Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bonnie and Clyde, redux

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker (1910-1934)
Clyde Chestnut Barrow (1909-1934)

Bonnie and Clyde died 81 years ago on a rural stretch of Louisiana State Highway 154. Crowds soon gathered at the ambush scene, and many stole souvenirs like locks of Bonnie’s bloody hair and pieces of their clothing. The coroner claimed he saw one man trying to cut off Clyde’s left ear. Fabulous. Revolting.

It was the Depression time. The news media (this was before television, just imagine what the talking heads could do with this today!) went crazy reporting on the rambling banditry of the two lovers. The media did wrong, giving them celebrity coverage and gilding their story.

The 1967 movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway cemented the reputation of the duo as down-and-outers who earned the sympathy vote.

In fact, Bonnie and Clyde were small-time robbers and killers who gunned down nine police officers and several civilians. Bonnie basically was along for the ride—a gang member said later he never saw her pull a trigger. She didn’t smoke cigars, either.

Bonnie and Clyde were smalltown kids who grew up in distressing circumstances, had a fling in the center ring and went out in a pyrotechnical bushwhacking bloodbath on May 23, 1934. Texas and Louisiana cops fired about 150 rounds at their stolen Ford V8 car as it sped through the ambush zone. The coroner reported that Barrow had 17 bullet wounds, and Parker had 26.

As it turned out, it was a famous way to die.

No one remembers the names of the people that Bonnie and Clyde killed.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The wisdom of Sen. Everett Dirksen

“When a member of the House moves over to the Senate,
            he raises the IQ of both bodies.”

U. S. Senator (R-IL)

It’s too bad we don’t have more of the Dirksen kind of pol in Washington today.

I’m not saying “The Wizard of Ooze” was my all-time favorite senator. In fact, he died before I became really politically aware, and my personal political convictions have changed more or less entirely since the Dirksen era.

The thing is, the high-profile senator from Illinois was a realistic, rather straight-talking politician who did a reasonable, fairly persistent imitation of caring about the vital interests of our nation and the public good.

Dirksen supported Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s, the Vietnam War and organized prayer in public schools. He was a conservative on economic issues, but was generally considered to be in the “moderate” camp. Probably he would feel uncomfortable in a Republican caucus today.

I don’t mean to lionize Dirksen, he was a politician, he served in Congress for more than three decades, he was a crony and a log-roller.

He applied the lash sweetly with his quote about the IQ fallout of a House member moving to the 

He just forgot to mention that the opposite is also true.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, May 22, 2015

My teachers

I want so much to teach the grandchildren, so many things....

I have ancient optimism about training the dogs....

Suddenly I realize: they create the teaching moments, hour after hour, day after day.

The pooches teach me to get excited about the ordinary things: taking a walk, sniffing the tree, meeting another dog on the trail, reveling in the great woods, sharing quiet space with my friendly fellow creatures....

The young children teach me to be patient as they grow up, so very slowly but at such great speed....

The kids teach me to care, so much, about the small world they live in, to get down on one knee, to squeeze into their world, when I must impose a time out for behavior that is so annoying, but, I repeat to myself, so get down on one knee, to expand their world just a little bit more, when I can say "Good job!" or "you can hold the caterpillar in your hand" or "smooth the dirt over the seeds with your fingers, like this"....

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blue jeans invented in the 1870s

About 140 years ago blue jeans were invented, and they were an immediate hit.

Levi Strauss patented canvas pants with copper rivets in May 1873, based on an idea from Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada.

Strauss and Davis made a killing by selling their riveted canvas pants to miners and farmers in the Western states. 

Their company soon switched to using heavyweight blue denim with copper-riveted seams, and these “blue jeans” became even more popular.

Levi Strauss & Company has sold more than 200 million pairs of blue jeans since those rough and ready days serving the mining camps and farms.

Today, jeans make a fashion statement all over the world.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Railroad safety: why aren't we outraged?

The May 12 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia was a terrible tragedy. The train was moving at 106 mph in a 50 mph zone, and jumped the tracks on a curve. Eight people died, about 200 were injured.

Another terrible tragedy is that most U. S. railroads are going to miss a long-standing legal deadline to install automatic speed controls on their trains this year.

