Friday, October 9, 2015

First robbery of a moving train

The Reno Brothers gang

Trains started running in the United States in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until October 6, 1866, that some bad guys named John and Simeon Reno stopped a moving train in Jackson County, Indiana, and grabbed $13,000 before making their getaway. notes that parked trains in depots or rail yards had been robbed before the Reno brothers started “the great train robbery” escapades. Grabbing the cash boxes from moving trains in the middle of nowhere in the American west was profitable for a while, and the robbers piled up a lot of loot.

The railroad companies reacted and put armed guards (and sometimes saddled horses in special box cars) on the trains to squelch the Reno brothers and Jesse James and Butch Cassidy and their ilk. The thrill of shooting up a moving train pretty much wore off after a few decades.

The last attempt to rob a train was carried out on November 24, 1937, by Henry Loftus and Harry Donaldson, who bungled their plan to rob passengers on the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Apache Limited out of El Paso, TX. The youthful desperadoes pulled six-shooters and grabbed some passengers’ watches, and then about 20 passengers attacked them, “punching and kicking them in a frenzy,” and finally tying them in two seats.

No one has made a movie about that robbery yet.


Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The card catalog, so many drawers….

I do remember the first time I figured out how to use the sprawling card catalog in the Woodbury (NJ) Public Library, late 1950s.

Don’t remember how old I was, I guess I was in 7th or 8th grade….the light bulb went on for me, I was creating knowledge with the card catalog on my own, researching references for some homework project.

I felt empowered and I felt liberated, I was questing with my hands and with my mind, with a pencil in my mouth and a wad of index cards….

The memory is high contrast in the gallery of my hodgepodge of recollections, it feels like it was lots better than it is today, but of course it wasn’t.

I get a surge every time I Google search for something and get more interesting hits than I could ever pursue in my remaining span of years.

Verily, the card catalog is ancient history. The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) announced recently that it has stopped printing hard-copy catalog cards for worldwide distribution after a run of more than 100 years. They’re not going to make ‘em like that anymore.

The card catalog wasn’t better than Google, but once upon a time I owned that baby in the Woodbury Public Library.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

First drunk driving arrest

It’s been 118 years since the first arrest for drunk driving.

On September 10, 1897, a young London cab driver named George Smith was driving tipsy when he slammed his taxi into a building. He was fined 25 shillings.

We’ve had a long time to try to deal with the too often fatal consequences of drunk driving. We haven’t made a lot of progress.

Think about in these terms: everybody knows it’s illegal and dangerous to drive drunk, but the structure of enforcement is that cops have to try to catch the offender while he’s actually doing it so the intoxication test can be administered in a timely way that will hold up in court.

Penalties are too light to significantly prevent repeat offenses. More than half of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive with suspended licenses.

I guess it’s true that people have been driving drunk ever since we learned how to ride animals.

I guess it’s a comfort to think that folks who were riding horses drunk never killed anybody else.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2015


The crazy man in Oregon shot and killed nine people at Umpqua Community College, and wounded nine more.

He had 13 guns—pistols, rifles, a shotgun—all purchased legally.

We don’t have a Second Amendment problem in America.

We have a gun problem.

The problem is: if a guy is crazy and he owns  13 guns, he might decide some Thursday morning to take six of them to a community college.

And he might decide to take lots of bullets.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Book review: A Thousand Mornings

Book review: A Thousand Mornings
The Penguin Press, New York, 2012
82 pages

Mary Oliver does it again with A Thousand Mornings, a short collection of poetry that offers her signature realism and wholesome, literal evocation of her tasteful and spectacularly insightful reactions to the world around her, and around us.

The reader is never in doubt about what she’s saying—obscurity is not her thing, and disjointed word play and annoying sentence fragments are not her thing. I take instruction from Mary Oliver every time I read her work.

There is calm, quiet joy in her words. She invites the reader to respect stillness. Here’s an excerpt from “Today”

“…But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"That's not my job."

My long-considered view of “job security” is this:

The purpose of an organization (business or nonprofit) is to do something of value to someone and to persist in doing that. I like the CEO whose notion of “corporate mission” was “We aim to stay in business forever.”

