Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jonathan Rowe RIP

My colleagues and I at the California Studies Association were shocked and saddened to hear that Jonathan Rowe passed away suddenly last week. He was 65.

I met Jon on the CSA steering committee. Our 2007 conference on the crisis of the California commons intersected with his work at the Tomales Bay Institute in Point Reyes, where he also hosted a public affairs program on KWMR.

Over the next few years, I appeared on the program twice to discuss my books. I also guest-hosted when Jon was out of town, joined his local pick-up basketball game, and visited him and his family at their home. He was damn good company.

I'm not familiar with every aspect of Jon's work, but he was extraordinarily productive and versatile. He grew up in Boston, was trained as a lawyer, and worked for Ralph Nader early on. He also served as a congressional staffer and wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, American Prospect, Washington Monthly, and many other publications.

Jon did all of his own thinking, wrote beautifully, and was a shrewd observer of people and politics. "The Language of Strangers," his 2008 piece on community journalism in West Marin, is a minor masterpiece.

You can also see Jon's genius and originality in the Senate testimony he gave a few years ago; some of it appeared in the June 2008 issue of Harper's magazine under the title, "Our Phony Economy."

Jon's friends are putting together a website with more of his work--190 articles now and counting.

Last weekend, Jon went to the gym and came home feeling bad. That night, he had a high fever and went to the hospital. He died the next morning. Frankly, it's hard for me to fathom, but I wanted to make sure I honored Jon by calling attention to his life and work.

Friday, March 18, 2011

87 Harrington

Thanks to the efforts of Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead archivist at UC Santa Cruz, I'm scheduled to deliver a paper on the Dead next month in San Antonio. In addition to working the keyboard, that means reviewing the literature I ingested last year and taking a few informal field trips on the side. This week I visited one of Jerry Garcia's boyhood homes in the Excelsior, a working-class (formerly Irish-Catholic, now largely Asian and Latino) neighborhood that I pass several times a week on my way to San Francisco State University.

Harrington Street is one block long and connects Alemany and Mission on the south side of I-280, which links downtown San Francisco and Daly City. 87 Harrington, which sold for $60,000 in 1994, will never be mistaken for a national historical landmark. But visiting it helps me understand the comment often attributed to Garcia: "San Francisco is San Francisco, the rest of the country is Daly City."


Thursday, March 17, 2011

California Women and Politics

I attended the California Studies dinner last night in Berkeley and was treated to the perfect blend of expertise and conviviality that I associate with these monthly events. Bob Cherny and Mary Ann Irwin discussed their new book, California Women and Politics (University of Nebraska), and as usual, I learned a lot in the most pleasant way possible.

The book, a compilation of essays, covers various aspects of women's activism and political participation from the Gold Rush through the 1920s. But many of the essays focus on the Progressive Era, when California women won the right to vote, and the talk last night paid special attention to the ways women put that right to immediate use. The chapters cover, among other topics, the temperance movement, Phoebe Apperson Hearst's philanthropy, settlement work, environmental activism, women's clubs, and trade unionism.

Bob and Mary Ann's presentations were followed by questions and discussion, and this is where these dinners really stand out. Those on hand last night included Bob's colleagues at San Francisco State, Charles Postel and Bill Issel; host and Berkeley City College historian Chuck Wollenberg; author and Berkeley blogger Frances Dinkelspiel; UC Berkeley historian Mark Brilliant; UC Berkeley oral historian Lisa Rubens; and Jewish historian Ava Kahn. Most have presented their own latest work at these dinners, and just listening to their exchanges is a form of higher education.

Kudos to Matt Bokovoy, this book's editor at the University of Nebraska Press. He originally signed the project during his tenure at the University of Oklahoma Press. When he moved to Nebraska, his successors at Oklahoma wavered in their commitment to the book, and he was able to pick it up again.

Ironically, attending the dinner last night meant that I missed two episodes of Saving the Bay, an excellent documentary (narrated by Robert Redford) on Bay Area history. It includes comments from many regulars at these dinners, including Bob, Chuck, Dick Walker, Malcolm Margolin, and Gray Brechin.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Figures of Speech

I just returned from a book event in Oakland for William Bennett Turner's Figures of Speech: First Amendment Heroes and Villains. Superb book, important topic, and an author who blends deep expertise with a clear, personal prose style. Bill not only teaches this material at UC Berkeley, but he also has argued First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court. (Believe me, I'm only scratching the surface of his credentials.)

Bill's event brought out a remarkable cross-section of supporters, including Elizabeth Farnsworth, Carl Pope, Peter Sussman, Wendy Lesser, and Leah Garchik. And probably a dozen more notables that I didn't even know about. Which is one of the reasons I like living in the Bay Area.

Full disclosure: I acquired this book for PoliPointPress, but I didn't do much editing on it. Bill had most of the book ready to go before we even met for coffee across the street from UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall.