Friday, September 28, 2007

Cal State Channel Islands and Global Exchange

I spoke about Carey McWilliams at Cal State Channel Islands yesterday. I was really impressed with the campus and delighted by the faculty I met there.

On the drive down, I saw workers out in force picking lettuce in the Salinas Valley. Not much has changed since I began doing that drive over 30 years ago, and I wonder if McWilliams and John Steinbeck would notice any big changes since 1939.

I stayed at Alice McGrath's house in Ventura. She came to the talk, and I dropped her off on the way back to the Bay Area. I pulled into the Mission (San Francisco, that is) just in time for a book party at Global Exchange for Building the Green Economy by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. Also a blast.

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The Country in the City

I just finished reading Richard Walker's The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area. It really helped me understand the world I was born into--Berkeley in the late 1950s. As Dick points out, that world reflected the work of countless Bay Area activists reaching back to John Muir. Many were civic-minded and dedicated women, and some started or built environmental organizations with national impact. This book describes it all: the people, the organizations, the issues, the victories (always temporary), the challenges, and the movement's shortcomings and unintended consequences.

Always attuned to class issues, Dick acknowledges that these movements were mostly led by upper class folks and ultimately turned parts of the Bay Area (e.g., Marin and Napa) into lightly populated enclaves for the well off. Working families in the Bay Area have had great access to public parks and the coast, but activists so far have done little to impede the siting of toxic nastiness in low-income neighborhoods. Dick questions the link between efforts to slow or stop growth and the region's high housing prices, but he notes that the growth that has occurred--in the eastern part of Contra Costa County and the San Joaquin Valley, for example--isn't very smart and may be linked to the inner Bay Area's aversion to virtually any growth at all. At the end of the day, though, it's hard to resist Dick's conclusion that Bay Area residents have plenty to be thankful for.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bill Issel on Sylvester Andriano

Last night I heard Bill Issel give a talk on the travails of Sylvester Andriano, a San Francisco attorney who was grilled and surveilled during World War II by some of the same people (e.g., Jack Tenney, J. Edgar Hoover) that went after Carey McWilliams. Some differences: Andriano was suspected of being pro-fascist, not a premature anti-fascist. Also, he had to leave the West Coast for the duration of the war, eventually settling in Chicago. And here's the capper: San Francisco leftists, including Harry Bridges, testified against him. I knew the early inquistions targeted right-wingers as well as lefties, but I didn't realize the firing squad was quite so circular.

Bill is professor emeritus of history at San Francisco State University. His talk was part of the California Studies Dinners, sponsored by the Department of Geography and the Townsend Center at UC Berkeley. The title was “A Desecration of My Rights as an American Citizen: J. Edgar Hoover’s Investigation of Sylvester Andriano”

Sunday, September 16, 2007

From Z to A and The Real Long Goodbye

Pat Reagh, a designer and printer in Sebastopol, just sent me two letterpress editions of Victoria Dailey's From Z to A: Jake Zeitlin, Merle Armitage and Los Angeles' Early Moderns and Judith Freeman's The Real Long Goodbye: The Unconventional Marriage of Raymond and Cissy Chandler. They're both beautiful works, sponsored by the UCLA Library. I can't wait to read them.

Pat will design and print the Bonnie Cashin lecture I gave last year at UCLA, so I'm eager to see how it comes out. The lecture was called "Always in Fashion? Carey McWilliams, California Radicalism, and the Politics of Cool."

Victoria Dailey is the lead author of LA's Early Moderns, for which I wrote an Amazon review (see the link to your starboard). My SF State class finishes reading Chandler's The Big Sleep tomorrow night, so I want to have a look at the Freeman piece today. Her book on Chandler and the women in his life, The Long Embrace, has just been published by Pantheon.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Prejudice Redux?

I'm in Chicago at the American Political Science Association meeting. I'm here on PoliPointPress business, but at least one other benefit may flow from it. Yesterday I visited with Susan McWilliams, an assistant professor at Pomona College, and Matt Bokovoy, an editor at the University of Oklahoma Press, about reissuing Prejudice, one of Carey McWilliams's most notable books. First published in 1944, it demolished every argument for the evacuation and internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. It was also cited repeatedly that same year in a Supreme Court dissenting opinion to Korematsu, which upheld the constitutionality of the internment.

This book should be in print, not only for its historical value, but also for its durability and compelling backstory. McWilliams didn't oppose the internment publicly, presumably because he was serving in state government under a Democratic governor and a Democratic president. But as soon as he left his post in late 1942--incoming governor Earl Warren had already said that his first official act would be to fire him--McWilliams turned his attention to that massive injustice. The result was a brave, commanding, and sometimes disturbing work, published while the camps were still operating.

I'm pleased that Susan is on board and that Matt is interested. Oklahoma specializes in books on the American West, especially race and ethnicity, so it looks like a good fit.

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