I think a company’s mission should be to successfully (profitably or within non-profit budget) produce something of value, provide it to the customer/patron/beneficiary and do the same thing tomorrow and tomorrow…..thus, for both owners and workers, a meaningful job is going to be there tomorrow, too.

Every member of the organization should know that his/her job is to make the organization successful, first and foremost.

During my career, I always hated it when someone said “That’s not my job.”  The scope of every worker’s responsibilities should be simple and quite broad, including stuff that coworkers do. 

Everyone should understand that the universal task is to make the organization successful in the long run and provide job security for all who want it.

The righteous goal of an organization isn’t to “get bigger” or “make more profit in the next quarter.” 

That’s an unattainable goal, de facto, for all organizations in their collective operations. Moreover, it’s in violation of all the right stuff.

p.s. I frankly admit that the foregoing is my fantasy world. Reality really sucks.

Thanks to my trusted personal advisor for helping me to clarify my views.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, October 2, 2015

There are givers, and keepers

Remember when you were a kid, and you told your mom “When I grow up, I’m going to buy you a great big house!” or something like that?

Or think about the times you’ve said “If I could afford it, I’d donate to the (your favorite charity)”….

Some people have these impulses, and some don’t.

Take Bill Gates. He’s worth more than $81 billion, and during 2008-2013 he gave $7.5 billion to his charitable foundations.

Or Warren Buffett. He’s worth over $68 billion, and during that six-year period he donated more than $8 billion to his personal foundations.

Or take the Waltons—Christy, Jim, Alice and Rob—who are incredibly rich because Sam Walton built Wal-Mart. Each one of the four is worth more than $35 billion, for a combined total of about $145 billion. During 2008-2013, they gave a combined total of $17.5 million (million, not billion) to the Walton family foundation.

The four Waltons gave their favorite charity about twelve-thousandths of one percent of their net worth over a six-year period. The says they use the foundation to minimize their future estate taxes.

What’s your net worth? Not your income, your net worth. Try this: add up the equity in your house and the value of your car, your bank account, your 401k….if your net worth is, say, $200,000, and you give more than $4 a year to your favorite charities, you’re being more generous than the Waltons.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


My haiku, “Evensong,” appeared in cattails, published by the United Haiku and Tanka Society, read it online here.

This is the published version:

one owl’s call
quickens my longing to sing—
my one note

Earlier, I wrote this version in the more familiar 5-7-5 syllable structure:

The owl, that one call,
quickens my longing to sing
only one note, mine.

I’m satisfied with both. I prefer the original version.

Other links to my poetry:

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

You won’t hear this in the debates

Our politicians today don’t talk about ideas and ideals the way some pols did in days gone by.

I’m not saying—no way!—that politics and politicians were somehow better in the mythical “good old days.” The sham and the shenanigans and the shame have always been there.

Every so often, at least, lip service is given to the notion of doing the right thing for the right reasons.

How about this:
“Public good is not a term opposed to the good of individuals. On the contrary, it is the good of every individual collected. It is the good of all, because it is the good of every one.”

I think that’s a decent approximation of the common sense meaning of “the common good.”

p.s. The quote is from Thomas Paine, 1778. He’s the guy who wrote the blockbuster Revolutionary War pamphlet,  Common Sense.

Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (London: Oxford University Press, 1977), 89.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A dreary contemplation

Full disclosure: Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) is not my favorite person.

I’ve been thinking about Boehner’s blockbuster announcement last week that he will step down as Speaker of the House and resign his seat at the end of October, in other words, more or less immediately.

An abrupt change like this—a necessarily speedy and unavoidably messy change in a high-profile leadership position—is not good for our political process, not good for our government and not good for our country.

Some commentators have connected some of the obvious dots: Boehner now has a personally fail-safe option to orchestrate a bi-partisan bill to continue funding the government, without support from right-wing, anti-government Republicans in the House who want to attach poison pills to such a bill.

I’m willing to admit that Boehner is willing to accept personal sacrifice to get this essentially reasonable bill to pass in a form that President Obama will sign. I respect that motivation.

