Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Saturday road trip: On Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail

Be a trailblazer! / Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail
Last Saturday, my wife and I drove about 60 miles up the I-95 northeast past Baltimore to Bel Air, Maryland, in Harford County, in search of old fashioned ice cream at Broom's Bloom Dairy.

A lot of other Marylanders and tourists had the same idea as us.

On this summer afternoon, Broom's Bloom Dairy was a very popular destination. When we arrived about 1:30 p.m., there were plenty of cars lining the spacious gravel parking lot, and the line for food and ice cream was out the door. A sign near the entrance warned us: "Be patient – we are not fast food."

I learned that Broom's Bloom Dairy farm is named after the colonial land grand for the area and each year in late summer, there are lots of blooming sunflowers dotting the landscape. In 1997, as David and Kate Dallam began milking the 65 cows on their farm, one thing led to another and, more recently, they started making and selling old fashioned ice cream to go along with farmstead cheese and pork sausage. Their animals are fed a natural diet of grains and forages and they don't use artificial growth hormones.

Once inside, there were still at least half a dozen parties in front of us, but we were determined. The downtime gave us time to peruse the menu posted on a chalkboard, which consisted of variations on a main theme of quiche, mac and cheese, as well as Maryland crab soup, salads and sandwiches all featuring cheese. And, of course, there's the old fashioned ice cream – the reason why we drove to Broom's Bloom Dairy. We had a choice of about a dozen or so traditional (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream) and eclectic (coffee, salted caramel, graham cracker cake batter, maraschino cherry and chips) choices, but I'm told that Broom's Bloom Dairy produces more than 100 different flavors – and it ranks in Trip Advisor's Top 10 Ice Cream Shops in America. While there may be a certain sadness when a choice gets erased from the chalkboard, soon it's replaced with another amazing flavor. Obviously, it will take plenty of visits for us to get through all of them – traditional and eclectic. Not to worry, though, the farm and the house have been around since the early 1700s, and it's now supporting its ninth generation of the Dallam family.

Welcoming sign to Broom's Bloom Dairy in Bel Air, Md.
I couldn't help but feel that being surrounded by corn fields and having the rustic family farm nearby gives one a feeling that everything at Broom's Bloom Dairy is fresh – and it is. Plus, there's plenty of seating, both inside and outdoors, live music on the weekends, and the big open field lends itself to a friendly, family atmosphere.

By the time it was our turn to order, both of us decided on a lunch of mac and cheese and I asked for mine to be covered in chili, which proved to be a hearty compliment. We pre-paid for our ice cream dessert – each of us chose "a very small size," which was actually a very generous, nearly-two scoop portion of our choice – caramel and cashew – and were given a couple of poker-chip medallions to use when were were ready to order our ice cream. This allowed us to skip the main line and queue up for the afternoon's main attraction. After all, ice cream was the real reason for our trek on Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail.

There's a back story to our journey on the roads of Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail:

Maryland has nine dairy farms that offer fresh, delicious on-farm ice cream sold directly to consumers. Together, they make up Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail. Let's see, in addition to Broom's Bloom Dairy, there's Prigel Family Creamery in Glen Arm (Baltimore County); Kilby Cream in Rising Sun (Cecil County); South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, Rocky Point Creamery in Tuscarora, and Keyes Creamery in Aberdeen (all in Frederick County); Woodbourne Creamery at Rock Hill Orchard in Mount Airy (Montgomery County); Misty Meadows Farm Creamery in Smithsburg (Washington County) and Chesapeake Bay Farms, Inc., in Berlin (Worcester County).

"The Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail is a great way to encourage Marylanders to get out and visit a real working farm," Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder said last month in kicking off the 2017 season. "Maryland is home to many outstanding dairy operations, and I challenge all residents to visit at least one of the trail's nine stops this summer."

Sunflowers dot the landscape at Broom's Bloom Dairy.
Now in its fifth year, Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail – a joint production supported by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, the local affiliate of the National Dairy Council – officially opened its 2017 season on May 26 and it runs through September 25.

Ice cream enthusiasts can become a "trailblazer" by having their ice cream passport stamped by all nine creameries. And, if they wish, they can mail it in to the state's agriculture department to be entered in a drawing for some cool food and dairy-themed prizes.

