Friday, October 31, 2014

Oink, oink, oink….


How’d you like to get hit on, every six minutes, all day long?

So, tell the truth. Do you think a young woman should be able to walk on the streets of New York without getting continuous catcalls and wolf whistles and verbal harassment from the magnificent men of the Big Apple?

Of course you do. Of course you’re in for disappointment when I mention that a lady who tried this recently—with a video cam running—didn’t have any luck.

Vox.com reports that the woman, and a male accomplice who walked in front of her with a camera hidden in his backpack, trod the pavements of New York for 10 hours. See excerpts here.

The young woman was wearing jeans and a crew-neck T-shirt. She walked for 10 hours, staring straight ahead, without uttering a sound.

She recorded about 100 instances of verbal harassment from men of all kinds:
“How you doing, girl?”
“You don’t wanna talk?”
“If I give you my number, will you call me?”
“Damn, I just saw a thousand dollars!”

That is, roughly every six minutes, a man who was a complete stranger made a very public effort to invade her privacy, demean her and offer unwanted advances.

And that’s not counting the innumerable winks, whistles, gestures….

The whole thing stinks.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The wisdom of Oscar Wilde (part 4)

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

As usual, Mr. Wilde spits out a penetrating insight and a devastating critique….

….but this one isn’t wholly satisfying to me.

Consistency has many virtues, not least of which is steadfastness in the presence of  adversity.

I think the sentiment that friend Oscar meant to isolate is:

Obstinacy is the first refuge of the acrimonious.

Or something like what this guy said:

“Obstinacy is the result of the will forcing itself into the place of the intellect.”
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)


Too bad some folks don’t seem to have the “can’t we all just get along?” gene….







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

First computers built by men and women


It’s pretty easy to recall the name of Charles Babbage when you want to talk about the 19th century’s first mover in the development of the computer.


It’s pretty easy to think of some of the prominent men who were among the pioneers in the successful rush to build computers in the mid-20th century: John Atanasoff, Max Newman, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Bertrand Russell….

It’s not so easy to remember that Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace, was the entirely capable mathematical whiz who worked alongside Babbage in their drive to build a working “Analytical Engine” in the 1830s.



It’s not so easy to grasp the role of women in the 20th century’s spectacular creation of powerful, programmable computers, because no one ever mentions their names.

When the ENIAC—the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer—was unveiled in 1946, a very long line of men AND women had contributed to its birth.






In fact, most of the programming of ENIAC was done by six women: Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman.

It’s not too late to give them credit.












Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

“To boldly go….”


OK, it’s a start.

Of course, this is the next logical step, and folks in Westminster, MA, are taking it.

The Board of Health in this town of 7,400 in central Massachusetts is considering a ban on all tobacco and tobacco products. Period.

The board isn’t trying to ban smoking. It just wants to prevent everyone from legally buying anything to smoke in Westminster.


In America, about half a million people die prematurely every year because of smoking, and of course smokers drive up health care costs for themselves and for all of us....and 12-year-olds can get cigarettes.

The Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (University of Wisconsin) says about 80% of smokers claim they want to quit, and half of them try it every year.

Maybe the smokers in Westminster are going to get a helping hand.

Here’s hoping.






Why is it still legal to sell tobacco anywhere?






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014


Monday, October 27, 2014

Who pays the price?


“Les conseilleurs ne sont pas les payeurs.”
French proverb


The French aren’t the only ones who’ve figured out that “those who give advice, don’t pay the price.”


It should go without saying, I guess, that if you give advice, you should own the advice.






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Singing to the choir….


For too many folks, “singing to the choir” is the music they love best.

A recent Pew Research Center report confirms what we all know: too many folks filter out news and friends that don’t suit their own political convictions.



For instance, among Pew’s category “Consistent Conservatives,” almost half say that Fox News is their “main source for news about government and politics.” Among the “Consistent Liberals,” 15% name CNN and 12% name MSNBC.




About 52% of Consistent Liberals, and 66% of Consistent Conservatives, say most of their friends “share my views on government and politics.”

Pew offers plenty more details about media consumption and news sources for Americans who are at either extreme on the political spectrum, or somewhere in between. Read the report here.





Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The perp walk, Russian style….


Seems like doing bad things in Russia is different from doing bad things in America.


Last Monday four people died at a Russian airport when a private plane crashed on takeoff into an errant snowplow whose driver was drinking before his shift.

Since then, Moscow police have arrested the Vnukovo International Airport’s service engineer, a trainee air traffic controller and the snowplow driver.

The Director General of the airport and his deputy turned in their resignations, which were promptly accepted.

The airport shift director and the head of the maintenance division have been suspended from their duties.

In Russia, it seems, when something goes badly wrong, if you did it, or if you’re in charge of making sure stuff like that doesn’t happen, or if you sit at the big desk where the buck stops, you take the perp walk….

There are a lot of folks in big companies in America who are due for a perp walk.
   






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

The wisdom of J. William Fulbright


“We have the power to do any damn fool thing we want to do,
         and we seem to do it about every 10 minutes.

James William Fulbright (1905-1995)
U. S. Senator from Arkansas

The thing is, I’m pretty sure Sen. Fulbright wasn’t smiling much when he said it.

No reason to laugh about it now, either….


There are too many folks who say things and do things that hurt other folks, and, incredibly, hurt themselves, too.

Just about every 10 minutes or so, like the Senator said.












Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The world of rich congressmen….


The personal net worth of all the members of Congress is over $2 billion—that’s an average of almost $4 million each.
  



Again, that’s an average, but, for the record, more than half of the members of Congress are indeed millionaires.

Now, most of the time, for most millionaires, it’s not a crime to be a millionaire.








But let’s just call it like it is: most members of Congress don’t live in the same world that most Americans live in.

Why do we keep re-electing the people who aren’t really like The People, and who refuse to do The People’s business?










Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The wisdom of Bogie (part 2)


“You're not a star until they can spell your name in Karachi.”
Humphrey DeForest Bogart (1899-1957)

See, now, Pakistan doesn’t come up that often in ordinary conversation, so this little piece of searing insight from the man who made Casablanca famous is a little piece of brain candy for me….


I wouldn’t have guessed that Bogie was a humble guy, but there it is.






p.s. try watching Bogart and Hepburn in “African Queen” again, you’ll be glad you did













Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014

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