Sunday, January 31, 2016

I didn’t bother on Thursday night

About 225 million grownups in America didn’t watch the Republican debate or He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named last Thursday night. I was one of them.

The audience for the GOP debate on Fox was 12.5 million, about 5% of adults in the U.S. Roughly 2.7 million—about 1%--tuned in to the DJT event benefitting military veterans.

The rest of us were doing other things: hoping the next president will use the full powers of the Oval Office to do good things for America, like improving education, boosting infrastructure investment and creating jobs, reducing carbon emissions to tackle the global climate change horror, increasing taxes on the very wealthy, taking steps to fight the greedy power of corporations and Wall Street….

You fill in the hopes I forgot to mention….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The wisdom of Guillaume Apollinaire

"Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy."
Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918)
French poet

All you need to do with this one is nod your head and say “Yeah, I need to do that more.”

Ring the bell that’s in your hand.

Sing the song that’s in your head.

Thanks to my trusted personal advisor for this one.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Phase transition


My path, my crossings,
   the trails I know, and my friends,
      become memories…

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014
All rights reserved.

The memories piled up.

The pile got smaller.

I am happily in a new place. I have happy memories of the old place.

And no regrets.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What it doesn’t say….

I’m pretty sure that a lot of folks thought teaching was a proper job for women in 1915 in Sacramento.

Of course, there weren’t a lot of other career paths open to women who wanted to work, or needed to work.

I wonder what women thought about applying for a teaching job, and, of course, complying with the rules and regulations. At least, judging by this example, teachers had a more or less free rein in deciding what and how they should teach.

Wait a minute. I just noticed it doesn’t say anything about romping naked with wild animals in public. Does that mean….?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Another poet heard from….(part 9)

Naomi Shihab Nye offers some deft strokes in her poetry, and I’d like to tell you about one of them….

This post has been moved to my website:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Technology ‘R’ Us

Often we don’t have a really explicit idea of what we mean when we say “We’ve come a long way….”

For instance, 130 years ago doing the household laundry was a bona fide chore—it was hard work. 

Why? In 1886 a study estimated that “washing, boiling and rinsing a single load of laundry used about 50 gallons of water.”

So what? Think about it: in the days before indoor plumbing, somebody (think Mom and the kids) had to haul that water from some source outside the house, maybe a pump, maybe a well, maybe a nearby spring or waterway.

That’s 8-10 trips—or more—to haul enough water for the wash, almost enough water to fill an oil drum.

That’s just to do the white and light-colored stuff. Think about doing it again for the dark load.

Things did get better, but slowly. By 1940, roughly 40 percent of homes had heating (not from a fireplace or stove), about 60 percent had flush toilets indoors, 70 percent had water coming out of a tap inside the house and a whopping 80 percent had electricity.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

We’re cooking the planet (part 13)

We’ve already inflicted long-term damage to the atmosphere of our planet, and we piled it on last year:

Scientists have confirmed that 2015 was the hottest year on record in the 136 years that useful records have been kept.

We have to take immediate steps to shut down coal mines and phase out the use of dirty, dangerous coal. We need to make gasoline-powered vehicles much more efficient. We need to require that users pay the true economic cost of creating pollution. We need to continue expanding our use of renewable energy.

This is the only planet our grandchildren will have to live on.

Let’s do everything we can do to clean it up.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Donkey and elephant enter politics

Ever wondered about the origin of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant?

Thank Thomas Nast, the 19th century political cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly.

Think back 146 years, to January 1870, when Nast drew a cartoon titled “A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion.” He used the jackass/donkey to depict Democratic newspapers in the South, savaging Edwin Stanton, who had been Lincoln’s Secretary of War.

About four years later, Nast drew a bloated and berserk elephant to represent the Republican electorate during a political brouhaha about the prospect that President Ulysses Grant might run for a third term (he didn’t).

Imagine what Nast might have done with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The barrel is worth more than the oil

The price of crude oil dropped below $28 a barrel this week. That meant that the metal oil barrel cost more than the oil.

