Thursday, September 27, 2018

What is Happiness?

Wonderful Docent at O'Keeffe Museum
"There isn't such a thing as being happy.  You can be happy for a moment.  Happiness is something that goes like the wind.  Being interested can last longer."  Georgia O'Keeffe

During a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico we visited the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.  I was very surprised to realize that the lives of O'Keeffe and Isaac Werner overlapped by eight years.  Although she began painting at a very young age, Isaac would not have seen her work, for she was still a child when he died; yet, it is always interesting to me to place Isaac in the historic period of his lifetime, and I would not have thought that this artist, whose way of seeing and painting in such a modern way, would have been born while Isaac Werner was living.  

Very early O'Keeffe watercolor
When interviewed about her popularity, O'Keeffe said she believed her work was "in touch with my times so people have liked it."  What she considered "my times" was a considerable number of years, since she was born in 1887 and died in 1986, a lifetime spanning nearly a century.  When O'Keeffe was born, Isaac had finally acquired a horse,  able to plow his Kansas claims one row at a time and ride to town rather than having to walk there.  Both were born in rural environments, his in Kansas, and O'keeffe's in Wisconsin.    

O'Keeffe Clam Shell painting
For his times, Isaac had an extended education, still in school at age 17.  When he left home it was to travel westward to the frontier.  O'Keeffe, on the other hand, at about the same age, left home to study at the Art Institute of Chicago for a year, then the Art Students League in New York, and later a very influential summer course at the University of Virginia.  Both adventuresome, their destinies pulled them in opposite directions.  Isaac's adult life was lived in the West, first Illinois and finally Kansas; O'Keeffe studied and taught in the East and the South, but she too was eventually pulled westward to teach in Texas.  By 1915 she had realized that her artistic vision was different, "...shapes and ideas so familiar to me that it hadn't occurred to me to put them down."  Still in her early twenties, she began experimenting with highly abstract drawings. 

Her work was brought to the attention of Stieglitz, a photographer and gallery owner in NYC, who exhibited her work.  Their professional relationship deepened, and they married in 1924.  During this time her abstract skyscraper paintings became popular.  Her first visit to Northern New Mexico was in 1929, and that began her annual painting pilgrimages to New Mexico while continuing to live in NYC with her husband.  Three years after his death, she made New Mexico her permanent home in 1949.  Ultimately, she had been pulled even further to the West than Isaac.  She once said, "It takes courage to be a painter.  I always felt like I was walking on the edge of a knife."  One example of her interest in atypical subjects was her fascination with bones, which she both collected and painted. 

Her life evidences that courage, not only in committing to the abstract form and unique subjects for which she is known, but also in her life with Stieglitz and her nomadic living arrangements.  As another proof of her determination and courage, O'Keeffe suffered from Macular Degeneration and gradually lost her sight.  Yet, she continued to paint, by describing in detail to her assistant Juan Hamilton the dimensions of the painting and the colors from specific color formulas she had documented before her blindness. Her will to create from what she saw in her mind even after complete blindness continued until two years before her death, and she also produced objects in clay.  The beauty in things most of us ignore were preserved in her mind, even after her sight was taken from her.

Isaac Werner was not an artist, but he also envisioned a different life and had the courage to travel West to find it.  He did not paint canvases, but his creative mind could not endure a badly designed object without setting out to improve it or design something to replace it.  Both O'Keeffe and Isaac could see things and imagine them in a different way--O'Keeffe's art and lifestyle and Isaac's inventions and populist/progressive ideas. 

You may click on the images to enlarge.  Permission for photographs at the museum was allowed unless labeled otherwise; however, these images were taken only for use in this blog.  Please do not copy or reproduce.

Instead, plan a visit to Santa Fe to enjoy the pleasure of viewing O'Keeffe's original paintings for yourself.  You will love seeing them!


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Diagram that Sentence!

