Friday, July 31, 2015

Forget "poachers," think human nature....


“Save the ______” —you can fill in the blank with the animal of your choice.

Does this plea make sense?

I think it’s a desperate uphill slog to believe that human nature can be persuaded by such moral crusades.

“Save the Elephant” says a recent opinion piece by Lydia Millet in the Sunday New York Times.

The argument is simple: poachers are rapidly hunting elephants to extinction, and the countries that buy the most ivory—China and the United States—aren’t doing anything effective to stop the slaughter. In Africa, an elephant is killed about every 14 minutes.

I love some animals. I probably “like” animals a bit less than a lot of people do, and normally I don’t add my voice to the “Save the ______” chorus.

I think the main point is this: are we likely to be successful if we apply great energies to persuading or forcing wrong-doers, like elephant poachers, to stop doing the wrong thing?






Reluctantly, I suspect the answer is “No.”









Math and human nature are the controlling factors. I’m willing to argue—and believe—that most human beings don’t support and would spend modest sums to stop the illegal, destructive elephant poaching that is going to wipe elephants (and new ivory) off the face of the earth.

The intractable problem is that there will always be a small and renewable number of people who will do just about anything, legal or illegal, to make a buck today without a care for tomorrow or, specifically, for the future survivability of elephants.

I make a point of saying “renewable” because even if we could find and execute every active elephant poacher and all of his relatives tomorrow, by the end of the week some new bad guys would be stalking elephants and doing the bad thing.

The poachers most likely have the ability to wipe out the elephants.

I don’t think we could ever wipe out the poachers, as long as good folks in China and America and elsewhere want to keep on buying ivory and pretend that it's all legal.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

“Oceanfront property”…..uh oh


A new report on climate change includes this devastating wake-up item:

Almost 130 million Americans live in a coastal county with a salt water shoreline.

Nearly half of Americans are more or less on the front lines of the coming-your-way calamities tied to global climate change, like rising sea levels and higher-than-normal storm surges.


Almost 2.5 million Americans own homes that are less than four feet above the current high tide line—that’s about 1.3 million homes that are going to be uninhabitable soon. Check to see if your bank owns any of those mortgages. Ask your insurance company how many homeowner’s policies it has on those homes.

If the sea level rises three feet, big chunks of waterfront property in Boston will cease being waterfront property, because, you know….

Worldwide, almost 650 million people live less than 30 feet above sea level.

In plenty of places around the world, in the next couple decades, there are plenty of people who will no longer have to “go to the beach,” because the beach is coming to them.







It only gets uglier....

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Canadians are coming!


Well, not really, but almost 100 years ago American military planners weren’t so sure.

You may have heard or learned in school that Canada is the only country for which the United States doesn’t have a standby war plan in case hostilities become imminent.

In the 1920s the Canadian military feared that their country might become a battleground if Britain and the United States were to escalate their competition for dominance around the world. So, as explained in a Boston Globe book review, the Canadians developed a plan to preemptively invade and conduct a holding operation to give British troops time to come over and pile on.


On our side, military planners cooked up “War Plan Red” (yeah, they did pick snazzy code names back then) to stop Canadian invaders in their tracks.

World War II got started a short time later and the Canadians and British and Americans found themselves on the same side and the war plans were ultimately pigeonholed.


Now, let’s be frank: today Canada has the world’s third-largest petroleum reserves and it has 20% of the planet’s fresh water supply. Not insignificant treasure.

Still, I don’t think any Americans are going to be heading to Toronto in a troop carrier any time soon.










Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sometimes elephants are people, too


Elephants can be lonely, too.

Shirley, a former circus elephant, was alone—without any Elephas maximus companions—in a zoo for 20 years after she retired from the show ring.

The old lady was finally transferred to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, where she was reunited with an aging circus pal, Jenny.


The short story is:  they remembered each other.

If you can watch these videos without getting a bit moist around the eyes, you need a little more heart.












Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Really?


Not a racially biased bone in your body, right?

You don’t have any lumpen views on gender equality, right?


I’m a old white guy. I do think of myself as an enlightened old white guy who is free of racial prejudice and doesn’t need to hear Abigail Adams’ reminder to “remember the ladies.”