Some barrels can be cleaned and used again. I couldn’t determine how many barrels are used only once to transport oil.

The astounding decline in the market price of crude since summer 2014 has many causes, including shrinking demand and increasing supply.

Of course, the drop from $115 a barrel is partly—perhaps significantly—the result of speculators who drove the price up and then let it fall for reasons that have nothing to do with economics or market forces.

At $115 a barrel, oil was selling for 3 or 4 times as much as it cost to get it out of the ground.
Just wacky. We need sensible regulation of financial speculators who can distort the price of the world’s most important commodity.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Preschool school: is it the right thing?

I have preschool kids in my family, and I’m going to read this book:
Erika Christakis, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups, to be published in a few weeks.

Obviously I’m not reviewing the book here, but sample some quotes from the author’s recent piece in The Atlantic, “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids.”

“The academic takeover of American early learning can be understood as a shift from what I would call an ‘ideas-based curriculum’ to a ‘naming-and-labeling-based curriculum.’ Not coincidentally, the latter can be delivered without substantially improving our teaching force. Inexperienced or poorly supported teachers are directed to rely heavily on scripted lesson plans for a reason: We can point to a defined objective, and tell ourselves that at least kids are getting something this way.

“…One major study of 700 preschool classrooms in 11 states found that only 15 percent showed evidence of effective interactions between teacher and child…We neglect vital teacher-child interactions at our peril. Although the infusion of academics into preschool has been justified as a way to close the achievement gap between poor and well-off children, Robert Pianta, one of the country’s leading child-policy experts, cautions that there is “no evidence whatsoever” that our early-learning system is suited to that task. He estimates that the average preschool program ‘narrows the achievement gap by perhaps only 5 percent’…

“…Contrasting the dismal results of Tennessee’s preschool system with the more promising results in places such as Boston, which promotes active, child-centered learning (and, spends more than twice the national average on preschool), lends further credence to the idea that preschool quality really does matter.

“…when I’ve visited Finland, I’ve found it impossible to remain unmoved by the example of preschools where the learning environment is assessed, rather than the children in it. Having rejected many of the pseudo-academic benchmarks that can, and do, fit on a scorecard, preschool teachers in Finland are free to focus on what’s really essential: their relationship with the growing child.

“Here’s what the Finns, who don’t begin formal reading instruction until around age 7, have to say about preparing preschoolers to read: ‘The basis for the beginnings of literacy is that children have heard and listened … They have spoken and been spoken to, people have discussed [things] with them … They have asked questions and received answers.’ “

I talk to my grandchildren. A lot. They talk to me. We like to tell stories.

It’s good for me, and I’m pretty sure it’s good for them.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Your pedestrian ancestors

Imagine living the rest of your life without your car.

Hold on, breathe!  I didn’t say “without your cell phone,” I only mentioned “car.”

In 1903 most people weren’t even thinking “car,” let alone “cell phone.” Most people walked to where they wanted to go, most of the time.

Here’s a slightly blotchy video of downtown Boston more than 100 years ago, with a couple streetcars, lots of horse-drawn vehicles and stunning throngs of people on the move on the sidewalks. Look at how much clothing they’re wearing. Look at the blobs of horse hockey on the street.

The cameraman passes the Jordan Marsh store, and travels on Boylston Street to Copley Square and the Boston Public Library.

Even without cars, look at the traffic!

Notice there aren’t any parking spaces. I guess nobody ever parked really, the streetcars and carriages just stopped long enough to let passengers get on or off.

Boston firemen and their nags in 1900

It’s estimated there were 21.5 million horses and mules in the United States in 1900, about 1 horse/mule for every three people. (Today, about 6.9 million horses for 323 million people, a horse/people ratio of about 1:47).

Of course, this silent film doesn’t convey any sense of the smell on city streets. Imagine what 14,000 horses in 1903 Boston could do to the fragrance of the downtown. About 33 horses can produce a ton of horse stuff daily, so think about 425 tons of manure dropping to the streets of Boston every day. Carting the horse manure out of town was a big business.

