Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Kent State thing

Tip: If the guy has a loaded gun, don’t throw stones at him.

The average American living today hadn’t been born when Ohio State National Guard troops killed four student protesters and wounded eight on the campus of Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

Campus rallies against the Vietnam War had been banned by the college, but about 2,000 students defied the ban and turned out to throw rocks and shout insults at the fully-armed Guardsmen, who had arrived on campus the previous day and had already used tear gas to disperse protesters.

Around noon, the National Guard again ordered students to disperse, fired tear gas and advanced with fixed bayonets. With. Fixed. Bayonets. Within minutes, the young Guardsmen fired more than 60 rounds into the student crowds. Four years later, a federal court threw out all charges against the shooters.

As it happened, I was in Vietnam at the time, serving our country. When I heard the grisly Kent State news, in US Army headquarters in Danang, my first reaction was: why would angry young men and angry young women provocatively throw stones at scared young men in uniform who are holding loaded guns with fixed bayonets? I also remember wondering where they got the stones—next time you go to a college campus, count the number of stones you see lying on the ground. I didn’t actually feel sympathetic toward the student protesters.

Today, I feel somewhat more sympathetic. I’m real sure that no student in that mob at Kent State was seriously afraid that the guys with helmets and guns would shoot at them. Kent State is part of America, right!?

Today, I feel sad that on May 4, 1970, some Americans who thought they were doing the right thing decided to piss off other Americans who were carrying loaded guns, and some Americans who thought they were doing the right thing aimed their rifles at other Americans and pulled the triggers.

Today, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how hard it is for all of us, separately and together,  to figure out what is “the right thing.”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Weekend? wha?

What was it like before there was a weekend?

Well, if you can rustle up one of Wells’ Time Machines and head back to about 1900, you’ll find out.

Or, use this shortcut: consult the Corpus of Historical American English, courtesy of the good folks at Brigham Young University. This dataset contains 400 million words from books, magazines and newspapers published 1810-2000. Analysts can determine the frequency of specific words used at different times in our history.

For example, “weekend” as we know it was mostly non-existent prior to 1900.

That’s because most working people were on the job at least six days a week. A mill in New England was the first American enterprise to set a five-day week for its workers, and other businesses started to follow that example. In the Great Depression, the two-day weekend was firmly implanted in the workplace—some policy wonks considered it to be a partial remedy for unemployment (more people would be hired to make up for “lost” productivity on Saturdays and Sundays). “Weekend” finally entered our day-to-day vocabulary in the 1950s.

“Overtime” didn’t get popular until the 1940s, doubtless stimulated by wartime production exigencies.

Finally, “commuter” peaked in popularity in the 1960s-1970s, perhaps because commuting was a relatively new phenomenon as the federal highway system blossomed and suburbanization started to become a factor in changing residential and work patterns.

Oh yeah, “conservative” is a late bloomer, it wasn’t really used a lot until the second half of the 20th century, while “liberal” has been high on the charts since James Monroe sailed into the presidency in 1820—but that’s a story for another post.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sleep tight!

It’s been more than 150 years since “Sleep tight” was not a euphemistic expression of good will.

Through the 1840s in America, it was quite common to sleep in a rope bed, that is, a bed frame with stretched ropes supporting the mattress or bedding. Use of metal supports or springs started to come into fashion before the mid-19th century.

Such a rope bed required regular adjustment/tightening with a "bed key" to avoid a sag in the middle of the bed. “Sleep tight” was a friendly admonition to enjoy a night on a bed with snugged-up ropes giving firm support. The Sealy Posture-Pedic mattress hadn’t been invented, so you can imagine that “firm support” wasn’t really the norm.

Sometimes it’s not easy to get a familiar frame of reference for an historical time period like “the 1840s.”

Here are some hints about that decade, roughly 170 years ago:

U. S. presidents in that era were William Henry Harrison, John Tyler (of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” fame), James Polk and Zachary Taylor.

Florida, Texas, Iowa and Wisconsin were admitted as new states in the federal union.

The California Gold Rush started in 1849.

p.s. here’s the bed key used by Ulysses Grant’s vice-president, Henry Wilson, who was a resident of Natick, MA. The Natick Historical Society has the bed key in its museum, see here

First photograph taken 189 years ago

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Baltimore Fact Book

Baltimore Fact Book:

The average North Korean baby will live longer than the newborns in 14 Baltimore neighborhoods.