The most terrible tragedy is that the only reaction of Congress right now is a move to extend the deadline.

Almost seven years ago, Congress mandated that automatic speed controls must be installed on the nation’s rail lines by the end of 2015. There has been spotty compliance. The Amtrak train involved in last week’s deadly crash, and the rails it was running on, had no automatic safety features to control its speed.

Why haven’t the National Transportation Safety Board and our elected representatives taken increasingly urgent steps to ensure compliance with the safety deadline?

Why aren’t some railroad execs going to jail?

The people who are supposed to care about this don’t care about it enough to do anything right.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Who will be president in 2017?

Who will be president in 2017?

No one knows.

A lot of people care, of course, but no one knows.

It’s unknowable right now. Too many candidates, too many variables, too many unknown events yet to happen between now and the 2016 election.

So, why are the news media and the cable TV talking heads unflinchingly fixated on trying to handicap the race for the presidency?

For one thing, it’s more interesting to report the gotcha tidbits that fill our news channels, and it’s easy to get more or less anybody to say something more or less provocative about more or less any of the candidates, more or less all the time. Millions of people read and listen to that stuff, day after day.

It’s a waste of time.

Hillary Clinton, as of today, is almost certainly going to be the Democratic candidate. Yet, the media and the talking heads incessantly talk about gaffes, the knowns and unknowns about the Bill issue, her endlessly politicized and mis-characterized past actions, her wealth, the fact that she’s a woman, the supposed need for another Democratic candidate, unreliable and contradictory poll results….

The media and the talking heads are devoting more or less zero energy to exploring her revealed and presumed policy convictions and her revealed and presumed program intentions.

In other words, the “news” is about the candidate and the race and the political process, with little or no informed reflection on how Hillary Clinton might lead, inspire and perform as President of the United States.

On the Republican side, oh my, the media and the talking heads are on their knees on the sloppy, muddy race track and they can’t get up or even look around, and the only reports they’re offering are about the hoof prints. Of course, there’s going to be a Republican nominee next summer. If the pundits would take a six-month break from trying to guess precisely who it’s going to be, a lot of people would be happier.

Including me.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, May 18, 2015

First woman to run for president? Think 1872….

It’s not like you need the fingers of more than one hand to count the women who have run for president of the United States.

In fact, Hillary makes two.

Almost 145 years ago, the Equal Rights Party nominated Victoria California Claflin Woodhull to run for president against incumbent Republican President Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley, the nominee of both the Democratic and Liberal Republican parties.

Woodhull didn’t get any Electoral College votes, and there is no authenticated count of the number of votes she received.

In any event, she hadn’t reached her 35th birthday, and was legally ineligible to be elected.

Woodhull, a suffragette, had a somewhat notorious career as a stockbroker, newspaper editor and a high-profile advocate of women’s rights, including the right to vote.

The weird thing is, of course, she couldn’t vote for herself. American women got the right to vote nationwide only in August 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The wisdom of Dr. Michael Dickinson

“For most life on the planet, being hidden is the default condition.”
Dr. Michael H. Dickinson (b. 1963)

Perhaps, we are too visible, sometimes….

Read this, and then reflect, for a moment:

“The lesson runs deep in both literature and the psyche: survival depends on an intimate, attuned comfort with similitude and the art of disguise. I asked a biologist friend, Michael Dickinson, to muse on this subject. He replied:

'For most of life on the planet, being hidden is the default condition. Visibility typically costs you your life, or at least a good meal. Sex or an advertisement of a poisonous disposition are the only reasons anything with a pulse and wink of sense would want to be conspicuous. This is why we are generally disappointed when we don our Vibram soles and trek through ticks and prickly shrubs to view wildlife. Wildlife are usually annoyed at being seen, if they are seen at all. As hiddenness is the default, visibility is a luxury. Rarely are earth-colored tones the symbols of opulence and royal blood. We are most comfortable being hidden but we yearn to be seen. The inventions of biological hiddenness are countless, witty, wily, and poignant.' ”

Quote is from:

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015)
By Jane Hirshfield

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

B. B. King, R. I. P.

Let’s hear it for Mr. B. B. King!