I was surprised by my results on these somewhat obscure tests that seemed to be easy to answer truthfully. I was surprised.

I’m not afraid to say I have some stuff to work on.





Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Not your daddy’s book review


Book reviewing never has been the noblest profession.

The art of the book review is relatively young. Edgar Allan Poe wrote some reviews for Graham’s Magazine in the 1840s. The first explicitly titled book review appeared in 1861—it was a sweetheart review, in the awkwardly reserved language of the era:

“The present work has the additional recommendation of an unmistakably useful subject…”

An interesting point is that no one thought there was a need for book reviews before the middle of the 19th century. The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History says:

“By the 1840s, improved production techniques and faster distribution networks meant that middle-class readers in America could expect convenient access to a wide range of literary materials in a variety of formats. But they also meant that readers trained to prize discernment needed more sophisticated ways to evaluate the materials passing before their eyes. This was one of the requirements that led to early attempts to define an American national literary canon.”

Book reviewers haven’t been getting a lot of respect since the early days. Poe criticized book reviews in 1846:

"We place on paper without hesitation a tissue of flatteries, to which in society we could not give utterance, for our lives, without either blushing or laughing outright."

A century later, George Orwell had these unkind words for reviewers:

“In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be ‘This book is worthless’, while the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to.

If you’re feeling the urge to be a full-time book reviewer, take a moment and think about medical school.










Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Annual performance review: R. I. P. ?


I think few people will mourn the passing of that modern instrument of torture: the annual performance review.

I think that’s good news and bad news.

Accenture announced this week that it will join the short list of companies (including Microsoft) that have made a high-profile decision to abandon the hated annual performance review in their human relations practices.

I bet everybody at Accenture is happy.


In terms of instant gratification, scrapping the performance review is good news. In my experience, just about everyone hated it. Managers hated preparing and conducting the review, and staffers hated being subjected to it. In my experience, most reviews were done poorly, if at all; quite a large percentage of them were done at the very last minute by harried managers who rushed to get them done by deadline; many reviews were done late and in a perfunctory way; many reviews were pretty much a repeat of the previous year’s crop. Almost all reviews—and goals, and promises, and benchmarks, and training expectations, and self-improvement commitments—were forgotten more or less immediately. In my experience, most managers didn’t have the guts, and didn’t have backup from top management, to do performance reviews in any honest way.

The bad news is that I’m pretty sure that Accenture and companies like it won't replace the hated performance review system with any worthwhile, durable, systematic way of giving performance feedback and developmental feedback to employees. Most managers aren’t trained or experienced enough to do this well. Most companies don’t have the guts to legitimately link pay with performance, and give bigger paychecks to the folks who do outstanding work.


It seems like it should be a no-brainer for a manager to routinely and persistently tell a staffer about both the outstanding and improvable aspects of her performance, and to help the employee to do commendable work that supports the company’s goals. It seems like it should be a no-brainer to give a bigger paycheck to the staffers who do a great job.

In fact, in most corporate cultures, that’s impossible.






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dunderheadism: not a new concept


Perhaps you were thinking that dunderheaded, short-term thinking is the exclusive province of 21st century politicians.

Not so.

A Sunday New York Times Book Review item on some new meteorology books (yes, Virginia, people write meteorology books) mentions an 1854 incident in Britain’s House of Commons that will give you a bit of perspective.

The short story is that a couple scientists sought Parliamentary funding for collecting data about the weather, a startling new idea at the time. One of the scientists mentioned “weather forecasting” for the first time, arguing that analysis of weather patterns could help in predicting near-term weather conditions.


The book reviewer, Cynthia Barnett, says that “When a scientifically enthusiastic member of Parliament suggested that amassing weather observations from sea and land could someday mean ‘we might know in this metropolis [London] the condition of the weather 24 hours beforehand,’ laughter broke out raucously enough to stop the proceeding.”

The politician’s habit of ignoring scientific reality has been around for a long time.









Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Plugging the meter….


The first parking meter was put into operation on July 16, 1935, in Oklahoma City, OK. It cost a nickel to park downtown for an hour on the southeast corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue.




Finding a parking space was becoming a problem for motorists and shoppers. Nevertheless, some drivers fought the parking fee, calling it a “tax” without due process of law.

