Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Long hours

  
Some interesting employment numbers….

Almost 3 million Americans work for temp agencies, and almost half of those temporary workers have jobs in light industry or warehouses. That’s very unstable employment for a lot of those folks, sometimes in pressure cooker situations with inadequate training and health/safety risks. Another thing: temp workers make about $3.40 LESS per hour than typical 9-to-5ers in the private sector.




Gallup.com says the 40-hour work week may be a rarity. Full-timers in America say they work an average of 47 hours a week, and nearly 40% of them claim they work at least 50 hours. Americans work a lot more hours than Europeans do. Caveat: the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics mentions in a recent report that folks are likely to over-estimate how long they work—for instance, actual time-use diaries reveal that the hardy souls who claim they work 75 hours a week are really only putting in about 50 hours (!), seems like it’s easy to boast about putting in long hours….














Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014




Monday, October 20, 2014

Don’t look down….



OK, put this one in your album of “those things I really don’t want to talk about”…..




Who wasn't a patriot?






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014


Sunday, October 19, 2014

"We, the people"....ummm


Here’s an historical tidbit about the First Continental Congress that you won’t find in the Wikipedia article on it.

All but one of the 56 delegates were rich—well-connected, ambitious and rich. They were anything but a cross-section of the people in the British colonies who, in 1774, were getting cranked up to rebel against King George III.


The First Continental Congress was convened in September 1774 by 12 of the 13 colonies (Georgia sat out) to consider American responses to the British Intolerable Acts, which were intended to punish the people of Boston and Massachusetts after a little ruckus known as the Boston Tea Party.





In his 2002 biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, author Harlow Unger points out that the delegates were “the most privileged, illustrious men.”

Delegate Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, a failure in business before he turned to politics, was the oddball.

His fellow delegates included 12 prosperous farmers/planters, 30 lawyers, 11 merchants, one builder and one wharf owner.




For example, delegate George Washington of Virginia “owned sixty thousand acres and was arguably the richest planter in the south.”

This Revolutionary War sidebar has a familiar ring….










Reference:
Harlow Giles Unger, Lafayette (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002), 218.










Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

We’re cooking the planet (part 12)


Last month was the warmest September on record, says NASA.

And that’s saying something—the records go back to 1880.

A steadily warming average temperature for the earth is no fluke. The science is indisputable: global climate change is real, and global warming is real and dangerous right now.

Human beings are causing atmospheric changes that are causing ever higher temperatures, ever higher sea levels, and increasingly destructive weather extremes.

This is the only planet our grandchildren will have to live on.

Let’s start cleaning it up now.

We need to slow down the use of coal, and tax carbon emissions so that the price of using all fossil fuels will reflect the true economic and social costs, now and in future.










Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

Is a state college degree twice as good?


State college tuition has doubled in 25 years—what’s happened to the quality of the education?

Susan Dynarksi offered  a straightforward piece on college costs on NYTimes.com recently, read it here.

She offers substantial detail, but here’s the nut: tuition at public colleges has jumped about 100% in the last 25 years, but the colleges are still working with roughly the same revenues they had in 1988.

Hunh?

Public or state colleges enroll about 80% of all undergraduates. They rely on state aid and students paying tuition for their revenues.

In the last 25 years (using inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars) total revenue per student has barely budged, from about $11,300 in 1988 to $11,500 last year.


However, the average tuition bill has jumped from $2,700 to $5,400. Average public funding, in the same time period, slumped from about $8,600 to $6,100.

If you’re going to Big State U. now, you’re paying twice as much as your mom and dad did.

The obvious question:  is it worth it?
   








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book review: Statue In Search of a Pedestal


Book review: Statue In Search of a Pedestal: A Biography of the Marquis de Lafayette
by Noel B. Gerson (1913-1988) 
Dodd Meade & Company, New York, 1976
244 pages

I’m a first-time reader of Lafayette biographies, so I’ll acknowledge that Gerson entertains by re-stating the obvious: Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de la Fayette was a national, military, political and, indeed, a paternal hero to millions in America and France during the American and (several) French revolutions.


There is no doubt that, despite the fact that he was one of the richest French nobles of his time, he was publicly and privately dedicated to republican government and a social/economic order that was far more egalitarian than the monarchical and aristocratic structures that prevailed.

Was Lafayette a great man? Gerson, like many of his biographers, says yes. Lafayette was a courageous battlefield leader, he was an enlightened manorial lord who enhanced the lives of his peasants, and he was both outspoken and fearless, repeatedly, in literally dangerous political situations for a couple decades in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Gerson, like other Lafayette biographers, repeatedly attests to these lifelong characteristics of the man Americans called “our Marquis.”