The WashingtonPost.com says residents of 14 of the most blighted, predominantly minority neighborhoods in that troubled city face the life-threatening obstacles of poverty and shrunken social and employment opportunities. Their lives will be cut short.

In the worst area, Downtown/Seton Hill, a baby born today has an average life expectancy of 65 years, 14 years less than the U. S. average and less than the typical lifespan of new babies in Pakistan, Syria and North Korea.

The average kid born in these inhospitable parts of Baltimore won’t live long enough to collect Social Security.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, May 1, 2015

NFL to drop tax-exempt status

The good news is: the National Football League will voluntarily abandon its indefensible tax-exempt status and start filing tax returns with a check enclosed—at least a small check, assuming that NFL lawyers can’t legally hide all of its income.

Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and NASCAR already file as for-profit organizations.

The bad news is: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other execs forgot to mention that a primary reason for their decision is to avoid filing detailed non-profit tax returns that include disclosures like Goodell’s annual salary ($44 million in 2012) and the fact that six other execs are paid more than $1 million and the fact that 298 employees make $100,000 or more.

Here’s my question: would they do the same job for a little less? Would Goodell put his whole heart into it for a mere $40 million?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A good thing in 1854

In April 1854 the Pennsylvania legislature did a good thing: it chartered the first black college in America.

Ashmun College was established in Chester County, then mostly farmlands west of Philadelphia.
In 1866 the college was renamed Lincoln University.

The college website says it was "the first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent." Among its alumni are Langston Hughes ‘29 and Thurgood Marshall ‘30.

Today LU is co-ed, is actually if not substantially racially and ethnically diverse, and has about 2,000 students who are working on bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Resident tuition/room/board adds up to just over $20,000. In the current environment of soaring college costs, that’s a strikingly affordable pricetag for a college degree.

I say the Pennsylvania legislature did a good thing in 1854 because in 1854 it was a good thing to establish a college for black men. No governmental entity, and probably no private venture, would do the same thing today. Our public sensibilities and mores forbid it.

It’s too bad there isn’t a compensating public impulse to offer accessibly-priced college education to all the young men and women who aren’t white with upper-socio-economic parents.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hug a poet

This month is National Poetry Month. I bet you didn’t know that.

Some Americans have celebrated National Poetry Month for the past 19 years, during which the number of folks who admit they’ve “read a poem in the last year” has dropped by more than 50 percent. Just wondering now, is there a National Twitter Month?....

The national Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, conducted by the Census Bureau, reports that the only artsy experience that’s less popular than reading poetry is attending the opera.

I’ve had good experiences at the opera, but I admit I haven’t seen one for quite a long time.

I’m rather keen on reading poetry, which places me in the exotically tiny 6.7 percent of Americans who can remember reading a poem in the past 12 months.

Neither the Census Bureau nor folks in the poetry game have a solid explanation for the decline of enjoyment in reading poems.

I guess lots of folks just enjoy lots of other stuff lots more.

Along the lines of Joyce Kilmer’s “I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree…”


Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The wisdom of Jean de La Fontaine (part 2)

“Il ne faut jamais vendre la peau de l'ours
qu'on ne l'ait mis par terre.”
“Never sell the bear's skin before you have put him down.”

17th century French fabulist and poet

Sure, this sounds more manly than “Don’t count your chickens…”

Our whimsical French ami also manages to give a nod to the contingent reality that, in your headlong quest for personal gain, that other fellow, the one you want to use or abuse, may not cooperate.


Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Rosie the Riveter, R. I. P. (again)

You may be old enough to know who “Rosie the Riveter” was, but my guess is you don’t really know who she was.

More correctly, you don’t really know who they were.

On April 21, 2015, Mary Doyle Keefe, 92, died in Simsbury, CT. When she was a 19-year-old telephone operator in 1943 in Arlington, VT, she posed for Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” cover portrait in the Saturday Evening Post.

Rosie was a potent motivator in World War II recruitment and Liberty bond sales, and her likeness appeared on many patriotic posters and in other formats during the war. Rosie was the exemplar of American women who answered the call to “take a man’s job” in factories and industry, and fill the place of a husband, son or brother who went to a combat zone. After the war, the experience of all those Rosies led to a decades-long expansion of women’s participation in the work force.

Mary Keefe was one of several exemplary young women whose faces were used by various artists and photographers to create the Rosie personae.

