!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: March 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Timothy Murphy on Jazz Improvisation

Readers of this blog will know that I'm fascinated by the process of improvisation, a subject I discussed most recently here. I'm firmly convinced that one of the prime aspects of expertise is the ability to conjure up promising ideas on the fly. I'm also confident that this is a skill that can be steadily honed through practice.

The Spring 2010 issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine gives its last page over to a summary of how an accomplished jazz pianist in an ensemble undertakes to improvise. The summary is provided by Timothy Murphy, a keyboardist and teacher at Hopkins' Peabody Conservatory and at Towson University.

Murphy's offers these four bits of advice:
  1. First, clear your mind. Get rid al all the words coursing through your head. Sit quietly about 30 seconds before putting your hands on the keyboard.

  2. Improv is a conversation. Watch the facial expressions of the other players, listen to them, try to respond to what they do with the least predictable thing that's still musical.

  3. If you suddenly go blank, just smile and keep pressing the keys until something good happens. Now and then, the best thing to "play" is silence.

  4. (Wesley Bedrosian)

    A good solo should have a shape. Pay attention to the inner voice that's telling you that you've reached a high point and it's time to wind it down and get out elegantly.
The most direct business application of Murphy's schema is to meetings in which creative thinking is needed, for example, concerning the design of a new product or service or the solution to a problem. An individual's contributions don't have to be "the least predictable thing," but they certainly shouldn't be trite. Everybody should contribute, but no one should overwhelm the conversation. Soliloquies should "have a shape" and, even if the speaker doesn't end elegantly, he or she should not run on.


Labels: , , , ,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday, March 22

Spring is like a perhaps hand


Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

                                        – E. E. Cummings



Sunday, March 21, 2010

"A Red Palm" by Gary Soto

A Red Palm

You're in this dream of cotton plants.
You raise a hoe, swing, and the first weeds
Fall with a sigh. You take another step,
Chop, and the sigh comes again,
Until you yourself are breathing that way
With each step, a sigh that will follow you into town.

That's hours later. The sun is a red blister
Coming up in your palm. Your back is strong,
Young, not yet the broken chair
In an abandoned school of dry spiders.
Dust settles on your forehead, dirt
Smiles under each fingernail.
You chop, step, and by the end of the first row,
You can buy one splendid fish for wife
And three sons. Another row, another fish,
Until you have enough and move on to milk,
Bread, meat. Ten hours and the cupboards creak.
You can rest in the back yard under a tree.
Your hands twitch on your lap,
Not unlike the fish on a pier or the bottom
Of a boat. You drink iced tea. The minutes jerk
Like flies.

                                 It's dusk, now night,
And the lights in your home are on.
That costs money, yellow light
In the kitchen. That's thirty steps,
You say to your hands,
Now shaped into binoculars.
You could raise them to your eyes:
You were a fool in school, now look at you.
You're a giant among cotton plants.
Now you see your oldest boy, also running.
Papa, he says, it's time to come in.

You pull him into your lap
And ask, What's forty times nine?
He knows as well as you, and you smile.
The wind makes peace with the trees,
The stars strike themselves in the dark.
You get up and walk with the sigh of cotton plants.
You go to sleep with a red sun on your palm,
The sore light you see when you first stir in

                                        – Gary Soto



Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Equinox 2010

Spring Equinox Sunset 2009
St. John, Virgin Islands

(St. John Life)



Friday, March 19, 2010

Fess Parker, 1924 - 2010

I am just one of millions of kids who loved Davy Crockett, as embodied by Fess Parker.

Fess Parker in 1955

I haven't seen Walt Disney's Davy Crockett TV shows for many years, so below I quote an appreciative review that someone with the screen name gobirds2 posted at Amazon in April 2002, a few months after Disney issued the five original shows on DVD.

