Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Emma Nutt, the first female “Operator”


It’s an all too believable story. In the latter part of the 19th century, the first telephone operators were boys and young men. Such lads were doing their duty as telegraph operators all over the country, and it was a natural move to hire them for the earliest versions of a telephone exchange.

The first permanent telephone exchange center went live on January 28, 1878, in New Haven, Connecticut, with 21 charter customers. The Edwin Holmes Telephone Dispatch Company (soon to be the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company) also opened its exchange in early 1878, putting on a crew of male operators.

Boys will be boys. The telephone companies soon discovered that their impatient and annoying behavior, including pranks and (gasp!) swearing—usually undetectable in the telegraph world—made the lads ill-suited to the live voice telephone world.

Enter Emma Mills Nutt. She became the world’s first female telephone operator at the Boston company on September 1, 1878. Her sister, Stella, started working alongside her a couple hours later. Emma (1860-1915) and Stella paved the way for legions of mostly sweet-voiced ladies handling the calls for several generations of callers who were happy to have a party line and didn’t mind ringing for the operator to get “long distance.” (Direct dialing and unique telephone numbers weren’t common before the 1920s).

In her first assignment Emma was paid $10 a month for working 54 hours a week. It’s said that she memorized the phone directory of the New England Telephone Company.

Emma Nutt, her sister Stella and a couple lads working the phones in 1878

The earliest job description for “telephone operator” required that a female applicant be unmarried, between the ages of 17 and 26, with a “prim and proper look” and arms long enough to reach to the top of the telephone switchboard. Sadly, in the 1880s, companies casually got away with refusing to hire Jewish women and ladies of color.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Before Plymouth Rock....



Our understanding of American colonial history tends to be English-centric, regardless of the fact that both Spain and France had active and substantial colonies on the North American continent.

The whole colonial experience never was all-English, all the time.



For instance, Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540-1596) was the first Englishman to land on the California coast near present-day San Francisco in June 1579. Naturally, he claimed the “new land” for Queen Elizabeth I and England. Just one problem: the English never established a colony in California.





In fact, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (?-1543), a Portuguese explorer, stepped on to a California beach near present-day San Diego in September 1542, about 37 years before Drake got California sand between his toes. Cabrillo claimed the western coast as part of “Alta California” for the Spanish Empire. The California territory was absorbed into Mexico in 1821. The Spanish colonists and their descendants were a presence in California until it was admitted to the Union as the 31st state in September 1850 (after the gold rush started).


N. B. Before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, by some estimates the California territory was the home of about one-third of Native Americans living in the transcontinental expanse that would become the first 48 American states.     

  





Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The wisdom of H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.

American writer


When you look in the mirror, you realize that someone is always looking.








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Think about what matters….



If you think you aren’t sure what “pathos” means, it’s your lucky day, take a look at this picture:



Paul Farmer isn’t an animal rights activist—he’s a doctor and an anthropologist and a humanitarian, he’s one of those people who doesn’t mind that he’s uncomfortable while he’s actually doing good.

His plaintive remark about lives that “matter less” was not directed at this bear or this scene. He was talking about our concern, or lack thereof, for the human lives that are degraded and could be made better by our more conscientious attention to doing the right thing.

The picture won’t let you look away easily. You know the bear isn’t happy. The boys are oblivious to that reality.

Think about some realities that you know you shouldn’t ignore.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The wisdom of Ivan Doig


"Life is wide. There's room to take a new run at it."

Ivan Doig (1939-2015)
American novelist


I wasn’t looking for a reassuring definition of “optimism,” but I found it when I read this epigram from Ivan Doig.

I’ve learned, in recent years, to take a new run at life, and it’s working out pretty well for me.

The track is wide, indeed.

Filled with interesting fellow runners, too. 


By the way, it’s a good bet you’ll like everything by Ivan Doig. My favorite is This House of Sky, his memoir of growing up in Montana. The Bartender’s Tale is really good, too.


Book review: The Bartender's Tale







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Reliable political polling is dead


The ugly truth about the fatal flaws of public polling and political polling is starting to get some serious attention.

