wherever I am in the conversation, it's there. It's my responsibility of making sure that I speak up about it, and speak up for other people. Hopefully, it can grow that movement in that way."

Adds James: "At the end of the day, we're always just trying to find a way that we can all feel equal, we can all be equal, have the same rights, have the same feelings, being able to be in the same place no matter the color."

• Nike, which plans to air the "Equality" film during next Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, is currently promoting "Equality" t-shirts on its website. According to Adweek, Nike will donate $5 million during this calendar year to "numerous organizations that advance equality in communities across the U.S., including Mentor and PeacePlayers."

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Super Bowl ads: Are you paying attention, Mr. President?

How did I spend my Super Bowl Sunday? Watching the big game, of course. As much as I was riveted by the exciting outcome – New England beat Atlanta, 34-28, after coming from behind to force the first overtime game in the 51-year history of the Super Bowl – I focused on the commercials, too.

This year, many ads contained politically charged messages and several TV spots highlighted hot-button themes such as immigration (Budweiser, 84 Lumber), equal pay (Audi) and inclusion (Coca-Cola). Are you paying attention, Mr. President?

Long after the game ends, collectively, we do seem to remember the commercials, especially the good ones. There were a couple of ads that resonated with me for a variety of reasons, for Coca-Cola and for Airbnb. Both aired early during Sunday evening's Super Bowl LI game broadcast.

In "It's Beautiful," Coca-Cola's message was simple: "Together is beautiful." The Atlanta-based soft drink titan scored a touchdown with its Super Bowl ad that aired just before kickoff, in which culturally diverse Americans sang a multilingual version of "America The Beautiful," in English, Hindi, Arabic and Tagalog.

The 60-second spot designed by Wieden + Kennedy debuted during the 2014 Super Bowl to mixed results and was revived during last year's Rio Olympic Games. However, given the current national conversation many Americans have been sharing about immigration and diversity, its message seemed more relevant. "It's Beautiful" featured plenty of beautiful, multicultural images depicting America as a nation of many races, many ethnicities and many religions. It promoted optimism, inclusion and humanity, themes which seem foreign to the dystopian American carnage being propagated by the Trump Administration. It was beautifully filmed and edited, and given today's political climate, "It's Beautiful" took on a certain poignance this time.

Another commercial worth applauding came from Airbnb, whose politically charged message in its "We Accept" ad spoke volumes about diversity and acceptance: "Acceptance starts with all of us." In its Super Bowl commercial, put together on short notice  – perhaps seen as a Silicon Valley response to President Trump's immigration ban – Airbnb reminded us of this simple but important message: "We believe no matter who you are, where you're from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept." Indeed, the world is more beautiful the more #weaccept. The hashtag went viral by halftime.

Afterwards, I learned Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced that the company is aiming to provide short-term housing for 100,000 refugees, disaster survivors, and other displaced persons over the next five years. Additionally, over the next four years, Airbnb will donate $4 million to the International Rescue Committee.

"We couldn't talk about the lack of acceptance in the world without pointing out the challenges in our own community at Airbnb," the company said in a statement following the airing of its ad. "The painful truth is that guests on Airbnb have experienced discrimination, something that is the very opposite of our values. We know we have work to do and are dedicated to achieving greater acceptance in our community."

Looking back on both ads – expressions of American values I support – reminded me of this: I have many multicultural friends – thanks, Facebook – who are close and dear to me. They represent many races and ethnic backgrounds, come from many different religious faiths, and speak multiple languages. I have friends who identify with the LGBTQ community. I have friends who are biracial. I have friends who are raising biracial children and friends who are parenting transgendered children. Thus, it's important to see advertisers, representing both legacy and start-up companies, reaching out to all Americans by conveying positive messages about inclusion, diversity and acceptance. After all, there's no larger TV audience than a Super Bowl audience for spreading a good message.

Regardless of what you think, Mr. President, these ads conveyed the true spirit of our America.