Davy Crockett is one of Walt Disney's most endeared and remembered live action characters. He was presented to American audiences by Walt Disney on the Disneyland TV Show in 1954. He was personified by Fess Parker beloved ever after by his sincere portrayal. This colorful and entertaining character was first seen in three episodes from the TV show ("Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter," "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress" and "Davy Crockett at the Alamo"). Parker, with his coonskin cap and homespun drawl and witticism created a nationwide phenomenon in 1954. Who can forget "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett" composed by George Bruns and Tom Blackburn. Buddy Ebsen played his sidekick George Russel, whose adventures take them from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. to the Alamo in the first three episodes. The series' third episode focusing on the defense of the Alamo, though well remembered, is somewhat labored until we see the final image of Davy Crockett passing into legend and glory. This straightforward and beautifully photographed series expounds the virtues of honesty, integrity and bravery. The country could not get enough of Davy so he and George Russel returned in 1955 for two more episodes ("Davy Crockett's Keel Boat Race" and "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates"). For Davy Crockett's second season on television the show was retitled "The Legends of Davy Crockett." The necessary title change came about because we had seen Davy come to his end defending the Alamo and Walt Disney wanted to continue bringing us his adventures. "Davy Crockett's Keel Boat Race" is about a riverboat race between Davy and another American folklore hero Mike Fink. "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates" is about Davy's attempt to stop an Indian uprising with Mike Fink's assistance. In some ways these two episodes are the best. Davy Crockett appears less the frontier fighter and more the good-natured peacemaker in these episodes. The riverboat race with Mike Fink is very entertaining and a high point in Disney's American frontier live action adventures. I don't even think John Ford could have filmed this sequence any better. Kenneth Tobey, who worked with John Ford, is excellent in a great comedic part (Fess Parker made note of Tobey's performance in a supplemental interview on the DVD). Walt Disney gave this actor a chance to demonstrate his great versatility and range as an actor. Also, Mike Fink's boats may look a little familiar since they are the basis for the riverboat ride at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. That's a nice nostalgic tie in! Bert Glennon's cinematography is beautifully picturesque as ever and is matched seamlessly with some very effective glass shot special effects by Peter Ellenshaw. This is one of the best DVDs to come from the Disney vaults. Walt Disney introduces each of the five episodes exactly as they were originally presented on the Disneyland TV Show. The Supplemental Features on this DVD are above and beyond what I had expected. Most of Disney's DVD extras seem to concentrate on the technical aspects of the feature presentation. This DVD focused more on the phenomenon that the legend of Davy Crockett created and the [effect] it had and continues to have on those who were brought up in those times. There are two exceptional Features: "A Conversation with Fess Parker" and "The Davy Crockett Craze." "The Gallery" of photos and memorabilia is also excellent. "A Conversation with Fess Parker" really hit home with me. Fess Parker appeared to be the genuine article that he was. In a world of eroded morals filled with dirt and filth everywhere you turn it was more than comforting to hear Fess Parker's fond recollections of his portrayal and the ideals that Walt immortalized through the tales of this legendary character. If your eyes feel a little watery its because [you're] remembering a time not so long ago when our heroes were real heroes. This is one of the best and should help keep the legend alive for those that lived it, those that loved it and for those that will someday be touched by it.

The New York Times obituary is here.



Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day 2010

(As the Clever Crow Flies)



Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Francis Bacon on Discourse

Francis Bacon first published "Of Discourse" in 1597 in a collection of short essays, and then in somewhat expanded form in subsequent 1612 and 1625 editions. Here, to give you a sense of Bacon's view of how to converse well, is the conclusion of the 1625 version:

I knew two noblemen, of the west part of England, whereof the one was given to scoff, but kept ever royal cheer in his house; the other would ask of those that had been at the other’s table, Tell truly was there never a flout or dry blow [scornful jest] given? To which the guest would answer, Such and such a thing passed. The lord would say, I thought he would mar a good dinner. Discretion of speech is more than eloquence; and to speak agreeably to him with whom we deal, is more than to speak in good words or in good order. A good continued speech, without a good speech of interlocution, shows slowness: and a good reply or second speech, without a good settled speech, showeth shallowness and weakness. As we see in beasts, that those that are weakest in the course are yet nimblest in the turn; as it is betwixt the greyhound and the hare. To use too many circumstances ere one come to the matter, is wearisome; to use none at all, is blunt.


Labels: ,

Monday, March 15, 2010

Alexander Pope on Criticism

You will probably recognize line 625 in the excerpt below from Alexander Pope's "Essay on Criticism." The excerpt comprises lines 610 to 642.

      Such shameless bards we have, and yet, 'tis true,
There are as mad abandoned critics, too.
The bookful blockhead ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head,
With his own tongue still edifies his ears,
And always listening to himself appears.
All books he reads and all he reads assails
From Dryden's Fables down to Durfey's Tales.
With him most authors steal their works or buy;
Garth did not write his own Dispensary.
Name a new play, and he's the poets friend
Nay, showed his faults — but when would poets mend?
No place so sacred from such fops is barred,
Nor is Paul's Church more safe than Paul's Churchyard:
Nay, fly to altars; there they'll talk you dead,
For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks,
It still looks home, and short excursions makes;
But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks,
And, never shocked, and never turned aside,
Bursts out, resistless, with a thundering tide.