Yet, he knows and all of us know that this short-term bill is a can that’s going to be kicked down the road a bit. The government funding clash is going to recur, and soon.

Boehner isn’t solving THE problem. He’s solving HIS problem. He won’t get booted out of the Speaker’s chair by his own party.

It’s all too dreary to think about this tempest of leadership failure.

Our elected representatives in Washington aren’t leading or governing in the public interest. They’re making a lot of noise, and keeping an eye on the re-election cycle.

Why do we keep sending these folks back to Washington?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The wisdom of Helen Gurley Brown

“Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking,
       you are boring somebody.” 

Helen Gurley Brown (1922-2012)
Editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years

I’ve always thought I am somebody. This confirms it.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Still waiting for the perp walk

Do you think that justice has been done to the people who did all the bad things that created the 2008 financial meltdown?

Think again.

In the September issue of The Atlantic, William Cohan lays out the bad and the ugly about “How The Bankers Stayed Out of Jail.” Read it here.

Here’s the short version:
Since that horribly destructive financial crisis, 49 banks and other financial institutions have paid almost $190 billion (yeah, that’s BILLION) in fines and regulatory settlements. All of the payments came out of their shareholders’ pockets. Some of the penalty payments were tax-deductible (!).

How many Wall Street executives and other big players have gone to jail for their manifest misdeeds?


Cohan mentions, for comparison, that in the aftermath of the U. S. savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s, more than a thousand bank execs and others went to jail for their crimes that drained $132 billion from taxpayers’ pockets.

I think it’s going to be a long wait for the perp walk.

(While I think of it, I’ll guess it could be a long wait to find out which Volkswagen executives and managers go to jail for tampering with their diesel cars’ emission control systems.)

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


You thought the guillotine is ancient French history, right?

Well, here’s a shocker:

The guillotine was the legal method of execution in France until 1981, when capital punishment was abolished.

The iconic terror of the French Revolution was last used in 1977 to publicly behead a murderer named Hamida Djandoubi.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Glimpse of the dark side….

How do you justify raising the price of a 62-year-old drug from $13.50 per dose to $750 per dose?

You don’t. You can’t.

But Martin Shkreli thinks he can do it.

In fact, he has already raised the price. Now he’s into the justification phase.

I think he should be in the “hot seat” phase.

There is no moral tenet that can make this price hike acceptable.

There is no “free market” pillar of wisdom that makes this a good idea.

Shkreli, a dubiously ethical hedge fund wunderkind, used his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, to buy the rights to the drug Daraprim, which has been used since 1953 to treat a small number (about 10,000 or fewer) of folks who have a rare parasitic infection. He pushed the drug price to the sky so he could make a lot of money.

I think health insurance companies and our government should jump into all-out development funding for a generic substitute.

I think our government should remind Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals that their manufacturing and financial practices are subject to regulatory scrutiny, and give Shkreli-Turing a full measure of same. He bumped the price of Daraprim by about 5,400 per cent. I think a half dozen IRS tax auditors should be assigned to Shkreli/Turing immediately.

Make that a dozen tax auditors. Shkreli likes big moves.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The wisdom of Blaise Pascal

“I have made this letter longer than usual
          because I lack the time to make it short.”

Death mask of Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
French mathematician, scientist, writer, philosopher

This is a pithy expression of what I think of as a deep truth: it’s more difficult to write concisely and well than it is to write at length and well.

My high school English teacher frequently made writing assignments to be completed on one side of an index card, and he made it clear that “if I can’t read it, your grade is F.”

I started learning at a tender age to pick words carefully and to work hard at using words to express my meaning explicitly and concisely.

As a college instructor, I often made similar writing assignments in class (sometimes with a 10-minute deadline) to force students to develop their ability to write brief, essential, meaningful statements.

Here’s the flavor of it:

Try writing an essay on patriotism on one side of a lined, 5x7 index card.

Take 10 minutes to write your definition of “management” on one of those cards.

I think you’ll agree those tasks are a lot harder than writing 500 words on either of those topics.

