Thursday, September 29, 2016

Heard this one before?

Think back to the antebellum South, in 1850.

The census of that year shows that, of roughly 660,000 households in the southern states, the 1,000 leading households of the plantation elite received about $50 million in annual income. 

The rest of the population earned only about $60 million annually.

Can you say “inequality”?

Any part of this sound familiar?


Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1492-Present (1980; repr., New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005), 236.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What happened to the cream?....

My trusted personal advisor shared this insight about inspired management and charismatic leadership:

An acquaintance who had worked at Walt Disney World during most of the 1970s recalled that each area of the park and each attraction had a daily designated "Lead," that is, an hourly employee who was temporarily paid $1 extra per hour and had limited authority and responsibility to make on-the-spot decisions regarding any facet of that area's or that attraction's immediate need.

The “Lead” was particularly focused on the “magic,” making sure that the guests had a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience. If you were at Disney at that time, as a cast member or guest, you know what I mean.

This system worked pretty well, and a "higher up" manager was rarely ever called in to make a final decision.

Fast forward to 1993. Disney had eliminated its reliance on a designated “Lead” hourly worker, and, of course, stopped giving extra pay to the designees. The expectation in the executive suite was that when an on-the-spot decision needed to be made “the cream would rise to the top," in Disney management's exact words, and that a self-motivated employee would step up and make the call.

Overall, it was a huge failure. Disney execs couldn't understand why the areas and attractions fell so quickly into mismanagement, why there was extensive down time, why the "good people" quit, and why there was a notable loss of "magic" in the Park….

….ummm, d’ya think of any possible explanation?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Where it's at

Language is so endlessly entertaining.

Noises that mean stuff. Sometimes even noises that sound good that mean stuff.

Sometimes slightly wacky noises that mean little stuff.

I know, you’re tapping your fingers and saying, “Example, please.”

Consider the "at-sign."

In Denmark it’s called the “snabel-a”—the elephant’s trunk-a
In Holland it’s called “apenstaartje”—monkey’s tail
In Russia it’s “sobachka”—little dog
In Germany the word is “klammeraffe”—hanging monkey

Why do we call it the “at-sign” in the English-speaking world?

One story is that medieval monks devised this symbol to represent the word “at” in the days before printing presses, when all books were written and copied by hand. It was just a shortcut.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The wisdom of W. H. Auden

“…the only one who ever lived…”

Probably you’ve heard of Wystan Hugh (W. H.) Auden (1907-1973), a renowned English poet who became an American citizen and wrote poetry all over the place. Not my favorite poetry, by the way, just sayin’….

Auden was capable of disarming candor and he was willing to look in the mirror while his pen was moving:

“No poet or novelist wishes he were the only one who ever lived, but most of them wish they were the only one alive, and quite a number fondly believe their wish has been granted.”

If you’re a poet or a novelist, try saying it ain’t so.

I’m a poet.

I’ll try again.

Auden quote from The Dyer’s Hand (Vintage, 1962, 1989), his collection of prose commentary on poetry, art and life, as cited in The Best American Poetry 2008, Scribner Poetry, New York, 2008, xiii.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

American elections aren’t rigged

Once again, let’s be clear on this: voter fraud doesn’t exist in the United States.

Here are the numbers:
About one billion—that’s 1,000,000,000--votes were cast in elections all over the country during 2000-2014, a 15-year sample.

There were 31 reports of possible voter impersonation fraud.

That’s 31 out of 1,000,000,000.

Here’s another way to understand that:

Say there are 500 people voting in your election precinct. The teeny number of possible fraud cases suggests that in your precinct, once every 32,000 years or so, someone might try to impersonate another voter.

We don’t need any restrictive voting laws to fight “voter fraud.”

Data from New York Times editorial, September 20, 2016

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Better than releasing Trump’s tax returns

Trump’s hiding stuff by refusing to release his tax returns. We all know that.

The New York Times says that Trump and all his companies have pulled in at least $885 million in “tax breaks, grants and other subsidies” in New York for all of his real estate projects.

Here’s my idea: if Trump pays back the whole $885 million before November 8, I’ll stop clamoring for him to release his tax returns.

The guy’s worth billions, right? Does anybody think he couldn’t afford to do that?

The payback wouldn’t make him presidential material, but it would be the right thing to do.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Another legal way to stop Trump

Count on Garrison Keillor (the Lake Wobegon guy) to bring a fresh perspective to the current dangerous corruption of our political process. At, he wrote:

“A week ago, a panhandler in Times Square sat holding a sign reading, ‘Give me a dollar or I’ll vote for Trump,’ and people laughed and reached into their pockets. His bucket overflowed.”