Cover photo: Courtesy of Google Images. Videos: Courtesy of YouTube.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Federer-Nadal: A welcome respite from American politics

Victorious / Roger Federer kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup
trophy Sunday night after winning the 2017 Australian Open

men's singles championship for his 18th career Grand Slam title.

The Australian Open tennis fortnight down under in Melbourne, which wrapped up over the weekend first with the all-Williams women's final between Serena and Venus (won by Serena) and followed by the renewal of the great men's rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, was a very welcome respite for those of us here in the United States as we came to grips with a narcissistic president, who in his first week in office undermined many fundamental principles that shape our American democracy.

While the talk of Federer's stunning comeback – reaching the AO final after being out six months while recovering from a knee injury that required surgery – Nadal's return from a wrist injury was a welcome one, too. The Federer-Nadal final, which didn't exist on most fan's minds at the beginning of the tournament, left them feeling a bit giddy. Going the distance and playing five sets will do that.

There was a buzz of nostalgia in the air when Federer emerged victorious with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win that was his 18th career Grand Slam title. The Swiss is the all-time men's leader and Nadal, tied with Pete Sampras, is a distant second with 14.

Nadal said it was a special thing for both him and Federer to be playing together in the final of a Grand Slam, especially after a couple of years of having problems.

"I am a positive person (so) I never say never because I worked very hard to be where I am," Nadal said after his almost-five hour semifinal victory over Grigor Dimitrov that began last Friday night and finished in the wee hours of Saturday morning, a day before the Federer match. "I really have been working very hard. ... I always had the confidence that if I am able to win some matches, then anything can happen."

If President Donald Trump thrives on his own culture of self-inflicted conflict and chaos, Nadal thrives on a raw emotion that's filled with clinched fists and screams of "Vamos!" However, unlike the American reality TV host-turn-populist commander in chief, Nadal possesses many fine and likable qualities. He's a positive person, polite, mannered and respectful on court – even in defeat. These are a few attributes our new president could benefit from learning from Nadal.

With the old guard on the rise Sunday night, the AO final marked the ninth time that the 35-year-old Federer – the oldest male finalist in 43 years – and Nadal, 30, played for a Grand Slam title. Before Sunday, Nadal had won six of the previous eight finals meetings. Remarkably, they had not met for a major championship since the 2011 French Open, in which Nadal won his sixth of nine titles at Roland Garros. Nadal has long dominated his lifetime series against Federer, 23-12. Although if you eliminate matches on clay in which Nadal has a huge edge, the series tally is now even, 10-10.

"Being honest, in these kinds of matches I won a lot of times against him. Today he beat me, and I just congratulate him," Nadal said.

As Sunday night's final neared its conclusion, it became evident while studying the body language and facial expressions of both Federer and Nadal that neither wanted to lose. After all, there's joy in winning. With joy, it makes the suffering during big matches so much the better – especially ones that go five sets. Federer went the distance in each of his final three AO matches, Nadal in his last two. In victory or defeat, Nadal always shows an indomitable spirit – and it was on display again for the Rod Laver Arena crowd and a worldwide TV audience to enjoy when he and the always gracious Federer, who are friends off the court and foes on it, met for the 35th time in their storied careers.

Federer was thrilled to be back in the spotlight of another Grand Slam final. "Yeah. It's real now," he said. ... "I never ever in my wildest dreams thought I'd come this far in Australia. But here I am.

"Against Rafa it's always epic. This one means a lot to me because he's caused me problems over the years."

When match point was decided by a replay review that was upheld, Federer pumped his arms above his head and leapt up and down with much delight. Both happy and relieved, emotions poured out of Federer. He admitted afterward that it was an awkward way to win.

"I'm out of words, said Federer, as he addressed Nadal during an on-court interview while clutching the champion's trophy. "I don't think either of us believed we'd be in the final here when we were at your academy five, six months ago. Here we stand in the finals.

"I'm happy for you. I would have been happy to lose to you. The comeback was perfect as it was. It's been a difficult last six months, let's be honest. I wasn't sure I was going to be here, but here I am. This was a wonderful run, and I can't be more happy to win tonight."