      But where's the man who counsel can bestow,
Still pleased to teach, and yet not proud to know?
Unbiased, or by favor, or in spite,
Not dully prepossessed, nor blindly right;
Though learned, well-bred, and though well-bred, sincere,
Modestly bold, and humanly severe,
Who to a friend his faults can freely show,
And gladly praise the merit of a foe?
Blessed with a taste exact, yet unconfined;
A knowledge both of books and human kind;
Generous converse, a soul exempt from pride;
And love to praise, with reason on his side?

Note: The Wikipedia entry for John Dryden's Fables, Ancient and Modern is here. You can read about Thomas Durfey here. The Wikipedia entry for Sir Samuel Garth is here.


Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 14, 2010

William James on Genius

In "The Perception of 'Things,'" Chapter 19 of The Principles of Psychology (1890 edition), William James explains his view of genius . . .

In logic a concept is unalterable; but what are popularly called our 'conceptions of things' alter by being used. The aim of 'Science' is to attain conceptions so adequate and exact that we shall never need to change them. There is an everlasting struggle in every mind between the tendency to keep
unchanged, and the tendency to renovate, its ideas. Our education is a cease-less compromise between the conservative and the progressive factors. Every new experience must be disposed of under some old head. The great point is to find the head which has to be least altered to take it in. Certain Polynesian natives, seeing horses for the first time, called them pigs, that being the nearest head. My child of two played for a week with the first orange that was given him, calling it a 'ball.' He called the first whole eggs he saw 'potatoes' having been accustomed to see his 'eggs' broken into a glass, and his potatoes without the skin. A folding pocket-corkscrew he unhesitatingly called 'bad-scissors.' Hardly any one of us can make new heads easily when fresh experiences come. Most of us grow more and more enslaved to the stock conceptions with which we have once become familiar, and less and less capable of assimilating impressions in any but the old ways. Old-fogyism, in short, is the inevitable terminus to which life sweeps us on. Objects which violate our established habits of 'apperception' are simply not taken account of at all; or, if on some occasion we are forced by dint of argument to admit their existence, twenty-four hours later the admission is as if it were not, and every trace of the unassimilable truth has vanished from our thought. Genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Richard Stites, 1931 - 2010

(Yale University Press)

Creating nests of cultural life required more than money. Only about 2 to 3 percent of nobles could afford to build and maintain the two hundred or so staff required, say, for a large house, church, planned garden, and other amenities; and to hire foreign conductors, musicians, ballet masters, and set designers. The middling and poorer Maecenases of art had little alternative but to deploy their serfs on the front lines of creativity and performance. But even the grandees drew on their serf population for rank-and-file performers. The belief, just starting to erode in other parts of Europe, that artists were hardly better than artisans or servants remained intact in Russia; playing a violin or dancing on stage seemed only a step away from craft skills or household and farm chores. Owners of large estates could draw from armies of field hands, drivers, under-stewards, and various technical workers. For more modest landlords, household serfs made up the recruitment pool: cooks, scullery maids, butlers, and valets. Serf artists of all kinds could be differentiated and segregated from field serfs and domestics in treatment, apparel, and even housing. Just as often, they shared the status of stable boys, millers, blacksmiths, and domestics, even alternating in these roles on a regular basis. An ex-serf recalled in his memoirs how owners inhibited initiative and pride of work by shuttling serfs from farm to house, turning cooks to coachmen, lackeys to clerks or shepherds. [p. 30]

The New York Times obituary for Richard Stites, longtime professor at Georgetown University, is here.


Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Encouraging Words From Walt Whitman

O Me! O Life!

O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;

Of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities fill’d with the foolish;

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light — of the objects mean — of the struggle ever renew’d;

Of the poor results of all — of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;

Of the empty and useless years of the rest — with the rest me intertwined;

The question, O me! so sad, recurring — What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here — that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

                                                            – Walt Whitman



Monday, March 08, 2010

A Vivid Preview of US Air Force Basic Training

You can find voluminous information about the US Air Force at www.af.mil, but if you want to check out the really cool stuff, the place to go is www.airforce.com.

Thanks to the March/April issue of Communications Arts magazine, I'm now aware of the immensely engaging and informative section of airforce.com devoted to detailing what happens during Air Force basic training. You can access this section here.