Keep a few singles in your pocket in case you walk past that guy or someone he’s talked to.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pricetag on bigotry

What does bigotry cost? Well, for starters, in North Carolina, it costs more than $200 million.

You remember this: the Republican-dominated legislature in North Carolina passed H.B.2 earlier this year, to prevent transgender people from using the public bathroom of their choice.

So far, that hateful act has cost the state and its business community and its citizens hundreds of jobs and more than $200 million in taxes and business revenues.

Why? One high-profile answer is: the NCAA canceled seven big sports events—including the NBA All Star game—that were scheduled in North Carolina this year. Another answer: Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert. Other businesses, organizations and musicians canceled performances, conventions and building projects.

Bigotry hurts. In many ways.

p.s. Really stupid bigotry hurts just as much as the other kind. This bathroom law was always unenforceable—no one ever thought the police would order sports fans in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to drop their pants for inspection before using the toilet.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Don’t vote for Johnson or Stein “to make a statement”

Paul Krugman laid it right out in yesterday’s New York Times:
"Nobody cares” if you vote for Johnson or Stein on November 8 because you want to raise the middle digit to "the system."

Krugman’s key point: Clinton or Trump will be the next president of the United
States, so “don’t vote for a minor-party candidate [just] to make a statement. Nobody cares.”

Rightly enough, he says that if you really think Johnson or Stein, and the platforms of the Libertarian  Party or the Green Party, are right for America and they should have the power of the presidency, then by all means vote for one of them.

But. Seriously.

Krugman bets that many Johnson/Stein supporters are mostly anti-Trump/anti-Clinton kinds of people, who haven’t read those party platforms and really haven’t thought through the consequences of Johnson or Stein getting to redecorate the Oval Office.

Here’s Krugman summarizing the Libertarian platform:
“…it calls for abolition of the income tax and the privatization of almost everything the government does, including education. What really struck me, however, was what the platform says about the environment.
It opposes any kind of regulation; instead, it argues that we can rely on the courts. Is a giant corporation poisoning the air you breathe or the water you drink? Just sue: ‘Where dam­ages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.’ Ordinary citizens against teams of high-priced corporate lawyers — what could go wrong?”

Here’s my simple summary of the Green platform:
It's chock full of really good, really feel-good, and mostly unrealistic ideas that have nothing in particular to do with world trade or job creation or infrastructure investment or effective regulation of the financial markets or health care reform or bipartisan government or…..

Neither Johnson nor Stein is going to win the election.

If you strongly endorse elements of either or both of these platforms, image what will happen if Trump wins the presidency?

Krugman again: “Your vote matters, and you should act accordingly—which means thinking seriously about what you want to see happen to America.”

photo from
Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, September 19, 2016

That bone thing….

After attending a party with lots of saxophone players doing their thing, Herb Alpert (the Tijuana Brass guy) said:
“Man, you know, these young guys they know all the modes, they know all the chords, they can play high and low and fast, and they can do amazing things, but the one thing they don’t know how to do is leave the bone alone.”

OK, now, I’m going to stick with my understanding of “leave the bone alone” and you can do the same.

Let’s agree on this much: there’s a lot more to the bone than usually meets the eye, and it’s a real good idea to know some stuff about that, and it isn’t real important to nail down the entire meaning with inarguable precision, and it’s got something to do with mojo and jive and McCoy and star stuff and the real nitty-gritty….

Here we go, Thelonious Monk can help us out on this: “Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by.”

Spoiler alert: tomorrow it might be a different bone.

Herb Alpert quote from The Best American Poetry 2008, New York: Scribner Poetry, 2008, introduction by Charles Wright, xiii.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Not exactly a beach book....

I am particularly strong on urging every single person to make a best effort every day to do what’s at the top of his or her TO DO list.

So when I found out that Dr. Toby Wilkinson, an Egyptologist at Clare College, Cambridge, has published a translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics intended for a mass audience, my first thought was “Go for it, Toby!”

Now I’m having second thoughts. Roughly a couple million books are published every year. The books in my personal collection are stacked higher than my head along a wall in the basement. I haven’t read all of them yet. I think I’m going to pass on Writings from Ancient Egypt.

Here are a few excerpts, courtesy of

Letters written by a farmer called Heqanakht date from 1930BC but reflect modern concerns, from land management to grain quality. He writes to his steward: “Be extra dutiful in cultivating. Watch out that my barley-seed is guarded.”

