Thursday, March 31, 2016

“We were lap dogs, not watchdogs.”

Nicholas Kristof says it right out loud:
The news media and the cable TV talking heads are helping to sustain the terrifying Trump thing.

Kristof’s March 27 op-ed in the Sunday New York Times quotes the Times’ own finding that “we in the news media gave Trump $1.9 billion in free publicity in this presidential cycle.” That’s almost 200 times as much as Trump has spent for advertising.

The facts are clear: the news media have given Trump pretty much a free ride because Trump-talk pumps the audience ratings.

Kristof points out that the news media “were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much [Trump’s] message resonated.”

Of course some journalists have challenged Trump’s preposterous claims and his lies, but Kristof quotes Tom Brokaw about the impotence of fact-checking Trump: “His followers find fault with the questions, not with his often incomplete, erroneous or feeble answers.”

The op-ed concludes: “…on the whole we in the media empowered a demagogue and failed the country. We were lap dogs, not watchdogs.”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Let’s stop pretending about grade inflation

The Washington Post just put another stick in the eye of the folks who like to believe that grade inflation isn’t real. See it here.

There’s a great chart in the posting on It shows that for a sample of 400 four-year colleges—big and small, Ivy and not, public and private—45% of the grades in 2013 were As. Almost 34% were Bs.

In her commentary, Catherine Rampell said:
“These findings raise questions not only about whether the United States has been watering down its educational standards — and hampering the ability of students to compete in the global marketplace in the process. They also lend credence to the perception that campuses leave their students coddled, pampered and unchallenged, awarding them trophies just for showing up.”

In the last 75 years, the percentage of As has tripled while the percentage of Bs has stayed about the same. Why isn’t that a great big scandal?

If you were a straight-A student in 1940, you were something.

Now, a straight-A student is something else.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Marrow stuff

It’s easy to like a poem that scoops out the marrow of what it means to be a loving parent (in my case, grandparent). This poem by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer offers much of the wonderful truth about loving the little ones, including the sadness of wanting so desperately to guarantee their happiness—we would give up all else if we could do that….

A Devastation

In the dark before we are fully awake
I hold my son on the couch.

He curls his long thin limbs
into my familiar lap, his body

startlingly warm and soft
and surprisingly light, though

he gives me all his weight.
No, I do not want to let go of this,

and I hold him here, though there
are lunches to make, hold him

though there is snow to shovel,
hold him though my arm falls asleep,

though the clock ticks toward school
and work and dawn. I am well aware

there are other things I long to hold,
impossible things, like his happiness,

his security, his certainty that he is beloved,
long even to hold onto my idea that I

am a good mother, that I will never
let him down. Though I know I do.

Oh love, is that you,
shaking my body?

Published March 23, 2016, on Rosemerry’s website: A Hundred Falling Veils

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Book review: The First Congress

Book review: The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government
By Fergus M. Bordewich, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2016

Alec D. Rogers very capably reviews this new book at Fergus Bordewich offers a detailed look at how the leaders of the former American colonies started buckling down to making a government after the Constitution was ratified in June 1788. It was a tough job. We’re still hard at work on it in 2016.

Some excerpts from Rogers:
“By necessity, of course, the new Congress had to deal with virtually every fundamental question of government.  And while the concept of a two house legislature was not as alien as the Constitution’s article II President, there were many procedural questions that would need to be settled as the machinery began to operate.  Like President George Washington, its members were aware that virtually everything they did would set a precedent for the new government. They also knew that the eyes of the world were upon their republican experiment…

“Bordewich takes us through the battles that consumed the first Congress.  A new tax system was imperative yet controversial for its implications for federal-state relations as well as its distributions of burdens on different sectors of the economy and regions.  The creation of the federal judiciary similarly aroused concerns about an overbearing, costly federal government.  Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s plans for a national bank and the structure of the debt consumed considerable time and raised profound questions regarding federalism and separation of powers.  Even the title by which the President would be addressed turned into a deep philosophical question about the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government and the nature of the executive in a republic.”