You'll find that the navigation is organized according to the eight full weeks recruits spend in basic training:

Week 1 — Fall In

Week 2 — Basic War Skills

Week 3 — Combat Lifesaving

Week 4 — Countering the Threat

Week 5 — Ready to Fight

Week 6 — The Beast (Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training — field exercises and combat scenarios)

Week 7 — Airmanship

Week 8 — Graduation

Each week's material includes a video overview, a short inspirational blurb (accessed by mousing over an image on the screen representing the week's focus), video comments from a Military Training Instructor, still photos, and a summary of the schedule for the week.

The site also provides guidance on how to prepare for basic training (e.g. what to study in advance, what to pack, and what not to pack).

On every screeen a visitor is one click away from launching an online chat with an "advisor" or launching a tool for finding the nearest Air Force recruiter.

Visitors can also:
  • click on "See What It's Like" to access video on such activities as combat search and rescue, serving on a bomb squad, and special ops.

  • try various interactive features, such as "Train a Military Working Dog," "Refuel a Plane," "Launch a Rocket into Space," and "Fly with the Thunderbirds."

  • play simulation games
The basic training section of airforce. com is the handiwork of GSD&M Idea City.


Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, March 07, 2010

William Kamkwamba's Book

In a couple of 2007 posts, I wrote about William Kamkwamba, a young Malawian man, now 22, who distinguished himself back in 2002 by building a windmill in his home village, using timber, bicycle parts, and varous materials from a junkyard.

You can now read a book-length version of Kamkwamba's story in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, co-authored by Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. An excerpt from the book is here.

Bryan Mealer going over the manuscript of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind with William Kamkwamba and translator Blessings Chikakula
(Gift Kamkwamba)

The video below (1:17:22) shows Kamkwamba and Mealer speaking (after some technical difficulties) at MIT on October 27, 2009. The program was under the auspices of MIT's Technology and Culture forum.

This next video is much shorter — only 4:31 minutes. It shows Kamkwamba answering questions submitted by readers of the reddit blog.

If you want to keep up with William Kamkwamba's blog, you can find it here.




Saturday, March 06, 2010

Working People of Holyoke VI: Urban Agriculture

In the nineteenth century, the largest immigrant groups arriving in Holyoke were the Irish and, later, French Canadians. More recently, the population of Puerto Rican extraction has grown to the point that it now comprises over a third of the total.

Many of the Puerto Ricans come from a rural background, so there was a logic back in 1992 to creation of an organization — Nuestras Raíces (Our Roots) — that promotes and enables small-scale farming within the city by adults and youth.

Senorita Ada's Casita at la Finca (The Farm) of Nuestras Raíces (2008)

Nuestras Raíces' website explains:
Urban agriculture has proven to be an effective way to promote community development because it is a way for the residents of downtown Holyoke to maintain a connection to their culture while putting down roots in their new home. Most of our members grew up on the farms of rural Puerto Rico and many first came to the Northeast as migrant farm workers. Though they may live in the city now, they are farmers at heart. They have lifetimes of experience in agriculture and it is part of their heritage. Projects based on agriculture, such as markets and community gardens, build on the skills and knowledge that participants already have, and are proud to have the opportunity to use to improve their community and to teach to a younger generation.
To read about Nuestras Raíces' various projects, including La Finca (The Farm), a thirty-acre spread on the shore of the Connecticut River within the city limits, you can start at this page of their website. A nine-minute video showing an exhibition of paso fino horses, some of which are stabled at La Finca, is below.


Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 05, 2010

Working People of Holyoke V: Mill Reuse

As textile and other mill jobs moved south, New England towns were left with numerous abandoned or underutilized mill buildings, often centrally located and generally occupying potentially attractive waterfront land.

Such was the case in Holyoke, which now offers an example of mill reuse that is representative of redevelopement of mill properties underway in a number of Massachusetts towns.

The front door of one of the mill buildings making up the redeveloped Open Square complex
(Open Square)

The Open Square project has been underway since 1996, when architect and principal John Aubin began gradually rehabbing the 685,000 square feet of space in the seven-building Lyman Mills complex, which his family has owned since 1969. Tenants are a mix of offices, retail stores, restaurants, artists, light industry, and condo owners. (A list of current tenants is here.)

Below are some more pictures showing what has been accomplished so far.

Open Square's favorite picture of what their refurbished interior space looks like. This particular space is on the fourth floor of Building 4, an area that has been configured for offices.
(Open Square)

The office of Cover Technologies,
an environmental services company,
in Building 4 of Open Square.

