Esteemed thinker: Louis Brandeis

telephone boothWhat if you went to a party and upon entering there was a box, not too big, but large enough to be placed on the foyer table. Posted above the box was a sign, hand written by the host that read, “Please leave your cell phones here. You may retrieve them when you leave. Thank you.”

No texting, no photography, no calls, just you and those who were invited to attend. Such a revolutionary idea would indeed be a most welcome plan. For take just a moment and think…we live in a world devoid of privacy. Privacy being defined as the state of being apart from other people or concealed from their view. No longer are we in total control of our own privacy because those around us infiltrate without consent. Everyone is victim to a socially invasive medium, photography, where they are taken at will, often without our knowledge and posted for the world to see. How often are you recorded, or found yourself in the sentence of a text, misconstrued or erroneously misinterpreted? And in less than a blink of an eye, it reappears a million times over.

So, just maybe a small box where one disposes of their cell phones once in a while just might bring back the good old days of personal space…a time when privacy was not just a word that is now endangered and becoming dangerously on the brink of extinction!

Brandeis Today’s blog brings to you an intellectual and fair-minded man, the esteemed thinker: Louis Brandeis (1856- 1941), born in Louisville, Kentucky. At the early age of 20 he graduated from Harvard Law School and earned the moniker as “the people’s lawyer”. He fought for workers’ rights and the breaking up of large corporate monopolies. In 1916 he became the first Jewish Supreme Court Judge, appointed by Woodrow Wilson, but not without embittered opposition from large corporations and anti- Semitics who opposed having a Jewish Supreme Court Justice serving on the bench. Brandeis is noted for his decisions and affirmation towards individual liberty and his opposition to unchecked governmental power.

As “the people’s attorney,” he refused payment for his services, helped save the Boston subway system and break up the New Haven Railroad monopoly, and represented New England Policy-Holders’ Protective Committee in a suit rendering the establishment of a new form of savings-bank life insurance.

In 1879 Brandeis began a partnership with his classmate Samuel D. Warren. Together they wrote one of the most famous law articles in history, “The Right to Privacy,” published in the December 1890 Harvard Law Review. Take a moment from your day and indulge yourself a snippet from this most remarkable article.

“… The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury. Nor is the harm wrought by such invasions confined to the suffering of those who may be made the subjects of journalistic or other enterprise. In this, as in other branches of commerce, the supply creates the demand. Each crop of unseemly gossip, thus harvested, becomes the seed of more, and, in direct proportion to its circulation, results in a lowering of social standards and of morality. Even gossip apparently harmless, when widely and persistently circulated, is potent for evil. It both belittles and perverts. It belittles by inverting the relative importance of things, thus dwarfing the thoughts and aspirations of a people…. “

First image: New York, New York. Telephone booth inside the Hurricane Ballroom (1943) Gordon Parks, photographer

Esteemed thinker: William H. Seward

alaska 1869 Predicting the future; is it an art or is it a scam? There are people who make their living by claiming they can tell the future using such means as: reading tea leaves, examining “life lines” on a hand, or making predictions with the help of Tarot cards. Naturally, most of us would like someone to forecast our future, tell us what will happen tomorrow, if what we are about to do is a good plan or one that should be abandoned.

Yet, if we examine this notion of telling the future, just possibly there are among us individuals who can anticipate the likelihood of what may transpire at a later date; the ability to analyze a situation and project its outcome. Maybe they are simply individuals like you and I who can dazzle us with what we believe is ‘predicting the future’, but in reality they are merely patient enough to “see” the big picture. If so, then if we all stepped back and took our time…. we too could perform such magic!

Seward, William Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: William H. Seward, (1801-1872) born in Orange County, Florida. He served as New York’s governor, a U.S. Senator, and secretary of state during the Civil war. He was an ardent abolitionist, and one of Abraham Lincoln’s closest advisors helping to ensure Europe did not recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation. On April 14, 1865, nine days after he was gravely injured in a carriage accident, the bedridden Seward was stabbed in the throat by Lewis Powell (alias Lewis Payne), a fellow conspirator of John Wilkes Booth, who had that night assassinated Lincoln. Seward made a remarkable recovery and retained his cabinet post under Pres. Andrew Johnson until 1869.

His purchase of Alaska from the Russians, became known as “Seward’s folly” though, his foresight to negotiate a deal in 1866 certainly proved him to be a man that could “see the future” way beyond those of his skeptics. By 1896 gold had been discovered in the newly purchased regions and Alaska became the gateway to the Klondike gold fields. Years later, during World War II, Alaska would prove to be a strategic importance for the United States and in 1959, earning itself a place as the 49th state.