Knowing that the milk that goes into the ice cream served on Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail comes from good places, the Maryland Department of Agriculture wants everyone to know that these dairy farmers take good care of their animals and the land that they farm. Not only are they active members of their respective communities, they contribute greatly to their local economies, which we witnessed firsthand on this sunny summer afternoon. In the hour or so we were at Broom's Bloom Dairy, easily 100 scoops of ice cream were dished up by the enthusiastic and friendly waitstaff. With lots of enjoyable and creative, home-made flavors, there was not shortage of good choices. My velvety caramel cashew ice cream – most definitely – was not only delicious, it was welcome relief on this hot summer afternoon.

Caramel and cashew ice cream at Broom's Bloom Dairy.
Think about it. What a great concept enjoying homemade ice cream on a dairy farm is – changing Maryland for the better, so the slogan goes. With one stamp in our Maryland's Best Ice Cream Trail passport, we hope to visit many more this summer.

Note: Broom's Bloom Dairy, 1700 S. Fountain Green Road (Maryland Highway 543), in Bel Air, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 9 p.m.; closed Monday. 


Photos: Courtesy of Maryland Dept. of Agriculture and Broom's Bloom Dairy. Ice cream photo by Michael Dickens © 2017.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ways of Grace: How sports can bring us together

James Blake left Harvard to become a professional tennis player in 1999, playing until he retired at the U.S. Open in 2013. He received the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2005 following a horrific injury, and was named the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year in 2008.

In his newly published book, Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together written with Carol Taylor (which I recently checked out from my local branch of the D.C. Public Library), Blake reflects on his experiences as a professional and shows how athletes have long been at the forefront of social change throughout our history. He pays tribute to those who were willing to raise a fist, take a stand or take a knee.

From Olympians Muhammad Ali to John Carlos and Tommie Smith; from trailblazing female athletes Billie Jean King to Brittney Griner; and from outspoken professional football players Chris Kluwe to Colin Kaepernick, many athletes have used their public roles not only to overcome adversity but also to effect social change and to advocate for a broader social justice. We learn through the stories Blake uncovers how athletes have used sports to unite rather than to divide – and how "simply being in the game," these activists fought against the barriers of oppression, discrimination, inequality and bias, in whatever form they might take.

In praising Ways of Grace, Wimbledon champion Venus Williams wrote that Blake "reminds us all of the power of sports." And John McEnroe said that in Ways of Grace, Blake "proves the vital role athletes have played in further discussion around society's most pressing issues. It is an inspiring and important work."

The 36-year-old Blake's journey to becoming an activist athlete – and the impetus for writing Ways of Grace – came to him when in August 2015, he found himself standing outside his high-rise hotel on a busy Manhattan sidewalk preparing to head to the U.S. Open – he's the chairman of the United States Tennis Association Foundation – and, soon, was tackled and handcuffed by a police officer in a case of "mistaken identity."

Although the feeling of rage would have been totally justified, instead, Blake faced the incident with a sense of dignity. He used this experience as an opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers of racial profiling.

James Blake
"It should not matter that I am a tennis star, or a public figure with access to the media, to be treated respectfully and not have my rights taken for granted by law enforcement," wrote Blake.

"All people, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or perceived socioeconomic standing, should know that police officers will treat them respectfully and issue an accurate and timely report of any incident or altercation between them and law enforcement.

"That I have a platform and access to the media should not make what happened to me any more significant. No one should be manhandled without due process and definitely not because of a vague likeness to someone else."

In this age of social media, where 140-character tweets can have an immediate and lasting impact, many well-known professional superstar athletes such as LeBron James have not been afraid to further dialogue about our most pressing issues, "despite the risks that have often accompanied that self-expression." Rather, they are "leading the charge to preserve a diverse and tolerant world."

Not only is winning on the court and playing field important, but so is standing up for their beliefs off of it – and Blake wanted to use his voice and his role as an athlete to make a difference, to turn a very unfortunate incident into a catalyst for change in the relationship between the police and the public that they serve, "in a way that would be helpful to both."

In writing Ways of Grace, Blake was inspired by Arthur Ashe's memoir, Days of Grace. "Illuminating and insightful, his life story is a testament to how moments of adversity can actually move you in a direction of grace, and how you can respond to life in a graceful way as opposed to a reactionary, divisive way," wrote Blake. "Ashe showed us you can use adversity to heal and not hurt; we can use it to unite and not to divide."