Geraldine Doyle (1924-2010) was another Rosie who was working in a metal factory in Ann Arbor, MI, in early 1942 when a UPI photographer took her picture on the job. It became an inspiration for an artist who created the iconic WWII “We Can Do It” poster. Unlike Mary, Geraldine didn’t know for more than 40 years that she had been famous during the war.  A family member read a 1984 magazine article that linked her to the poster.

A salute to Mary and Geraldine and all the other Rosies!

Requiescat in pace.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

First photograph taken 189 years ago

How many pictures do you have on your cellphone?

You may be old enough to remember when most people did not carry a cell-phone-with-camera in pocket or purse or within reach, 24 hours a day.

The first photographer “snapped” his first shot in 1826 in France, according to OpenCulture.com

OK, OK, “snapped” is a euphemism for what Joseph Nicéphore Niépce called “heliography.” In 1826 he stirred some chemicals around on a pewter plate, put the plate inside a 19th century device called camera obscura that was aimed out the window of “the room where I work,” exposed the plate to light for eight hours and then washed it to reveal the image you see below.

I presume you aren’t rushing to share this on Facebook. I understand.

Here’s the way the image looks after Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, with some help from the Eastman Kodak Company, did a bit of touch-up in the 1950s.

More or less, this was M. Niépce’s rooftop view from an upper story window at his country estate.

….and here’s short list of other notable stuff that happened in 1826:

The Granite Railway commenced operations in Quincy, Massachusetts, as the first chartered railroad in America.

Samuel Morey claimed the first American patent for an internal combustion engine.

John Walked invented the “friction match” in England.

.…and just confirming, there was no Super Bowl that year, and no new reality TV shows….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Who makes the minimum wage?

Who actually earns $7.25 an hour, that is, the federal minimum wage?

It turns out less than 1 percent of Americans are working on the books for minimum wage, or less. There’s a lower minimum for certain categories of workers like restaurant employees who earn tips.

There are about 3 million folks in the U. S. making minimum wage or less—all other workers are at higher pay scales in their companies or work in states that have set a higher minimum.

Who are these minimum wage folks? The WashingtonPost.com says most of them are “disproportionately young, female, part-time, Southern restaurant workers without a high school degree.” Half of them are under 25.

States with the highest percentages of minimum wage workers are Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

In case you’re wondering, 40 hours at minimum wage will put $290 (gross) on your pay stub—that’s about $15,000 a year before taxes.

Confession: I think the minimum wage laws are a bad idea. They distort normal calculations of economic value in the marketplace. I am inclined to support the notion that a business whose employees qualify for welfare should be required to reimburse taxpayers for those welfare payments—I don’t think it’s a stretch to argue that welfare payments enable those workers to avoid starving or skipping health checkups for their babies while accepting the low wages from the employer.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Short and sweet

The wisdom of David Mackenzie Ogilvy (1911-1999)

Here’s some trenchant advice on how to write well—most of it remains relevant more than 30 years after it was written by David Ogilvy, who was hailed in the late 20th century as “The Father of Modern Advertising.”

Now, to be sure, Ogilvy’s legendary sway in the ad biz was recognized in pre-internet, pre-wired days when ad copy was deemed more salient and more powerful than ad buzz and social media Twitter-fication.

Indeed, Ogilvy's famous memo “How To Write” was circulated far beyond the Mad Men-world of his agency, Ogilvy & Mather, after he wrote it on September 7, 1982.

Here it is:
1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

At this point, obviously, I won’t embarrass myself by trying to reconceptualize Ogilvy’s observations for you.

OK, I can’t resist this one: I think Item 10 is the best, in today’s wired world this can be translated to “If you want to reach an agreement or have an argument, don’t send a text or email when you can call the other party or talk face-to-face.”

Note: the reference in Item 1 above is to a now-standard work by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson, Writing That Works: How to Communicate Effectively in Business, that was last re-issued in 2000.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

8th grade graduation test in 1912

Graduating from the 8th grade wasn't a snap in Bullitt County, Kentucky, in 1912.

Students attended mostly one-room schools in the predominantly rural county, south of Louisville. 8th graders took the “Common Exam” in the county courthouse. Some students who earned high scores received scholarships to attend high school. Many of the farm kids in the county didn’t get schooling beyond the 8th grade.

In case your 8th grader or a student you know is grousing about final exams right about now, ask her to take a look at these sample questions from the 1912 Common Exam in Bullitt County. The full test is listed here.

