Monday, November 30, 2015



Holding hands,
   we drift to dreams and easy sleep,
our touching is a grace of love,
   this long embrace is ours to keep.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Published Sep 20, 2015 in Whispers

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Evolution “deniers”

Charles Darwin went to his printer 156 years ago with the book that stood science, philosophy, religion and mankind on their collective heads.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life  was a smash hit—in the bookshops, at least. The first press run of 1,250 copies sold out quickly, and the book went through six editions in 13 years.

A few years ago a first edition copy was sold by Christie’s for $194,500. Bibliophiles guess that perhaps 1,000 copies of the first edition are still tucked away in institutional and private libraries.
Several of them are sold every year.

You probably know that, although the book enjoyed some degree of popularity among both scientists and late 19th century popular science readers, Darwin’s startling conclusion that human beings evolved from ape-like ancestors was wildly debated and disputed immediately after he published the book. The debate, dispute and denial continues today.

It seems to me that the “evolution deniers” got a 100-year head start on the today’s global climate change deniers.

For some folks, it is an apparently enduring capacity of human nature to ignore facts and scientifically rigorous thinking when some combination of ignorance, myth, belief, greed and fear makes it comfortable to do so.

Read here about the other evolution theorist, Alfred Russel Wallace

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Revolutionary War didn’t end at Yorktown

If you’re interested in early American history you probably recall that the British surrendered to George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.

Hold it. The Revolutionary War didn’t end there.

In the two years following Yorktown, there were hundreds of skirmishes and combat encounters, largely in the American South, between soldiers of the Continental and British armies, and among pro-American and pro-British militias and many American Indian warriors.

King George III didn’t get around to issuing his Proclamation of Cessation of Hostilities until February 3, 1783.

On the high seas, after Yorktown, there were continuing naval encounters involving privateers and both Continental Navy and Royal Navy vessels as late as March 1783.

Washington enters New York City in November 1783

The war ended officially when the Treaty of Paris was finally signed on September 3, 1783.
News traveled slowly in those days. The last contingent of British troops in North America left New York City on November 26, 1783.

Read this review of Don Glickstein’s book After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence:

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

At the juncture

Worlds, whirling, waiting….

I whirl and stretch to the horizon….

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pulling the curtain away….

It is a persistent mystery and a matter of despair to me that poor and minority voters in red states seem to support conservative Republican congresspersons who publicly and consistently vote against the personal economic interests of their poor and minority constituents.

Alec MacGillis on has drawn the curtain back, a bit.

The explanation—at least, part of it—is simple: many of the folks who receive government “safety net” support are indifferent to the whole politics caboodle, and they don’t vote. In many Republican strongholds, their neighbors who are higher on the socio-economic scale do vote, and they elect the fire-breathing Republicans who badmouth welfare “dependency” and want to cut social benefits.

MacGillis makes a point of mentioning that in eastern Kentucky and parts of West Virginia and in other states where there are long-standing pockets of depressed communities and “people on welfare,” some of the folks who are recently poor or just one step up—some kind of job, maybe still getting some benefits—are disdainful of the people who are still living on welfare.

“The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.”

MacGillis clarifies the disconnect between “politics” and Americans who are poor, jobless, and disadvantaged in many ways:

“In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.”

So, the obvious question is not “Why are these folks voting for Republicans who will make their lives worse?”

The question is “Why aren’t these folks voting?”

For that matter, let’s just broaden the scope of our discussion here:

A central problem of our democracy is that it isn’t working, because too many people aren’t voting.

Why isn’t that issue a prime topic of discussion in the debates and the talk shows and in the public arena?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, November 23, 2015

I still don’t know who shot J. R.

It was 35 years ago.

More than 3 out of 4 American households—and half of the adults in this great land—tuned in to “Dallas” to finally learn who shot J. R.

Around the world, 350 million people watched the first episode of the third season of the blockbuster primetime “drama” to get the low-down on the low-down skulker who did the deed.