Thanks to my trusted personal advisor for this one.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

You can call him Quake

About 2,885 years ago, a man was born in Mesoamerica, in what we now call Mexico. We know only two things about him: he died about 750 B. C., fighting against the Zapotec empire; his name was 1-Earthquake.

Among the tens of millions who lived in ancient times in the American hemisphere, 1-Earthquake is the earliest whose name we know.
In the Mesoamerican cultures that flourished three millennia ago, the day of birth often was an augury of the future of the newborn, and often the birth date was adopted as a name. 1-Earthquake was the Zapotec name for the 17th day of their 260-day sacred calendar.

It is apparent that the name was carved as two glyphs in the stone threshold of a temple in San  José Mogote, near the city of Oaxaca. This is the earliest known writing in North or South America that can be accurately dated: 750 B.C.

Urban site in Zapotec empire

Note the date.. At about the same time as Rome was founded (753 B. C.), when  the early Greeks were emerging from their own Dark Ages, and when much of Europe was populated by the “barbarian” Germanic and Celtic tribes, there were civilizations in the Americas like the Zapotec and the earlier Olmec, that had sophisticated cities, governments, organized religion, art, agriculture, commerce, astronomy and mathematics.

Source: Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 243.

The Six Grandfathers

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Uncle Sam was born in 1813

More than 200 years ago, the United States got its nickname: “Uncle Sam”

The best story about it is that American soldiers stationed near Troy, NY, during the war of 1812 recognized that the beef they were eating came from the Troy meatpacking plant of Samuel Wilson.

Wilson shipped his meat in barrels marked “U. S.” for “United States” under a subcontract with an army quartermaster. Wilson, a Revolutionary War veteran, was prominent in Troy, and some soldiers were aware that his nickname was Uncle Sam.

The troops started referring to their grub as beef from “Uncle Sam.” The name stuck, and gradually became standard in the soldiers’ lingo.

Fifty years later, Thomas Nast, the trenchant mid-19th century political cartoonist, got the ball rolling in defining the iconic image of Uncle Sam, including the white beard and the flag-themed suit.

For the record, the Uncle Sam “I Want You” recruiting poster was created by James Montgomery Flagg during World War I. It first appeared on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly in July 1916.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Too many guns in America

Bloomberg reported this week that 145 Americans were killed by guns on the Labor Day weekend.

That’s one dead person every 30 minutes.

Another report from the Gun Violence Archive said that, year-to-date, 507 children under the age of 12 have been killed by guns.

We have too many guns in America.

Too many dead people.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Take a look at a Syrian refugee camp

Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Words, words, words

I was intrigued by a passage on early transliteration of key words in the New Testament, in a most fascinating book about the history of the English language. Ooops, you yawned. Give me a chance.

Owen Barfield, in History in English Words, explains that “passionate Hebrew meanings were gradually imported into the cold and clear-cut Greek words” during the centuries, before the life of Jesus, when Egyptian Jewish scholars translated Hebrew scriptures in the Greek (Koine Greek) language to create what is known as the Septuagint.

The meanings of words change continuously, with changes in knowledge and social interaction, evolving cultural milieu, travel and other environmental factors. This has been happening since humankind started talking.

Barfield relates what happened in plain talk: “Seeking for words to convey such notions as ‘sin,’ ‘righteousness,’ ‘defilement,’ ‘abomination,’ ‘ungodly,’ the Jewish translators had to do the best they could with noises which to Heraclitus and Plato had implied something more like ‘folly,’ ‘integrity,’ ‘dirt,’ ‘objectionable practice,’ ‘ignorant.’

The Greek version of the scriptures was known in the synagogues of Palestine. It’s possible that Jesus 
read it.

I wonder what Jesus thought the words meant.

Owen Barfield, History in English Words (Hudson, NY: The Lindisfarne Press, 1953), 114-15.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How Geronimo became a celebrity

The U. S. cavalry was still fighting “Indian wars” in 1886. Sad but true.

1886 was 20 years after the Civil War.

Coca-Cola was invented in 1886.

The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York harbor in 1886.

In 1886 strikers and the Haymarket rioters fought successfully for introduction of the eight-hour workday.