That gripe didn’t get any traction.

Within a half dozen years, there were 140,000 parking meters in America.

You know the rest of the story.












Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 34)


The Cherokee peoples were comforted by their animistic understanding of their relationships with animals and nature.

Here’s a warmly credible example, an anonymous “Song for going to the water,” excerpted here:


If your heart is not well,
if your spirit is not well,
these words may help you.

…as the first light
touches the stream,
bend to the water,
speak these words:

"Long Person, I come to ask your help."

Then hold up
a cup of that water
and drink the dawn.


The complete passage was posted July 21, 2015, here on A Year Of Being Here






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

That voting thing….


The Census Bureau says about 60% of the folks who didn’t vote last November said they were “too busy” or “not interested” or “forgot to vote” or “disliked the candidates/issues.”

Let’s be frank: these folks at least admitted that they just didn’t care about voting.

Only about 36% of eligible voters went to the polls in the 2014 election. It was the worst turnout since 1942.

Way too many people don't feel a civic duty to participate in electing the folks who will run the government.

Apparently too many people don't see much personal advantage in voting for the representatives who will have power over their lives. 

I think a fair judgment is that the textbook concept of a representative democracy, and democratic government in action, is a failure.

I tried to think of a less bitterly disappointed way to say that. 







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The wisdom of E. L. Doctorow


“Writing is an exploration.
             You start from nothing and learn as you go.”

Edgar Lawrence “E. L.” Doctorow (b1931)
American author


Indeed, writing can be a thrilling dedication to taking the road less traveled by (thanks, Mr. Frost).


You can think of it as writing what you feel, or seeking truth, or aiming for the sweet spot with words that say precisely what you mean to say, or discovering how to capture the always evanescent bloom of startling awareness or sudden evocation or the joyful eruption of a child’s first sight of the ocean….



This is the kind of scribbling I have in mind:

....I hold the hand of a young child who will not remember this first walk in the woods, a child whose happy footsteps, whose innocent fascination, whose first touch to the fallen pine cone create a new, timeless memory for the grandfather who had forgotten the mystery of the pine cone....

And more: Doctorow forgot to mention the rapture of re-write.



When you bear-hug your muse, and take a second (or fourth) crack at that almost perfect haiku, or the abstract of your thesis, or the not-quite-a-lovin’-spoonful poem to your sweetie, and you stare at the words until they curl around what you really mean to say….

…you know what I mean.








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

That’s Entertainment!


Check the Entertainment section on The Huffington Post if you want to get the latest scoop on Donald Trump’s silly “campaign” for the Republican presidential nomination.

HuffPo announced yesterday that it won’t mention Trump anymore in its political coverage.

Wow! One of the high-profile new media finally decides to talk truth to Trump’s vaunting.

Now, I wonder if HuffPo will get real about some of the other 16 celebrities who are running for the GOP nod.

Here’s the editorial statement:

“After watching and listening to Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president, we have decided we won't report on Trump's campaign as part of The Huffington Post's political coverage. Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump's campaign is a sideshow. We won't take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you'll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.”







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It’s not about “social dysfunction”….


It’s not hard to find a galling example of offensive points of view on keeping the Confederate flag flying.

A few days ago the Los Angeles Times quoted “a white protester” who objected to the highly publicized removal of the Stars and Bars from public places:

"This flag is so much more than a symbol of hate. We're losing an ability to educate people about the flag and what it really represents. Hiding it and tucking it away is not going to stop all the social dysfunction."


I infer that “social dysfunction” is camouflage for this gentleman’s actual meaning, because “social dysfunction” is not the way to broadly describe the persistent American legacy of slavery, bigotry, Jim Crow and hatred that still has a dreadful impact on our black neighbors.






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Who’s NOT running for the GOP nomination?








No starting gate is wide enough for the 17 celebrities who are running for the Republican nomination to be President of the United States.

Nearly all of them know that they have no chance to win it,




Most of the news coverage of the GOP race is repetitive and spurious—it’s about essentially phantom candidates

Who is putting up the campaign money for these will-o’-the-wisps?

Why are they doing it?








Trump for president?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

High pay rates reduce costs?!



You bet they do.

Specifically, paying workers well can reduce overall costs and boost profits, says a professor at Sloan School of Management (MIT).  