Rogers also notes:
In 1871, John Adams’s grandson Charles Francis Adams would observe that:
‘We are beginning to forget that the patriots of former days were men like ourselves, acting and acted upon like the present race, and we are almost irresistibly led to ascribe to them in our imaginations certain gigantic proportions and superhuman qualities, without reflecting that this at once robs their character of consistency and their virtues of all merit.’”

I’ll add that readers today should keep in mind that Charles Adams, grandson of the venerable John Adams, forgot to mention that the Founding Fathers never called themselves “founding fathers,” and they mostly weren’t buddies, and mostly they were affluent white guys (mostly lawyers) who were inclined to dabble in politics or who seriously sought political power.

Human nature doesn’t change in the short space of 240 years or so.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The sinking of the Lusitania

Book review: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

My review of this Larson thriller, the consistent tension that makes it a page-turner….

This post has been moved to my website:

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Anything sound familiar here?

Nearly 145 young women died horribly on March 25, 1911, in an 8th floor fire that destroyed the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in New York City. Most of them died jumping down an elevator shaft or to the street below.

The fire escape
The grisly details are pretty well known. Not the least of them is that one of the two possible escape route stairwells was locked “to prevent employee theft” and that the exterior fire escape was cheaply built and couldn’t support the weight of more than a few women at a time. The owners had refused to install sprinklers. notes that New York City firemen had ladder trucks that only reached to the 7th floor, and their safety nets “were not strong enough to catch the women, who were jumping three at a time.”

Policemen and other witnesses reported the macabre staccato of bodies repeatedly thudding onto the sidewalk in downtown Manhattan.

Max Blanck and Isaac Harris owned the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. In the nine years preceding the 1911 fire, sweatshop operations owned by Blanck and Harris burned four times, and each time the two men collected on substantial fire insurance policies.

More than a century later, a disgusting element of the tragedy is that the company’s culpable owners were charged with manslaughter and tried, but they walked away without any penalty.

Anything sounding familiar here?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Okay, it’s “O. K.”—OK?

Probably you know that languages evolve, and words and patterns of speech and even pronunciations change over time, sometimes rapidly….

Sometime when you’re in a full body cast you can read up on The Great Vowel Shift in the English language in England (roughly 1350-1600).

Today’s lesson is a bit less formidable: raise your hand if you know when “O.K.” became part of American English.

Okay, here’s the answer:

In the 1830s, some young folks with a bit of education thought it was groovy to misspell words and then use the resulting abbreviations as slang (guess who probably didn’t quite know what the kids were talking about….). Such as “OW” meaning “all right” (the misspelled form was “oll wright”) and “KG” for “No go” (“Know go”).  Cool, right? Know, really.

So, “O.K.” showed up….that is, “oll korrect” derived from “all correct.” Wicked.

It first appeared in print—as part of a joke—on March 23, 1839, in The Boston Morning Post. You gotta believe that early 19th century journalists had the same awesome sense of humor that pervades the news media today.

So, like, our constantly changing language, GP, y’know?

(“go phigure.” You knew that, right? Cool.)

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Would you wait five hours to vote?

Oh, wait, first question: Do you live in Arizona?

On Tuesday, Arizona’s Republican legislators deliberately forced hundreds of thousands of voters to wait long hours at polling stations, in an obvious strategy to deter people from voting.

A legal challenge already is under way.

About 60% of the population of Arizona lives and votes in Maricopa County. In 2012, when 57% of President Obama’s re-election votes in Arizona came from Maricopa County, about 1.2 million votes were cast in the county at 200 polling places—that’s about 6,000 voters per location.

After the U. S. Supreme Court essentially trashed the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, Arizona was freed to make changes in election laws without federal oversight. (In the last 40 years, the feds disallowed 22 of the state’s proposed election law revisions because of evidence of discrimination against Hispanic and Native American voters).

With the federal oversight gone, Arizona legislators eliminated 170 of the polling places in Maricopa County “to save money.” So, this week, 60 locations were open to serve voters—roughly, one polling place for every 21,000 voters. Some voters waited in line for five hours to cast their ballots. In some predominantly Latino sectors of the county, there were no convenient locations.