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Tuesday Night Memo: Thoughts on turning seven

Michael Dickens / A selfie. 
I've been interested in writing, reporting and storytelling for a long time. So, it's only natural that I turned to blog writing because it gave me an opportunity to hone my writing skills and a forum for writing about things of interest and importance.

As A Tuesday Night Memo turns seven today, here's a little history about it:

I started writing A Tuesday Night Memo on January 26, 2010, as a means for sharing musings about my life filled with music, sport, and urban travel, and to foster community with my friends, family and Facebook acquaintances. People who know me well know that I'm passionate about music, sport, and urban travel. Additionally, I have used my blog as a vehicle for writing about art, food, fashion, religion and gardening – and, more recently, about politics. Sharing news and photos about our flower gardens at home always seem to generate great interest and enthusiasm. Maybe, it's the pretty shapes and colors of our flowers that others find appealing.

Up to now, I have "blogged" 358 entries for A Tuesday Night Memo, which collectively have received  nearly 108,000 page views. Among the many subjects I have written about include: my appreciation of tennis champion Roger Federer, how the city of Seattle fosters community through international cinema, a history of the world as seen through 100 objects, classical music conductor Gustavo Dudamel, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, my love affair with Pink Martini, validating our travel through our photographs, and Jerry Seinfeld's Internet comedy Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. My most recent post focused on the importance of the Women's March held last weekend in Washington, D.C, and across America and the world. I have shared my interest in digital photography within my blog, which has enabled me to illustrate many if not all of my posts with nice visuals to match the words I've written.

The feedback many have shared is not only very much appreciated, but I also find it very useful. Much of it has been positive, but sometimes it's also been critical. Whether good or bad, I've found the feedback you provide to be a valuable learning tool. From time to time, I like to sneak a peek at my blog's statistics, which are the key indicators that show how many total "hits" my blog has received, which stories have been read the most, and what countries comprise the blog's readership. The numbers are modest but nevertheless interesting.

Here are a few fun facts about A Tuesday Night Memo I thought you might enjoy:

Since the debut of my blog, it has been read in dozens of different countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Hong Kong – even Brazil, India, Vietnam, and Australia. The top five countries reading my blog include the U.S, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. I hope Russia's interest in my blog has nothing to do with wanting to hack me because of my occasional forays into writing about Donald Trump.

* The most widely-read blog entry in terms of "hits" remains one I wrote back in December 2010 about "CNN International: Connecting the world," in which I explored the intelligent – albeit sometimes irreverent – manner that CNN International delivers the news and how it differs from it's American cousin that's based in Atlanta. Other top "hits" include musings about the artist Pablo Picasso and the British comedian Ricky Gervais. (I'm still trying to figure that one out!)

Looking ahead, I suspect the Trump presidency will continue to garner my interest and attention from time to time. How can it not? However, among things that I look forward to exploring, include: the effect digital music and media have in connecting our world, and my ongoing interest in exploring museums – and what we can learn from them.

In the meantime, I've thoroughly enjoyed sharing my writing with you throughout the past seven years, and I look forward to sharing more of my words and thoughts in what is shaping up to be another exciting year awaiting all of us.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Women's March: Inspiration, motivation, galvanization

Unity in numbers / Hundreds of thousands of women (and men), both
white and of color, marched for political activism in Washington, D.C. and
throughout America, and around the world. 

The American writer and poet Alice Walker, who wrote the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple, once said "Activism is our rent for living on the planet." I think she was on to something because last Saturday women (and men), both white and of color, spanning a variety of economic and religious backgrounds, united for a just cause.

They marched for political activism. Health care, the economy, climate change, immigration, paid family leave, net neutrality, education, freedom of the press.

Millions united worldwide and took to the streets to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump and also to celebrate women's rights. On Saturday, they marched for democracy.

My heart and support goes out to my friends, family and loved ones – and to all – who marched not only in the Women's March in Washington, D.C., but also hundreds of sister marches throughout America and around the world. Through the power of their spoken and written words, as well as through their images and pictures that were shared via social media platforms – and, importantly, in their strength in numbers – we saw that there is such great hope for our country. I'm proud to see so many devote their time and energy towards walking for civil liberties and basic, fundamental human rights for all.

