Esteemed thinker: Rev. Owen Whitfield

Protesting is an exercise we have performed throughout the ages. People living in all lands around globe have declared and aired their disagreements sometimes peacefully and sometimes not. The method of protesting however has changed in comparison to the centuries prior to the current millennium.

The dumping of tea in Boston Harbor was a dramatic display of injustice by a defiant group of colonists, Sons of Liberty, in 1773. The call to join the efforts was rallied by word of mouth, a clandestine ploy where colonists went as far as disguising themselves as Native Americans and slipped aboard a British ship and relieved them of their cargo. In contrast, today’s call to protest often comes in the form of a text message where the silent voices are set free to cast their opinions world-wide, and in a matter of seconds their message is heard and repeated. And though the methods have changed over the centuries the demand for change is the similar.

Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Rev. Owen Whitfield (1892-1965). Born in Jonestown, Missouri to a sharecropper family, he himself became a sharecropper as well as a Reverand. By the mid-1930s the Great Depression was taking an extraordinary toll on poor tenant farmers whereby the federal government and its new subsidies was making it more profitable for landowners to dismiss their farmers. Seeing the plight of African American tenant farmers like himself and other poor farmers he rallied support for change.

Owen Whitfield In 1937 Whitfield joined and later became president of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, a multi-racial group of advocates. In 1939 he brought to the attention of the cause to President Franklin Roosevelt, explaining in a letter the exploitation of the tenant farmers and requesting changes be met.

Whitfield was instrumental in helping bring about reform, most notably by way of organizing The 1939 Roadside Sharecroppers Demonstration, a peaceable protest in Southeast Missouri. More than fifteen hundred men, women and children piled their meager belongings along US Highways 60 and 61 in the lowlands, also known as the Bootheel. Tenant farmers had been ruined by environmental disaster, falling crop prices, poverty and disease, New Deal agricultural policies, and the mechanization of cotton production. Now landowners had decided to hire day laborers to replace their tenants. Families who normally expected to occupy a plot of land for a year or more face seasonal employment with no guarantee of work or shelter.

Due to death threats, Whitfield did not participate in the demonstration but rather rallied politicians in the north for support. His efforts were effective and the government did begin to initiate some changes beginning with housing; the Delmos Security homes were erected for 600 farmers.

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…”

Pablo Picasso and permenance

television setThe rate in which the world around us changes accelerates with time. And as we become increasing more automated these changes reflect our surroundings … a system in flux. A sense of permanence no longer dominates the landscape and the urgency for acquiring new things governs our desires.

Man and womankind have always gravitated to acquire things that are branded “the latest model”, however products that were once designed to last a lifetime are no longer are in vogue. Less and less are things repaired but instead designed to be replaced.

In the twentieth century when a television ceased to function the owner would call the “TV repair man”, a fellow who would come by your home with a set of tools as particular as a surgeon’s. In comparison to today, rarely does one own a television long enough for it to malfunction; for like fashions that change from season to season, there is always a newer and better model to buy. Right when you have saved up enough money to purchase what is deemed the best, the latest and updated model makes its entrance flaunting its upgrades.

So … the next time you pass by a store try to refrain from feeling too out-dated for the only thing permanent is the desire for change.

Pablo_Picasso,_1908-1909,.Today’s blog brings back the esteemed thinker: Pablo Picasso (1881-1975) the renowned artist who was always to on the precipice of modern thinking. He was a painter who brought innovation to the art world, and no matter how old his work may be it is never out of vogue.

Between 1907 and 1914 Picasso and artist friend, George Braque created Cubism; a style of visual arts that become one of the most influential of the 20th century. The subject of the painting was not visible in the discernible sense; in this style of painting and figures were often overlapping planes and facets.

For those who wish to resurrect their artistic senses, feast your eyes on a most famous work of art by Mr. Picasso titled Oil Mill (1909). And remember, if you are able to afford one of his pieces of art rest assure, although it may be over 100 years old, you will be the envy of your neighbors.

Picasso_Oil Mill_1909_ms

First image: 1939, FCC Commissioners inspect latest in television. Washington, D.C.

Esteemed thinker: Christopher D. Morley

cherry flowers changing The earth is most ingenious; for her ability to transform herself is akin to our flipping over the days on the calendar. For example, it was only a week or so ago that she celebrated the spring equinox (although somewhat arbitrary depending upon which side of the hemisphere you live) This is an occasion, when put into scientific terms, marks that special moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator going from south to north. At the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the sun’s rays equally…day and nights are approximately equal in length. Hence we get the word equinox from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).