Prof. Cliff Zukin wrote in the June 21 New York Times Sunday Review that the classic ideal of “probability sampling” has become more or less impossible. Thus, it’s impossible to use statistical theory to determine the reliability of the survey results. Thus, most survey findings are essentially meaningless. Entertaining, perhaps, but meaningless.

Let’s be clear about the nature of the problem: it’s not necessarily true that all survey results are horribly wrong. Rather, the sticky point is that there’s no way to reliably measure the “margin of error” and therefore there’s no way to determine whether a survey result—such as 49% support Mary Poppins and 46% support Matt Damon—represents a “real” difference.

The sampling problem is caused by two things: widespread usage of cell phones (instead of landlines) and increasing reluctance of Mr. and Mrs. Citizen to consent to be interviewed.

Last year about 60% of adults said they exclusively or “mostly” used a cellphone, and not a landline. That’s a problem because it’s procedurally very difficult and quite expensive to try to get a “random sample” of cell phone users. Many pollsters substitute cheaper polling via the Internet, which violates strict statistical requirements for random sampling. Zukin explains the details here.


Forty years ago, in face-to-face and telephone surveys, a response rate or completion rate of 80% and more was common and mandatory for successful polling. That is, 80% of the people who were contacted (“sampled”) actually completed the interview. In plain words, most folks were willing to talk to survey interviewers. Last year, the prestigious Pew organization reported that its typical response rate was a mere 8%.

I did survey research for 30 years. In plain words, a response rate in the single digits means the survey is invalid. No meaningful conclusions can be reached from a poll that collects data from only 8% of the originally targeted sample. To add insult to injury, every polling organization cooks the data by using computer techniques to “weight” the numbers so it looks like a random sample of subjects was successfully surveyed.

Bottom line: you can have fun talking about the political polls that are going to pop up as the 2016 presidential campaign unfolds, but don’t believe anything they say is necessarily true.






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The staff of life….


There was a time when nothing was "better than sliced bread."

That would be any time before 1928, because there wasn’t any commercially sliced bread until July of that year, when the Chillicothe (Missouri) Baking Company started selling “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread” using a new machine invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa.

Prototype bread slicing machine

Apparently quite a few housewives (this was 1928, gimme a break, it was housewives….) believed they were spending way too much time slicing loaves of bread by hand for their families. Just in time, too, because the first pop-up toaster with a timer was introduced in 1919. Put sliced bread right up there with vacuum cleaners (1901) and washing machines (1908) and electric irons (1882).

By the way, sliced bread was actually banned during World War II for a few months because the authorities thought the extra heavy waxed paper bread wrapping could be better used in the war effort. Calmer heads prevailed shortly after the ban was announced. We won the war anyway.

  







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Paying top dollar for….what?


Robert Samuelson chipped in another gratuitous defense of outrageously high CEO pay in his column on WashingtonPost.com a few days ago.

He cited one of the standard rationales for sky-high executive pay: companies are forever and feverishly "...competing for managerial talent..." This is of course true, but Samuelsson took pains to sustain the myth that there is a bona fide linkage between top talent and top pay.

In fact, there is no hard data of any kind that suggests or confirms that paying a CEO less will cause him/her to seek other employment. In any event, there is no hard data measuring the comparative "talent" of CEOs. Not only is it true that no one knows how much you have to pay to get top talent, it’s also true that no one knows how little you can pay and still recruit and retain top talent.

The mantra "we have to pay top dollar to get top talent" is deliberately deceptive. It doesn’t describe any measurable, repeatable course of action that corporate directors do or could do to obtain and keep really superior managers in the top executive slots.

David Zaslav, as CEO of Discovery Communications, was paid $156.1 million last year. I wonder what he would have done differently if he had been paid a mere $137.8 million?








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Voter fraud" is not the problem....


The folks who are pushing for new voting restrictions “to prevent voter fraud” are trying to hide their real reasons for doing it.

That’s because voter fraud just about actually doesn’t exist.

TheHill.com recently reported that a study of more than a billion votes cast during 2000-2014 has identified merely “31 credible instances of voter impersonation.”

