Blogs

I am a philosophy professor and chair of the Philosophy Program at Southern Oregon University. Having been trained in both Indian and Western philosophy, my reading covers a wide spectrum. For the last several years I have become interested in issues in political philosophy, the role of scientific literacy in modern democracy, and issues at the interface between science and religion. I see reading as a walk I am taking with a friend while exploring a subject. Depending on the topic, the conversation can be calm or passionate. Either way, the dialogue almost always enriches my life. This has required me to buy a few more bookshelves.

Here are some reflections on a variety of books I have been reading. Please feel free to send me your questions and comments.

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen

While there are thousands of volumes written about the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence from as many perspectives as one can imagine, the pages of Princeton philosopher Danielle Allen’s reading of the Declaration are filled with rigor and passion. Allen walks us through the document, helping us understand and appreciate the significance of various ideas and making a case the true freedom is not possible without equality. Each chapter is nicely organized in manageable lengths for easy reading.

I highly recommend reading the book, especially today as we are working through several social and political challenges.

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel

In this book, Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the New York Times bestseller Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, takes up some of the moral dilemmas we are encountering more and more in our society -- fighting wars, selling admission to colleges, drug testing -- and subjects them to moral scrutiny. Sandel argues that in the end, to separate markets and economics from morality “is not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.”

The book is an excellent resource to get us thinking about the issues we face today. It also illustrates how philosophers go about doing philosophy.

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel

Is everything, including mind/consciousness, ultimately reducible to material/physical substance and process alone? Or is there something more to it? Philosophers and theologians have been debating this question for centuries, if not longer. Ever since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), the debate gained new life, especially with those who pushed to explain mental phenomena in terms of material processes.

In Mind and Cosmos, renowned philosopher Thomas Nagel, makes a provocative proposal that arguments to reduce mind/consciousness to a physical foundation is, as he puts it in the title, “…almost certainly false.” The book has given rise to some interesting and, in some circles, even acrimonious exchanges. In reviewing the book, the Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker wrote that Nagel’s thesis is the “…shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.”

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene

Human beings may be unique in facing moral dilemmas. While historically there have been answers galore as to how one ought to behave, modern cognitive science and neuroscience are challenging and offering new insights into what constitutes morality and where we get it. In fascinating book, Harvard social scientist Joshua Greene explores how the human brain processes morality, shaped by evolution and cultural forces. In this very accessible book, he offers a moral framework, to help us examine and inform our moral quandaries.

The book will be of interest to all those who are interested learning about how new sciences can and are shaping our sense of morality.

Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science by Sissela Bok

The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being by Derek Bok

The last few decades have seen increased interest, attention, and research focused on happiness, a fundamental human emotion. While philosophers have discussed the concept for centuries, new research is shedding fresh light on how happiness can enhance and shape our wellbeing in society. In Exploring Happiness, philosopher Sissela Bok offers a philosophical overview of happiness from Aristotle to what neuroscience is telling about this subject. In The Politics of Happiness, Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, offers a broad survey of how new research on happiness can help us address some of our vexing social and economic problems. He touches on such challenges as income inequality, marriage and families, and quality of political leadership.

The Boks articulate a complex subject clearly and I recommend the books to anyone interested in understanding the present human condition, and perhaps why we need to rethink our approach to solving some of our personal, social, and political challenges.

Here are some other books on my bookshelf (outside of my professional reading):

Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life by Daniel Klein

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O Wilson

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

For more reading recommendations customized for you, try the My Librarian service.  My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

Ben Arogundade

hoto of Ben Arogundade - Photo from www\.benarogundade\.com

We wrap up this week’s fashion theme with a book recommendation, author Ben Arogundade’s Black Beauty. As stated on Amazon:

“Through over 150 color and black and white photographs and an engaging, informed text, Black Beauty discusses the position of blacks within the beauty hierarchy of the West, as well as the kinds of work available to black models within the past century. Author Ben Arogundade also offers insight to the ways in which certain styles of black beauty have been promoted above others. In considering black icons and celebrities from Marcus Garvey, Josephine Baker, and Muhammad Ali to Billy Dee Williams, Grace Jones and Lauryn Hill, Black Beauty reveals the many differing images of those who have embodied black beauty in our culture. Portraits by Herb Ritts, Albert Watson, Richard Avedon, and other eminent photographers are included in this stunning compilation.”