A view of the National Mall as seen from the U.S. Capitol,
during the Women's March in Washington, D.C. The
number of participants far exceeded expectations,
event organizers said, and it eclipsed the crowd attending
President Trump's inauguration a day earlier.
A day after President Trump's inauguration last Friday, in which he shared his uniquely dark and dystopian vision of the U.S., there was much support, love and light shown during the Women's March in Washington, D.C. According to the organizers of the event, the goal was to send a powerful message to the new administration and to the new President. Initial estimates numbered 500,000 participants in the nation's capital alone – considerably more than the 200,000 expected, and far exceeding the number who attended Friday's inauguration of the 45th President. Demonstrations remained peaceful throughout.

Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist and national co-chair of the Women's March on Washington, said during an interview Monday evening on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes that she was extremely overwhelmed by the turnout. "Women showed up (all over the world) and showed their power," she said. Asked why the march exceeded expectations, Sarsour said: "We were able to speak to the values of people. We came together in solidarity to stand with the most marginalized people. We were also intersectional. It wasn't just about reproductive rights. It was climate justice and racial justice and immigrant rights. Everyone found a place to be there. We spoke to every one's inner frustrations. We went from Friday's devastation to Saturday's inspiration, motivation and galvanization."

In a New York Times editorial published on its website Monday, it wrote: "Whether President Trump, newly ensconced in the White House, was surprised or even noticed is unclear. Given his reputation, he may not even care. But the Republican Party should."

We are America /
Marching near the National Museum of
the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
(Photo by Carla Morris.)
Actress America Ferrera, who was one of the first speakers at the Washington, D.C. rally, said: "We march today for the moral core of this nation, against which our new president is waging a war. Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack and a platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday. But the president is not America. ... We are America and we are here to stay."

The feminist icon Gloria Steinem, 82, also speaking in the nation's capital, exulted: "This is the upside of the downside. This is an outpouring of democracy like I've never seen in my very long life."

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, marching in Boston, said, "We can whimper. We can whine. Or we can fight back!"

Back in Washington, D.C., singer Madonna said matter-of-factly: "Let's march together through this darkness and with each step know that we are not afraid, that we are not alone that we will not back down. There is power in our unity and no opposing force stands a chance in the face of true solidarity." She added: "Today marks the beginning of our story. The revolution starts here. The fight for the right to be free, to be who we are, to be equal."

Energizing in the name of goodwill /
A sign proclaiming "My Body My Choice" was one of
many causes represented during the Women's March.
(Photo by Carla Morris.)
Among my many Macalester College friends who marched in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, Carla Morris, an independent consultant who is married and the mother of two young boys, described her march experience like this: "It was like we had all individually and collectively found the real America again! I did not see a single act of unkindness or disrespect all day long." On her Facebook page, Morris called the mood in Washington, D.C. "so jubilant. Everyone on the trains going down to the march beamed at each other, smiled, chanted together, clapped, traded stories, helped each other. ... It was so wonderful. A fabulous, energizing day of goodwill."

Among many speakers whom I saw while watching TV coverage via MSNBC and C-SPAN, I was particularly interested in learning viewpoints from people of color and of different religions, groups which are being marginalized by the Trump administration. I heard the passionate voices of Zahra Billoo, the San Francisco Bay Area Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and of Van Jones, founder and president of Rebuild the Dream, an American center-left political organization, and a former Obama Administration advisor.

Billoo, a Muslim-American, said: "Our America ... includes all of us in our beautiful diversity. Our America requires that we march to protect each other. Our America needs us to build a better future. We have our work cut out for us but we are ready."