Recently I noticed an article by Lorraine Berry titled "The Lost Art of Sentence Diagramming."  According to the article, in most current school curriculums, diagraming sentences has been declared to have "no educational value."  Once, its use was explained in this way: "Sentence diagramming is a means by which a sentence is parsed and represented by a structure of lines that establish the relationship among the words in the sentence."  Stated more simply, the diagram created a map of the sentence.

Some of you may remember the process.  First, you started with a straight line.  You identified the subject and the predicate and wrote them on that line with a vertical line separating the two words.  If there were an adjective modifying the subject of your sentence, you drew a diagonal line under the subject and wrote the adjective.  If there were an adverb modifying the predicate, you placed it on a diagonal line under the verb.  The diagraming continued as the relationship of each word to the others was connected, teaching students how words in a sentence relate to each other.  Diagraming sentences went beyond memorizing rules to understanding how words work together.

As a teacher, an attorney, and an author, putting words together so that my meaning is clear and the content is interesting is important.  However, do I evaluate that importance differently from other people?

Isaac's Journal
The journal of Isaac Beckley Werner has occupied my time for nearly a decade.  He was an educated man who attended school longer than most people of that time, and throughout his life he cherished books and learning.  Yet, the daily entries in his journal did not conform with formal rules of composition.  As an example, on February 2, 1886, his entry was the following:

Feb 2d @ 5 degrees above zero Snowing somewhat Blizzard like still continuing, drifting good deal during A.M. & last night, letting up during day, continual cloudy and varying 5 to 3 degrees above zero during day, keeping quite cold disagreeable outdoors, bad weather on stock and to tend to them, I busy indoors all day at S.W. cupboard hanging doors etc. by sun set @ zero, darker cloudy in E. & like clearing off W.

Isaac was often asked by neighbors to write contracts and other agreements for them, and he was elected to serve as the secretary for nearly every organization of which he was a member.  His farming and progressive articles were published in newspapers and journals.  However, he was keeping his journal for himself, and he took no particular pains with punctuation and complete sentences.

It is nothing new for us to write notes to ourselves in haphazard ways, so long as we know what we meant.  What is new and evolving is how we communicate with others.

In an article by Larry Alton titled "Phone Calls, Texts or Email?  Here's How Millennials Prefer To Communicate," he pointed out that the way millennials prefer predicts the manner of "the future of workplace communication overall--and whether you like it or not, you'll need to prepare for those changes."  According to him, millennials don't like phone calls, particularly because they "require a kind of interruption to someone's day, while text messages and emails can be opened and read at the recipient's leisure," and I would add, they spare the caller's having to become involved in a lengthy phone conversation with the person they called.  Haven't most of us been entangled in a phone call with someone who simply wouldn't let us get off the phone?

According to Alton, millennials like texting because it can be done anyplace and anytime, and it avoids their having to make immediate responses as they would be required to do in a phone call or personal conversation.  If longer messages or more organized presentation of the messaging is needed, emails are preferred.

Alton suggests that the changes in communication relate to many other changes making the workplace less formal, such as flexible hours, relaxed dress codes, and more casual environments.  Those of us who learned to diagram sentences probably expected an 8 to 5 job (assuming we actually ended our day at 5 p.m.), we probably would never have considered wearing jeans to an office job or  a classroom, and our workplace was very unlikely to have yoga classes and gyms.

Since May of 2017, when Alton wrote his article, the popularity of Twitter has grown. According to an article by Paul Gil, "it provides a stream of quick updates from friends, family, scholars, news journalists, and experts."  People are using Twitter as a marketing tool, and President Trump sends multiple tweets most days, preferring that method of communication to the formal addresses to the nation and the opportunities to answer questions from the press in the manner of past presidents.

How we communicate is changing, and it is unlikely that the more formal means of communication that offered time for reflection and editing our thoughts before they were sent may be disappearing, or at least, may be reserved for particular communications.  Yet, should we pause to consider whether we are losing something important in the neglect of how we use words?  Are we becoming more careless and less reflective as we send our words out into the world, are our ideas less considered, do we weigh our words less before we express our thoughts, and have we determined whether our best ideas are necessarily the first things that pop into our heads?  Even our electronic devices sometimes ask us whether we are really ready to hit send.