In Mathematics:
“Find cost at 12 ½ cents per sq. yd. of kalsomining [whitewashing] the walls of a room 20 ft. long, 16 ft. wide and 9 ft. high, deducting 1 door 8 ft. by 4 ft. 6 in. and 2 windows 5 ft. by 3 ft. 6 in. each.”

In Geography:
“Tell what you know of the Gulf Stream.”

In Civil Government:
“Describe the manner in which the president and vice-president of the United States are elected.”

In History:
“Give the cause of the war of 1812 and name an important battle fought during that war.”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Do the Myers-Briggs, get happy

I’ve commented previously on the discredited Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test.

In plain terms, the mechanics of the test are simplistic and the conceptual basis for it is the musings of Carl Jung which have never been validated. Also, roughly half of the people who take the test get a distinctly different result when they take it a second time.

Why is it the most popular personality test in the world for corporations and organizations?

Well, good marketing is part of the answer. The company that owns Myers-Briggs, CPP Inc., makes about $20 million a year from test takers and the folks who administer it.

CPP takes pains on its website to say that Myers-Briggs is not a personality test. Users think otherwise. The Wikipedia page for “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator” uses the word “personality” 62 times.

It costs $15-$40 per person to do the Myers-Briggs assessment, and administrators pay $1,700 to be certified. You can imagine that the certified administrators aren’t badmouthing Myers-Briggs.

The 16 mutually exclusive Myers-Briggs types—like INTP, Introverted Thinking With Intuition—are constructed from verifiably flawed binary classifications based on 93 statements like “You tend to sympathize with other people” that require “Yes” or “No” responses. Sorry, my response to that statement is “Yes, most of the time, with some people, with others, not so much.”

Here’s a kicker: the Myers-Briggs types are described with classifiers like “thinker” and “nurturer” and “likes to think things through.” Are you getting the picture? The descriptors are phrased in positive language, there aren’t any Myers-Briggs types who lie, cheat, steal, loaf, crack gum, drink, get high, whine, annoy, abuse, threaten….in other words, Myers-Briggs doesn’t describe a lot of the people I encountered in my career.

One critic put it this way: “This isn't a test designed to accurately categorize people, but a test designed to make them feel happy after taking it.

Here’s a tip: don’t mention the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator on your resume.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

At last, been there….

I did the Boston Marathon yesterday for the first time.

Ooops, the buzzer went off on that one.

What I meant was, I watched many hundreds of the brave and slightly wacky men and women who did the Boston Marathon yesterday, my first time standing at the curb along the course route with my family.

It really is a thrill to watch those hardy folk race by. I think the typical runner is cracking along at about 10 miles an hour, the leaders are doing 13 miles an hour. After getting up close and personal for the first time, I can confirm: most marathoners are running, they’re not jogging or anything.

By one estimate more than a half million people lined the route from Hopkinton to Boston’s Boylston Street yesterday, to cheer for everybody.

I have to say that I think running a marathon is probably bad for the human body. I’m just as ready to confirm the obvious: it’s non-stop exhilaration to watch them doing the deed. Marathoners gotta be proud men and women, you betcha.

By the way, the Boston Marathon got started 119 years ago, when 18 men queued up for the race and the winner, American John McDermott, finished in 2 hours 55 minutes 10 seconds. Among other things, they had heavier shoes in those days.

The current Boston Marathon record is 2:03:02, set by Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya in 2011. The best women’s time for the Boston classic is 2:18:57, posted by Rita Jeptoo of Kenya two years ago.
Yesterday, about 30,300 dedicated runners showed up at the starting line. Truly, it’s an international crowd, with 97 countries represented.

The runners were doing some good, too—they probably raised about $40 million from race-day sponsors to support favorite charities.

One runner was cool enough to veer towards our family group and offer a high five to my young grandson, who did his part with great glee.

Non-stop exhilaration.

Yes, Virginia, there is a dinosaur....

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dime novels 150 years ago

There were “westerns” before John Wayne put his mark on them.

The men in blue and gray in the Civil War—the ones who could read, and the ones who had buddies who could read—were avid fans of the dime novel.

New printing technologies in 1860 made it possible to churn out an endless succession of the cheap (10 cents, hence “dime novel”) so-called “blood-and-thunder” stories, often about heroes of the American West like Kit Carson.

These dime novels in the mid-19th century were the ‘westerns” before Hollywood invented the movie genre of the same name in the early 20th century.