Horses were a big business in many ways. In 1900 in Boston, there were 105 carriage dealers, 99 harness makers, 51 hay dealers, 30 wheelwrights, 238 horseshoers and 192 livery, boarding and sales stables.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The wisdom of Pablo Picasso

“Every child is an artist.
     The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Thanks to my best friend for this one. He and I know how hard it is to grow up—when I was a kid I couldn’t draw anything, so that’s not my problem.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

“Gov. Haley, I have a followup question….”

The Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, said this to reporters recently:

"…we've never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion. Let's not start that now.”

Wow. Maybe she momentarily forgot about slavery and Jim Crow.

There are almost 1.3 million black residents of South Carolina, almost one-third of the population.

Today’s quiz:
How many black voters in the Palmetto State will vote for Gov. Haley when she runs for re-election in 2018?

p.s. I had promised myself that I would not raise my voice to recognize the poltroonery that passes for politicking these days, but Haley's comment is remarkably egregious and I cannot let it pass.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Eight-year-old kids go on strike

The abuses of child labor are no longer a big issue in America. Child labor was a big deal in the latter part of the 19th century.

The Industrial Revolution came to America as early as 1813, when the first water-powered textile mill opened in Waltham, MA. Within a few decades, mills and factories were sprouting along waterways everywhere, and workers streamed off the farms to join immigrants who were employed in them at low wages.

The ongoing abuses of child laborers were condemned (by unionized adults) as early as the 1830s. In the following decades, regulation of the working conditions for kids occurred piece-meal, state by state. By the end of the 19th century, 28 states had enacted laws governing (but now outlawing) the working hours and conditions for children. Work by youngsters was finally outlawed in America when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938.

In 1881 eight-year-old textile workers in Maine—some of them working for eight cents a day-- started a strike when they discovered that kids their age at another mill were making a penny more per day. The three-day strike was partly successful.

Mill owners and factory owners and other 19th century capitalists were forced, over time, to cease exploitation of poor kids on the shop floor.

Imagine that you work in the Cabot Mill (see right) making textile products. Imagine that you take your eight-year-old son to work with you every day, so he can work for 10-12 hours for pennies in grimy conditions, with poor lighting, breathing air filled with cotton lint and climbing barefoot on the huge humming machinery so he can replace the empty spindles.

Imagine that you need his paltry income to keep food on the table for your family.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Amos ‘n’ Andy: good stuff

Just taking a moment here to give a nod to the legendary “Amos ‘n’ Andy” show, a perennial radio/TV show from 1926 to 1966. It was the highest-rated radio comedy in history.

I watched the syndicated reruns on the tube in the 1960s. Listen to an early radio segment here.

Gosden and Correll
Amos and Andy were two genial characters who dabbled in most of life’s experiences. Amos Jones and Andrew Hogg Brown were black characters, although the creators of the series were two white radio personalities: Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. They started broadcasting the “Sam ‘n’ Henry” show from Chicago in January 1926, and shifted to the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” format two years later.

Ultimately the show was carried by 70 radio stations nationwide, and attracted 40 million listeners—roughly 1 out of 3 Americans.

Gosden and Correll were skilled entertainers in the established vaudevillian “blackface” tradition. By the time the show moved to television in 1951, “blackface” had lost its credibility and black actors played the roles. Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams play the two main roles.

The TV version of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” was the first television production with black actors and would remain the only opportunity for black acting talent for 20 years.

Childress and Williams
Of course, Gosden and Correll—and even Childress and Williams—gratuitously portrayed the racial stereotypes that were commonly accepted in white society at the time. The show was a spectacular comedic success.

I tried without much success to ascertain the popularity of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” among black audiences. I found one reference to a poll (no details on validity) that reported “77 percent of black New Yorkers” liked the TV show.

Think for a moment about what entertainment was like before cell phones, iTunes and social media.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Take a nap with a friend

This 100-year-old guy and his 17-year-old cat have it all figured out.

This is what afternoons are for.

Also mornings.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pillow talk

Has this happened to you?