I have a bright memory of seeing and hearing the King of the Blues a long time ago, in the late ‘80s, on Long Island, with my son.

B. B. King was an exemplar of the man, the performer, the artist, the one-of-a-kind guy who can do what so many others wish they could do, who does it with clear mastery, savoir faire, élan, humble talent, spirit, love….

Listening to the old dudes like B. B. King helped me learn to understand that the blues speak to me, the blues go deep, the blues excite our primitive enjoyment of rhythm and beat and the timeless sound of music….

Music is essentially human, and the blues is an over-sexed call to be in love, the blues conjures the friend you want when a friend may be the only good thing in your life, the blues is comfort food for the ears and the heart, the blues helps you share the pain when you feel the pain….

Wherever B. B. King went, he made the blues happen.

Farewell to Mr. B. B. King!

Riley B. King (1925-2015), R. I. P.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Direct to California, c. 1869

You need to get from New York to San Francisco in a hurry. By train, it will take 7 days and cost $2,500. Do you go for it?

In 1870, you did. The transcontinental railroad was completed in May1869, and it revolutionized travel to the West Coast. A first class ticket cost $136 (about $2,500 today) for a berth in a Pullman sleeping car—for $65 you could get space on a bench in the third class coach. I know, don’t even think about it.

Before the railroad was completed, the best a traveler in a hurry could do was take the Butterfield Express (later Wells Fargo) overland stagecoach. First, you had to get to St. Louis, MO, and then the stagecoach offered a spectacularly uncomfortable ride across the western plains in about three weeks, and sometimes the stage didn’t make it through. Traveling by boat from the East Coast to the West Coast took about a month.

Political shenanigans about the preferred route of the transcontinental line delayed the construction project until the Civil War began. With southern legislators (who advocated a “southern” route) out of the picture, the reps from northern states approved a route from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California. In the mid-1860s, the national government handed out obscenely large cash grants and generous land grants to the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad. There was a lot of corruption, and a lot of worker exploitation, and a lot of folks got rich as the two companies laid tracks, starting at the endpoints and ultimately meeting at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869.

You know the story about the golden spike and all the hoorah celebrating the completion of the rail link across America.

It was a really big deal that spread a lot of benefits around, although the Native Americans on the plains and the buffalo herds got the other end of the stick, you know the story.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Beyond goofy….

Gerrymandering has destroyed much of the legitimacy of the American electoral system.

In Great Britain, the winner-take-all rule and a multi-party system have done much the same thing.
Queen Elizabeth II presides over a patchwork of political strongholds that put the lie to any common sense notion of democracy.

Probably you heard that the British Conservative Party won control of Parliament in a national election last week, sending 331 MPs to fill more than half of the 650 seats in the House of Commons that represents Britain, Scotland and Ireland.

Probably you didn’t hear this:

In Great Britain, the Parliamentary candidate who gets the most votes in any district—a majority is not needed—wins the seat. If several candidates split the vote, a smallish minority of votes may be enough to win. Ballots with multiple candidates are common in Britain.

The Conservatives got only 37% of all votes cast. That’s not what would be called a mandate in any political system. The Conservative Party is strong in southern England, and weak elsewhere, including London. The Conservatives hold one seat in Scotland, and none in Ireland.

The Labour Party won 31% of the national vote. Its base is in London, the Midlands and England’s North regions. Like the Tories, Labour has one MP from Scotland.

The Scottish National Party is the powerhouse in Scotland. Although it took only 5% of the overall vote, the SNP won 56 of the 59 seats representing Scotland. It isn’t even on the charts anywhere else.

The UK Independence Party is a right-wing populist group that opposes British membership in the European Union and has no geographic stronghold. The UKIP received almost 4 million votes—more than twice as many as the SNP—but elected only one candidate to Parliament.

It what sense does Great Britain have a beneficent representative democracy? How often is the public good effectively served in the continuing turmoil of regional and political combat?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The wisdom of Jean de La Fontaine (part 3)

“Plus fait douceur que violence.”
Kindness does more than violence.

17th century French fabulist and poet
From Fontaine’s Book VI (1678-1679), Fable 3.

A nice thought, even nicer expressed in French.