Geronimo, an Apache warrior, was the last Native American chief to surrender to American soldiers. In August, 1886, he and his hardy band of 50 Apaches gave it up to Gen. Nelson Miles in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, after fighting the white intruders for 30 years in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains and in southern regions of what would Arizona and New Mexico.

The strangest part of the story is that after a brief imprisonment, Geronimo moved to Oklahoma, became a Christian and was a successful farmer. He did some work as an army scout, and then became a rehabilitated (call it exploitation if you want to) symbol of the Wild West.  He did high profile celebrity gigs at world’s fairs and expositions, and rode in Teddy Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905.

Call it a sell-out if you want to.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Yore word fur today


More or less, whatever you’re thinking, there’s a word for that.

I love words, so it’s a treat to stumble on an obscure example of a delicious word for what passes for a trick-or-treat foray into the English language.

This word isn’t in any of the dictionaries I consulted.

Here’s the best definition I found for acyrologia: “An incorrect use of words, especially the use of words that sound alike but are far in meaning from the speaker’s intentions.”

I could mention a pueblo of witty stuff that comes to mind, but I recline to do that. I’ll just quote a synonymous whit who said “…for all intensive purposes, this is a Pullet Surprise winner.”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, September 7, 2015

In search of….music

by Juhan Liiv

I read darn little poetry, modern or traditional, that I like a lot. I know that doesn’t make me special, it makes me ordinary.

So it’s more than a fleeting thrill for me to read a poem that deserves to be read more than once, deserves to be read aloud.

I think this is one of them:


It must be somewhere, the original harmony,
somewhere in great nature, hidden.
Is it in the furious infinite,
in distant stars' orbits,
is it in the sun's scorn,
in a tiny flower, in treegossip,
in heartmusic's mothersong
or in tears?
It must be somewhere, immortality,
somewhere the original harmony must be found:
how else could it infuse
the human soul,
that music?

Liiv is an Estonian poet who hit his mark here. His topic is intuitive, but his is a rare kind of intuition: everyone knows what music is, but thinking about the first music and who made it and how is not something you hear about at the lunch table.

His musing about the essential nature of “the original harmony” is a premier exhibition of imagination and word craft—“furious infinite,” “treegossip,” “the sun’s scorn,” “heartmusic,” I could go on, but he did it so much better.

For my taste, the word “immortality” should be “immortal.” I venture to suspect that “immortality” is a typo in the translation from Liiv’s Estonian.

Wish I could read Estonian.

“Music” was originally published in Poetry, June 2011

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Not your daddy’s bookshelf

When somebody mentions “a few books on the little table in the music room,” this is what comes to my mind:

When I read an old book, I can imagine the reader in a previous era who spent some time with eyes and fingers on the same pages. I guess that reader didn’t think of the book as a time traveler, or of me as a kindred spirit taking similar enjoyment and learning from the author’s work.

A 100-year-old book has so much more connective energy than a 100-year-old milk bottle or a 100-year-old chair. An old book smells better, too.

In about 92 years, a 100-year-old book is going to have so much more connective energy than a 100-year-old Kindle. Better smell, too.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Beef and poop, an American story

Your burger can bite you.

Try not to think about ordering your burger “rare.”

Here’s the sad but true backstory: the folks at Consumer Reports visited 103 stores in 26 cities and bought 458 pounds of ground beef. Pound by pound, they tested the raw meat for contamination.

“All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination” is the finding reported by The New York Times Daily Digest.

Ground beef storage unit

Try saying it this way: all of the meat had vestigial poop in it. Salmonella was detected in 1 per cent of the samples.

The Department of Agriculture interpreted the report as “good news” because no bad E. coli had been found. The North American Meat Institute pointed out that the occurrences of bacteria were “far below U. S. D. A performance standards.”

Note that the federal standard is that it’s OK to have salmonella in up to 7.5 percent of meat samples. I guess the folks at Agriculture are happily convinced that every consumer handles raw meat in sterile conditions from start to finish, and fully cooks all portions of meat before the kids or Gramma eat anything.

You should fully cook beef to at least 160 degrees.

Or don’t eat ground beef.

Turkey burgers are pretty good. I like to toast my bun.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.