That’s 31 out of 1 billion. That’s 0.0000031 percent.

That is, if a billion people voted in an election, and if Candidate A would beat Candidate B by a count of 500,000,016 to 499,999,984—that is, A won by 32 votes—there wouldn’t be any good theoretical reason to suspect that voter fraud could have tipped the election to Candidate A.


In 2014, about 124 million votes were cast in the U.S. presidential election. Based on the statistics, maybe four of those votes were cast by people who faked their identity.

Let’s call it what it is: the whole Republican-sponsored mess of new voting restrictions is aimed at keeping prospective Democratic voters away from the polls.









Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Presidential debates?....let’s try "Truth or Dare!"


It’s way too early to be talking about debates in the presidential election.

Still, the pundit-sphere is on it already.

The debates are already shaping up to be a charade on the Republican side, and as far as I know no one is talking about debates yet in the Democratic camp (no one knows how that’s going to work out).

Look, the basic problem with the debates is that voters aren't clamoring for them. Viewership is laughably small, and most self-acknowledged viewers don’t watch to the very end.

The candidates want the debates because they’re free air time and because the format really isn't a debate format---basically, the pols get to say whatever they want, and they work real hard to avoid saying anything new.

Maybe we could try this format: candidates themselves agree on who will (or will not) be on the stage, that is, each candidate mutually agrees with other(s) to participate. No sponsoring network. Open feed for all networks that want to carry the debate. No moderator. Candidates alternate in speaking. Each candidate gets five 4-minute segments to say anything she or he wants to say. Flip a coin to see who goes first.



Thousands of people repeatedly showed up for the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, and they stood quietly in a field for a couple hours straining to listen because there weren’t any microphones. No moderators, no prepared questions, no commercial interruptions. The candidates actually responded to each other, and they actually said meaty stuff, and the news coverage wasn’t mostly about the gotchas.
















Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Murders in Charleston


Let’s move the grieving to the next level.

President Obama got it right:

“I refuse to act as if this is the new normal, or to pretend that it’s simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop it is somehow politicizing the problem.”

We have too many guns in America.

Too many dead people.










Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Trump for President?


I tried to avoid posting anything about Trump’s Ri. Dic. U. Lous. bid for the presidency, but I can’t resist.


I do remember the old granny’s advice about keeping quiet if you can’t say something good about somebody.

So, Trump-wise:
























Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Zap!!!


I missed this one when The Boston Globe published it last year, and frankly, I rather wish it hadn’t come to my attention.

It seems that way too many people prefer to get an electric shock to break up the experience of sitting alone in a room for 15 minutes with nothing but their thoughts. In fact, way too many people are ready to push the button to administer the shock to themselves!

Research done at the University of Virginia confirms this very troubling unwillingness to spend a few minutes in solitude, thinking, without a TV, phone or iPad.

In the study, some subjects were shown some beautiful photos and some received a “mildly painful electric shock” on the ankle. All subjects were asked if they would spend $5 to avoid getting such a shock. Finally, each of them was placed alone in a room for 15 minutes, with no distractions or devices except for a button that could be pressed to deliver an electric shock.

Here’s the mystery: two-thirds of the men who had said they’d pay to avoid the shock nevertheless pressed the button at least once during the 15 minutes of “just me and my thoughts.”  About one-quarter of the women did the same.

One person pressed the button 190 times. That’s about once every five seconds.

Is thinking painful?

Is solitude terrifying?

Can there be human happiness without a smartphone?

Somebody explain this to me, please.

Put the phone down, and go in another room and try thinking about this for 15 minutes.

         





Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The whole management thing….


A recent piece by Dr. Glenn Bassett in the AMA Playbook hits several nails square on the head. I fully agree with his emphasis on developing and encouraging teamwork and team commitment, continuous efforts to inform employees and ask for their input and buy-in for both planning and operations, and exercising authority "with great restraint and delicacy." That's just for starters on the manager's TO DO list. Bassett’s advice is commendable, but I think it mostly falls on deaf ears.