As a Wimbledon champion, Ashe also fought apartheid, fought for those who were less fortunate, fought for those who were in bad situations. He had the ability and resources to help. Towards the end of his life, when he had HIV, when he contracted AIDS, Ashe was helping others who did not have the means to the same treatment he had, who did not have the money he had. Even as he struggled physically, Ashe sought to help the cause of HIV/AIDS research.

"Ashe taught me that despite the situation you are in, no matter how grave, how embarrassing, or how devastating, you can try to find a positive way to affect the world. As I considered Ashe and his profound impact on not only sports but also the world, I considered other sports figures who have sparked change, on the field and off," wrote Blake.

"I wanted to bring to light their stories of activism, advocacy, and courage even as they faced a harsh personal, societal, and financial backlash. As I researched, I was struck by how many athletes – past and present – have championed causes they are passionate about and have created change in positive and uplifting ways, publicly and privately. I want to tell their stories."

To read a sample of the book:

Cover photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins.com.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Words that built America: Thoughts on this Fourth of July

"Where liberty is, there is my country." 

– Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Today is Independence Day – America's birthday – the day the United States celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, signed 241 years ago on July 4, 1776, and the separation of the original 13 colonies of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations from the British Empire.

According to Garrison Keillor, broadcasting in his Writer's Almanac  this morning across National Public Radio stations from coast to coast, I learned this: "Thomas Jefferson wrote most of the Declaration of Independence; everyone else in the room thought he was the most eloquent and the best writer and he offered no dissent. It's said that John Hancock wrote his name in extra large script so that King George would be sure to see it; the king suffered from cataracts. Fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the document. One out of eight of them had gone to Harvard. Two would go on to become presidents of the United States."

Now it can be told: The signing of the Declaration of Independence actually took place on July 2, not the Fourth of July, and, said Keillor, "this fact always irked John Adams, who decided to protest the date of the new celebration by never, not once, attending a July Fourth celebration as long as he lived."

Also, the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place in Philadelphia on July 18, 1776, in Independence Square. Bells were rung and music filled the air. Congress established the Fourth of July as a national holiday in 1870. It became a federal holiday in 1938.

Today, Independence Day throughout the United States is commonly associated with fireworks and parades, backyard barbecues and picnics in city parks and at lakes and beaches. We celebrate family reunions and go to baseball games, too. Indeed, Independence Day is our celebration of our National Day in the United States.

And yet, in recent days, out collective liberties and freedoms have come under attack, thanks to the actions of a few – but with far-reaching consequences. Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, recently wrote that real patriotism "isn't about putting up walls, excluding Muslims and refugees, giving tax cuts to the rich, threatening freedom of the press and attacking the federal courts, or dividing Americans by race and ethnicity." In fact, he goes on to say, it's just the opposite. "Real patriotism requires sharing the burdens and sacrifices of keeping America going, paying taxes in full, cherishing democratic institutions, and bring America together."

Indeed, in this era of Trump, it is important that we remind ourselves what "We the People" truly stands for.

Here's one final thought worth sharing on this Fourth of July, 2017:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

– And, so began the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, the statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, who were then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead, they formed a new nation – the United States of America.

Happy Birthday America!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Welcome to my new life

The east side of U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T. S. Eliot

On April 22, after 21-plus years of enjoying the landscapes and rhythms of northern California, my wife, Jodi, and I waved goodbye to the San Francisco Bay Area and headed east on Interstate 80. Our final destination? None other than the greater Washington, D.C. area, our new home.

As it happened, over the next week, we drove 2,950.6 miles – covering 13 states starting from California. We crossed the finish line in Maryland on Saturday afternoon, April 29, after beginning the final day of our journey in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Our Passivhaus town home in
Mount Rainier, Maryland.
Our travel week was very busy for us, but one in which we both embraced. After all, we had purchased a brand new house, a Passivhaus town home, in funky Mount Rainier, Maryland, just a couple of short blocks across the District line from Washington and about 15 minutes by car south of the University of Maryland campus in College Park. And, on May 1, my wife began a dream job in research and development at the Library of Congress, which served as the impetus for our leaving California for the Mid-Atlantic east coast.

