Saturday, August 27, 2016

Patient questions….

Some poems have several layers of impact, tempting the reader to think deeper on the first re-read, and deeper still on the next….

I noticed this poem by David Whyte. It seemed to be ordinary enough as I skimmed through it, but it snared me in the end, it bids for lavish, lush reflection and opens a couple windows for gazing at some things we often don’t see clearly enough or think about clearly enough.

“…requests…beginning to lead everywhere…” is a tempting gambit, and “…questions that have patiently waited for you…” is a warming invitation to step into the cold shower of reality.

I think the poem has excesses of language that diminish its essence, but the evidence of the right words is all there.

Here’s an excerpt, see the entire poem in the Australia Times Poetry Magazine.

to stop what
you are doing
right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life…

From “Sometimes” by David Whyte © David Whyte and Many Rivers Press

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Chautauqua, revisited

The 19th century successes of the Chautauqua Institution of New York have always appealed to me. I believe I would have been thrilled to attend the profoundly educational lectures of the itinerant speakers who followed the Chautauqua circuit. For some Americans—and for many middle-class women—the Chautauqua offerings were the closest thing they could get to a higher education.

The Chautauqua Institution was founded in 1874 as a teaching camp for Sunday school teachers. The concept spread through the United States. At its peak in the 1920s the movement offered a broad range of lectures and music on both religious and nondenominational topics, in more than 10,000 communities. By 1940 the network of originally Victorian-style centers of learning and culture had lost their mass appeal, after enriching the lives of more than 45 million men and women. Today, the Chautauqua Institution on the original site is alive and well, and still attracting many thousands of participants annually.

In the late 19th century, the notion of family vacations was becoming popular, partly as a result of increasing affluence and the expansion of rail travel. In a recent issue of The Massachusetts Historical Review, Anita C. Danker wrote:
“…a significant number of largely middle-class Americans chose to make constructive use of their increased leisure time, a by-product of industrialization, in ways consistent with their values and religious beliefs.”

The Chautauqua centers were attractive destinations. One such place was the New England Chautauqua Sunday School Assembly at Mount Wayte in Framingham, MA. From 1880-1918 it offered a steadily diversifying assortment of lectures and performances, drawing a dedicated audience from the area that would become MetroWest Boston. Those folks wanted to vacation in comfort and style, and they also were committed to a high-quality experience. Rail service to Mount Wayte was busy.

Danker explains:
“One form of vacation consistent with middle-class values and the moral climate of the New England region was the religious retreat…A critical mass of ordinary Americans displayed another powerful need, compatible with the ideal of a Christian vacation: the purposeful employment of leisure time for education and individual self-improvement.”

A reliable corps of attendees was “middle-class women, whose access to higher education was restricted by tradition and circumstance […they] formed the bedrock of the institution.”

Think of TED Talks without the clip-on microphone.

Anita C. Danker, “Redeeming the Time: Learning Vacations at the New England Chautauqua Assembly,” The Massachusetts Historical Review, Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 17, 2015, 67-97.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Too many PhDs

Most of us don’t have PhDs, so maybe this tidbit is of limited interest, but….

There aren’t enough jobs in academia or the business world for all of the folks who succeed in getting their doctorates each year—not by a long shot.

A recent story on says:
The lure of a tenured job in academia is great — it means a secure, prestigious position directing a lab that does cutting-edge experiments, often carried out by underlings. Yet although many yearn for such jobs, fewer than half of those who earn science or engineering doctorates end up in the sort of academic positions that directly use what they were trained for."

In biomedicine, fewer than 1 out of 6 grads with the “Philosophiae Doctor” degree can get one of those tenure-track jobs.

I’m no fan of academic tenure, or tenure of any other stripe. I think it’s nuts to guarantee lifetime employment to anyone, be she a smart prof or a Supreme Court justice or anyone else.

It’s too easy to say that anybody who wants a doctorate should be free to get one. Most of those pre-doc students are being subsidized by their colleges or someone else (including taxpayers).

Of course, I know that many of those students graduate with a bundle of college loans, but nevertheless, we—individually and collectively—are paying for too many folks to get an expensive education that has way less than the presumed payoff for the PhDs and the rest of our society.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

“Tuition” isn’t really what college costs

Here’s a new take on “tuition”:

At many (maybe most) colleges, the tuition “sticker price” isn’t really the per capita figure for what it costs for the institution to keep its doors open. In any event, most students don’t pay the sticker price, so what’s the information value of the “tuition” number?

Danielle Allen, at, recently wrote that the posted annual tuition at your college “is as good as useless.”

She says: At elite colleges and universities, the actual cost of educating any given student for a year is greater than the “sticker price.” For the 2014-2015 school year, Amherst College calculated a cost per student of $95,600.”