Further Exploration:  http://www.arogundade.com/ben-arogundade-biography-bio-author-and-e-book-publisher-arogundade-books.html

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black Beauty by Arogundade, Ben

Willi Smith

Willi Smith Photo: Chron

 

He was hailed as one of the most successful men in the fashion industry. It was the late 1970s to the mid-1980s — if you weren’t wearing Williwear, why get dressed, DAHLING? Willi Smith took the fashion world by storm. He believed designing should be fun and unconventional. He’s known for the signature highwaist wrap pants. He was edgy and youthful. He even designed Mary Jane’s dress in the popular comic book Spiderman! Smith designed for men and women. He created innovative clothing that people could afford. Smith was born in Philadelphia and attended the Philadelphia College of Art. He later received two scholarships to attend Parsons. He dropped out at 19 to do his own thing! His fashion house was worth 25million, in the 80s! ”I don’t design clothes for the Queen," he once said, "but for the people who wave at her as she goes by.”

Further Exploration: http://www.complex.com/style/2013/02/the-25-greatest-black-fashion-designers/

Available at Multnomah County Library: Fabric of Dreams, Designing My Own Success by Hankins, Anthony Mark

 

 

Anne Lowe

Photo of Anne Lowe and the wedding dress she designed for Jacqueline Kennedy. Source Women's World

 

She designed the most photographed wedding dress in history, yet, you probably never heard of her. Anne Lowe is the creative genius behind Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress. In fact, she designed dresses for the Duponts, Rockefellers, Roosevelts and many more of New York’s high society. But due to race relations at the time, Lowe did not always receive credit. In fact, it was not uncommon for a white designer to receive credit for her work. In 1946, it was Lowe who designed Olivia de Havilland’s dress for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. However, Sonia Rosenberg received recognition, not Lowe. Despite being New York society’s best kept secret, Lowe did receive due acknowledgement in Vogue, Vanity Fair and Town and Country. Lowe led the way for contemporary designers Tracy Reese, Samantha Black of Project Runway, Azede Jean-Pierre, Laura Smalls and a host of others. If you think Anne Lowe’s story is incredible, discover Elizabeth Keckly.

Further Exploration: http://blogs.archives.gov/prologue/?p=11922

Available at Multnomah County Library: Threads of Time: The Fabric of History, Profiles of African American Dressmakers and Designers 1850-2002 by Reed-Miller, Rosemary

 

Sarah E. Goode

Patent by Sarah E. Goode, by Krhaydon Public Domain, wikipedia

 

In 1884, a Chicago furniture store owner named Sarah E. Goode invented a folding cabinet bed to fit in small homes. Goode wanted to make it possible for people living in small homes to have furniture that fit in restricted space. When folded, the cabinet bed looks like a desk. Goode is now known as the first African American woman to receive a patent, on July 14, 1885. Today, there’s a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education school in Chicago named after Sarah E. Goode.

Further Exploration at BlackPast.org.

Available at Multnomah County Library: Women Designers in the U.S.A 1900-2000. Diversity and Difference by Multiple ContributorsEdit

Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson Photo: uspto\.gov

There is no way to list all the accomplishments of Lonnie Johnson, here. In short, he has a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He was a systems engineer for the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn. He worked on the Strategic Air Command helping to develop the Stealth Bomber program. He’s owner of Johnson Research and Development. In all, he has more than 100 patents. But, his most popular invention is the SUPER SOAKER!That’s right; Lonnie Johnson invented the summer time mega watergun enjoyed by millions all over the world!

Further Exploration:  http://www.biography.com/people/lonnie-g-johnson-17112946

Available at Multnomah County Library:  What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem

Percy L. Julian

Nytimes

He’s one of the most influential chemists this country has ever known. He’s a self made millionaire and humanitarian.  Yet, many people have never heard of him. Percy Lavon Julian is THE MAN when it comes to the chemical synthesis of plant-based drugs. He was the first to synthesis Physostigmine. He synthesized the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols. His work led to the creation of cortisone, even birth control pills! These are just a few of his contributions to the world of medicine. What he does with a yam is incredible! But don’t take our word for it, find out for yourself.