Some people didn’t watch the show. Like me. You can read all about it here. I’ll be honest, I skimmed the story on and I still don’t know the name of the shooter.

Ignorance shall be my penalty.

I’m gonna guess that the number of folks in the U. S. who know that name is larger than the number of folks who know when the Constitution was ratified, and larger than the number of folks who know what “arsenal of democracy” means.

Go figure.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Immigrants are your neighbors

There’s a good chance that somebody on your block, or in your office, or in the church pew in front of you, or in your bowling league is an immigrant.

The Pew Research Center says there are 45 million immigrants in the United States now. That’s about 14 percent of the population, about 1 of every 7 people.

Immigrants aren’t “other” people.

Immigrants are some of your neighbors and co-workers, immigrants are your doctor or the pilot on your next flight, immigrants bag your groceries and clean your house and teach your kids.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

“Free market” at work

In the last 10 years Wal-Mart has opened almost 1,500 new stores in the U. S., increasing its square footage of retail space by about 45 percent.

Wal-Mart sales are up 50 percent in the same period.

Wal-Mart execs forgot to hire more clerks and cashiers—the workforce has grown only 8 percent in the last decade.

Who do you think benefitted from the 50 percent increase in sales?

What do you think happened to customer service at Wal-Mart in the past 10 years?

Yup, it’s the “free market” at work.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Be a saver

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. To my dismay, I find that much of it I don’t like much.

I’m reacting to phrases and images in poems that seem to miss the mark in their entirety, but whose elements—in context, and, it seems, in isolation—are memorable.

Billy Collins wrote “This Much I Do Remember” and captured a number of prettily-done images from the kind of moment that pops in our awareness from time to time….the poet may be able to make it last, and may be able to share it with a willing reader….

The notion of a “…random still life…” appeals to me, a tableau not contrived, perhaps a transient convergence of objects and ambiance.

His image of “…a darkness behind the eyes…” is an expansive adaptation of the dimensions of meaning in familiar words brought together in an unfamiliar vision.

He creates another treasure with “…the small coin of the moment…”

I want to save these threads of romance in poetry, these small coins of the currency of language that delights me and offers delight to anyone.

Read Collins’ whole text here on the website "A Year Of Being Here"

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Keeping track of time

North American time zones were established 132 years ago by the big American and Canadian railroad companies that decided they could no longer keep track of the different local times observed in every town on their transcontinental routes.

The four time zones we have today—Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific—were created on November 18, 1883,with roughly their current boundaries by arbitrary action of the railroads. Almost immediately there was widespread adoption of the new time conventions.

Dotted lines are 1883 time zone boundaries

Previously, almost every town in America followed the ancient custom of establishing 12:00 pm at the time that the sun was at its highest in the sky. The railroads had the incredibly confusing task of publishing train schedules that tried to keep track of every locally designated arrival and departure time on every route.

In the early stages of railroad travel the problem wasn’t really acute, because trains moved relatively slowly. As speeds increased, the number of towns on a typical day-trip route increased, thus greatly complicating the preparation and publication of train schedules, and frustrating the highly publicized efforts of railroads to “run on time.” Moreover, a traveler faced the unprecedented challenge of covering enough distance in a short time to make it obligatory to adjust his timepiece repeatedly.

The four time zones were universally recognized but they weren’t officially endorsed by the federal government until 1918, when Congress put the administration of time zones under the control of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Jill Lepore on political polls

Jill Lepore is a Harvard history professor who writes sensibly and knowledgeably about everything she writes about. (She’s been a New Yorker staff writer for 10 years).

Recently Lepore took a stab at describing the squalid reality of public opinion polling and political polling.

Take the time to read the whole piece here:

A blog-size summary won’t do her piece justice. It suffices to repeat this excerpt:
“As these and other critics have demonstrated again and again, a sizable number of people polled either know nothing about the matters those polls purport to measure or hold no opinion about them.”
And this one:
“ ‘The first question a pollster should ask,’ the sociologist Leo Bogart advised in 1972, is “Have you thought about this at all? Do you have an opinion?” ’ ”

There’s also the technical problem, which Lepore mentions: response rates to modern polling are down below 10 per cent. Thus, no poll results represent a legitimate sample of any group of people, and, thus, no poll results can be statistically validated within an error range, and, thus, no one can say with any realistic confidence what the poll results actually mean. Period.