Marching towards a better future /
The Women's March showed peaceful yet powerful activism.
(Photo by Carla Morris.) 
Meanwhile, Jones, a black male, reached out to both conservatives and liberals during his speech. He said: "This movement has the opportunity to stand up for the underdogs in the red states and the blue states, to stand up for the Muslims and the Dreamers ... but also to stand up for the coal miners who are going to be thrown under the bus by Donald Trump. We're going to stand up for them. All those Rust Belt workers who he doesn't want to mess with but wants to mess over, we've got to stand up for them. We have to have a position that's clear. When it gets harder to love, let's love harder."

Looking back upon this special and unique day, in Washington, D.C., throughout American cities from Seattle and San Francisco to Ann Arbor and Chicago, to Raleigh, Boston and New York, and around the world – a record turnout for protests the likes of which we have not seen since the Vietnam War  – there was great strength found in this peaceful yet powerful activism, and unity in its numbers.

On this memorable day, love truly trumped hate.

Photos: Courtesy of Google images and Carla Morris.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On art and politics: "We the People ... "

We the People of the United States ...

In just four days, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. With a lot of division surfacing throughout the country, many Americans are looking to art as a means of connecting us as human beings.

We the People ...
 are greater than fear.
"We the People are greater than fear," reads the message of a new poster created by Shepard Fairey, the graphic arts, muralist, illustrator and activist behind the iconic 2008 Hope posters he created for Barack Obama. Another new poster reads "We the People protect each other" and the third one says "We the People defend dignity."

There is a lot of division right now. Trump is not a healer," says Fairey. "Art, on the other hand, is healing and inclusive, whether topically it celebrates humanity, or whether it's just compelling visuals to make a human connection."

Interviewed recently by the PBS NewsHour, Fairey said "it was the right time to make a campaign that's about diversity and inclusion, about people seeing the common bonds we have, and our connections as human beings. The idea was to take back a lot of this patriotic language in a way that we see is positive and progressive, and not let it be hijacked by people who want to say that the American flag or American concepts only represent one narrow way of thinking."

Shepard has created three portraits for the "We the People" campaign. One depicts a Muslim woman wrapped in a hijab resembling an American flag. Another shows a young African-American girl and the third features a Latina female.

We the People ...
protect each other.
Two other artists, the Colombian American muralist Jessica Sabogal and the Chicano graphic artist Ernesto Yerena, each contributed to the project in collaboration with the Amplifier Foundation, a nonprofit that works to amplify grassroots movements and which commissioned the project. Together, the artists hope the faces of "We the People" – standing in for traditionally marginalized groups or those specifically targeted during Trump's presidential campaign – will flood Washington, D.C., on Friday during Inauguration Day.

According to Fairey, "All the subjects (in 'We the People') were photographed by people who relate to them somehow. The Muslim woman was shot by a Muslim photographer, the Latina woman shot by a Latino photographer, and the African-American kid shot by a French African-American woman photographer. We realized that this has got to be a diverse coalition of artists for us to do this, and that while it's good for us to be allies, this campaign really has to be authentically diverse."

Fairey went on to say in the PBS NewsHour interview, "We came to a conclusion as a group that in the language (for these posters) we want to say, 'We reject fear-mongering and exclusion.' But we also wanted to do it in a way that doesn't leave the door open for the Fox News type to say, 'This is reverse racism' ..."

We the People ...
defend dignity.
Adds Fairey: "It's hard to encapsulate the complexity of what we're facing, going into this Trump presidency, in three images. But we chose three groups that are vulnerable. In the history of the U.S., there are a lot of people who fled persecution from Europe on the basis of religious identities. The idea of championing the ideals of our forefathers and then limiting the movement of Muslims – it so confounding that this is not riling more people up. And so it's really time to do some (work) that I think is a counterargument to that, and that's not based on division but based on inclusion. We've seen where division has got us."

A Kickstarter campaign has begun that according to Fairey is "getting great traction." He said a goal of his group is funding an ongoing and expanding range of creative projects, with the next wave of people from all different communities. "We want to allow people to express all their social/political views around a number of issues – LGBT rights, women's rights – because a number of those things are going to be under attack under Trump."