In my town, there’s a polling station for every 2,500 voters. Usually I’m in and out in less than 10 minutes.

I want to believe I’d wait in line for five hours to vote, if I had to.

It’s an outrage that the Republicans in Arizona tried to prevent their fellow Arizonans from voting.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A long wait for the perp walk….

You remember the devastating financial meltdown of 2008. Homes lost. Jobs lost. Investments lost. Retirement savings lost.

The criminals who made it happen—bankers, mortgage lenders, regulators, investment advisors, credit rating agencies—have gotten away with it. Haven’t admitted guilt. Didn’t go to jail.

The Wall Street Journal says big Wall Street banks have paid $110 BILLION in mortgage-related fines and penalties since the crash.

No executive or manager anywhere has been convicted and sent to jail.

The shareholders of those big banks paid the fines.

You know what I’m saying.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, March 21, 2016

“Republican establishment”??....definition please….

The news media and the cable TV talking heads are pulling another fast one: every day reporters and commentators are talking about the “Republican establishment” and what it/they are doing, aren’t doing, should be doing, shouldn’t be doing, can’t do, want to do…..

Nobody is asking the reporters and the commentators to make clear exactly who the “establishment” is.

I think the most obvious truth about the “Republican establishment” is that it exists mostly in the eye of each and every beholder. It’s a concept that is used so broadly and inclusively that it’s effectively meaningless.

A few seconds of Google searching turns up these observations:

The Republican establishment refers to the traditional, moderate-to-conservative members of the Republican Party of the United States…the “political insiders”…” (Wikipedia)

“…refers to the permanent political class and structure that makes up the Republican Party. The establishment tends to control the rules of the party system, party elections, and funding disbursements. The establishment is typically viewed as more elitist, politically moderate, and out-of-touch with conservative voters.” (

“It is, roughly speaking, made up of current officeholders, prominent former officeholders, consultants and lobbyists, donors, and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce.  Who do I call when I want to get the Republican establishment on the phone? It is a large group of people that doesn’t get together for regular meetings to decide what to do, nor does it walk in lockstep. But there is a default toward highly conventional political judgments, a distaste for social issues and support for comprehensive immigration reform. It tends to talk to itself, and disdain a populist, working-class politics. It can be terminally unimaginative and out of touch.” (National Review)

Who’s NOT included?

None of the broadly defined classes or groups of people defined above speak with anything like a coherent, singular voice.

There is no effective “Republican establishment” that’s running things on the Republican side or deliberately planning how to deal with the Trump horror or pursuing a major nationwide political doctrine intended to benefit our society and us as individuals.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

If there had been a Super Bowl in 1912, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” probably would have been the biggie in the halftime show.

This old favorite by Irving Berlin was the top tune of 1911, selling many millions of copies of….the sheet music. Most people heard the song when someone in the family sat down at the piano to tickle the ivories. The iconic Victrola phonograph was just starting to get up some steam in the consumer market, and radio didn’t go commercial until 1920.

Scott Joplin

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” is a simple version of ragtime—Scott Joplin could have played it with one hand tied behind his back, more or less. So more or less anybody could easily learn it and play it when it was a new release before World War I.

Here's a link to a 1911 recording made a few months after the song hit the market….and here's a link to The Andrews Sisters (their career spanned 1925-1967) doing their version.

You can sing along too, you already know some of the words:

“Come on and hear, come on and hear
Alexander’s Ragtime Band…
The best band in the land
They can play a bugle call
Like you never heard before…”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Johnny says “drink up!”

John Chapman “Johnny Appleseed” (1774-1845)

"Johnny Appleseed" got rich planting apple trees in Pennsylvania and Ohio after the Revolutionary War.

John Chapman was a savvy businessman who followed the early American settlers as they headed west over the Appalachian Mountains, and he made a pile of money selling them apple orchards and apples to make fermented apple cider.