The flood of cheap books was unleashed by improvements in the steam printing press and stereotype plates, the cast metal plates that used a reversed image of a full page on the press. The resulting increase in productivity and cost reduction permitted publishers to do huge press runs of the formula “western” novels that were written by assembly lines of writers. Some of the more respectable authors cranked out a new book every three months. Some of the hacks claimed to be able to produce a brand new novel in 24 hours. As you might guess, originality and quality weren’t the principal standards of excellence.

Jill Lepore, in The Story of America: Essays on Origins, notes: “Blood-and-thunders were ‘sent to the army in the field by cords, like unsawed firewood,’ one contemporary reported. After the war, dime novel westerns cultivated a vast, largely eastern, and altogether male audience: they were the first mass market fiction sold to men and boys.”(1)

Dime novel readers who weren’t Kit Carson (1809-1868) fans must have been a rare breed. Between 1860 and 1900, the American frontiersman was the hero of more than seventy of the popular books.

(1) Jill Lepore, The Story of American: Essays on Origins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 212, 217.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The backstory of income inequality

Every concerned politician and public watchdog should be talking about information like this:

Nationally, productivity is up 243 percent since 1948, but the wages of most private sector hourly employees are up only 109 percent.

Hourly production/nonsupervisory workers haven’t taken home much of the bacon from steady, spectacular increases in overall productivity.

I’m not saying that this is illegal or immoral, per se.

This is the thing: in general, the folks who are taking home the skinny paychecks don’t know it.

The folks who claim the mandate and the commitment to publicly care about stuff like this haven’t said much about it.

Where are the liberal politicians and the self-appointed watchdogs when we need them?

Another thing: what started happening in the 1970s? How did wage increases get disconnected from productivity increases?

Trying to figure that out is on my TO DO list.

 Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Top admin salaries driving college costs?

A law professor says “the real reason” college tuition is shooting skyward is that campus administrator staffing and salaries are more or less going through the roof.

Prof. Paul Campos of the University of Colorado offered some compelling facts in his New York Times opinion piece a couple weeks ago.

The U. S. Department of Education reports that administrative jobs at colleges and universities grew 60 per cent between 1993 and 2009, while tenured faculty positions increased only about one-tenth as much.

Campos also says “the recent trend toward seven-figure salaries for high-ranking university administrators” is indefensible. Indeed, it is. The tired old argument that “we need to pay high salaries to get high quality candidates” has never been proved, and is unprovable.

I think Dr. Campos stumbles when he pooh-poohs arguments that federal and state education funding have shrunk drastically, forcing community colleges and good old State U. to grab more revenue from paying students and their parents. Campos says public funding has not been substantially cut back. However, he seems to be focused on total dollars allocated, and he seems to ignore the impact of inflation and the fact that the number of students attending post-secondary institutions has swelled spectacularly. Per capita (per student) public funding for education certainly has declined.

I believe much of the criticism of “high college costs” is impotent. It seems to me that the focus of critical discussion should be on reducing the actual costs of a college education for the typical student.

We need to eliminate some student amenities (like multi-million-dollar fitness facilities) and some sports (my alma mater, a small liberal arts college, still has a golf team and an equestrian team) and some liberal arts courses (for example, cut all of them and award a degree in three years) and all further additions to the tenured faculty.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved

Friday, April 17, 2015

Grim war news

Almost 100 years ago, in April 1918, Allied and German troops stood down from the second Battle of the Somme River.

On the ground, it was a German “victory” that advanced their lines by almost 40 miles closer to Paris.

In the big picture, the Germans not only shot their “Big Bertha” shells toward the French capital, they also shot their wad. American soldiers made their first entry in World War I, joining their French and British brothers in arms during the 15-day battle. The war ended in November of that year.

We don’t remember the grisly roll call of casualties during WWI.

In this second battle of the Somme, nearly 400,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in their trenches and in no-man’s-land between the lines. About 100,000 men on both sides were taken prisoner.

That amounts to more than 33,000 casualties a day during the battle.

That’s too many dead men. Too many Gold Star mothers.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I’ll remember

I taught her rhyming,

    “house, mouse,” she offered “boy, toy,”

        she laughed. She’ll forget.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The art of T. S. Eliot

American-British writer, popularly acclaimed as a great poet of the 20th century

At long last, I’ve tried T. S. Eliot’s poetry.

Maybe I’ll put Collected Poems of T. S. Eliot back on the shelf, and try again after a while.
Maybe not.

