Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Great War….not

“FLASH: More than 6,000 American soldiers killed yesterday in Afghanistan.”

Of course it’s not true. It’s not even remotely imaginable, either.

100 years ago, that kind of body count was completely imaginable, In fact, it was so routine it wasn’t even reported in large headlines.

Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War: Explaining World War I makes plain what we can’t understand today: in almost 4½ years of desperately bloody fighting, the good guys (Entente) and the bad guys (German-dominated Central Powers) killed about 9 million men, more than 6,000 per day, every day, for roughly 1,500 days.

Here’s a specific: on July 1, 1916, British and French troops went over the top at the Somme River. At day's end, the British had almost 60,000 casualties, including about 20,000 dead. Almost 2 out of 3 British officers who led the assault were killed.

They would have had trouble keeping up with the burials during WWI if massive artillery barrages hadn’t literally blown to bits so many of the dead.

A survivor recalled that the repeatedly churned earth around the trenches and in No Man’s Land was almost impossibly fetid because it was actually saturated with bits of decomposing human flesh.

What kept the men in those deadly trenches? Ferguson says ”…men stuck by their pals or mates…But the crucial point is that men fought because they did not mind fighting…murder and death were not the things soldiers disliked about the war…revenge was a motivation…Others undoubtedly relished killing for its own sake…men underrated their own chances of being killed…most men assumed the bells of hell would not ring for them…”

Of course now we can say it was not “a lovely war.” It should have been unendurable, but it wasn’t….

Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War: Explaining World War I (New York: Basic Books, Perseus Books Group, 1998, repr. 1999), 436, 446-47.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Friday, May 29, 2015

“I don’t remember the title…”

Sometimes you need more than a little help from your friendly librarian….

Don’t hesitate to ask.

Or just start looking at the blue books, and pick one you like.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

“I didn’t think I was going that fast, officer”

Almost 115 years ago, Connecticut became the first state to set speed limits for motor vehicles. Wanna take a guess?

In cities, 12 mph. On country roads, 15 mph.

The law passed in May 1901 required auto drivers to slow down when approaching horse-drawn vehicles, and stop to let them pass, if necessary to avoid spooking the animals.

Speed limits and regulation of drivers and their vehicles didn’t exactly spread like wildfire. By 1930, a dozen states still had no speed limits and 28 states didn’t even require a license for drivers.

It all seems rather quaint, yet all too familiar. Sensible regulation lags far behind technological change.

Consider: the first motor vehicle accident in the United States had already occurred in 1891 in Ohio.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Babe’s last homer

Babe Ruth stopped playing baseball 80 years ago. He was a Depression Era celebrity. I didn’t realize the whole Bambino thing was that long ago.

George Herman Ruth (1895-1948) was a “bad boy” kind of kid, his parents sent him to an orphanage and he stayed there until the Baltimore Orioles signed him as a pitcher when he was 19 years old. The rest is history.

The Sultan of Swat hit his last home run on May 25, 1935, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. That was number 714, a career record that stood for almost 40 years. In fact, the Babe hit three home runs that day and drove in six runs.

The Boston Red Sox bought Ruth’s contract soon after he started playing ball. He was a standout pitcher for the Sox, and did noble work on the mound as the high-flying Red Sox went to the World Series three times during his tenure.

In what turned out to be one of the worst trades in baseball history, the Sox sent the Babe to the New York Yankees before the 1920 season. I think everyone on the planet knows how long it took the Red Sox to get back to the World Series. (Hint: 86 years).

By the standards of his time, Babe Ruth got rich playing baseball. In 1930, the Yanks paid him $80,000, roughly equivalent to $1,240,000 today….and that was before TV broadcast revenues corrupted the culture of pro sports salaries.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Thelma & Louise, R. I. P.

It’s almost 25 years since “Thelma & Louise” hit the big screen in May 1991 and instantly became a hit, with sublimely paired performances by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. Callie Khouri won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

T&L has big bawdy action, two all-American rough-and-ready heroines—Sarandon shoots the bad guy in the chest, just like that, a righteous shoot if ever there was one—and a searing final scene that tears your heart out.

T&L is crazy and unbelievable, with a sophomoric silliness about the plot twists, and the spectacular you-didn’t-see-it-coming ending that defies straight thinking.

I think T&L is a captivating invitation to do some serious out-of-the-box sympathizing with two women who finally get some potent excitement in their lives, who are tired of getting the crappy end of the stick, who know with depressing exactitude just exactly where they were going right and just exactly where they went wrong, who understand that Harvey the cop wants to help them, who realize that the only help they’re going to get is from each other, who finally understand that holding hands and pedal-to-the-metal is as good as it gets….

I think “Thelma & Louise” demands respect, I think it gives every viewer a chance to think hard about what’s-good-in-my-life, I think it opens a window for every viewer to imagine what it would be like to finally have it all, with someone you love, if ever so briefly, even in mid-air….

The Graduate....once is enough

Brokeback Mountain

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.

p.s. My trusted history consultant tells me that the first “transcontinental” railroad in the Americas predates the whole Promontory/golden spike extravaganza by more than 14 years. In January 1855, the Panama Rail Road Company completed a 48-mile line that connected Panama’s east coast/Atlantic Ocean with the west coast/Pacific Ocean, the same ocean-to-ocean connection achieved by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads in 1869. Many of the passengers on the Panama line were prospective gold miners heading to California—they were Johnny-come-latelies in the 1849 Gold Rush.

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.

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.