(Open Square)

The Open Square complex,
showing one of the canals between which it sits

(Open Square)

In November of last year, the local public TV station broadcast a feature on Open Square. You can watch the 5:49 segment, based largely on interviewing John Aubin, below. (BTW, the correct call letters for the TV station are WGBY.)



Thursday, March 04, 2010

Working People of Holyoke IV: Holyoke Heritage State Park

Wikipedia provides the basic information:
Holyoke Heritage State Park celebrates the history and culture of the City of Holyoke, Massachusetts. It is operated and managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Park features include a visitor center with exhibits about paper manufacturing and Holyoke's industrial and cultural history. Admission to the park and visitor center is free.

The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, the Children's Museum at Holyoke and the Volleyball Hall of Fame are located in the park.

The site in which Heritage State Park has been built was once the land used for the William Skinner Silk Mill. Heritage State Park was planned after Skinner's mill burned down [in 1980].

William Skinner's Silk Mill
Holyoke, Massachusetts (1887)

(Digital Treasures)


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Working People of Holyoke III: The Decline of New England's Mills

Stagnant wages in Holyoke mills, enforced by the availability of low-wage workers in the southern states, contributed to pervasive disenchantment with mill work among young people in New England after World War II. William Hartford describes the situation in Working People of Holyoke: Class and Ethnicity in a Massachusetts Mill Town, 1850-1960:

The crucial decade was the 1930s. As Marc Miller has written of Lowell [MA] during the depression, "a natural partner to high unemployment was exemplary school attendance." ... As late as 1950 in Holyoke, median school years completed was still only 9.9. But this was an increase of nearly a full school year since 1940, and there was every indication that this and related measures would continue to rise in the future.

{. . .]

... A number of parents simply stated that they wanted their children to be happy, to be able to do what they wished. However vaguely phrased, these statements tell us much about the meaning of social mobility in working-class America. What these parents most wanted for their children was that they have choices, choices that they as children did not have; and in the end, what their children chose to do was less important than that they be able to choose at all. As Madeleine Biehler [a Holyoke resident of French-Canadian extraction] said of her mother, "It was always do what I didn't do"

When the next generation began making these choices, textile employment ranked low on its list of career alternatives. ... This was the case not only in Holyoke, but throughout much of New England as well. From Adams, Massachusetts, Wauregan, Connecticut, West Warwick, Rhode Island, and Biddeford, Maine, came similar reports after World War II, all stating that young people were consciously avoiding textile work. The reasons for their decisions were perhaps best summarized in a 1950 study of the state textile industry by the Massachusetts House of Representatives:
It was represented to the Commission that because of beliefs such as that mill work entailed lack of opportunity, unpleasant surroundings, absence of progressive personnel and industrial relations policies, relatively low wages, and the uncertainty of regular employment, a stigma is attached to employment in the industry in the Northern States. These beliefs repel younger persons and children of textile workers, the normal replacement, and results in their turning to other forms of employment.
Holyoke TWUA [Textile Workers' Union of America] official Anna Sullivan put it more bluntly: textiles was "at the bottom of the heap."
[pp. 202-203]


Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Working People of Holyoke II: The Bishops' Program on Social Reconstruction

It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that the tensions between, on the one hand, Catholic clerics concerned with social justice, and, on the other hand, clerics concerned with supporting existing social relations, have existed for many years. For example, in Working People of Holyoke: Class and Ethnicity in a Massachusetts Mill Town, 1850-1960, William Hartford describes a conflict between these two points of view dating back to the 1920s:

Although the 1920s would be a cheerless decade for both trade unionists and social activists, the period opened on an optimistic note. In 1919, Father John Ryan penned a sweeping statement on contemporary social problems that was subsequently adopted by the National Catholic War Council. Popularly known as the Bishops' Program on Social Reconstruction, it called for minimum wage legislation, unemployment and old-age insurance, public housing for workers, and the abolition of child labor. The document also urged organized labor to look beyond its own immediate interests and assume a more active legislative role. Although their proposals were in many respects similar to a statement recently issued by the AFL's Reconstruction Committee, the bishops chided labor leaders for leaving such vital matters as a living wage and eight-hour day to union voluntarism, an apporoach that failed "to give sufficient consideration to the case of the weaker sections of the working class, those for whom trade union action is not practically adequate."