I feel obliged to call attention to some countervailing factors that Gerson describes but does not 
adequately interpret.

Lafayette put his money where his mouth was. He repeatedly used his great personal wealth to pay and outfit the troops he commanded, when government funds and supplies ran low. I suggest a case could be made that the Marquis, almost uniquely among American commanders, paid for his military success in the Revolutionary War. Throughout the war, the options and operations of colonial commanders were significantly hindered by short funds and short supplies. If Lafayette had not been able to pay, feed, clothe and arm his troops with his personal resources, could he have been as winning a general as he was? I suspect the answer is “No.”

Some biographers refer to Lafayette as the “victor” at Yorktown in 1781. Gerson says that Lafayette’s campaigning in Virginia in the spring and summer of 1781 “was largely responsible for the American victory at Yorktown.” Lafayette was not the only American general at Yorktown, and he wasn’t the only French general; in fact, it was manifestly an American and French victory at Yorktown. Lafayette did use his small force to isolate Cornwallis in Yorktown, but he had to wait until Washington, Rochambeau, de Grasse and others arrived with sufficient land and naval forces before he participated in the final assaults.

In France he repeatedly declined to step up to the plate and take executive leadership, during the revolutionary and Napoleonic convulsions, when the French people and the contentious military/political factions would have handed the throne or the presidency of France to him on a velvet pillow. The Marquis repeatedly risked his life to defuse explosive situations by his personal, courageous intervention. However, Gerson fastidiously details Lafayette’s repeated reluctance to take the final step and take control when, arguably, he could have stabilized dangerous situations, and forestalled or prevented catastrophic consequences, by doing so. Lafayette wasn’t responsible for the violence, but, time after time, he left a void that was unfortunately filled by lesser men.

Was Lafayette a great man? Yes. A successful general? Yes. Was he a really lucky guy? Yes. Did he and his reputation benefit immensely from great wealth and fortuitous circumstance? Yes. Did he live up to his potential in serving France and the French nation? Maybe not.

For my taste, this is a breezy and dispensable biography of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de la Fayette. Gerson was a prolific writer (325 books during his lifetime). This one is not one of his well-remembered works. It is a quick and easy read, especially if the absence of footnotes doesn’t bother you.









Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who wasn't a patriot?


Just how many Loyalists were there in the colonies when the shot at  Lexington was heard ‘round the world?

Colonial Loyalist
Well, no one knows for sure, but there were plenty of folks who remained loyal to King George III.
John Adams (in an 1813 letter) guessed that a third of Americans were not “with us in the revolution.”

Seems like that’s too high, according to a post by Michael Schellhammer on AllThingsLiberty.com, read it here.

Yet some historians have estimated the Loyalist segment among 2.5 million colonials ranged from 75,000 to over 400,000.

Another estimate is that almost 20,000 colonials fought with Loyalist or British regiments during the war. For comparison, about 100,000 patriots served with Continental forces, and many more fought with independent militia units against the British regulars.



The Loyalists had some impact in the fighting in New York and Connecticut, and at several key battles including Camden and the Cowpens, but they never came close to being the kind of organized, decisive military force that British generals vainly hoped for.

The British army commanders never had enough troops to beat the Continentals and their French allies, and the Loyalist units never tipped the balance for the King’s men.
















Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Never too old to mentor


Prof. Ezekiel Emanuel created quite a buzz last month with his piece in The Atlantic: “Why I Hope to Die at 75.”

I won’t foolishly try to outline his views—do yourself a favor and read it here—but I think this sentence is the nut: Emanuel plans to do nothing and to accept no treatment to prolong his life starting on his 75th birthday. Living as long as possible, regardless of the circumstances, is not on his bucket list. Oh yeah, “quality of life” is on his B. L.


Right now I’m zooming in on one of his non-bioethical thoughts: he says old people should deliberately commit to mentoring the younger generations.
“Mentoring is hugely important. It lets us transmit our collective memory and draw on the wisdom of elders. It is too often undervalued, dismissed as a way to occupy seniors who refuse to retire and who keep repeating the same stories.”








In times gone by, “the wisdom of the elders” was a given; it was cherished and respected.

Among the calamities that devastated 17th and 18th century Native Americans, after the advent of Europeans with their diseases and their insatiable lust for land, was the wholesale death of clan sachems and elders, and the loss of collective cultural memories, mores, faith, skills and knowledge. The First Peoples had no writing, and only scanty ideographical records. When the old people died in great numbers, chunks of culture died with them.