Turning to domestic matters, he sends greetings to his son Sneferu, his “pride and joy, a thousand times, a million times”, and urges the steward to stop the housemaid bullying his wife: “You are the one who lets her do bad things to my wife … Enough of it!”

Other texts include the Tempest Stela. While official inscriptions generally portray an ideal view of society, this records a cataclysmic thunderstorm: “It was dark in the west and the sky was filled with storm clouds without [end and thunder] more than the noise of a crowd … The irrigated land had been deluged, the buildings cast down, the chapels destroyed … total destruction.”


If you were thinking maybe it would be something like “Downton Abbey,” or maybe Fifty Shades of Grey, or maybe “The Simpsons” with cats and pyramids, think again….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The other boondoggler….

The horror of Trump’s lies continues.

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan is still doing his thing, inviting careless journalists to call him a policy wonk while he continues to offer the standard claptrap about helping Americans by giving more money to the super rich. pointed out yesterday that the latest incarnation of House Speaker Ryan’s “tax plan” would funnel 99.6 percent of the proposed tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, according to the Tax Policy Center.

The stupefying bottom line: the 1 percenters would get average annual savings of about $240,000 per household.

Last year, the median household income for all Americans was $56,500—that’s the median, meaning half had more and half had less.

So Ryan’s tax chicanery means that the richest 1% would get tax SAVINGS equal to more than four times the amount of PRE-TAX total income that the median household earned last year.

That’s not a tax plan. That’s legalized robbery.

Let’s not even talk about what the Republicans want to do about business taxes.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Play time

It doesn’t hurt to admit the truth about thinking—thinking doesn’t always have to be hard work.

The teeter-totter and the carousel and the monkey bars build strong bodies, sure, and they also offer a workout for the old brain….try using them, and throw in the sandbox and the swing, too, the next time you’re thinking about what the heck is going on in the real world….

Let some of the innocence of a child into your thoughts. 

Inner child

Callow thoughts scamper

in the playground of my mind,

whither wisdom comes.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dem bones….

So often I read a poem that seems to be plain vanilla except for that one ring-ding technicolor phrase or image that just hangs around my ear, waiting for me to hear it one more time.

So, here are a couple excerpts from Debra Nystrom’s “Restless After School,” it begins matter-of-factly with
 “Nothing to do but scuff down
the graveyard road behind the playground…”

and briefly recounts the mildly wayward excursion of a few girls who headed for the river after school to hang out around the rusty truck relic and do nothing much,

and then it just bright-lights my poem nerve with this ending
“Stretched across the blistered hood, we let
our dresses catch the wind while clouds above
dimmed their pink to purple, then shadow-blue—
So slow, we listened to our own bones grow.”

Now there’s a beat, that bone thing. That’s a tempo I’d like to get to know a little better.

From Nystrom’s book, Night Sky Frequencies (Sheep Meadow Press)
As posted on on September 12, 2016

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book review: The Witches: Salem, 1692

Book review: The Witches: Salem, 1692
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2015
498 pages

It may be that Stacy Schiff has neglected to include some fact or sentiment about the Salem witch trials, but I can’t imagine what it might be. The Witches is an expansive compendium of the whos and whats and whys and wherefores of this compelling—yet essentially impenetrable—story about a community gone crazy.

Maybe you had to be there to understand it.

It’s too easy to suggest the McCarthy Communism hunting in 1954 as a modern analogy, but it won’t work. The whole dreadful McCarthy thing was a political football, approaching a sideshow even though it attracted the nominal attention of the nation and destroyed many lives.

The Salem witch trials and the witch hunting that went on in neighboring towns were endorsed at all levels of leadership. The trials consumed the waking hours of all the townsfolk, who were deeply convinced that witches exist and that they were in league with satanic forces.

For my taste, Schiff tells too much of the story. I would have been content with a less detailed account. There is repetition that is dispensable.

For my taste, she struck a good balance between telling the story as it happened, and inviting the reader to suspect that the teenage girls were fooling all along, and that too many accusers had a personal reason to “get” the accused, and that too many religious and civic leaders struggled unsuccessfully with their religious faith and the opposing impulses of their arguably decent selves who quickly figured out that the witch craze was a very nasty game.

You don’t need to read the whole book to figure out that there was some very destructive bogus stuff going on in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692.

Maybe you don’t need to read the whole book to be convinced that some folks aren’t continuously motivated by a decent streak of good will and a desire to support communal well-being.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.