Maybe diagraming sentences is old-fashioned, but when we become sloppy about how we express ourselves, we may be misunderstood.  Or worse, we may be understood for having said something we wish we had considered a bit longer before we hit "Send."

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Who Told You That?

Edward R. Morrow, W.W. II Correspondent
Am I the only one who remembers coming home from school with some bit of information I had learned from a classmate, and when I repeated what I had been told, my parent would say, "Who told you that?!"  It was good training...especially for a future lawyer and author.  An appropriate balance of skepticism is good for all of us.

It is what our founding fathers understood when they recognized the need for a free press in order for a democracy to survive.  But let me return to my childhood memories.  Sometimes the source of my information wasn't very accurate.  Sometimes it was a bit of misinformation given intentionally to fool me.  Sometimes it was honestly given by someone mistaken.  Sometimes it came from a trust-worthy source.  I find that life is still like that.  As the old saying goes, "Consider the Source."

Nellie Bly
When I am standing in the grocery store line and I see a tabloid with a story about some movie star and his alleged romances, do I assume the headlines are true?  No!  Might they be?  Maybe.  If we know that certain tabloids exaggerate and distort the truth, why are they allowed to continue publishing lies and misrepresentations?  Because we have decided censorship is a more dangerous risk to society than the likelihood that educated, intelligent people will believe utter nonsense.  The legal remedy is for the person who is slandered to take action against the newspaper, but a more obvious remedy is the public's responsibility to stop buying tabloids that they know are publishing nonsense.  Reputable newspapers employing professional reporters and writers to bring Americans the news are facing declining subscriptions, while tabloids who titillate rather than investigate seem to be surviving.  Shouldn't we remember what our parents taught us and ask, "Who told you that?" and  "Consider the source!"

Professional news reporters work hard to check their sources, seek corroboration of multiple sources, and, as the Code of Ethics of the American Society of Newspaper Editors says:  "Thus journalism demands of its practitioners not only industry and knowledge but also the pursuit of a standard of integrity proportionate to the journalist's singular obligation.  (See prior 2 weeks' blogs below, if you missed them.)

Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.  Walter Cronkite

Detroit Free Press Front Page
Last week I mentioned that even in Isaac Werner's time, the lengths to which news gathers would go to document a story was often impressive.  Nellie Bly (1864-1922) was the pen name of an American journalist named Elizabeth Jane Cochran.  In 1887, in order to investigate reports of brutality and neglect of women confined to a Lunatic Asylum, she faked her own insanity to gain admission.  Once inside, she was given spoiled food and filthy water, was tied with rope to other patients, was exposed to frigid bathwater, rats and abusive nurses along with the other women.  She even discovered women who were locked in the asylum despite being as sane as she was.  Her report, not only published in the newspaper but later as the book Ten Days in a Mad House, exposed those abuses, and that brave investigative reporter and her newspaper brought about changes.  

Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.  Benjamin Franklin

William G. Giggart (1947-2001) was the son of an American officer stationed in Germany at the time of his birth.  He began his own career as a commercial photographer, but his interest in news led him to photojournalism in 1985, and he covered international events in such places as Israel, Northern Ireland, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  Therefore, it is not surprising that he was taking street-view photographs at the World Trade Center's North Tower when it collapsed.  When his remains were discovered in the debris, a bag containing his cameras and a flash card with his last photographs were beside him.  His photographs document the final moments of that event.  Pictures by Giggart and other photographers who took the images on many front pages and television broadcasts allowed all Americans to see what devastation had been done in New York City that day.