You’re reading a good story, and then suddenly you wake up with a warm book under your face….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cops killed someone almost every day last year

There were only 14 days last year when no civilian was killed by police in America.

Here’s the total: at least 1,280 people were killed by policemen in every state. says “a huge majority” of the victims were killed by gunshots.

Eric Garner died
Yes, yes, of course the total includes crazy folks who committed “suicide by cop,” and folks who were incidental victims of police car crashes, and deaths that occurred during arrests, routine or otherwise.

My point is that civilian deaths at the hands of police occur more or less every day. This is a startling reality that should be deplored, and investigated.

p.s. yes, the death total given above is wrong. The real number is higher. This reported total only includes the deaths that could be verified from news accounts available online.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mr. Kite et al.

Our notion of the modern circus got its start in a homegrown ring in London in January 1768.

Philip Astley, a former cavalry sergeant major, invited the public to watch him ride his horse around the ring, brandishing his sword while he stood upright with one foot on the saddle and the other on his horse’s head. He was a big hit.

Astley quickly assembled more horsemen, a clown and a band to perform in Astley’s Amphitheatre. His troupe performed for French King Louis XV in 1772. In 1782 a competitor opened the “Royal Circus” in London.

In 1792 an Englishman brought the circus idea  to Philadelphia, and then New York and Boston. One-ring shows turned into two-ring shows and so on, until 1871, when P. T. Barnum and a partner created “The Greatest Show on Earth” with three rings in Brooklyn. Calliope music has been popular ever since.

A footnote to this history:

The Beatles were singing about a real guy in circus history when they sang “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” in their 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Pablo Fanque

The “celebrated Mr. K.” worked for a showman named Pablo Fanque, who owned the Circus Royal in the mid-19th century. William Kite was Pablo’s riding master, and also a tightrope walker. Lennon and McCartney speculated that “Mr. K. performs his tricks without a sound.”

With all the hoops and garters and the “Hogshead of REAL FIRE!,” Pablo Fanque’s fair must have been a rollicking good show.

Once you get there, it’s hard to hate the circus.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

British algae: the full story

Pretend to yourself that you’re a tiny bit interested in knowing the answers to these questions:

Who was the first female photographer?

When was the first book with photographs published?

Anna Atkins (1799-1871), a 19th century English botanist, is credited with being the first woman known to make a photograph when photography was still a relatively new technology.

She published Photographs of British Algae with plates depicting cyanotype impressions in 1843, a path-breaking event in the publishing world.

British Algae was printed and circulated privately. Only 17 copies are known to exist, and many of them are incomplete. The original book consisted of 403 pages with 389 photographs. See more details here. 

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, January 8, 2016

With guns, it's not civil disobedience....

Looks like the authorities are going to make sure the crazy guys with guns in a National Wildlife Refuge building in Oregon are going to get cold, hungry and lonely. Violence isn’t necessary—after a while, they’re going to have to get out of the building and face appropriate charges.

The only reason I am mentioning this obscurely wacky episode in the Wild West is that I noticed a compelling pertinent point in a column today by Dana Milbank on

Milbank points out with obvious dismay that too many Republican representatives in Washington are actually supporting or taking the side of the misguided ranchers.

Milbank also cuts sharply to the quick when he debunks the claim some are making about the “civil disobedience” in this little shack in the Oregon woods.

“Civil disobedience is when people break laws they think [are] unjust and then peacefully face the legal consequences. The takeover of a federal wildlife facility in Oregon by armed men is sedition.”

My dictionary says civil disobedience is “refusal to comply with laws as a peaceful form of political process,” and sedition is “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state.”

Civil disobedience happens when folks deliberately break laws and then get arrested and go to jail and stuff like that to make a political point and get publicity. Folks who are doing civil disobedience don’t carry guns.

If the ranchers in Oregon hadn’t carried guns with them there wouldn’t be much of a fuss. They’d be a wacky one-time story on the nightly news. With guns, they’re dangerous and they’re criminals. 

They can’t be allowed to get what they want.

That’s all, folks.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.