As we drove across our beautiful and diverse country observing – through the snow-capped Sierra Mountains of California and Nevada, across the massive and great Salt Lake of Utah, alongside the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado, across acres and acres of Kansas wheat fields, near the picturesque Gateway Arch of St. Louis, through the Big Ten country of Indiana University in Bloomington, beside the Great American city of Cincinnati and up and down the hilltops of Morgantown – I was reminded often of how Mother Nature often holds up a mirror to us so that we can see more clearly the ongoing processes of growth, of renewal and of transformation in our lives. Our hours and days on the road were also filled with an abundance of music CDs – Pink Martini, Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Valerie June, Diana Reeves – a variety of NPR podcasts like "Make Me Smart," and we tried to limit our driving to daytime hours so we could rest and renew ourselves at night.

The scenic beauty of the Donner Summit as seen driving
along Interstate 80 through the California Sierra Mountains.
Fortunately, social media and the Internet enable us to stay more easily connected than ever before with family and friends and we still plan to follow and support our favorite Bay Area professional and collegiate sports teams – just from a different city and time zone. So far, we are enjoying the fine public radio offerings from WAMU in Washington, D.C. as well as reading the Washington Post and the national print edition of The New York Times. And, we've learned thanks to the University of Maryland, which won both the men's and women's national championships in lacrosse, that people in this part of the country do take their lacrosse seriously. We've got tickets to see a Washington Nationals baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, and already we've been to a WNBA women's professional basketball game, too. Yes, there's plenty of rich of history and culture that awaits us in and around the nation's capital city, through its many museums and monuments, parks and trails – and I'm sure our free summer weekends will fill up fast with things to see and do. Already, we've explored historic Annapolis (which I'll write more about in the weeks to come) – it's only about 40 minutes away by car – and I'm sure we'll be back, soon.

Our future looks bright – and it doesn't even have anything to do with the abundance of sunshine we've experienced during the past month. Indeed, as the French novelist Marcel Proust once said, "the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

This year, the City ruled the Land

With a near-perfect 16-1 postseason, the Golden State Warriors won their
second NBA Championship in three years on Monday night.

If you're a Golden State Warriors fan, like I am, you're probably in a pretty good mood today. After all, this is the year that the City ruled the Land.

Congratulations are in order for the Golden State Warriors on the occasion of winning their second NBA Championship in three seasons. On a late, spring Monday night at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, 129-120, to win their best-of-7 NBA Final, four games to one.

Indeed, as Warriors fans know, there's strength in numbers.

The much-heralded Kevin Durant, who joined the Warriors family nearly a year ago on July 4, 2016, in search of his first championship, garnered the Finals MVP by pouring in 39 points in the clincher. Teammate Stephen Curry, himself a Finals MVP when the Warriors won it all in 2015, added 34. Together, they were virtually unstoppable. In defeat, LeBron James scored a game-high 41 points for the Cavaliers. After the final buzzer sounded, James found both Durant and Curry on the court and offered props to both. Very classy move.

Looking back, the Warriors won the NBA Championship for a reason – they had the best collection of committed players and a coaching staff who molded this group of highly talented and motivated athletes into a winning team. They played with joy and enthusiasm, beauty and unity. Throughout their historic 16-1 post-season run, there was always a sense of passion on display and their desire to achieve a common goal of winning the title was always in focus. On any given night, in any given game, the Warriors always hustled and more often than not, found a way to win.

Thank you, players: Matt, Ian, Stephen, Kevin, Draymond, Andre, Damian, Shaun, Kevon, James Michael, Patrick, JaVale, Zaza, Klay and David. Thank you coaches: Steve, Mike, Ron, Jarron, Bruce, Chris and Willie.

Long after the game ended but not before the celebration had waned, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, sporting a championship tee to go with his Champagne-soaked-and-spiked coiffure, reflected on the championship moment during a televised interview outside Oracle Arena, among a hearty group of blue and gold-clad Warriors fans. As always, with the right sense of thought and tone of voice – and with graciousness, too –  his words spoke volumes:

"There's so much joy, so much love. It's an incredible group of guys," said Kerr. "We know how talented they are. They are so committed to each other and to the greater good. That's ultimately what puts you over the top. We have the talent – obviously – to compete for a title every year, but what puts you over the top, I think, is when you have that level of respect and commitment to each other."

This year, it was the Warriors turn to win it all.

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 Amazon.com 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.

Wednesday, March 1, 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, www.marketplace.org/topics/make-me-smart, 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.