Friday, June 30, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sowell

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I started this blog on June 30, 2008, which makes today the tenth June 30th of its existence. Although the first post was about political turmoil in Zimbabwe, six of the next eight June 30th posts were acknowledgments of the birthday of my all-time favorite non-fiction writer, Thomas Sowell.

As far as I'm concerned, him deciding to retire from writing at the end of last year is no reason for the birthday acknowledgments to stop. If a nation truly values diversity, it should openly celebrate a black man who lives in the San Francisco Area while being an unapologetic conservative with a strong libertarian bent.

Sowell was born 87 years ago today in Gastonia, North Carolina, when Jim Crow was flogging the American South and the Great Depression was preparing to throttle the American economy. In that moment, the odds of a bright future could not have seemed high for an infant such as he; but fortunately, he grew up to become the kind of man who turns his shoulder against the odds and does not waste his time caring what others have to say about him.

Sowell was the fifth child of a widow (his father died while she was pregnant with him) and as a youth he moved to Harlem, where he was raised by his great-aunt and her two daughters. After dropping out of high school because he needed to earn money for the struggling household, Sowell tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers and worked in a machine shop and was a deliveryman for Western Union... and then he was drafted by the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Korean War.

Following his military service, Sowell earned his GED and attended Howard. Because of his extremely high scores on board exams and recommendations from two of his professors, he was accepted at Harvard, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1958.

One year later he graduated with his master's from Columbia, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago, where he studied under the legendary Milton Friedman (speaking of which, his salute to Friedman five years ago is a must-read).

Sowell -- unlike most of the world's curriculum vitae-obsessed snobs, who pass themselves off as intellectuals while holding conformist views and walling themselves off from opposing thoughts -- is an authentic thinker who follows the evidence and facts wherever they might lead.

I once watched an interview in which he was asked to name his three favorite presidents, and he answered by saying FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan, then proceeding to explain his exact reasons for liking each of them despite their very obvious differences. Clearly, he is a man who regards labels with the disdain they deserve.

Although Sowell was an avowed Marxist throughout his twenties and into his thirties, a lifetime of study, analysis, and living led him to become one of the staunchest and most eloquent advocates of limited government and free markets that you will ever find. Clearly, he is a man who is unafraid to put his mind and instincts to the test without any fear of accepting the results.

Over the decades, the books and syndicated columns he published have been like philosophical manna for me and many others, covering a vast range of sociological, political, and philosophical issues. My personal favorite is his 1995 book The Vision of the Anointed, but there are many great ones including (just to name a few) such books as Migrations and Cultures, Rhetoric or Reality?, Late-Talking Children, Ethnic America, Basic Economics, Race and Economics, Inside American Education, and Dismantling America.

And then there is his 2005 classic Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Admit it: You gotta read that based on the title alone, don't you? Go ahead and do so because you won't be disappointed, regardless of your political bent or party affiliation.

A big part of my misses the fact that Thomas Sowell hung up his pen/keyboard last December. I first become aware of him when I read one of his syndicated columns in the Tampa Tribune back in 1992, and over the quarter-century between that day and his retirement I always looked forward to seeing what he had to say about things. There is literally no other human being whose opinion on public issues I hold in higher esteem.

But a bigger part of me is very happy for Thomas Sowell, for he hung up that pen/keyboard on his own terms, in his own time, and is using the rest of the gas in his tank the way he wants to.

His mind is still sharp as a tack after 87 years on this planet, and rather than stressing over the state of word affairs he is spending his time visiting his beloved Yosemite National Park and photographing this planet's many beautiful sights.

Yes, he is known as a writer, but has been an expert photographer for more than 65 years, which is obvious if you check out any of his work on Google Photos.

And if you do that, you should also go ahead and visit his own web site which has all kinds of stuff on it.

Your life has been "in full," Mr. Sowell, and is appreciated. May it have many years remaining on this side of eternity.

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