A recent, related piece in The Atlantic is curiously entertaining. Jerry Useem mentions some relatively new research that seems germane to the endless pursuit of understanding what makes a manager tick and what makes a good manager. I'll risk over-simplifying when I say it's interesting to me that Useem says some behaviors and personality types are shared by the best and the worst managers. This suggests some element of randomness that may or may not deflate his theme.

My principal criticism is that Useem's article is focused on behaviors and personality types, and largely ignores actual operational competence on the part of the manager. He says (p. 54) "The problem with competence is that we can't judge it by looking at someone...So we rely on proxies--superficial cues for competence that we take and mistake for the real thing." Exactly. In my management career I knew literally hundreds of co-workers who assumed that the high bosses knew what they were doing, often without proof and/or despite evidence to the contrary.


We’ve got a long way to go before we fully understand why there aren’t enough good managers and good leaders. I think a big part of the explanation is there aren’t enough competent managers to fill all the slots.

Plain and simple. I think it’s a systematic defect in most organizations.








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The old gray Magna Charta, she ain’t what she used to be….


It’s 800 years old. It’s one of those famously revered things that really never did mean what lots of folks like to think it meant.

Many folks will admit that they’ve heard of the Magna Charta, the Great Charter “granted” by England’s King John to his barons in June 1215.

Nearly everyone doesn’t know diddly about what the document actually says, or what it actually meant in the hurly burly of English and European political power-plays in the latter stage of the Middle Ages.

There is an ill-informed understanding that Magna Charta was the first written guarantee of the rights and privileges of people who weren't members of the royal family, like barons, churchmen and the yeomanry and peasantry of England.


For starters, the original version of Magna Charta was a non-starter. The English barons pooled their grievances and brought the king to bay at Runnymede, on the Thames River near London. King John (died October 1216) never honored it, and the barons who forced him to sign it notoriously didn’t do much to honor their commitments, either. It didn’t take very long for Pope Innocent III to annul the charter, and the First Barons’ War ensued. Subsequent English kings revived and revised Magna Charta—it was a work in progress for about 80 years, and was finally reissued in more or less final form by King Edward I in 1297.

Magna Charta doesn’t declare many of the noble precepts that have been attributed to it. It most certainly is not the foundation of modern concepts of democratic liberties for all the people.

Magna Charta was a grudging compromise among powerful men who could be called rich thugs without too much exaggeration. The barons intended that it would secure their rights and privileges. It may well be true that the average English peasant or working guy didn’t hear about it for generations after it was signed.





By the way, here's a link to an English translation of the original Latin text. Give it a try. You’ll see that it’s not a clarion call for democracy.,















Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

California dreamin’….about water


I’m seeing weird discussion online about the calamitous drought in California and the state’s increasingly strict controls on water usage.

To wit, it seems there is now public debate about whether folks have the “right” to buy as much water as they want, with some invocation of “free market” principles.

This is scary. I’m waiting for some appeal to the Wizard of Oz.

Let’s just call it like it is: the drought affects everyone and the dubious benefits or moral scruples of 
the “free market” aren't going to supply a fix. Appeals to notions of personal liberties and free market solutions don’t get more ridiculous than this. In fact, the so-called “free market” is partly responsible for the desperate pickle that so many Californians are wantonly trying to ignore—property owners and business owners are madly pursuing their legal freedom to drill more wells even as the supplies of surface water are drying up and the underground aquifers are drying out. 


There are folks in the Golden State who are arguing that they should be able to buy and use as much water as they’re willing to pay for.

They don’t get it: there isn’t enough water in California right now.

Rich homeowners and wealthy farmers are going to be singing a different tune if water stops coming out of their pipes.
  





Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The wisdom of Lyndon Baines Johnson


If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read 'President Can't Swim.'

Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973)
36th President of the United States


Lyndon Baines Johnson was a man of many faces and many talents and….otherwise….

I’m no particular fan of LBJ, but I’m very sure it hurt him deeply when anti-Vietnam War protestors chanted “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

The 36th president of the United States was a confident and determined practitioner of realpolitik. He could mock the injustice of “President Can’t Swim” even as he understood the comic, insane reality of the zinger.


I think the willing leader of the “War on Poverty” believed that political zingers are not the essence of our polity.