Photos: We the People images by Shepard Fairey; U.S. Constitution courtesy of Google Images.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On couture fashion: YSL and the perfection of style

Yves Saint Laurent / One of the greatest names
in couture fashion history.
The late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) is regarded as one of the greatest names in couture fashion history. On the day after New Year's Day, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing "Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style" at the Seattle Art Museum. It was the climax of our recent holiday visit to the Emerald City.

In this stunning exhibition showcasing highlights from the legendary couture designer's 44-year career, YSL's fashion featured loads of color and alchemy – and some gender-bending styles, too – and I found it to be plenty of enjoyable, escapist fun. It's no wonder that in 1985 the fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank wrote of YSL: "The most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past twenty-five years, Yves Saint Laurent can be credited with both spurring the couture's rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable." Indeed, YSL adapted his style to accommodate changes in fashion.

Love Me Forever /
Multicolored silk velvet
coat with appliqué.
In "Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style," over 100 haute couture and Saint Laurent rive gauche garments and accessories, photographs, drawings, films and other elements drawn from the collection of the Foundation Pierre Bergé were displayed. Those who were able to score a coveted timed-ticket over the holiday weekend, a week before it closed its three-month run, were treated to a journey through YSL's life, his creative process and his brilliant career.

Presented in a chronological fashion that began with the prodigy's Paper Doll Couture House that YSL created as a teenager (and seen in the U.S. for the first time), the colorful retrospective chronicled the designer's first days at Christian Dior in 1955, followed by his radical designs of the 1960s and '70s, and continued with the splendor of the final two decades of his career. Finally, the exhibition concluded with a collection of YSL's spectacular evening gowns that were arranged in an order from darkness to an explosion of color.

Throughout, there were daytime ensembles and dresses and evening ensembles and gowns. YSL dabbled in African art, Mondrian and Pop art, and a coat worn by Catherine Deneuve in Luis Buñuel's 1967 movie Belle de jour was displayed.

Cocktail dresses / Homage to Pop Art from Autumn-Winter 1966
haute couture collection.

Through a variety of photographs, drawings and production documents, exhibition-goers were treated to a rare behind-the-scenes look into YSL's creative process of his couture fashion house as well as his private life.

Individual shapes as wearable art /
This cocktail dress from Autumn-Winter 1965
was an homage to Piet Mondrian.
One of YSL's most popular dresses – and one which I took great time to study and photograph – was constructed from individual shapes sewn together to mimic the simplicity of a painting. This "wearable art" was inspired by the modern artist Piet Mondrian.

As I walked through the exhibition – where taking non-flash photographs were encouraged! – it became evident to me that, to paraphrase the famous Henry Miller quote, YSL developed an interest in a life of fashion as he saw it, as well as in people. He realized the world was so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people.

Note: The multifaceted exhibition was organized by the Seattle Art Museum in partnership with the Foundation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris. It was curated by Florence Müller, guest curator for the exhibition, and the Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art, Curator of Fashion at the Denver Art Museum in collaboration with Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM's Deputy Director of Art and Curator of European Painting & Sculpture. 

Fashion photos: By Michael Dickens © 2017.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Farewell to 2016: Everyday we wrote the book

Flying over Mount Adams, Washington, en route to Seattle,
provided me this photo opportunity last Friday morning.

We are less than a week removed from the end of 2016,

which is a good thing because it was a very tough year.

We lost a lot of dear and talented people: Ali, Bowie, Wiesel, come to mind.

However, with the arrival of 2017, the first blank page of a 365-page,

year-long book that each of us will author began to be filled.

All of us start the New Year with a clean slate.

Hopefully, each of us will take the time to write a thoughtful book, 

be it a memoir or a best-selling novel,

day by day, page by page.

 With 2017 coming into clearer view, we welcome its challenges.

Remember, the words of Ecclesiastes, who said:

"The race is not to the swift,

nor the battle to the strong."

Life is to be enjoyed day by day,

 one day at a time.

Take time for reading, listen to good music,

master a hobby like photography,

talk to good friends – and listen to them, too.

Here's wishing you and your loved ones a Happy New Year.

May each of you enjoy cheers, love and peace on earth

in the New Year ahead.