Dr. Zeynep Ton has spent a decade studying the argument that low-price retailers have to cut their payroll costs to the bone to stay competitive. She says it ain’t so.

“The assumed trade-off between low prices and good [paying] jobs is a fallacy,” she says.
Ton points to successful retail chains like Quik­Trip convenience stores, Trader Joe’s supermarkets, Costco wholesale clubs and Mercadona (a Spanish grocery chain).


These companies pay above-average wages and benefits, invest heavily in training and promotion from within, and empower their employees. They also are low-price leaders in their industries, and they have good financial performance and customer service that puts their competitors to shame.
Ton says “They have demonstrated that, even in the lowest-price segment of retail, bad jobs are not a cost-driven necessity but a choice.”

It’s a mindless choice that too many corporate executives make when they act on the assumption that payroll and employee development expenses are simply costs, and ignore the opportunity to think of good pay and good benefits and employee empowerment as an investment in efficient operations, good marketing and good customer service.

Costco’s front line employees make about 40% more than their counterparts at Walmart’s Sam’s Club. Trader Joe’s starts its full-time employees at $40,000-$60,000, more than double what some competitors pay—and sales per labor hour at Trader Joe’s are 40% higher than those at the average American supermarket.

Labor typically is a retailer’s largest controllable expense and may amount to more than 10% of revenues. Often store managers have much more control of their payroll and related expenses than they do of their merchandise mix, store layout, pricing and promotions. The result is that store managers under pressure to meet periodic profit goals often turn first to minimizing their payroll/benefit expenses, “even though they knew that the workers who remained would cut corners and make mistakes…and they suspected that this could hurt sales and profits.”

Dr. Ton says bluntly that boosting wages and benefits can geometrically increase revenue and profits. She cites a major retailer’s finding that every $1 increase in payroll resulted in a $4-$28 increase in monthly store-level sales.

Among other operational benefits, boosting pay/benefits and empowering employees reduces very costly staff turnover. Mercadona has an astounding 4% annual turnover, Costco’s turnover rate is 5.5%, Trader Joe’s is 10% and QuikTrip’s is 13%. One recent study reported that average turnover of retail hourly employees nationwide was 22%. Another more recent study (September 2014) says that turnover among part-time retail employees was almost 75%.

The failure of so many corporate execs to spend more money investing in and training their employees is short-term thinking at its worst, inimical to profit growth, a guarantee of poor customer service and a clear impediment to building shareholder value.

Why do they blindly continue to offer low-paying jobs and crummy working conditions?

Hint: there aren’t enough good managers to fill all the management slots.





Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The ultimate TO DO


“Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.”

Author of On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006, first copyright 1976


It’s breezy. It’s blunt. It’s bogglingly simple.

Pretty good advice for a retired guy with an ambitious TO DO list.

Pretty good advice for everyone else.










Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

“…ain’t no protest song…”


Maybe it’s been a while since you said to yourself “Oh gosh, I’m getting old.”

It’s been 53 years since Bob Dylan introduced “Blowin’ In The Wind” in Greenwich Village. He recorded this iconic song a couple weeks later, and it was released in 1963. Dylan claimed he wrote the song in 10 minutes. The Beatles claimed it was one of the songs that altered their early musical development.


I can mention my personal experience of hearing “Blowin’ In The Wind” sung by just about every band that played for the troops in Vietnam, more or less at the same time they were belting out “Leaving On A Jet Plane.”

Dylan blandly claimed “this here ain’t no protest song.” Of course it was.

Maybe you forget some of the words. Here they are:

How many roads must a man walk down
before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
and pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows
that too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Colonization: think of it as a bad idea….


Remember that white European impulse to establish colonies all over the world? It was the thing to do for several centuries, and it died hard.

Just for the record: the first two American soldiers were killed in South Vietnam 56 years ago, in July 1959, long before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, long before “escalation” began and long before some guys started burning their draft cards.

Maj. Dale Ruis and MSgt. Chester Oynand died at Bien Hoa in their Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) compound during a guerrilla attack.

The MAAG had been set up in South Vietnam in November 1955, barely more than a year after the last French soldiers died in Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu.

Arlington National Cemetery



Some folks in America thought it was a good idea at the time.












Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Stars and Bars are going down


You probably heard it yesterday: Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina signed a bill mandating the removal of the Confederate Flag from the state capitol grounds.

Don’t hold the applause.

Don’t go overboard, either.

This sudden willingness to take down a conspicuous symbol of historic prejudice and contemporary bigotry is a spit in the ocean compared to what needs to be done to undo the all-too-potent legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and racism and….

Sure, let’s give a hand to the Republicans who are (even reluctantly) removing the Stars and Bars from official public places.

And let’s see what they’re going to do next.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The wisdom of Clara Barton


“It irritates me to be told how things have always been done.
       I defy the tyranny of precedent.”

A leader in nursing Civil War soldiers, first president of the American Red Cross


This is a bold way to say “think outside the box.” I like it.





Barton was a do-gooder in every praiseworthy sense of the word, and she was a leader and innovator as well.

In many ways, she succeeded in going where no man had gone before.















Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Women win big, sort of....


Just for the record: Hooray, the American women’s soccer team won the World Cup on July 5, beating Japan 5-2.

I’m not a soccer fan, but I’m happy to cheer for a U. S. victory.

This event isn’t completely cheer-worthy.

For one thing, the world soccer organization (FIFA) will pay the winning women's team $2 million. In the men’s tournament, the winning team got $35 million.

For another thing, our National Women’s Soccer League, America’s top-tier soccer group for women, sets a minimum salary of $6,842 for its players—in other words, for women, nationally-ranked soccer has to be a hobby. Male players tend to start at about $60,000.

And here’s a little historical footnote: the first recorded women's soccer game was played in Glasgow by Scottish and English teams on May 9, 1881. Press coverage was disdainful and the women were chased off the field by male spectators in a game-ending display of disgracefully rowdy boorishness.




Wondering what that game was like? The players covered every part of the bodies except their hands and faces, tucking their hair under scarves and wearing jerseys, stockings, knickerbockers and boots with heels.




One reporter wrote: "The game, judged from a player's point of view, was a failure, but some of the individual members of the teams showed that they had a fair idea of the game."

Some men today still need to do some work on having a fair idea of the game.
  






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Trash, it turns out, is really old news.


The first identifiable landfill was first used about 5,000 years ago on the island of Crete. I guess it was pretty much a run-of-the-mill landfill, except that probably no one knew exactly what to call it. There weren’t any bulldozers back then to cover up the mess, so I wonder if anyone had the courage to object to hauling trash and garbage to that particular spot and just dumping it there in a pile.

We still haven’t figured out a good solution for taking care of our trash, really, and in some parts of the world, like Japan and Europe, acceptable landfill sites are becoming filled to capacity. Guess what happens next—less acceptable landfill sites are going to be used, and then unacceptable landfill sites are going to be used.

The Atlantic magazine recently reported that about three-quarters of the stuff in the trash stream in America could be composted or recycled, but it isn’t. Most of it is being buried or burned.

The average American produces about 130 pounds of trash each month.

Those Cretans who started piling up their trash 5,000 years ago got us started on the wrong track.

We’re trashing the planet, and I think the trash thing is going to bite us soon, in a lot less than 5,000 years.









Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The bad news about the good news


The Associated Press says incomes rose last year for the 99% of Americans who aren’t in the top 1% of earners and wealthy folks.

Creation of new jobs in 2014 drove a 3.3% increase in incomes for 99% of families, the best gain in 15 years.

But here’s the stick in your eye: incomes for the wealthiest 1% jumped 10.8%, to an annual average of $1,300,000.


Call it whatever you choose—income inequality, wealth inequality, economic inequality—the dangerous gap between the uber-rich and the rest of us actually widened last year.

The plain truth is: some people have too much money.

Our national, state and local tax policies should be changed to require our very, very wealthy neighbors to pay more of their fair share for the government services we all want. 





Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Good news and bad news about Stanford University


Recently Stanford announced that 2,144 high school seniors were accepted to attend the prestigious university.

The remaining 40,343 unsuccessful applicants (and their parents) shifted their hopes to other schools.

The other part of the good news is that Stanford revealed new details about expanded financial aid: students whose parents have annual income and typical assets of less than $125,000 won’t have to pay any tuition. The previous cutoff was $100,000.