Our liberty depends on freedom of the press.  Thomas Jefferson

James Foley, Photo: Nicole Tung
James Foley (1973-2014) was the oldest of five children, born in New Hampshire.  He graduated from Marquette University, from the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.  He began his career as a teacher but changed to pursue journalism, and that decision took him to Afghanistan and Libya, where he witnessed the killing of fellow photojournalist Anton Hammerl.  He was himself held prisoner with three others for 44 days.  Although he returned home, his belief that "front line journalism is important [without which] we can't tell the world how bad it might be," led him to return to cover the Syrian Civil War.  He was captured and beheaded by ISIL.  His mother posted the following:  "We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people."

Wherever despotism abounds, the sources of public information are the first to be brought under its control.  Where ever the cause of liberty is making its way, one of its highest accomplishments is the guarantee of the freedom of the press.  Calvin Coolidge

Watching news reporters jostle and shout questions at politicians and others often seems like an undignified and offensive exercise of freedom, but as Justice Hugo Black said, "The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government.  The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.  Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government."

Civilian Casualties from W.W. I
The Statistics Portal represents itself as assembling statistics and studies from more than 22,500 sources, and their site includes a chart showing the number of journalists killed worldwide from 1995-2017.  It should be understood that the chart does not indicate the cause of death, and many journalists are serving in very dangerous parts of the world.  However, it is worth recognizing that however they died, they were there doing the job of collecting news.  A sampling at five year intervals shows 64 deaths in 1995, 32 in 2000, 64 in 2005, 58 in 2010, 81 in 2015, and 50 in the final year of the chart.  The lowest figure was 23 in 1998, and the highest figures were 85 in 2006, 88 in 2007, and 87 in 2012.  Like James Foley, these news gathers put their lives in harms way so that we could know what was going on in the world.  These statistics do not tell us their names, their ages, nor their gender, and even if we cannot know why they chose to do what they did, we can respect them for being our eyes to world events.  

Freedom of conscience, of education, of speech, of assembly are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged.  Franklin D. Roosevelt

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Early History of Access to News

Boston, Thursday Sept. 25th, 1690, Printer, Benjamin Harris
When the Founding Fathers spoke of the importance of protecting the Peoples' access to news, they were probably thinking in terms of broadsheets and newspapers.  The early newspapers in the Colonies were quite simple, perhaps only broadsheets, published as a sideline by printers.  Broadsheets are defined as "A large piece of paper printed with information on one side only," the sort of thing we might call a poster. a handbill, or a placard.  The term continues in the present day to refer to a newspaper with a large format, also used to describe a tabloid or a news-sheet.

Publick Occurrences is considered one of the earliest, if not the earliest, newspaper published in the British North American Colonies, for it was four pages long and promised monthly publication.  Boston residents loved it, but the British authorities did not.  British law provided that "no person keep any printing-press for printing, nor any book, pamphlet or other matter whatsoever [without] especial leave and license first obtained."  Harris had not obtained that permission, and British authorities banned further publication and seized and destroyed every copy they could find.  The one copy that is known to have survived is preserved in the British Library.

The meaning of Hamilton's argument in last week's blog, saying there was no need to expressly protect something that could already freely be done, is better understood in the context of what happened to Benjamin Harris' newspaper.  Since Harris did not get permission to publish, his newspapers were destroyed.  Hamilton was saying that since no permission was required in the new nation being formed, there was no need to protect the free publication of newspapers.  Of course, our founding fathers decided differently, and the 1st Amendment does protect a free press.

The Publishing of broadsheets and newspapers did continue under British rule of the colonies, particularly by merchants.  What was called a "partisan press" also developed, in which biased support for political parties or platforms were published. In 1734 when the satirical attacks by a man named Zenger so angered the British governor that he sued Zenger for criminal libel, the jury acquitted Zenger.  By the close of the colonial period there were 24 weekly newspapers in the 13 colonies, and satirical attacks on the government were common practice.

Benjamin Franklin's older brother, James was the first to publish a newspaper superior in quality to the unprofessional news sheets that preceeded James Franklin's New-England Courant.  The style and format drew heavily on The Spectator, a British publication.