Further Exploration:  http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/julian.html

Available at Multnomah County Library:  Forgotten Genius (DVD)

Patricia Bath

Blackliberalboomer

She’s amazing. She attends Howard University School of Medicine, New York and Columbia universities. She believes everyone has a “Right to Sight.” She invents the Laserphaco Probe and procedure to improve cataract surgery results. She’s the first African American woman doctor to patent a medical invention. She’s the first African American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. She’s the first woman on faculty at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. Again, she’s amazing!

Further Exploration: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_26.html

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black Firsts, 4,000 Groundbreaking and Pioneering Historical Events by Jessie Carney Smith

Gerald A. Lawson

Gerald A Lawson Photo: museumofplay

If you play Playstation or Xbox or any other gaming console and enjoy video games, you have Gerald A. Lawson to thank. A self-taught engineer who never graduates from college, Lawson is the founding father of the modern-day video game. He creates the first home gaming system with interchangeable game cartridges.  Lawson met Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak pre-Apple. In fact, regarding Jobs and Wozniak, Lawson is quoted as saying, “I was not impressed with them—either one of them, actually.” This is one amazing story. Discover more.

Further Exploration: https://www.techtimes.com/articles/34649/20150223/jerry-lawson.htm

Available at Multnomah County Library: African American Firsts in Science & Technology by Webster, Raymond B.

 

Molly Williams

 the44diaries

Molly Williams is the first recorded woman firefighter. Her story goes a little something like this. The year is 1815. A slave for a New York merchant, Molly works as a cook in the Oceanus Engine Company in New York City. At the Oceanus firehouse, she is known as volunteer 11. Molly works with as much dedication and strength as any of the men firefighters. Her dedication and strength are put to the test during a horrible blizzard. Want to know more? Get the book at Multnomah County Library! And if you like this story, read about Dinae Mines.

Further Exploration: www.aaffmuseum.org

Available at Multnomah County Library: Molly, by Golly: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Fire Fighter by Ochiltree, Diane 

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan Photo: Atlantafreespeech

He had a knack for fixing things. He improved the function of sewing machines and owned a sewing machine store, a tailoring shop and a country club. He invented and patented the three-position traffic light (still in use today) and the safety hood, later known as the gas mask. He and his brother used the safety hood to save the lives of city workers from a poison-filled tunnel. The U.S. Army saved the lives of many soldiers using Morgan’s safety hood. It doesn’t end there. He started a newspaper called the Cleveland Call to address racial injustice. Oh, his formal education didn’t extend beyond elementary school. That’s right, Morgan didn’t attend school beyond 6th grade!

Further Exploration: http://blackinventor.com/garrett-morgan/

Available at Multnomah County Library: Scientists, Healers and Inventors by Hudson, Wade

 


 

 

Portland, Oregon

Historical Black Debutante

Photo: Oregon Historical Society

Source: www.portlandmonthlymag.com

This theme wouldn't be complete without focusing on Portland's Black Community. Despite living under the harsh burden of discrimination, racism, exclusionary laws etc. Portland's Black community continued to grow and thrive. In 1883, The Northern Pacific Railways brings jobs and more African Americans to the region leading the way for a burgeoning Black, middle class. At this time, most of Portland's Black community reside in NW Portland. The community has four churches, The Rutherford Haberdashery and many Black owned Businesses. Some years later, the community has grown to include three Black newspapers, a hotel, postal clerk, shoe clerk, attorneys, stenographers, a dentist and a doctor! it's an amazing history! Check it out here, here, and here!

And don't miss Our Story: Portland through an African American Lens. This celebration of Black life in Oregon contains photos and primary source documents.

Further Exploration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWC-8hvP7aY

Available at Multnomah County Library: African Americans of Portland by Oregon Black Pioneers and The Ebony Princesses of the Portland Rose Festival 1967-1982 by Morris, Lenora C.