But for earth… this is really just a wardrobe crisis; much like hanging up one’s suit of clothes and exchanging it for another. Here the winter apparel has been put into storage and out comes the spring attire, which to our delight is much more colorful and often rather bold. For like those designers that dictate to us what colors are now “in”, so does Mother Nature play couturier with the seasons, choosing which blooms will festoon the trees and shrubs.

So, now the sun rises earlier, the flowers are sprouting, and the days are getting longer. So it seems that we have more time, an illusion created to fool us into believing that the 24 hours allocated are now more!

Christopher Darlington Morley_ Today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker: Christopher D. Morley (1890-1957), a clever and prolific American journalist, novelist, playwright, and poet. Born in Haverford, PA, he was a Harvard Graduate. Morley wrote for the New York Evening Post (1920-1923) and the Saturday Review of Literature (1924-1941), which he helped found. Out of his keenness for the Sherlock Holmes stories, Morley helped found a group of Holmes enthusiasts, the Baker Street Irregulars. His 1939 novel Kitty Foyle, was made into an Academy Award-winning movie.

Here to brighten your day with a bit of wit and reminder of the vernal equinox and spring; from his book Mince Pie, I bring you the words of Christopher Morley.

“ Once a year, about the approach of the vernal equinox or the seedsman’s catalogue, we wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning. This is an immediate warning and apprisement that something is adrift. Three hundred and sixty-four days in the year we wake, placidly enough, at seven-ten, ten minutes after the alarm clock has jangled. But on this particular day, whether it be the end of February or the middle of March, we wake with the old recognizable nostalgia. It is the last polyp or vestige of our anthropomorphic and primal self, trailing its pathetic little wisp of glory for the one day of the whole calendar. All the rest of the year we are the plodding percheron of commerce, patiently tugging our wain; but on that morning there wambles back, for the nonce, the pang of Eden. We wake at 6 o’clock; it is a blue and golden morning and we feel it imperative to get outdoors as quickly as possible. Not for an instant do we feel the customary respectable and sanctioned desire to kiss the sheets yet an hour or so. The traipsing, trolloping humor of spring is in our veins; we feel that we must be about felling an aurochs or a narwhal for breakfast. We leap into our clothes and hurry downstairs and out of the front door and skirmish round the house to see and smell and feel.

It is spring. It is unmistakably spring, because the pewit bushes are budding and on yonder aspen we can hear a forsythia bursting into song. It is spring, when the feet of the floorwalker pain him and smoking-car windows have to be pried open with chisels. We skip lightheartedly round the house to see if those bobolink bulbs we planted are showing any signs yet, and discover the whisk brush that fell out of the window last November. And then the newsboy comes along the street and sees us prancing about and we feel sheepish and ashamed and hurry indoors again…”

Rupert Brooke and the night

sunset compressed No matter how familiar we are with a particular location or place, no matter how often we may have frequented or visited; when the sun goes down and the sky grows dark, a change appears. Go outside when the moon is up and suddenly one can hear curious sounds that were muted by day. There is a stillness in the air that is pushed along by the breeze, and as it travels through the open spaces of the canopies it flicks the leaves ricocheting back the most eerie noises. Insects call, night birds hoot, and any rustle by a woodland creature in a familiar bush or scrub becomes an uninvited intruder sending shivers down our backs.

But if this place you are familiar with is not a countryside, but rather the busy streets of a city; the hustle and bustle of day, which is accompanied by a constant flow of activity, the chronic din of the upward and downward pulley of elevators, and the zipping to and fro of traffic; the arrival of darkness ascends like the rise of the curtains at an evening performance. The city’s glow takes on a theatrical appearance of stage lights and a new vigor illuminates what was once quite ordinary. A frenetic passion overtakes blanched city blocks and as though a resurgence of a Renaissance of sorts has been resurrected, neon signs splash color every which way, music oozes out into the streets with the swing of an open door, and expectations soar.