In every age, in every culture, the old teach the young, and the old should teach the young throughout their lives.




Prof. Emanuel sure gets this one right: no matter how old you are, take your opportunities to be part of the lives of your children, and your grandchildren, and your younger friends, and help show them the way.

….and, heck, they won’t mind too much if you re-tell some of those great stories every so often….














Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book review: Lafayette: Lessons in Leadership . . .


Book review: Lafayette: Lessons in Leadership from the Idealist General
by Marc Leepson (b.1945) 
Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2011
202 pages

I’m a first-time reader of Lafayette biographies, so I’ll acknowledge that Leepson entertains by re-stating the obvious: Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de la Fayette was a national, military, political and, indeed, a paternal hero to millions in America and France during the American and (several) French revolutions.


There is no doubt that, despite the fact that he was one of the richest French nobles of his time, he was publicly and privately dedicated to republican government and a social/economic order that was far more egalitarian than the monarchical and aristocratic structures that prevailed.

Was Lafayette a great man? Leepson, like many of his biographers, says yes. Lafayette was a courageous battlefield leader, he was an enlightened manorial lord who enhanced the lives of his peasants, and he was both outspoken and fearless, repeatedly, in literally dangerous political situations for a couple decades in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Leepson amply demonstrates these lifelong characteristics of the man Americans called “our Marquis.”

I feel obliged to call attention to some countervailing factors that Leepson fully describes but does not adequately interpret.

Lafayette put his money where his mouth was. He repeatedly used his great personal wealth to pay and outfit the troops he commanded, when government funds and supplies ran low. I suggest a case could be made that the Marquis, almost uniquely among American commanders, paid for his military success in the Revolutionary War. Throughout the war, the options and operations of colonial commanders were significantly hindered by short funds and short supplies. If Lafayette had not been able to pay, feed, clothe and arm his troops with his personal resources, could he have been as winning a general as he was? I suspect the answer is “No.”



Some biographers refer to Lafayette as the “victor” at Yorktown in 1781. Leepson says that Lafayette’s campaigning in Virginia in the spring and summer of 1781 “led to the victory at Yorktown.” Lafayette was not the only American general at Yorktown, and he wasn’t the only French general. Lafayette did use his small force to isolate Cornwallis in Yorktown, but he had to wait until Washington, Rochambeau and others arrived with sufficient forces before he participated in the final assaults.








In France he repeatedly declined to step up to the plate and take executive leadership, during the revolutionary and Napoleonic convulsions, when the French people and the contentious military/political factions would have handed the throne or the presidency of France to him on a velvet pillow. The Marquis repeatedly risked his life to defuse explosive situations by his personal, courageous intervention. However, Leepson fastidiously details Lafayette’s repeated reluctance to take the final step and take control when, arguably, he could have stabilized dangerous situations, and forestalled or prevented catastrophic consequences, by doing so. Lafayette wasn’t responsible for the violence, but, time after time, he left a void that was unfortunately filled by lesser men.

Was Lafayette a great man? Yes. A successful general? Yes. Was he a really lucky guy? Yes. Did he and his reputation benefit immensely from great wealth and fortuitous circumstance? Yes. Did he live up to his potential in serving France and the French nation? Maybe not.

A final note: for my taste, neither Leepson nor Gen. Wesley Clark (in his Foreword) lives up to the promise of sifting “lessons in leadership” from Lafayette’s battlefield and political exploits, or his largely exemplary personal character. I think the fact is that almost all of the notable events in Lafayette’s public and private lift were as much circumstantial as anything else. Certainly, in the worst of times during the French Revolutions, when he could have demonstrated compelling leadership for the lasting benefit of his countrymen and nation, Lafayette came up short.






Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vox populi, non vox Dei


Here’s a little item that interests me: a proverb, or aphorism, that’s been turned inside out.

You may recognize this:  “Vox populi, vox Dei.” A common understanding of this is: the voice of the people is the voice of God. That is to say, the voice (or sentiment) of the masses , or of the nation, or of the interest group, is the voice of authority, or the manifestation of rectitude.
Turns out that, early on, the phrase was popularly demeaned as a corruption of reality.



Just for the record, here’s what Alcuin of York, an 8th century intellectual who advised Charlemagne and was a contender for smartest guy of his century, had to say:
“Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.”
Letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne in 798

Which means, as you know:
'And do not listen to those who keep saying, 'The voice of the people is the voice of God.' because the tumult of the crowd is always close to madness.'

I don’t like Alcuin’s haughty and perhaps politically-motivated dismissal of the sentiment of “the people.”