From William H. Seward’s Alaska Speech of 1869, delivered in Sitka Alaska, I shall take you back to this historic occasion. Take a moment from your busy day and reflect on Mr. Seward premonition or “folly of 1866”…you can decide…

“… Within the period of my own recollection, I have seen twenty new States added to the eighteen which before that time constituted the American Union, and I now see, besides Alaska, ten Territories in a forward condition of preparation for entering into the same great political family. I have seen in my own time not only the first electric telegraph, but even the first railroad and the first steamboat invented by man. And even on this present voyage of mine, I have fallen in with the first steamboat, still afloat, that thirty-five years ago lighted her fires on the Pacific Ocean. These, citizens of Sitka, are the guaranties, not only that Alaska has a future, but that that future has already begun.”

Second photo: Portrait of Secretary of State William H. Seward, officer of the United States government,
Brady National Photographic Art Gallery (Washington, D.C.), photographer, Created/Published: between 1860 and 1865

Celebrating the 4th of July

flag All around the neighborhoods, in the cities, on the farmlands, in the mountains, along the grassy plains, and even rocking on the oceans and seashores. Americans are celebrating Independence Day…the Fourth of July. The skies are doused with the smells from smoky barbecues and diamond-studded sparklers…while the night skies will be ablaze with fireworks’ shows that dazzle, awe, and surprise… dogs will bark, some will hide, while children coax them out from beneath the bed with pieces of soggy hot dog buns. How lucky and grateful are we in the United States to be able to celebrate this historic occasion, while I lament that still others round the globe are unable to express freedom such as ours.

Today’s blog, in honor of the 4th of July, brings to you the words of the esteemed thinker: Edwin Percy Whipple (b. Massachusetts 1819-1886). Who? Oh, maybe you will recognize him by ‘E.P. Whipple’…is that better? Oh, still no recollection…well let me give you a bit of background about him. Of his time, he was considered a “compelling” speaker, lecturer, intellect, and literary critic; offering him an opportunity as the literary editor for the Boston Daily Globe. He was not stranger to the literary world having been the trustee of the Boston Public Library, 1868-1870. During the height of the lyceum movement*, he delivered as many as one thousand public lectures from Bangor to St. Louis.EP Whipple

From his essay The True Glory of a Nation, we take a moment to pause and read the words of Mr. Whipple…and though he may not be the most celebrated writer today, his thoughts regarding the people who “are” a nation indeed parallels the glory of why we “can” honor Independence Day.

“The true glory of a nation is an intelligent, honest, industrious people. The civilization of a people depends on their individual character; and a constitution which is not the outgrowth of this character is not worth the parchment on which it is written. You look in vain in the past for a single instance where the people have preserved their liberties after their individual character was lost. It is not in the magnificence of its palaces, not in the beautiful creations of art lavished on its public edifices, not in costly libraries and galleries of pictures, not in the number or wealth of its cities, that we find a nation’s glory. …The true glory of a nation is the living temple of a loyal, industrious, upright people…”

* Lyceum movement in the United States, especially in the northeast, was the beginning of adult education; organizations sponsored lectures and debates often on current interest

Albert Einstein and wonderment

moon There was a time, not too long ago, when there existed ‘wonderment’. It occurred in an ordinary day, during an ordinary hour, doing perhaps something considered ordinary. Hanging out the laundry on a clothes line, and suddenly a rainbow would appear. Watching a magic trick where a man in a black cape would retrieve a rabbit out of his top hat, or a telephone call from America to Europe; all these things created a smile, a moment of awe, an appreciation for what appears and feels like magic…

The age of wonderment was an era when extraordinary things were not taken for granted; all eyes were glued on the television when we landed a man on the moon, and all were amazed at the first heart transplant. To think our ability to become mystified has all but disappeared is a great loss indeed.

Wonderment to the 21st century person may be a feeling that has essentially become numb. So much goes by unnoticed, ignored, and not even a footnote in the news. And so, lament we should for those who may have lost a uniquely human quality, the ability to be wowed.

Einstein Today’s post brings you the namesake of this blog, the esteemed thinker: Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Little introduction needs to be made for he is clearly a wonderment. Born at Ulm, in Württemberg, Germany, Einstein is one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century. Acknowledged for having developed the special and general theories of relativity, in 1921, he won the Nobel Prize for physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.