At night we view things differently, and we often wear a persona that can be an extension or even a new conception of ourselves. For no matter how familiar, how recognizable, how comfortable we were by day… night stares back at us and smiles; it diffuses a blanket of darkness often hiding our clarity or removing our inhibitions…

rupert brooke 2 Today I bring back to you our esteemed thinker: Rupert Brooke; English poet and author, best known for his poetry of World War I. Allegedly learning to love poetry from reading Browning at an early age, he belonged to the Georgian Poets, a term describing a romantic and sentimental style … a description of a group of authors writing between the Victorian and Modern era.

So take a moment from your day for a tidbit out of the young Mr. Brooke. From his essay “Letters from America” here are his lovely words about his observations of New York City.

“… Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night. There comes an hour of evening when lower Broadway, the business end of the town, is deserted. And if, having felt yourself immersed in men and the frenzy of cities all day, you stand out in the street in this sudden hush, you will hear, like a strange questioning voice from another world, the melancholy boom of a foghorn, and realise that not half a mile away are the waters of the sea, and some great liner making its slow way out to the Atlantic. After that, the lights come out up-town, and the New York of theatres and vaudevilles and restaurants begins to roar and flare. The merciless lights throw a mask of unradiant glare on the human beings in the streets, making each face hard, set, wolfish, terribly blue. The chorus of voices becomes shriller.

The buildings tower away into obscurity, looking strangely theatrical, because lit from below. And beyond them soars the purple roof of the night. A stranger of another race, loitering here, might cast his eyes up, in a vague wonder what powers, kind or maleficent, controlled or observed this whirlpool. He would find only this unresponsive canopy of black, unpierced even, if the seeker stood near a centre of lights, by any star. But while he looks, away up in the sky, out of the gulfs of night, spring two vast fiery tooth-brushes, erect, leaning towards each other, and hanging on to the bristles of them a little Devil, little but gigantic, who kicks and wriggles and glares. After a few moments the Devil, baffled by the firmness of the bristles, stops, hangs still, rolls his eyes, moon-large, and, in a fury of disappointment, goes out, leaving only the night, blacker and a little bewildered, and the unconscious throngs of ant-like human beings…”

* Night photograph:overlooking Biscayne Bay and Miami, Florida.

Walt Whitman and our changing language

walt whitman 2 The more we know the more we don’t know…in other words, as we amass awareness of our world, through whatever means you choose, it becomes evidently clear that there is so much more than meets the eye; and as our interests grow, then too do we realize that we understand only a fraction of what is available… or what is not available to the intellect.

And as this vast amount of knowledge continues to expand like a field of weeds in the summer, so too does the terminology and acronyms that accompany such information. There are professions that appear to thrive on such abbreviated phrases making outsiders feel less than adequate… for example: JSON – JavaScript Object Notation, or PCI-X Peripheral Component Interconnect Extended … (and I thought java was coffee; and when did an X stand for the word extended! ) As our knowledge base flourishes; interestingly, our conversational vernacular seems to be decreasing as well as becoming more abridged….until we whittle away a complete thought in a modified text…Not that this is bad; just… shall we say…it is like taking one bite out of the cake..by-passing the lemon filling that the baker so intended for you to savor.

Authors that were once widely read by the literate public can be a daunting task in the 21st century. But one would have to wonder why… after all, with all our technology and availability to access information, we would assume that discovering Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Joyce, Flaubert, and even Poe would be less of a challenge today. However, in defense of present day readers, we can also take into account that our language has changed; whereby words and their placement within the sentence have been modified since the days of yore.

And then too there is that pesky nuance that seems to plague us…attention span… many folks do not appear to find that they enjoy having to decipher material that takes time. For many “time” is precious and therefore immediacy is gratifying…hence abbreviations have become the norm.

On the other hand, language can be simple and at the same time complex in idea; it can evoke questions, push to the limits ideals, but with these abstractions comes “think time.” Whereby I would encourage the reader to dip into the workings of literary geniuses as one would take a walk in a forest rather than running like a deer into the thickets, for we would not like all things to change in response to our impatient world… (I imagine that those who like their spirits “aged” would wince at the idea of stepping up the process… I rest my case!)

walt whitman 3 And so I bring to you our esteemed thinker: Walt Whitman, a man who changed the face of poetry during his lifetime; believing that the everyday language of his fellow American was and should be celebrated. He glorified people in all walks of life, nature, and the landscape we know as the United States. His direct and matter of fact ways, his connection with manual labor and heart transformed the poetic ideals of the 19th century… a most radical innovation at the time of publication.