Septima Poinsette Clark

 

Septima Poinsette Clark

Photo Credit: www.brothermalcolm.net

Source:  www.blackpast.org

Septima Poinsette Clark was an advocate and educator of civics education long before it became popular.  As a teacher and member of the NAACP, she pushed issues of education and equal rights. When the State of South Carolina placed a ban on NAACP membership, Septima refused to obey and lost her job and pension as a result. She, along with her cousin, started the first citizenship school to educate Black citizens in reading and writing, election procedures and government. Her name may not be so familiar, but those in the fight for Civil Rights knew exactly who she was! In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged her when receiving his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize award.

 

Further Exploration: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/clark-septima-poinsette-1898-1987

Available at Multnomah County: Lighting the Way by Schiff, Karenna Gore

 

Black Wall Street Memorial

Source: http://www.daveyd.com/blackwallpolitic.html

The year is 1921 and Tulsa, Oklahoma is booming!  As one of the most affluent Black communities in the country, Tulsa boasts of 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, jewelry stores, 2 movie theaters and 2 newspapers. There’s a postal substation, a branch of the Y.M.C.A, a hospital, bank, post office, libraries, schools, law offices, private airplanes and bus systems.

 

Further Exploration: http://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/freport.pdf

Available at Multnomah County: Reconstructing the Dreamland by Brophy, Alfred L.

Hiram Rhodes Revels

Congressman Hiram Rhodes Revel 1827-1901

Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first Black American to serve in the U.S. Congress. Revels served from 1869 to 1871. A Republican from Mississippi, Revels was born free to free parents and attended school during a time when educating Black children was illegal. During the Civil War he recruited Black regiments. He was a preacher, educator and civil rights advocate.

Further exploration: http://history.house.gov/People/Listing/R/REVELS,-Hiram-Rhodes-%28R000166%29/

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress by Swain, Carol M.

Siqueiros Mural

I came back from my yearly trip to Mexico recently: it’s always refreshing to walk around the city of Cuernavaca where I’m from, visiting historical sites as I do year after year. This city is privileged to host the work of two great Mexican muralists. Diego Rivera painted the history of the city at El Palacio de Cortés or the Palace of Cortés and David Alfaro Siqueiros’ mural ”The March of Humanity” is found at La Tallera cultural center. If you want to know more about this kind art, follow me!

Muralism was practiced long ago when indigenous groups painted their ideas and important events in big displays on the sides of ceremonial and burial buildings. The splendid Maya murals of Bonampak are a simple example of this kind of art.

This artistic manifestation gained more importance in Mexico during the 20th century. The first murals were created in 1921 and the last were created in 1955, when murals lost the essence of an articulated artistic movement. There were several artists who brought a diversity of aesthetics and political influences; at times the artists' were severely criticized and censured, and even destroyed, as happened with one Diego Revera's murals at the Rockefeller Center in New York.

The movement is characterized by the artists' great need to express the social and political events of their times using huge platforms. In the murals, Mexicans have the opportunity to appreciate the content of their own reality and identity. The Mexican Revolution, political radicalism as an international proposal, agrarian reform, and oil expropriation inspired nationalistic artists who presented the reality of a Mexican society so devastated by these events. A group of muralist artists created the movement using the walls of important public buildings as canvases, to exalt the art and rescue indigenous and popular traditions. The three great figures of this artistic era were Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Would you like to learn more about this great art movement? Take a look at the video lecture on Maya murals below, or explore my list for further reading.

 

Rivera's mural

 

The Splendid Maya Murals of Bonampak, Mexico, with Prof. Mary Miller

 

 

African Americans in the Civil War

United States Black Regiment Photo:Wikipedia

 

 

Have you heard of African American troops who fought in the Civil War? The 1863 Militia Act created the Bureau of Colored Troops to ensure participation of African American men in the Union Army and Navy. All-Black regiments were formed in Massachusetts, South Carolina and elsewhere. Keep in mind, although fighting for the Union, Black and white regiments were segregated. In all, an estimated 180,000 African American men fought in the Union Army and 20,000 served in the Union Navy.