Nevertheless, they seem to be the essence of our politics.











Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

College is not a commodity....and other thoughts




I couldn’t agree more with Hunter Rawlings—college is not a commodity. If the whole college experience had been commoditized, Harvard would have closed years ago, or it would have survived as a quaint, niche place with an almost unbelievable history and a stadium named after Lamborghini, its principal benefactor.

I desperately endorse Rawlings’ observation that students have to make a personal commitment to making their college experience worthwhile.

Nevertheless, I think Rawlings is preaching to the choir, and maybe the wrong choir at that.



My evolving view is that too many people and too many incompetent (I’ll define this in a sec) people are going to college for reasons that have nothing to do with intellectual enrichment and a love affair with the Trivium and the Quadrivium. I love the idea of a liberal arts education and I’m still working on improving mine. Nevertheless, I think we must acknowledge that the concept of a liberal arts college education is not the concept embraced by lots of folks who are in college or who think they want to go to college (or whose parents are determined that they WILL go to college).

I think lots of college-bound folks imagine a college degree to be something they have to get, not something they have to invest in. That is, for these folks, a college education is imagined to be a transactional experience, not a transformative experience. To wit, get the degree, move on and get a good job and make good bucks. Of course, it often doesn’t turn out the way, but that’s a durable modern version of the college dream.

Earlier I suggested that competence to succeed in college is not a given. “A college education for everyone” is a mad hatter’s slogan. Let’s just say it: the average person isn’t well-equipped intellectually to do well in the classical liberal arts milieu, or in any four-year college-level milieu. If “everybody” could do college, then college wouldn’t be what Rawlings or you or I like to think it should be.

Rawlings makes an indefensible assumption about the capability and willingness of the average student “…to take an active and risk-taking role…to make an investment in their future…to apply themselves to the daunting task of using their minds…” Of course there are students who can do it and will do it, lots of them. Certainly, there are lots of students who can’t and won’t. I’ve taught some of both. Neither group is going to disappear from the campus.

Rawlings says college is not a commodity. I say far too many students don’t really want to be students in the sense that Rawlings envisions—far too many students just want to be customers, and sure, they want something special, not a commoditized one-size-fits-all, but they aren’t prepared to do much of anything special to get it.

p.s. here's my tip of the hat to all the profs who bring some Platonic essences into their classrooms.

p.p.s.  The classical liberal arts:  grammar, rhetoric and logic (Trivium) and arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music (Quadrivium).





Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The iPhone you never saw before….



I cannot reveal my source, but this is the first concept for an iPhone that was developed by Apple geeks in 1987.



The marketing folks sent it back to the lab repeatedly, arguing that the Princess phone was too popular—they felt this slim phone was pushing the envelope just a bit too much.

The folks at Apple decided to hold off on it for a while.






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The start of the 40-hour work week


Almost 90 years ago, the Ford Motor Co. became the first high-profile company to offer its assembly workers a five-day, 40-hour workweek in May 1926. A few months later, the unprecedented work schedule was extended to Ford’s white collar workers.

Henry Ford previously had shocked his big business peers by nearly doubling his assembly workers’ pay to $5 for an eight-hour day in 1914.


Before 1926, a six-day work week had been common throughout America. In the middle of the 19th century, American manufacturing workers put in about 65 hours a week, and the average work week had dropped a bit to 60 hours by the end of that century. The number of hours on the clock dropped significantly in the first several decades of the 20th century.

The five-day workweek didn’t become standard until 1940, when provisions of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act were implemented.

Let’s note for the record that cellphones did not exist in the early 20th century, so those workers more or less actually did have two weekend days off from their labors.

Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford and president of Ford Motor Co. in the 1920s, explained the rationale for the five-day workweek: “Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family.”

Amen to that.








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

“O Captain! My Captain!...”


Remember the last time you watched “Dead Poets Society”?

It might be 26 years ago, if your only exposure to this Robin Williams starburst was when it was first released in June 1989.

I’ve seen it many times, for me it’s like “The Green Mile,” every time I watch it it’s a slightly different but familiarly compelling experience.