A persisting commitment to voluntarism was not the only feature of the AFL declaration that the bishops found wanting. They also faulted labor leaders for an unwillingness to develop means by which workers might "become owners as well as users of the instruments of production" and recommended that steps be taken to provide labor participation in management through copartnership agreements and producer cooperatives. Intended as a moderate alternative to the British Labor Party's postwar social reconstruction agenda, the bishops cast their proposals in a framework of reciprocal rights and duties that would preserve the interests of labor, capital, and society at large. The laborer, they concluded,
must come to realize that he owes his employer an honest day's work in return for a fair wage, and that conditions cannot be substantially improved until he roots out the desire to get a maximum of return through a minimum of service. The capitalist must likewise get a new viewpoint. He needs to learn the long-forgotten truth that wealth is stewardship, that profit-making is not the basic justification of business enterprise, that there are such things as fair profits, fair interest, and fair prices.
Despite its conservative features, the bishops' program was not what American corporate leaders had in mind when they enthusiastically endorsed Warren Harding's call for a "return to normalcy." The statement looked much further down the road of industrial reform than capital was willing to travel, and the National Civic Federation (NCF), acting on behalf of the nation's largest businesses, mounted a counteroffensive. The NCF gathered "expert testimony" from anonymous Catholics who collectively affirmed that the bishops had exceeded their authority by issuing so wrong-headed and radical a declaration. Their program, a 1921 NCF report asserted, tended to undermine public confidence in the government and institutions of this country," and was apparently the work of a small band of radical priests sympathetic to Marxism.

However self-serving, NCF contentions that the bishops did not speak for all Catholics were only too accurate. During the early 1920s, conservative hierarchs opposed to the social-justice orientation of the recently formed National Catholic Welfare Conference persuaded Pope Benedeict XV to lift his approval of the organizstion. Although Benedict's successor, Pius XI, resanctioned the council, episcopal opposition would continue to hinder its activities, particularly efforts to implement the bishops' program. As Father John Ryan, head of the council's Social Action Department, observed: "The first obstacle confronting the department is the fact that neither the bishops, the priests, nor the laity are convinced that our industrial system should be reorganized in this radical fashion." If anything, Ryan understated the difficulties facing Catholic progressives. For as the decade unfolded, traditionalist churchmen, seeking to restore a threatened hegemony, would mount one final campaign to impose their paternalistic nostrums on American Catholics.
[The campaign in question was a successful effortin 1924 to defeat an amendment to the US Constitution banning child labor.] [pp. 158-159]



Monday, March 01, 2010

Working People of Holyoke I: Commitment to Learning

In 1990 William F. Hartford, an independent scholar, published Working People of Holyoke: Class and Ethnicity in a Massachusetts Mill Town, 1850-1960. His book is a detailed study that helps one understand how workers in Holyoke's factories — principally paper and textile mills — gradually, and with plenty of setbacks, arrived at somewhat improved wages and working conditions, only to see the mills close as owners shifted production south, where wages were lower.

The passage below, from Chapter 6, touches on learning activities — one dimension of the workers' efforts to improve their lives in the years after 1905.

As they struggled to preserve some semblance of independence [i.e., having an independent voice in community affairs], trade-union respectables [as opposed to "saloonists," who tended to have a relatively casual connection to the industrial workforce] displayed an intense commitment to learning, not only for themselves but for all working people. The Dynamiters [a group of Holyoke trade unionists who met every Saturday evening] regularly badgered the state legislature to appropriate funds for university extension classes, and individual members ... periodically organized adult-education programs for local wage earners. Even more important than these efforts was the meaning that trade-union respectables attached to education. In their quest for knowledge they were not seeking to emulate or impress the local bourgeoisie. Rather, they saw learning as a valuable resource that could be used to engage life's problems. The Dynamiters thus maintained a file of the
Congressional Record and other reference sources that members consulted to frame legislative petitions, contest the actions of local authorities, and challenge the assertions of visiting academics who, as the Springfield Republican's Sunday correspondent observed, "came [to Dynamiters Hall] hotfoot for argument and got it good and plenty." [p. 127]

In Chapter 7, Hartford offers an example from the mid-1920s of one of the more formal programs sponsored by the Dynamiters Club:

A course on "Labor Problems in Modern Society" conducted by Paul Douglas, then a professor at Amherst College, covered such topics as wealth and income distribution, recent wage movements, family-allowance systems, unemployment insurance, and the history of organized labor. During discussion periods, particpants debated whether centralized labor markets reduced unemployment, why welfare capitalists [owners who adopted a paternalistic approach to labor relations] so often opposed worker organization, and what impact technological innovation had on trade unionism, among other questions.
[p. 169]


Labels: ,