Friday, August 27, 2010

The UC Loyalty Oath

I just finished reading Bob Blauner's Resisting McCarthyism: To Sign or Not to Sign California's Loyalty Oath. It's a solid and insightful addition to the literature on that divisive time.

The characters include two of my former professors, Joseph Tussman (philosophy) and Charles Muscatine (English) as well as Earl Warren, Robert Sproul, Clark Kerr, and regent John Francis Neylan, the Hearst adviser and university regent who plays the role of villain. Neylan, a wealthy investor, had been a leading Progressive in the 1920s; indeed, Blauner considers him "the single most powerful politician in California" by the end of that decade.

Here's a sample of Neylan's style during the loyalty oath crisis. After one faculty member raised the issue in his class, Neylan wrote an editorial for Hearst's San Francisco Examiner: "We wonder who, if anyone, gave [him] permission to use his class room as a forum to present a one-sided argument and a vicious attack on the Regents?" Consider the diction. Evidently, professors needed permission to discuss the trauma that Neylan, perhaps more than anyone else, was inflicting on the university and its faculty. And of course, Neylan had no compunctions about launching one-sided arguments and attacks on professors and administrators--in the mass media, to which he had privileged access.

By coincidence, I'm also reading Dave Zirin's Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, and yesterday, I heard Jane Mayer on Fresh Air discussing the Koch brothers' lavish support for right-wing causes. So I'm feeling more fed up than usual with the disproportionate influence right-wing rich folks exercise in public life.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mars Arizona

I was browsing at Down Home Music in El Cerrito and came upon an album called High Desert by Mars Arizona. I've been listening to it more or less nonstop since. OK, I've started skipping a few of the cuts (as usual), but I really like a lot of the original songs, including "Jesus Ain't Coming Back (That Way)," "High Desert," and "Alabama Bound." Covers of the Grateful Dead ("It Must Have Been the Roses"), Neil Young ("For the Turnstiles"), and the Rolling Stones ("Sweet Virginia") are icing on the proverbial cake.

I went online and learned more about the musicians and producers who helped Berkeley-based Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto make this record. They include folks who play or work with Wilco, Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, Lucinda Williams, and I See Hawks in L.A. I also learned that Mars Arizona is playing the Red Devil Lounge on Polk Street this Wednesday night. (Tickets are $3.) People, this is exactly why Al Gore invented the World Wide Internet.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Farm City

I just finished reading Novella Carpenter's Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, which is now out in paperback. I don't think for a second that this very successful book needs my endorsement, but I'm happy to add my voice to the choir.

I relished Novella's account of establishing a little farm on an empty lot in Oakland's "Ghost Town" (28th Street). Her story focuses less on veggies and more on bees and critters, which I didn't realize until I dug into the book. Bay Area folks will recognize many landmarks, including Eccolo on 4th Street in Berkeley, which figures prominently in the story. (I've had many enjoyable lunches there, but my computer tells me it's closed now.)

As someone who teaches a class on California culture, I'm especially interested in the tension between two proximate but incompatible approaches to food production and consumption. In the Bay Area, we hear a lot about Michael Pollan's critique of the industrial food system, the Slow Food movement, flourishing organic and farmers' markets, etc. An hour's drive away, UC Davis researchers are pushing back the frontiers of Frankenfood. (I just read on the Food Science & Technology department's website that one faculty member was honored by the Frozen Food Foundation.) Both represent different aspects of the California Dream: one that reveres nature and the environment, the other high-tech.

I had the pleasure of meeting Novella briefly at a Berkeley Library Foundation event earlier this year, and a Bay Area News Group Q & A with her graced my daily newspaper, the West County Times, yesterday.

Novella has been keeping a blog about her experiences, too. She seems to be on hiatus now, but it sounds like she'll be back soon.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Ramparts Review in California History

I somehow missed this review of A Bomb in Every Issue. It appeared in California History and was written by W.J. Rorabaugh, who wrote Berkeley at War: The 1960s. That was a useful source for the Ramparts book.