I managed market research and opinion surveys for more than 35 years. I understand too well that pollsters today are furiously cooking the results to pretend that they have surveyed a representative sample.

The survey results that are reported now for public consumption are garbage. Period.

Don’t bother participating the next time you get a call asking for your opinion. Your answers are going to be french-fried by the pollster before the report is published. Whatever you might say really doesn’t matter a whole lot.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

“Then, turn, my feet…”

My poem, “It’s my move,” was published on the Whispers poetry website:

It’s my move

Swing, my arms. Whirl me.
Touch my world, fingers. Make me feel.
Run, my legs. Move me.
   Take me somewhere.
See, my eyes. Yearn, my heart.
   Tempt me. Test me. Snare me.
      Make me content.
Then, turn, my feet. Take me home,
   but take a new road.

(Previously published in The Australia Times Poetry Magazine, October 2015 -- It's My Move)

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Poetry and such….

Whispers is a poetry website that offers quite a range of poetic talent and styles, check it out here:

The editor, Karen O’Leary, has accepted a few of my poems for publication:

A couple months ago I offered these couplets for a monthly exercise featured on Whispers:

Holding hands, we drift to dreams and easy sleep,
our touching is a grace of love, this long embrace is ours to keep. 

First Words
He’s in full voice, it fills the ear,
the sounds of love are what we hear.

I’m not sure if there’s something on the Whispers website for every taste, but I imagine it reflects many expressions of contemporary poetry.

I’ll mention a personal quibble with the haiku poets who don’t follow any obvious pattern of phrasing and syllable count and word count, although I’m quite willing to accept different strokes for different folks.

I choose to strictly follow the “traditional” haiku constraints of three lines with 5-7-5 syllable counts—I think that choosing to write in the minimalist haiku genre implies a readiness to adopt the pattern that creates a frame of reference and a stylistic discipline for this poetic style. I suggest that a collection of very short poem-like phrases with no common elements, and with seemingly random line lengths and word counts, and with obscurely disjoint words, is indeed a collection of very short poem-like phrases, but not a style.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Book review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Boston: Beacon Press, 2014

This is a book about the history of the United States, and the concurrent histories of the indigenous peoples who lived in North America before there was a “United States.” Surely you already know, deeply or vaguely, that these are violent histories of conflict, betrayal and subjugation.

Full disclosure: this is not an easy book. If you are an American historian or a student of American history, you should read it. Don’t expect to enjoy it. Dunbar-Ortiz frankly admits that she had “grave misgivings” about her mandate to “write accessibly so it would engage multiple audiences.”  She uses the word “genocide” a half dozen times in the first few pages, and repeatedly thereafter, and this sets a tone for the entire book.

Here are selected chapter sub-headings—they’re not a representative sample, but they are illustrative:
  • White Supremacy and Class
  • Roots of Genocide
  • Settler-Parasites Create the Virginia Colony
  • Career Building Through Genocide
  • The Genocidal Army of the West
  • Greed is Good
  • North America is a Crime Scene
Dunbar-Ortiz concludes by endorsing a Native American historian’s observation that “…while living persons are not responsible for what their ancestors did, they are responsible for the society they live in, which is a product of that past.” The author argues for “honoring the treaties…restoring all sacred sites, starting with the Black Hills and including most federally held parks…[restoring] all stolen sacred items and body parts…payment of sufficient reparations for the reconstruction and expansion of Native nations.”

That is a conclusion of historic proportions that engages multiple audiences. Dunbar-Ortiz had grave misgivings before she wrote this book. I think many readers will feel the same.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It’s not in the cards

We’d save a lot of time and money—and put a dent in global disappointments—if we would just stop trying to predict the future.

I’m not talking about refusing to claim that the sun will rise in the east next Tuesday.