It exposes a dreadful truth about human relations:

It works pretty well when we’re one-on-one….

When we’re in groups, sadly, not so much….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

First telephone in the White House

President Rutherford B. Hayes may not be famous for a lot of things, but he should get credit for being an early adopter. Of telephone technology, that is.

The telephone was invented by Bell, who famously said “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” on March 10, 1876 (for the moment, we’ll ignore Elisha Gray’s famous challenge about the patent). 

Little more than a year later, President Hayes had a telephone instrument installed in the White House telegraph room. Almost 140 years later, President Herbert Hoover installed the first telephone in the Oval Office in March 1929.

Telegraph was the dominant communication technology in 1877 and would remain so for another 30-40 years, until the early 20th century. In fact, in 1877, the U.S. Treasury Department had the only direct connection by telephone to the White House, so Hayes wasn’t getting too many calls in those early years.

By the way, the White House telephone number was “1” in 1877. It’s a rather quaint historical footnote.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, May 11, 2015

There is only one Bond.

There is only one Bond. James Bond, that is.
Connery. Sean Connery.

In May 1963 Ian Fleming’s super-good-guy James Bond splashed across the cinema screens, in the person of Sean Connery. Dr. No was a big hit, and Connery was the big reason for it.

A lot of folks didn’t know Connery’s name then. He had done some stage and television stuff, and several movie parts, but he wasn’t a star. He wasn’t the first pick for James Bond, either. Cary Grant, James Mason and David Niven topped him on the producers’ wish list.

I became a fan of Connery-as-Bond. He was brash, had the dash, loved the ladies in his whimsical but full-hearted way, and he could do damn near anything to bring the bad guys to heel. Loved his car, too. And Miss Moneypenny, oh! the love lost….

I’m not even going to mention the other guys who have played Agent 007 over the years, I really don’t think any of them are fit to grab Connery’s martini shaker.

Here’s a thing I just learned: our Scotsman was invited to play the part of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings series. He told an interviewer that he declined because he “didn’t understand” the script. OK by me. Honestly, I like Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey/the White about as much as I like Mr. Connery as James Bond.

Gandalf. James Gandalf.
It doesn’t quite rock.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Noah and Emma. Wow.

Every year I am temporarily fascinated by the Social Security Administration's annual revelation about most popular baby names for the current crop of Americans.

For 2014:  Noah and Emma.

I don't think about baby names much. Noah and Emma seem a bit obscure to me, but of course they're entirely commendable names, bonne chance to all the kids who will take these monikers with them throughout their lives. More than 19,000 brand new baby boys were named Noah last year, and almost 21,000 new baby girls were named Emma--in fact, more than 1 out of every 100 female bundles of joy were given that name. Wow.

I checked my own name on the Social Security website, see here. It seems my name dropped out of the top 10 list about 45 years ago. So be it. What's in a name? Still. I like my name. Hope all those Noahs and Emmas feel the same.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Just do as I say….

“Put your money where your mouth is” certainly isn’t right at the top of the list of pearls of wisdom on investing.

However, Morningstar recently reported that half of all mutual funds are managed by folks who don’t have even a dime of their own money invested in their own funds.

Morningstar, the high-profile investment research and management company, says “After all, like a chef who won’t eat his own cooking, a fund manager who doesn't personally invest in the fund he manages tells us something important about confidence and commitment.” Funds whose managers have $1 million-plus of their own cash invested have a better track record than funds with no holdings by their own managers.

This detail about managers’ personal investments is available in each fund’s Statement of Additional Information in the annual report.

I think it’s rather dumb for a mutual fund manager to fail to put her own cash into the fund. It's an integrity thing....

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book review: The End of Greatness

Book review: The End of Greatness: Why American Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President
Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2014
280 pages

First things first: Miller’s title sets him up for failure. It defies even the murkiest conception of common sense to argue that Americans don’t want a great president. I hazard the guess that it’s impossible to define “great president” in a way that would satisfy most readers.