I wish I could argue that folks in general make a real effort to be well informed and make reasonable attempts to speak the truth in support of the commonweal.

The truth, sadly, lies somewhere between the two extremes, or it may be unrecognizable, or, you know, whatever….

Vox populi isn’t a standard of excellence….







Some Cherokee wisdom


Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rice and trees are good, but….













I think we should always go for the long haul.










And while we’re at it, here are a few more bons mots:

“Not the children of the rich or of the powerful only, but of all alike, boys and girls,
    both noble and ignoble, rich and poor, in all cities and towns, villages and hamlets,
         should be sent to school.”
John Amos Comenius (1592-1670)
“The father of modern education.”

"If you're working on something you plan to finish in your lifetime,
          you're not thinking big enough."

Winona LaDuke (b. 1959)
Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Indian, environmentalist, economist
  









Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

Never too late….








It’s never too late to say goodbye to Daddy….



It’s OK to run into the street….



















Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

History, memory….which is which?


Civil War historian Gary Gallagher offered his incisive thoughts about the difference between “history” and “memory” in a recent lecture.

I want to add some of my comments about “history that didn’t happen.” Nick Sacco also offers some comments on his blog, “Exploring The Past.” Sacco says “Too often . . . our memories can lead us to think of historical events as inevitable.” I think this is a vital point that too many historians, professionals and laymen, don’t give enough attention.

It's important to emphasize that people and groups in the past continually faced decision options and critical choices and conflicting imperatives to act, as we do now. People and groups in the past continually made unique decisions in the face of uncertainties and competing exigencies, as we do now.

The "history" of an individual or a group or a nation is a distinct track, forward in time, of decisions and choices and events, some discretionary, some imperative, some unavoidably random. This process continues through a welter of known and unknown alternatives. This ever-changing process of life is unique in retrospect, but it is increasingly, incomprehensibly variable and complex as we consider the prospects for the future at any point in time.




The folks who lived and made history in the past literally didn’t know how everything was going to turn out. Only we know that. Inevitably, that tends to color our judgment and understanding of what actually happened in the past.

Sacco paraphrases Gallagher: “. . . history students oftentimes confuse history and memory as being one in the same, and these confusions can lead to questionable interpretations of primary source documents. . . in any historical event there’s a certain sequence of complexities and contingencies that shape the outcome of that event (history). But how we remember that event (memory) can be at odds with what actually happened at the time.”

I disagree with one of Gallagher’s observations: “it doesn’t matter what happened, it’s what we think happened.” My own view is that what actually happened does matter. Quite often it’s not easy to know this in satisfactory detail, even with the investment of honest effort. There are far too many examples of mistaken or self-serving “memories” of a preferred version of history, with far too much political/social/economic damage done in the name of such perverted historical “truths”, and far too many bodies strewn on false, treacherous and perfidious memory lanes.


I think there is no preventive cure for this debasement of history.

I think there is only the honorable pursuit of understanding our past in its full, historical context, with willingness to welcome insight into what the actors thought they were doing, and how they justified their actions at the time.









Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The wisdom of Ben Hecht


“Trying to determine what is going on in the world
      by reading newspapers
           is like trying to tell the time
                by watching the second hand of a clock.”

Ben Hecht (1894-1964)
American author, screenwriter and dramatist

I worked for a big city newspaper for 41 years, so I’m willing to jump right in and agree with Mr. Hecht.

I’d love to know when he said it. I’d say he was prescient, except that would imply that at some point prior to 1964 what he said about newspapers wasn’t really true.

I doubt that.

American newspapers have been profitable for more than 200 years, and the little known truth is that they didn’t get profitable by selling news.

Newspapers have always made lots of money by selling ads. Historically, the subscription price didn’t even come close to paying for the cost of writing and printing the news. It’s not a stretch to say that American newspaper readers have never been willing to actually pay the economic cost of getting news.

In part, that’s because most of the time, most newspapers haven’t really printed the full scope of the news that was true and meaningful. For much of their history, many newspapers were transparent organs of political parties or political ideologies.

OK, I guess the obits are an exception….nearly always they’re true and it’s useful to know who died.







You're cooking the planet when you eat meat


Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book review: Lafayette


Book review: Lafayette
by Harlow Giles Unger (b.1931) 
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2002
452 pages

I’m a first-time reader of Lafayette biographies, so I’ll acknowledge that Unger entertains by re-stating the obvious: Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de la Fayette was a national, military, political and, indeed, a paternal hero to millions in America and France during the American and (several) French revolutions.



There is no doubt that, despite the fact that he was one of the richest French nobles of his time, he was publicly and privately dedicated to republican government and a social/economic order that was far more egalitarian than the monarchical and aristocratic structures that prevailed.