I’m not talking about the meteorologist who forecasts that it will rain in the Chicago area in the next six hours.

I’m not talking about the guy who says “My wife isn’t going to like this one bit.”

I’m not talking about treating worsening global climate change as a life-threatening certainty.

I’m talking about predicting a bear market on Wall Street. I’m talking about the jabbering about who’s going to be the Republican presidential nominee. I’m talking about experts who insist on predicting next month’s employment figures.

It’s just not possible to forecast a contingent future event with any precision. Too many variables. 
Too many unknowables.

A few years ago Philip Tetlock (Expert Political Judgment, 2005) analyzed 82,361 predictions offered by 284 acclaimed “experts” in various fields, including journalism, economics and political science.

His findings: about 15 percent of the events classified as “no way” actually happened, and roughly 27 percent of the “oh yeah, bet on it” events somehow didn’t become reality. In a New York Times book review, Tetlock was quoted saying these “experts” did about as well as “a dart-throwing chimp.” I’ll rub it in by mentioning that the chimps will work for bananas.

Most of the “experts” who forecast next month’s national employment numbers get it wrong every single month.

Why do we keep paying attention to them?

Why do we keep paying the “experts” to make wrong guesses about the future?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The way the “free market” works

It’s been more than six years since the end of the Great Recession that was caused by the financial meltdown that was caused by financiers and bankers and lenders who went out of control in their criminal quest for more profits.

In that time the average hourly wage of all American employees has risen less than 1.8 percent.

Inflation is up almost 11 percent.

Corporate profits are up about 77 percent.

You do the math.

Here’s another dreadful fact:

The New York Times reports that “the share of corporate income going to workers has sunk to the lowest level since 1951.”

Why are the owners and CEOs and executives and directors of American businesses keeping most of the money for themselves?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Friday, November 6, 2015

More U. S. breweries than ever before

Probably you were wondering how many breweries are making beer in the United States.

The Brewers Association says about 700 small independent breweries set up shop in the past year, and the total number in the U. S. is on track to exceed the record number of 4,131 breweries set way back in 1873.

These days the boutique breweries are called “craft brewers,” I think that’s the current term for what we old-timers used to call microbreweries.

Americans chug down about 200 million barrels of beer annually—that’s over 6 billion gallons of suds.

Beer is indigenous in America. Native Americans made beer—one recipe used maize, birch sap and water—long before Europeans arrived with their Old World brewing techniques.

A lot has changed on the American beer scene since the Boston Beer Co. got things rolling with Sam Adams beer in 1984. Sam Adams started out as a tantalizing microbrew—I’ll be honest, it never was a hit with me—and now Boston Beer is so big that new craft brewers are starting to steal its market share.

One stalwart is D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc., America’s oldest (and still family owned) brewery that was established in 1829 in Pottsville, PA. I’ve toured the brewery there, it’s built into the side of a hill and the finished beer is still stored in cool caves underground on the site. If you think you’ve found a beer that tastes better than Yuengling lager, maybe you’ve had a bit too much to drink.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The art of Robert Louis Stevenson (part 2)

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (1850-1894)
Scottish novelist, poet, all-purpose writer, composer

If you had a childhood and if you can read, likely you need no introduction to Robert Louis Stevenson or some of his justly famous books:
Treasure Island.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The Master of Ballantrae.

Did you know he was a poet? A composer?

Stevenson at 7

Stevenson wrote nearly 250 poems, some of them as lighthearted as this excerpt from “My Shadow,” part of his “Child’s Garden of Verses” collection:

“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
 And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
 He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
 And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.”

Stevenson played piano and flageolet (a variety of the fipple flute, some similarities to a recorder), and he wrote almost 125 original compositions for those instruments and for clarinet, violin, guitar and mandolin.

He was a writer for all seasons, and is widely popular among non-English-speaking readers. Around the world, only 25 writers have been translated more than Stevenson.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Then turn, my feet....

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Movin’ on….

….my poem about doin’ it my way….

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