More substantially, The End of Greatness isn’t a worthwhile read for me because, right up front, Miller acknowledges his endorsement of the "Great Man" theory of historical understanding that was championed initially in the 1840s by the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. The theory is often cited but it has only quite diminished standing today, as most historians and informed thinkers believe that durable circumstances and the complex dynamics of human interaction have much more impact than "Great Men" on our lives and on history as it unfolds. So, Miller gets started on the wrong foot, and his arguments can’t overcome the narrowness of his analysis.

“Where are the giants of old, the transformers who changed the world and left great legacies?” Where are the leaders who “will author some incomparable, unparalleled, and ennobling achievement at home or on the world stage, an achievement likely to be seen or remembered as great or transformational?” Miller cites rebellions and revolutions as “crucibles for emerging leaders.”

He can’t escape defining “greatness” and offers: “defined generally as incomparable and unparalleled achievement that is nation- or even world-altering.” A couple pages later he digs the hole deeper when he equates greatness with military, political, economic and “soft” power. Incredibly, Miller declares “Greatness in the presidency may be rare, but it is both real and measurable,” and he temptingly alludes to “traces of greatness” in several contemporary presidents, while arguing “Greatness in the presidency is too rare to be relevant in our modern times.”

Miller makes it official on page 10: Lincoln was one of the great presidents. Lincoln once dismissed another man’s argument by saying “it won’t scour,” as 19th century farmers said that a plow “won’t scour” when it failed to easily let the clods slide off the plowshare.

I think Miller’s thesis won’t scour. He mistakenly asserts that a few great leaders should get much of the credit for history’s “transformations.” He frames his arguments with words that can’t be acceptably, explicitly defined on the grand historical scale that he uses: what is and what isn’t, specifically and unarguably, a “great legacy”? a “transformation”? an “unparalleled achievement”? a “trace of greatness”?

Miller relies on great big categories and a deceptive positive spin to discuss a little idea, and to make a gratuitous point that really can’t be proved or disproved.(1)

Full disclosure: I didn’t read the whole book. The Introduction stopped me cold.

(1) Aaron David Miller, The End of Greatness (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 4-14.

First American novel by black author

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The art of Mary Chapin Carpenter

“…song walking…”

American singer and songwriter

Truth is, I don’t really know anything about Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music, couldn’t hum one of her tunes even if you dangled me over the edge of something really high up….

I got this one third-hand from a friend who spotted the litle gem on Carpenter’s official Facebook page, just let it dangle from your tongue for a sweet little bit:

“…song walking…”

I smiled when I saw the words, I easily imagined a couple bosky dells that are prime for a song walker, I sang a line or two in my head and in my heart, I guessed I could have singing and walk a long time before it started to feel like a bad thing to do….

I’m going to try it soon at my friendly neighborhood Audobon preserve.

You go ahead and try it yourself. If it doesn’t work out the first time, try singing louder.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Is there really a Republican Party?

Is there really a Republican Party?

At last count, 20 men and one woman have said in public that they are at least seriously thinking about seeking the Republican nomination for president at the convention in July next year.

Six of them have officially kicked off their campaigns, and 10 of them—including the current nominal favorite, Jeb Bush—have at least formed a campaign committee or taken some other explicit action.

None of them has articulated a platform or a coherent set of political/philosophical goals and values that have credible, broad support—I’m not talking unanimous support, just broad support—from Republicans across America.

There is no Republican Party thesis, no identifiable flag that generously and compellingly rallies the troops in the cities and the hinterlands, on the factory floors and in the corner offices, in the men’s room and in the ladies’ room. I’d say there is no raison d’être for the Republican Party that unites the party, except that’s something a fuzzy-brained liberal might say….

I suggest that the political stance that most obviously gets a thumbs up from many Republicans is hatred of President Obama, and I say that with full awareness that “hatred” is a provocatively loaded word. Read it as “dislike for President Obama” if you prefer.

So, is there really a Republican Party in the operative, self-sustaining sense of the word?

I dare say maybe not.

The news media and the cable TV talking heads are going to continue to refer to “Republican Party” candidates, but I think it’s more realistic to refer to the “Republican Throng,” or maybe the “Republican Collection.”

Whoever gets the Republican nomination next year is going to start his campaign by wildly alienating great clusters of folks who claim to be Republicans. Will he run at the head of a genuine political party?

And who will he pick to run for vice-president? Don't get me started....

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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 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.