“We are the hollow men
  We are the stuffed men"
From “The Hollow Men,” 1925

It’s not that I mind Eliot’s deliberate contradictions so much. I’m willing to be provoked. I’m open to being tantalized. I’m ready to be pushed or pulled outside my comfort zone.

The sticky point for me, with Eliot’s poetry, is that I never seem to get to the point, or maybe I simply don’t get the point. When I get to the end of one of his longish poems, I’m really not sure where I started, or where I wandered, or where I arrived.

I find little coherence in Eliot’s words and phrases and passages.

I think of myself as a wordsmith, and I love the beauty of elegant phrases and shimmering, specific, steely, selective, stately, splendid words that tell a delicious story or evoke a bloom of emotion.

For my taste, T. S. Eliot’s poetry isn’t tasty, and it’s a bloomin’ wasteland of jumbled words, fractured images and unfinished imaginations.

If you’re wondering where all the flowers have gone, don’t look for answers in Eliot’s work.

T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems of T. S. Eliot (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1958), 101

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When the regulators get it right….

In California last week, the state Public Utilities Commission meted out a huge fine for safety violations, and made sure that the transgressor’s customers won’t pay a penny of it.

The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will fork over $1.6 billion—a record penalty—for violating state and federal pipeline safety standards and causing a 2010 natural gas explosion that killed eight people and obliterated a neighborhood in San Bruno.

PG&E said it will not appeal.

The regulators made it clear that the fine will be paid by the company and its shareholders, and no part of it will be passed on to customers in the form of rate hikes.

That’s my kind of regulatory rectitude.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

A movie theater with 3,000 seats

You may have forgotten that the Mark Strand Theatre opened in New York City 101 years ago.

It was the first mega-theater to be opened in the U. S., at a time when “movies” were hitting their stride as a social and artistic success.

Silent movies, that is. The first "talkies" weren't offered to the movie-going public until the late 1920s.

The Strand was a colossus, and a beautiful one. Before sensational theaters like this one opened for business, the silent films were shown in quite modest venues, often storefront “nickelodeons” named for the first Nickelodeon that debuted in Pittsburgh in 1905. The Strand seated about 3,000 people (!), offered high-rent boxes and a luxurious second-floor balcony, with a two-story lobby for high-class socializing before and after the show.

Within two years, there were more than 21,000 “movie palaces” throughout the United States, some of which exceeded the amenities of the Strand.

Contrast the Strand’s concept and architecture with the boutique “screens” offered today in our grindingly commercial multiplex theaters.

A hundred years ago, folks got dressed up—coat and tie for gents, classy dress for ladies—to go to the movies.

And they didn’t eat popcorn and slurp Coke during the show.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 movie theater

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dog 101

Bessie and Carley are dogs. We can learn from them.

Here’s how to think like a dog:

The sight of a leash is a signal for joy and jumping—a leash is a ticket to ride, or the certain indicator that there will be walking outdoors. Bounce off the walls, and do four-footed jumps until the human snaps your leash, the knotted red one, onto your collar.

If you stare fixedly out the car window long enough, the wooded preserve comes into view.

When you jump out of the car, the first thing to do is: start straining against the leash with such manic energy that you gasp repeatedly for breath, and don’t stop doing this until the walk is ended.

The second thing is: plant yourself, as it were, permanently, at the nearest clump of leaves on a fallen branch, sniff deeply, urinate, sniff again, repeat until the human drags you away.
Then, pull madly toward the nearest tree, inhale all its mysteries, pee, dash to the next tree.

Repeat for about 40 minutes.

If you’re a black lab, try at least once, and put your heart into it, to jump into the cedar-stained waters of the quiet river that borders the park. Try it again if you get the chance, you never know….

If you’re a Boston terrier, show your best full-toothed grimace to the big dogs you meet along the path, almost hurt yourself trying to get at them, seriously, tell them in dog-speak that if it weren’t for the g.d. leash, you’d be eating their livers right there, right in the middle of the trail.

Don’t worry about looking up, really, there’s a lot of stuff that’s really interesting no more than two feet above ground level. It’s your world.

Another thing: try to poop behind the fallen tree, under the thatch of rhodo, so the human has to grunt to reach it with his hand inside a blue bag.

Keep in mind that the next smell is always the best one, as soon as you’re finished with the one you’re working on now, you gotta get to that next one ASAP, put your weight into it, be a manly dog….

One more thought: it never hurts to try to pee one more time.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015