Was he a great man? Unger, like many of his biographers, says yes. Lafayette was a courageous battlefield leader, he was an enlightened manorial lord who enhanced the lives of his peasants, and he was both outspoken and fearless, repeatedly, in literally dangerous political situations for a couple decades in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Unger amply—even poetically—demonstrates these lifelong characteristics of the man Americans called “our Marquis.”

I also feel obliged to call attention to some countervailing factors that Unger fully describes but does not adequately interpret.

Lafayette put his money where his mouth was. He repeatedly used his great personal wealth to pay and outfit the troops he commanded, when government funds and supplies ran low. I suggest a case could be made that the Marquis, uniquely among American commanders, paid for his military success in the Revolutionary War. Throughout the war, the options and operations of colonial commanders were significantly hindered by short funds and short supplies. If Lafayette had not been able to pay, feed, clothe and arm his troops with his personal resources, could he have been as winning a general as he was? I suspect the answer is “No.”






Some biographers refer to Lafayette as the “victor” at Yorktown in 1781. Unger calls him a “hero” of Yorktown. Lafayette was not the only American general at Yorktown, and he wasn’t the only French general. Lafayette did use his small force to isolate Cornwallis in Yorktown, but he had to wait until Washington, Rochambeau and others arrived with sufficient forces before he participated in the final assaults.









In France he repeatedly declined to step up to the plate and take executive leadership, during the revolutionary and Napoleonic convulsions, when the French people and the contentious military/political factions would have handed the throne or the presidency of France to him on a velvet pillow. The Marquis repeatedly risked his life to defuse explosive situations by his personal, courageous intervention. However, Unger fastidiously details Lafayette’s repeated reluctance to take the final step and take control when, arguably, he could have stabilized dangerous situations, and forestalled or prevented catastrophic consequences, by doing so. Lafayette wasn’t responsible for the violence, but, time after time, he left a void that was unfortunately filled by lesser men.


Was Lafayette a great man? Yes. A successful general? Yes. Was he a really lucky guy? Yes. Did he and his reputation benefit immensely from great wealth and fortuitous circumstance? Yes. Did he live up to his potential in serving France and the French nation? Maybe not.

Just one other thing: Unger profligately demonstrates that Lafayette and Washington had a deeply affectionate man-to-man—explicitly, like father and son—relationship, by using far too many excerpts from their numerous letters. No biggie, but I had to stop reading them about halfway through the book….they bonded, I get it.









Monday, October 6, 2014

Chicken stuff


Chickens are more than four times bigger than they were 50 years ago, thanks to commercial breeders like Perdue.

But today’s Gallus gallus domesticus is not four times healthier.



Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, started a chicken project in 1957, raising standard breeds on a controlled diet in controlled conditions. In 1978, they did the same thing with a common breed in that year, using exactly the same diet and growing conditions. In 2005, ditto.

The 2005 birds averaged 9 ¼ pounds, more than 4.5 times heavier than the 1957 breed that weighed in at 2 pounds, thanks to selective breeding by the commercial farms.

Here’s the other bad news, from Vox.com:

The big modern chickens have more bone, heart and immune system health issues than the birds of the 1950s, in part because they’re carrying around all that extra weight.

The big commercial breeders don’t see that as a big problem—use of antibiotics is widespread, to keep the chickens alive while they grow huge and lay eggs.

100 years ago Americans ate about 10 pounds of chicken per capita each year. Now, the average American eats 83 pounds of chicken annually—that’s more than 1 ½ pounds a week.

You might be happier eating a lot more chicken, but the chickens aren’t singing any songs….

  






Sunday, October 5, 2014

The wisdom of Dad


Overheard in the men’s room at our local cinema:

A dad and his two young boys were taking care of business before the movie started. Dad and Son #1 were at their posts, doing their thing, while Son #2 waited near the sink.

Dad and Son #1 finished up.

Dad: “You boys wash your hands.”

Son #2: “I didn’t have to go, so I don’t have to wash my hands”


Dad: “Are you going to be eating the popcorn?”

Son #2: “Yeah”

Dad: “Wash your hands”










Saturday, October 4, 2014

The wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt


It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)



Here we go, a reference to good old Eleanor that really can’t be twisted in any political way, I think.


Now, this may seem so simple as to be hardly worth mentioning, but I think Eleanor’s aphorism is vital because it’s so counter-intuitive.


There is a powerful nut here, an elemental kernel of hard, motivating truth.






“When you wish upon a star…” is captivating, of course, but….