Ooops, sorry, I just lost my lunch. It seems to me to be beyond all reasonable question that at most colleges it shouldn’t cost anything close to $95,600 to keep Maryanne or Juan in a decent room, well-fed, with access to the internet and a decent library, and give him/her a decent education for nine months.

Allen also notes:
Tuition decisions made by elite colleges and universities are actually decisions about whom to subsidize. The lower the sticker price, the more the well-to-do are being subsidized for an education that costs well above the sticker price. The higher the sticker price, the more the subsidy is shifted to the less well-off.”

Let’s hold for another time the discussion about who’s paying for the subsidy (alumni, taxpayers) and the issues that make student loans unmentionable in some polite company.

Read Allen’s complete take on tuition here.

In simplistic terms, here’s the point: college costs too much and a college education increasingly has a dubious cost/benefit rationale.

Allen says the tuition/sticker price is a useless piece of information.

Is there any way to have some straight talk about the desired and presumed benefits of getting a college degree?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Take soap to a Trump rally

New York Times reporters have been recording what some of our fellow Americans have been saying as they stand in the crowds at Trump rallies.

It’s disgusting, and I think it’s a dangerous portent.

“Build a wall—kill them all” is probably the nicest sentiment captured on tape.

Quite a few of the others illustrate how readily a segment of the electorate uses the F-bomb and “bitch” to characterize a candidate for president of the United States.

Trump won’t shut it down.

This is a menacing reality in our democracy.

Too many mouths are unclean at a Trump rally.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


I think maybe too many folks have allowed too many other folks to corrupt the meaning of “common good.”

I think too many folks think the word “them” is part of the definition.

The only definition that embraces a positive outcome for you and me and the rest of the tribe is the one that emphasizes “us.”

The Commonweal Magazine recently offered a perceptive and instructive piece by Anthony Annett, who, sadly enough, did a great job of explaining the decline of the willingness to seek the common good in America.

Turns out there’s lots of blame to spread around—Annett lays out the failures, deliberate and otherwise, of Republicans and Democrats and non-political elites to support and revitalize concepts of the common good that were a more substantial foundation of our society a generation or two ago.

He examines “the common good, understood as the good arising from a shared social life in which the flourishing of the individual is inseparable from that of the community, each reinforcing the other…It does not permit the exclusion of any individual or group.”

He’s not saying the individual is not important, and he’s not saying that individual responsibility and achievement are not important. He’s saying that when the community—the civitas—is degraded, as a consequence too many individuals are degraded….when the community is not vibrant, as a consequence too many individuals are not vibrant.

When the quality of life and living improves for all (or most, or many) then the quality of life and living of each of us is improved because there are so many more opportunities for enrichment and success.

We need to talk more about “us” and less about “them.”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

avoir soif….toujours

Try to forget this factoid:
Most of Earth’s water is undrinkable, and most of the drinkable stuff is inaccessible—permanently.

Our customary sources of drinking water—rivers and streams—hold only six-thousandths of 1 percent of all potable water. The rest is in polar ice caps, glaciers, aquifers and lakes (most of them inconveniently located for most human beings).

Think about what global warming might do to surface water supplies around the world.

Stocking up on bottled water is a short-term solution.

Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization by Steven Solomon
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010

Reviewed on

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Early noodling about the Kindle

Amazon released the first Kindle for sale in November 2007. You remember that, sure.

You may not know that the concept for Kindle had been floating around for quite a few years. A long time, in fact.

Here’s a photo of the first prototype, admittedly in the very, very early stages of development:

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Word to the deniers

Yaaasss, believe it or not, there are still some folks who won’t admit that a bear does it in the woods.

I’m here to tell you, they do it, dude, been doing it for a long time, all of ‘em….

If you need proof:

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Standing still on the old tracks,
you can’t stop staring at the rails
   and you can’t tell if you’re looking ahead
      or looking to the past….
Can you see a new dream out there?
….or maybe it’s the way back
to something you didn’t want to leave….

Maybe it’s different if you’re not alone.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Does Trump care about losing the election?

Caveat:  Trump tells lies all the time, so he has no credibility.

So this is just a “take a minute and think about it” thing, no prediction or anything, not even a hope really, just sayin’….

I think a few days ago Trump said he really doesn’t care if he wins or loses the election, because if he loses, he said, “I go back to a very good way of life.”

“At the end, it’s either going to work or I’m going to have a very, very nice long vacation,” Trump told CNBC.

Does that sound like Trump thinks this whole primary/general election thing is more or less taking America out for a spin, something to keep on doing between now and November 8?

What about saying something like: “If I lose, I’ll continue to do everything I can, every day, to stand up for the Americans who have supported me.”