From his book titled The world as I see it (1949), I have prepared a small parcel for you to read. For within this small passage one will see that even a pragmatic mind like Einstein had time to appreciate the wonderment and mysteries of life.

“…The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle…”

William Hatzill and a moment in time

clock big benMoments are tiny elements of time… a cough, a sneeze, a glance…if we were to calculate how long it takes to react or to perform one of these events it would be correct to say…”just a moment”. And so we see that such a modest allotment, however, can manufacture an enormous memory…a memory so grand and so big that you can carry it about with you and resurrect that instant back into the present. A chance greeting with a dignitary in a receiving line, a hug from grandmother, or even the first time you listened to the air circling about in a conch shell…a moment that has endured for such a long duration that if it had been a rose it would have lost its brilliance and dried into a petrified flower.

Walk by a bakery and the wisp of baked goods will linger yet it was but a brief encounter that set the olfactory in motion. Small pleasures in comparison to big events do not always leave the same mark for it is not always the largest occasion that leaves the most favorable memory. Rather, there are moments which were not trifles happenings, but in its place have severed a wound or engraved a wedge so profound that its removal seems overpowering… a quick glib, a sarcastic comment, an angry glare… the same amount of time yet its effects we wish or hope would disappear as quickly as they were created. Moments in time happen in day and night and its effects are as different as its counterparts light and dark…

How often have we heard someone say… ”Oh, wait just a moment,” or “it will arrive in just a moment.” Yet we know deep down that the accuracy of the statement is not truthful; for the calculated “moment” dwindles in a quagmire of reinterpreted time.

A moment -in -time is a constant measurement like the twenty-four hours it takes the Earth to rotate; it is always the same yet the impact we feel in a given moment can be small or big, tiny or enormous, it can leave us feeling light in thought or heavy with burden, so little like a whisper yet so strong like a hurricane….strange …isn’t it?

William HazlittToday’s blog invites you back to revisit our esteemed thinker: William Hazlitt, a Romantic era writer. This English author and philosopher turned criticism into an art form. His prose and essays were eloquent in style and language, although not without controversy for he was a most principled and outspoken in his thinking.

Let us now take “a moment of time” to read a portion snipped from his essay, “Great and Little Things” (1821) . Here is the ever so expressive Mr. Hazlitt…

“ … The great and the little have, no doubt, a real existence in the nature of things; but they both find pretty much the same level in the mind of man. It is a common measure, which does not always accommodate itself to the size and importance of the objects it represents. It has a certain interest to spare for certain things (and no more) according to its humour and capacity; and neither likes to be stinted in its allowance, nor to muster up an unusual share of sympathy, just as the occasion may require. Perhaps, if we could recollect distinctly, we should discover that the two things that have affected us most in the course of our lives have been, one of them of the greatest, and the other of the smallest possible consequence. To let that pass as too fine a speculation, we know well enough that very trifling circumstances do give us great and daily annoyance, and as often prove too much for our philosophy and forbearance, as matters of the highest moment. A lump of soot spoiling a man’s dinner, a plate of toast falling in the ashes, the being disappointed of a ribbon to a cap or a ticket for a ball, have led to serious and almost tragical consequences…

The truth is, we pamper little griefs into great ones, and bear great ones as well as we can. We can afford to dally and play tricks with the one, but the others we have enough to do with, without any of the wantonness and bombast of passion—without the swaggering of Pistol or the insolence of King Cambyses’ vein. To great evils we submit; we resent little provocations. I have before now been disappointed of a hundred pound job and lost half a crown at rackets on the same day, and been more mortified at the latter than the former…”

Heroism and Memorial Day go hand- in- hand

memorial day_compressed

Memorial Day draws us closer to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and democracy; their lives. Words often do not give justice to the thanks and gratitude we feel and wish to offer these great women and men of the armed forces. As we enter into reflection, a characteristic that comes into our minds is Heroism; a word that we can define with both commonalities and personal experiences; rediscovered when we unite together or rekindled within our own private solitude.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about Heroism; here are some of his words that grants recognition as we pay tribute to our fallen heroes.

“… Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the soul at war, and its ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents. It speaks the truth, and is just, generous, hospitable, temperate, scornful of petty calculations, and scornful of being scorned. It persists; it is of an undaunted boldness, and of a fortitude not to be wearied out…these men (and women) fan the flame of human love, and raise the standard of civil virtue among mankind. …”

With these words from Emerson and those from our hearts, let us pay tribute to our fallen soldiers and pay homage to their valor.