I’d like to talk briefly with anyone who keenly sought a good college experience and doesn’t wish it pretty much resembled the main plot line of “Dead Poets”—see, the intellectual awakening part and the overcoming personal challenges part ARE the fundamental good parts of the college-level experience.




“Dead Poets” puts the viewer in a ringside seat to see how it all could happen with the help of a completely decent and completely sympathetic prof who had the guts and the savvy and the human kindness to help make it happen.



The part of me that strives to be a good teacher and a good person who awakens to the full prospect of being a good person is the part of me that wants to jump up on my desk and join the boys in declaring the very risky and ritualistic and reaffirming and rapturous farewell to a beloved mentor and friend.

“Thank you, boys,” said Mr. Keating.


Thank you, Mr. Keating.

Robin Williams (1951-2014), R. I. P.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

King George as a kid….




This drawing of 9-year-old Prince George, the son of King George II of England, suggests he was an ordinary kid, given his circumstances in the mid-18th century.

Too bad he turned out to be King George III during the American Revolution, that is, a rather ordinary, unenlightened monarch who had the wrong long view.

Wonder what he was reading?







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

“What do you do, sir?”


“If the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”

Attributed to John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)
British economist, the first Keynesian


Even if Keynes didn’t actually say that, he might have said “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

Even if he didn’t actually say that, the zinger is on target.

Too much of what passes for political debate and public discourse is based on tightly held opinion that is too often unattached to any recognizable collection of facts.

Reasonably changing one’s opinion should be a mark of respect, and not an excuse for a “gotcha.”

And that’s a fact.









Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Remembering D-Day


This is my salute to the brave men and women in England and France who made D-Day happen on June 6, 1944, more than 70 years ago.

Women of the French Resistance

We shall not forget the 9,000 Allied soldiers and civilians who were killed or wounded on the first day.

The long view....

And let’s be generous in recognizing the German soldiers who bravely did what they thought was their duty.

Roughly 850,000 American veterans of World War II are still alive.

To them: thank you for your service to our country.








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Color me Beale Street


It just doesn’t seem all that important to ask if white folks and black folks listen to music the same way.

It’s about the music, right?

The music is the thing, it’s an ancient part of our human culture and our lives.

Still, the question is out there.

In a New York Times review of a couple books about the richly notorious Beale Street in Memphis and all the music that got started there, James Gavin reports a bit of repartee from Al Bell, former co-owner of Stax Records in Memphis. Stax had an impressive stable of big names: Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and others. Bell told their story in just a few words: “When the white audiences discovered us, we didn’t get whiter—they got blacker.”


Years ago I saw a video of a session Wynton Marsalis did with black high school kids in New York City. He played his trumpet, and talked a bit. One of the kids asked him something like “When you play for white folks, is it different than when you play for black folks?”  The world-renowned jazzman took a moment, then said “No, it’s pretty much the same no matter who loves my music….except, white folks snap their fingers on the downbeat.”

Hey, listen with whatever finger you like, that’s what I say.








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Change is hard


A lot of folks didn’t know what to do with the new “rock and roll” music in the mid-1950s.

Some folks in Santa Cruz, California, thought they darn sure did know what to do about it.

On June 3, 1956, city officials decreed a complete ban on “rock-and-roll and other forms of frenzied music” at all public gatherings, and justified it because the music was “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

Seems that a couple hundred teens in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium had been swingin’ and swayin’ to the music of Chuck Higgins and His Orchestra. Santa Cruz police arrived about midnight to check things out, and Lt. Richard Overton reported the crowd was “engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.” Of course, the cops shut the gig down and sent everyone home.



What started out as a great reason to get snarky—about the older generation that just didn’t get it—quickly turned into an ugly example of completely transparent racism.

Mr. Kesey
The cops and the city fathers must have been choking on their Cheerios 10 years later when Santa Cruz was a high-profile nexus of the West Coast counterculture scene. For goodness sakes, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters hung out there.

And I guess a few more all-negro bands showed up, too.

Like, drug-infused hootenanny, y’know?


I’m guessing that Lt. Overton figured out that change is hard.

The Merry Pranksters








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.