Here is Mr. Whitman speaking on behalf of the more “playful , vivid, and sometimes taboo jargon” we are all quite familiar with… from his prose essay, let us take a moment to ponder a bit from “Slang in America” (1892).

“ View’d freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. From this point of view, it stands for Language in the largest sense, and is really the greatest of studies. It involves so much; is indeed a sort of universal absorber, combiner, and conqueror. The scope of its etymologies is the scope not only of man and civilization, but the history of Nature in all departments, and of the organic Universe, brought up to date; for all are comprehended in words, and their backgrounds. This is when words become vitaliz’d, and stand for things, as they unerringly and soon come to do, in the mind that enters on their study with fitting spirit, grasp, and appreciation.

Slang, profoundly consider’d, is the lawless germinal element, below all words and sentences, and behind all poetry, and proves a certain perennial rankness and protestantism in speech. As the United States inherit by far their most precious possession—the language they talk and write—from the Old World, under and out of its feudal institutes, I will allow myself to borrow a simile even of those forms farthest removed from American Democracy. Considering Language then as some mighty potentate, into the majestic audience-hall of the monarch ever enters a personage like one of Shakspere’s clowns, and takes position there, and plays a part even in the stateliest ceremonies. Such is Slang, or indirection, an attempt of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express itself illimitably, which in highest walks produces poets and poems, and doubtless in pre-historic times gave the start to, and perfected, the whole immense tangle of the old mythologies. For, curious as it may appear, it is strictly the same impulse-source, the same thing. Slang, too, is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away; though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize…

Language, be it remember’d, is not an abstract construction of the learn’d, or of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground. Its final decisions are made by the masses, people nearest the concrete, having most to do with actual land and sea. It impermeates all, the Past as well as the Present, and is the grandest triumph of the human intellect…

Esteemed thinker: Jacob A. Riis

Jacob riis “A picture speaks a thousand words…” An adage that we have all heard, all recognize by its metaphoric content; but I wonder… is this the rallying cry of the photojournalist? For when we are witness to that “split second” moment caught on film, it is forever documented. With the camera being in our hands as early as the 1800s, we are able to step back in time and literally spy upon our days-gone-by; often its effect has the ability to embellish or diminish our perception of the past.

Early photographers like their counterpart the early journalists and writers often became the champions of the disenfranchised; describing and photographing parts of society that were often ignored, brushed aside, or even invisible to the public who were not in immediate contact of those less fortunate.

And so, today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker: Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914) social reformer, writer, and photographer that brought to light the plight of the city’s poor. Riis himself was an immigrant that arrived in New York City in 1870 from Denmark. Having taken many different jobs, he became a police report and began to document the slums of New York City. Through his writings and photography he became a change agent, fighting for reform, for better housing, sanitation, care for the poor, and especially the children. He believed that all men who were moral citizens, regardless of economic status, should have an opportunity to better their lives and break free from poverty. His book of 1890, How the Other Half Lives created public uproar and intitiated a movement for change.

huddle riis From one of his many works titled, The Battle of the Slum, we cannot help but be moved by his firsthand account. Here is Mr. Riis in his own words….

“… The slum is as old as civilization. Civilization implies a race, to get ahead. In a race there are usually some who for one cause or another cannot keep up, or are thrust out from among their fellows. They fall behind, and when they have been left far in the rear they lose hope and ambition, and give up. Thenceforward, if left to their own resources, they are the victims, not the masters, of their environment; and it is a bad master. They drag one another always farther down. The bad environment becomes the heredity of the next generation. Then, given the crowd, you have the slum ready-made…”

“…High rents, slack work, and low wages go hand in hand in the tenements as promoters of overcrowding. The rent is always one fourth of the family income, often more. The fierce competition for a bare living cuts down wages; and when loss of work is added, the only thing left is to take in lodgers to meet the landlord’s claim. The midnight visit of the sanitary policeman discloses a state of affairs against which he feels himself helpless. He has his standard: 400 cubic feet of air space for each adult sleeper, 200 for a child. That in itself is a concession to the practical necessities of the case. The original demand was for 600 feet. But of 28,000 and odd tenants canvassed in New York, in the slumming investigation prosecuted by the general government in 1894, 17,047 were found to have less than 400 feet, and of these 5526 slept in unventilated rooms with no windows. No more such rooms have been added since; but there has come that which is worse…”

housing riis