Or how about: “If I lose, I’ve made a real commitment to do all the things that have to be done to make American great again, and you can count on me to keep on fighting.”

OK, back to reality.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pass it on….

I’m just trying to rack up a few points as a good guy, so here are my public service announcements for this week:

Thanks to my good friend, George, who knows how to find stuff like this.

We're cooking the planet (part 14)

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Seeing down….

The kernels of this poem rambled around in my head for a few days during pleasant jaunts on Cape Cod….from the start I knew what I wanted to write about, but I dallied, cogitating furiously, until I could hear the words in the right order….

Lay me down

I ramble through the old pine woods, indulging the piney scents,
hearing again that these old stands—these old firs—make no noises,
trying again to make no unsettling sound.

The path opens wide, I take long views of spaces near and far,
on the left side, on the right side,
I see to darkness, and, I think, still farther to the almost seen,
to where tomorrow’s further ramble may entice me to walk on.

The forest floor is everywhere, of course,
invisible in my span of sight and thought,
this moment, looking down, I see what had been naught.

I dare to say aloud in quiet words how wonderful
to stand at ease on this endless blanket of such spartan weave
   and cushioned spread,
this muffling cloak of countless specks,
this yielding quilt of scarcely patterned brown,
this lingering layer of cast-off bits of these old trees
that offer me at every step a bed of rest,
   and a pillow of softest needles for my head.

September 18, 2015
Eastham, MA

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015  All rights reserved.

Published August 12, 2016, in the Australia Times Poetry Magazine

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Let’s get serious about Olympic records

Gold medals, gold shmedals….

I admit it, I’m not watching the Olympic games, I might try to tune in when they’re running the middle distance races, but then again, maybe not….

The Olympics have been deadened for me by too much media hype, too much “up close and personal stuff” about people I really don’t want to be up close to, too much dreary, frenzied media fixation on asking world-class athletes “exactly how rotten did you feel when you only won the silver medal in your event?” C’mon, that’s second best in the dadburn world, I’d feel fantastic for about 20 years if I would step up (in my dreams!) to get the silver medal….

So, anyway, let’s get serious for a minute, here’s an Olympic tidbit I love to pass on: Michael Phelps won gold—his 13th individual gold!!—in the 200-meter individual medley swimming event, and he broke a 2,168-year-old Olympic record. Seriously.

You must remember that Leonidas of Rhodes was the last guy to win 12 individual events in the Olympic games, so Mike is in really rarefied company. Leonidas was a superstar in the 152 B.C. games when he notched his 12th individual win, and that record was on the books until yesterday.

Now, Leonidas was a runner, not a swimmer. In 152 B.C. he competed in events like running twice the length of the stadium carrying a shield and wearing a helmet and armor weighing more than 50 pounds. Now, that’s manly.

So, I’d like to lay down a challenge to Phelps: try doing the 200-meter butterfly carrying a bag of cement.

I’d like to see how that works out.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Taking a bite….

I read poetry regularly, and occasionally I find a poem that speaks to me.

More often, in an otherwise medium offering, I stop short in wonderment when I read the remarkably, brashly beautiful high-quality phrase or image that makes me say, as my fellow poetic truth seeker Mike likes to say, “I wish I’d written that!”

Here’s an example:
The "Whispers" poetry website offered “Summer Music” by David Austin, a brief paean to a morning bird whose “…happy chatter...has no winter in it…”

How simply lovely that is, a luscious insight, proof of the potential magic in ordinary but well-ordered words.

Thanks for that one, David.

Always good to taste the best bite of the apple.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Trump tells lies—all the time

Journalistic “objectivity” shouldn’t be a rationale for indifference to the truth.

Lots of media reports and pundits are talking about Trump’s recent economic speech and all of his talking points that just aren’t true.

Here’s my summary: it was full of lies, and we all know it.

Why are we hearing endless news reports and commentary about Trump’s “policies” and his “campaign reset” and his “tax programs” and his promises to “renegotiate the trade deals”?

Why aren’t we hearing, instead, endless reminders that Trump’s speech was a mess of deception and a pack of lies?

I’m waiting for Joe Scarborough or somebody to say “Trump lied left and right during his big economic speech, and that’s all I need to say about it.”

Before the speech in Detroit, Nicholas Kristof wrote in a Sunday New York Times column that “Trump is a world champion who is pathological in his dishonesty.”

More from Kristof:
“In March, Politico chronicled a week of Trump remarks and found on average one misstatement every five minutes. The Huffington Post once chronicled 71 inaccuracies in an hourlong town hall session—more than one a minute.”

Really, no reasonable person can trust anything Trump says. Let’s start mentioning that all the time.

More links to reports on Trump’s “fact-challenged assertions”:

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.