Monthly Archives: January 2023

If A Tree Falls in the Forest

Today’s existential question: If you do yoga without recording it via your fitness device, did you even *do* yoga?

I have taken to wearing my watch to bed in order to track sleep patterns. But, that means it doesn’t get charged overnight the way it always had so at some point during the day, I am surprised to discover it is down to 10%. That happened this morning just as I got started with my morning yoga. I was tracking the workout and found myself thinking I would have to charge the watch before continuing to make sure I got credit.

Hmm…got credit from whom? The inanimate object on my wrist? Apple headquarters? Steve Jobs? AARP to whom I granted access to my health data? God?

I faced down my somewhat obsessive need to track everything, put the watch on its charger and continued with yoga. But, don’t give me too much credit for fortitude: I knew I would have several opportunities to complete other workouts during the day that would get tracked. At some point, I may need to dive further into this obsession, but as I credit the watch with supporting my weight loss and generally good health I don’t worry too much.

Local History: Hyde Park

In The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer & a Rescue from Nazi Germany, Richard Gillette tells the story of Hyde Park, a farm in Nottoway County that became a home for about three dozen Jewish young people in the late 1930s. The students came from a communal training farm in Gross Breesen, Germany, at the invitation of William B. Thalhimer, one of the brothers in the retail business Thalhimer Brothers whose family owned the land near Burkeville. The Thalhimer family itself came to Richmond from Germany in 1840, choosing the Virginia capital city as it had a large population of German Jews.

Thalhimer was involved in Jewish resettlement during the 1930s as Hitler rose to power and Jewish immigration was becoming increasingly difficult. Gillette’s book details the challenges of getting the students to the United States. During Kristallnacht, some of the students from Gross Breesen were taken to Buchenwald although Gillette indicates they were eventually released and able to get to the United States. All Gross Breesen graduates were able to immigrate to a variety of different countries.

The Richmond Times Dispatch has a good story about the farm as part of its reporting on a visit by a group of contemporary German students. The Washington Post featured the story of a reunion of the students at the farm in 1990.

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture features a lecture by Gillette:

William B. Thalhimer had to step back from active work after a heart attack in 1927. His son, William Blum Thalhimer, Jr., took over and led the company for almost 60 years. The son’s entry at VMHC’s website includes some information about Hyde Park. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has a good summary of the farm’s history.

I am not able to tell if the farm is currently open for touring but I’m not too far from Nottoway County so may take a drive one of these days. At the least, there is an historical marker near Burkeville.

Ending Solitary Confinement

In 2015, in honor of long-jailed South African activist Nelson Mandela, the United Nations updated and adopted the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, calling them the Nelson Mandela Rules. These rules include guidelines for the use of solitary confinement:

The Mandela Rules, updated in 2015, are a revised minimum standard of UN rules that defines solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.” Solitary confinement may only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and “prolonged” solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.

United Nations Report on Use of solitary confinement in United States, february 28, 2020

This week, news came of a hunger strike by prisoners in Texas prisons to protest the extensive and prolonger use of solitary confinement. The practice is often used “proactively” by separating gang members and others considered a danger even if they have not committed infractions. According to PBS News Hour, some 3100 prisoners are in solitary confinement in Texas, many of them held that way for more than a decade. This is, under the Mandela rules, torture.

Virginia’s General Assembly is considering a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement using the Mandela rules as its guideline for no more than 15 consecutive days over the course of a 60-day period. I have contacted my representative to let him know that I support this legislation. I also used it as an opportunity to remind him that I am against the death penalty as well. You can read the legislation at the Virginia’s Legislative System website. While you’re there, you can browse other legislation, and if you feel called to contact your representative but aren’t sure who it might be, use the Who’s My Legislator website to find out.

Virginia does not have a good track record when it comes to the use of solitary confinement. Twelve inmates and former inmates filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections, alleging that VDOC has been using semantics to get around its own program to end solitary confinement. The investigation into the death of an inmate in solitary confinement in January 2022 provides some insight into the practice as well as the semantic games: solitary confinement is now called “restorative housing.”

Tracking Death

The Washington Post has created a gruesome but necessary database that tracks those shot and killed by police. The database was begun in 2015 after the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police officers led to the discovery that many police killings were never recorded in the FBI database.

The data is clear: young, black men are killed more often than others.

Unfortunately, the database focuses on shootings so this morning’s news about the cousin of a Black Lives Matter co-founder who was killed by police with a taser may not be included. The young man from Washington, D.C. was visiting family in Los Angeles for the holidays. The video, released at the request of the family, shows his fear, driven by his sense that he was probably going to die like so many others. It will stay with me, alongside George Floyd calling for his mother. I won’t post it but encourage you to watch it. I think about Emmett Till’s mother who insisted the casket stay open so people were forced to confront the truth.

My Goal for 2023

In conversation with a LibraryThing friend, I said my goal for 2023 was “less social media and more good books.” She said she needed to turn it into a poster, print it out and post it over her laptop.

I went ahead and created a quick graphic in Canva.

Happy Friday! LibraryThing members have been hosting an unofficial social distancing weekend readathon since April 2020. We informally sign on and then report our reading results including number of pages and hours along with other details such as non-reading activities and snacks. I participated last weekend and have signed on for this one as well. With the start of the new year and various new challenges, I have been pulling books from my shelf, checking them out from the library and buying them from Better World Books. Here are the stacks of books I want to read in the next few months:

I’ll end with a weird coincidence: Doomsday Book, in the right hand pile, is used and came from Better World Books. But, it is signed with the inscription: “To Karen, Gode health & long life! Connie Willis” I think I can hear the Twilight Zone music playing.

Happy reading!