Further Exploration: http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/african-americans-and-emancipation/essays/african-americans-and-emancipation

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black, Blue & Gray: African Americans in the Civil War by Haskins, James and Slaves to Soldiers by Black, Wallace B.

 

 

Annie Burton

Annie Burton Photo: Duhaime

 

Annie Burton was born in Clayton, Alabama, in 1858. Her mother was a slave who ran away after being whipped. This is one of many childhood memories. As an adult, Annie moves to Boston where she marries and becomes a maid. She never forgets what life was like during slavery. In 1909, she authors Memories of Childhood’s Slavery Days. This book has been converted from physical to digital format and is available for free on the web.

 

Available at Multnomah County Library: Six Women’s Slave Narratives by Andrews, William L

 

I love a good romance and I recently discovered a fun romance series written for adult learners. It led me to explore the world of books for adults learning to read.

Are you looking for books for teens or adults who need simpler texts? If you search the catalog using the phrase “readers for new literates,you’ll get a long list of books at different reading levels.  If you’re looking for levels, choose a title. For instance, when I clicked on the title Water for Life, I looked for “Series that include this title” and then I could link to all the books in the Penguin active reading series or just the Penguin active reading level 2.

You can find  versions of English and American classics or modern fiction. You can find biographies, true crime, and a book written in both Somali and EnglishWe have horror stories as well as romance. 

Back to that romance series. All of the books in the series feature photographs which add a lot of meaning to the stories about long time love and new love. My personal favorite is The Big Goof:  Jan loves Bill. Will Bill love Jan? It makes me laugh every time I read it. Everyone I’ve shared it with has noticed different things in the photos which deepened the story. 

If you’d like a customized list of books, you can ask us at My LibrarianWe’re happy to help you find good reading. Here’s a list I made that features books and poetry for a romance fan. Let’s champion reading together! Thanks.


 


 

Rene Denfeld is an internationally bestselling author, journalist, and death penalty investigator. Of her latest novel, Geek Love author Katherine Dunn says, "The Enchanted is unlike anything I’ve ever read...it’s a jubilant celebration that explores human darkness with a profound lyrical tenderness…" Check out Rene's selected favorites. For more reading recommendations with your tastes in mind, try the My Librarian service. 

Local libraries were my sanctuaries growing up, and in each one I left a child version of myself, roaming the aisles, pulling out titles or checking out the books where librarians had left little tags that said read this. The best ones were those little-known gems, the books that may not have hit the bestseller list but still ended up lodged in my heart.

When I was a young child, the North Portland library was my refuge. I will forever associate that beautifully carved wooden ceiling with my favorite books of childhood: Trask by Don Berry, which I must have read a hundred times, or Crazy Weather by Charles McNichols. It was from the wide selection of African-American folktales I discovered my own joy of fable in books like The Cow-Tail Switch by Harold Courlander, with its jubilant stories and unforgettable phrasing: “A man is not truly dead until he is forgotten.”

When I was in middle school my family moved to Sellwood, then a blue-collar neighborhood where fishermen still hung the catch outside the local tavern. I spent endless drowsy afternoons in the local library, and remember the books that tore the sides of the paper grocery bags I carried home: from the astonishing Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter to the gentle yet wise memoir, West With The Night by Beryl Markham.

By fifteen, I was on my own, and like a lot of hardscrabble kids, the downtown library was my safe place. I celebrated my birthday on the second floor of that library while rain howled outside. Just the sight of that brick and stone façade brings back memories of all the books I discovered there, including Yellowfish by John Keeble and The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet—I’m the one who dog-eared all those pages—and who could forget the warmly humorous science fiction by our late and lamented local author Robert Sheckley?

Libraries saved my life. They gave me comfort, solace, and a vision of life as limitless as the shelves. They made me the writer I am today. So when I recommend my secret treasures, what I am really recommending is my own memories, and want to caution: the best way to find your own is to wander the stacks. Feel your hand on the books—reach for them the way we reach for each other, with longing and an open heart. Then you will never be dissatisfied.

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

Pages