The new nation brought with it creation of  newspapers clearly aligned with particular political parties.  The parties threw vulgar insults back and forth.  For example, when Federalist Alexander Hamilton convinced Noah Webster to edit a Federalist newspaper, the Jeffersonian Republicans called Webster "a pusillanimous, half-begotten, self-dubbed patriot", and "incurable lunatic", and "a deceitful newsmonger...Pedagogue and Quack", "a traitor to the cause of Federalism", and "a great fool, and a barefaced liar."

The reality that the animosity in print got so far out of bounds seemed to show  almost everyone changes were needed.  The newspapers of the Revolution became a unifying force, stressing the common purpose to come together and see the war with  Britain to a successful outcome.  Unfortunately, old political differences were behind the passage of the 1798 Alien Sedition laws by Federalists for the purpose of stifling what they regarded as libels by editors with whom they disagreed.  The tactic backfired, and public opinion shifted away from the Federalists and toward the Jeffersonian Republicans.

Newspaper growth in the young nation
This blog is not intended to be a complete study of the evolution of a free press in America, but rather it is intended to show that the process was not always tidy.  Gradually, the editorials shifted from the use of pseudonyms and unsigned editorials and articles, toward a willingness to stand behind what they wrote.  The "Penny Press" made newspapers more affordable, and the number of newspapers grew.  Specialized journalism expanded, with foreign language newspapers for new immigrants, and other targeted groups including religious, educational, agricultural and commercial newspapers.

As settlers headed West, small town newspapers flourished, often politically aligned with a particular party.  Isaac B. Werner was part of this movement, and his county seat of St. John, had two popular weekly  newspapers-the Populist County Capital  and the Republican St. John News.

An era of Yellow Journalism
The late 1800s were also an era of "Yellow Journalism," during which time news was often sensationalized to increase circulation.  The drawing at left, done by Frederic Remington, was published by William Randolph Hearst's newspaper as part of the effort to stir momentum for war with Spain in Cuba.  Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were accused of "war mongering" with sensational "Yellow Journalism" in their news and images.  In a time before camera journalists, artists could misrepresent events, and today the ability to manipulate images is even more sophisticated and concerning.

It was also a period in which investigative reporters exposed social injustices.  One particularly noteworthy case was the female reporter, Nellie Bly, who contrived to be admitted into a mental facility in order to describe factually the mistreatment of those admitted, for legitimate mental illness but also falsely admitted by vengeful guardians and relatives or admitted for temporary conditions and refused release after recovery.  Her expose, Ten Days in a Mad-House, exposed the desperate need for reform.  Without a free press, those abuses might have gone unnoticed or intentionally ignored.

By the 1900s newspapers had grown to the extent where they seemed like an invincible force for delivering news.  As described in last week's blog, editors and responsible journalists saw the need for professional standards of integrity, and they formed the American Society of Newspaper Editors.  Nearly every family subscribed to at least one daily newspaper, and legendary family owned newspapers became a sort of American Royalty.  The wealth and power of American newspapers seemed fixed.

In 1970 there were 1,748 daily newspapers in the United States.  By 1980 there had been a slight decrease, but in 1990 the number had dropped to 1,611, dropping to 1,480 by 2000.  The decline slowed, even ticking upward in between 2012 and 2013, but the decline plunged downward until in 2016 there were only 1,286 daily newspapers in the United States.  Although I do not have the numbers, I suspect the number of daily newspapers has continued to decline sharply.

From 256,800 employees in the newspaper industry in the United States in March of 2010, there has been a gradual reduction of employees until March of 2016 there were 183,200.  The unfortunate reality is that even large newspapers have cut the number of reporters actively engaged in searching out the news.  More reliance on use of the Associated Press means less insistent independent digging for the facts.  

The 1st Amendment may protect a free press, but what it takes for newspapers to seek out the truth in an increasingly complex world doesn't come for free.

Remember, you can click on images to enlarge them.