The other part of the bad news is that the sticker price at Stanford is about $65,000, including annual tuition over $45,000 and room and board and other costs at roughly $20,000.



It’s just whacky that anyone can talk calmly about paying $65,000 a year to go to college.

Let’s focus on the common sense thing: it costs too much to go to college.





Colleges should figure out how to reduce the degree requirements so a typical student can finish in three years (hint: dump the liberal arts courses for most students, and give them a suitably renamed “professional degree” instead of the classical bachelor’s degree).

Students and their parents should look for colleges they can afford to attend without loading up on student debt.

Solutions aren’t simple, but there are some clear tracks we can follow.






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Coast-to-coast in only 3 ½ days


The famous “Golden Spike” was nailed in at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, to complete route of America’s first coast-to-coast railroad line. A mere five days later, transcontinental trains started running daily. Gradually, service improved and the schedule became more regular and predictable.


In June 1876, a Transcontinental Express train traveled from New York City to San Francisco in only 83 hours, a remarkable order of magnitude better than the Conestoga wagon trek—most trekkers walked!—that took up to six months in previous decades on routes like the Oregon Trail.

First transcontinental train

For less than $100 dollars (about $2,000 in 2014 dollars), a traveler could enjoy the first-class coach with velvet seats, sleeping berths, steam heat, fresh linen every day and attentive porters.

For $40, less fortunate passengers rode third class on plain wooden benches in coach cars that might be attached to slow-going freight trains.

The Transcontinental Express was traveling a bit more than 40 miles per hour, and it probably had preferential right-of-way on the rails (freight trains and other scheduled passenger trains would have been shunted aside to let the Express roll through. A typical passenger train on shorter runs ran about 15-20 mph.

Just for comparison: in the 19th century, the typical speed of a stagecoach was 3-5 mph, a horse-drawn wagon could do 2-4 mph and a river boat moving upstream was clocking 1-5 mph.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
  






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The wisdom of Alexander Hamilton


“Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.”

American politician and Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington

Hamilton was a founding member of the Federalist Party in post-colonial America, and he was significantly involved in the creation of the U.S. Constitution.

He observed, rightly enough, that “men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.” In simple words: human beings are not profoundly rational, civil, democratic, decent beings.

Orwell's Animal Farm

Hamilton was shooting duds when he argued that government is intended somehow to rationally, civilly, democratically and decently constrain the passions and actions of its citizens. As he knew very well, government consists of men and women who, in the main, are doing their best to stay in power so they can exercise authority.

The rational, civil, democratic, decent stuff is not their primary motivation.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Emma Nutt, the first female “Operator”


It’s an all too believable story. In the latter part of the 19th century, the first telephone operators were boys and young men. Such lads were doing their duty as telegraph operators all over the country, and it was a natural move to hire them for the earliest versions of a telephone exchange.

The first permanent telephone exchange center went live on January 28, 1878, in New Haven, Connecticut, with 21 charter customers. The Edwin Holmes Telephone Dispatch Company (soon to be the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company) also opened its exchange in early 1878, putting on a crew of male operators.

Boys will be boys. The telephone companies soon discovered that their impatient and annoying behavior, including pranks and (gasp!) swearing—usually undetectable in the telegraph world—made the lads ill-suited to the live voice telephone world.

Enter Emma Mills Nutt. She became the world’s first female telephone operator at the Boston company on September 1, 1878. Her sister, Stella, started working alongside her a couple hours later. Emma (1860-1915) and Stella paved the way for legions of mostly sweet-voiced ladies handling the calls for several generations of callers who were happy to have a party line and didn’t mind ringing for the operator to get “long distance.” (Direct dialing and unique telephone numbers weren’t common before the 1920s).

In her first assignment Emma was paid $10 a month for working 54 hours a week. It’s said that she memorized the phone directory of the New England Telephone Company.

Emma Nutt, her sister Stella and a couple lads working the phones in 1878

The earliest job description for “telephone operator” required that a female applicant be unmarried, between the ages of 17 and 26, with a “prim and proper look” and arms long enough to reach to the top of the telephone switchboard. Sadly, in the 1880s, companies casually got away with refusing to hire Jewish women and ladies of color.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.