The happy-go-lucky “Johnny Appleseed” myths were created about 100 years ago by big commercial apple growers who were trying to rehabilitate their image in a time when the evils of John Barleycorn were a big social issue.

Chapman was born in Leominster, MA, just before the Revolutionary War got started. In 1797, at the age of 27, he set out for Ohio country, and lived a more or less itinerant life thereafter.

In much of the frontier lands, hard cider was the only booze readily available. Chapman traveled far and wide, buying cheap riverbottom land and planting apple orchards. He hired boys to help tend the trees, and when they matured, he sold the apples and often sold the orchards to nearby farmers. When he died, he owned more than 1,200 acres of valuable orchard property and he was a rich man. He was a businessman.

The traditional "Johnny Appleseed" persona is “usually pictured shoeless, clad in rags, with a tin pot for a hat, striding happily through the forest with a bag of apple seeds over his shoulder and an assortment of woodland animals as his companions. He is portrayed as a gentle and godly man, who brought the wholesome apple to men and women living on the edge of civilization.”

Chapman was a nature lover and a God-fearing man, but his apple gig was strictly business.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Outsourcing: what’s it all about?

You’ve heard the arguments: American companies are outsourcing jobs to overseas locations so they can pay cheaper wages. American companies are moving their operations and headquarters overseas (“inversion”) so they don’t have to pay U.S. corporate taxes on their profits.

I saw a curious statement by Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, who said recently that the cost of labor is a tiny fraction of total production costs in many manufacturing operations. says that a couple years ago Immelt mentioned this: “If you look at an aircraft engine, the content of labor is probably less than five per cent. We have two hours of labor in a refrigerator. So it really doesn’t matter if you make it in Mexico, the U.S., or China.”

TWO HOURS of labor in a refrigerator?!?

One source I checked said the average cost of a refrigerator is about $1,100—of course, you can spend less or a lot more.

I’m thinking, now, why does a refrigerator cost that much if there’s only two hours of labor in it?

I’m thinking, now, I’m gonna need some help listing all the reasons why anybody in his or her right mind would pay full list price for a refrigerator, instead of waiting for the “once in a lifetime” sale that happens every month or so at most of the big appliance dealers.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.


Here’s my opinion: yesterday, on CNN, Donald Trump committed a federal crime.

Let’s be fair: Sen. Ted Cruz did pretty much the same thing.

Why isn’t every Republican and Democratic leader in America calling for both of them to drop out of the presidential race?

A CNN interviewer asked Trump for his thoughts about the Republican convention voting for the party’s nominee.

Trump said if he doesn’t get the nomination, “I think you’d have riots.”

That’s a clear message to Trump supporters encouraging them to take to the streets to riot, break things and hurt people. It’s a federal crime “to incite a riot.”

Cruz said almost the same thing. He said a “brokered convention” with delegates choosing a nominee who didn’t have the most votes on the first ballot “would be an absolute disaster. I think the people would quite rightly revolt.”

Trump is dangerous for America. Cruz is dangerous for America.

Why isn’t every Republican and Democratic leader in America calling for both of them to drop out of the presidential race?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"We're from the news media, and we're here to help you...."

The news media are making the whole terrible Trump thing worse.

The media are wantonly giving free air time to Trump and implicitly legitimizing his antics, his hate messages and his demagoguery.

The news media are keeping Trump top-of-mind, and they’re making him more dangerous.

A couple points of reference: reports that Trump is getting 10 times more coverage than Rubio.

In February the Republican primary debacle was getting twice as much coverage as the Democratic wrangle.

Trump is getting 23 times more face time with America than Sanders.

John Nichols at The Nation says “…the modern media shape the narrative, as opposed to simply reporting on it…” 

“The past 20 years have seen radical changes in the American media: the pandemic downsizing of newsrooms, sweeping layoffs of journalists, and a desperation for clicks and ratings that guarantees that civic and democratic values will always be trumped by commercial and entertainment demands.

Here’s a wacky thought: turn off your TV for 24 hours, and think about what’s important to you in America and in your life.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.