Saturday, October 29, 2016

Rick Subber’s new website

Here’s a sneak preview of my new website, check it out here:

It’s still under construction, but you can read samples of my poetry and my blog posts on books and book reviews, history, politics and some strange and wonderful stuff in the “Tidbits” category.

In the near future I will say goodbye to my three longstanding blogs—Barley Literate, History: Bottom Lines, and Magister Librorum—and do all of my daily posting on the website, where everything will be conveniently accessible from a single landing page.

I will manage the new website in tandem with my dedicated Facebook page, click here to take a look at it—and please “Like” the new Facebook page if you care to, I need 25 “Likes” to get access to some advanced Facebook audience measurements (all aggregate stuff, no personal or private information about individual persons, not even a little bit, not ever).

With appropriate humility and excessive excitement, I mention that in the near future I will publish my first poetry chapbook. Stay tuned!

Thanks again for your kind consideration in reading my daily scribblings. I try to write something worth reading every day.

Words, words, words—they can say so much if we choose them carefully, and if we choose to listen....


Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The words

Any parent or grandparent will know what I’m talking about when I say it is downright unbelievably remarkable to talk to a young child who has launched himself on the trajectory of “learning to talk.”

I’m not talking about “first words,” although they are a once-in-a-lifetime treat.

I’m talking about, say, 3 ½ to 4 years old, when the chatterbox gene kicks in, when the kid is talking a blue streak and making sense, omigosh, that’s the time to admit that life is good, it’s time to share the mind of the child, it’s time to realize that he understands everything you say, even if he can’t say everything that’s on his mind, it’s time to be filled with joy as you have a real conversation with that young human being, as you realize that there is delight and reward in listening to what he has to say, in understanding a little bit of his world….

The details of learning to talk are startling. I rely on Dr. Robin Dunbar’s Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language for these milestone numbers:
“A human baby produces its first real words at about eighteen months of age. By the age of two, it has become quite vocal and has a vocabulary of some fifty words. Over the next year it learns new words daily, and by the age of three it can use about 1000 words…Its command of grammar is already nearly as competent as an adult’s…By the age of six, the average child has learned to use and understand around 13,000 words; by eighteen, it will have a working vocabulary of about 60,000 words…This is an extraordinary achievement.”(1)

Indeed, it’s a remarkable story.

Next chance you get, make your day: ask your 4-year-old to tell you a story.

(1) Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1997), 3.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

AT&T and Time Warner: not perfect together

AT&T wants to buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion.

This should be an easy call for the regulators: no way this acquisition should be approved.

Let’s just leave aside for a moment the colossal impact this merger would have on the telecommunications and entertainment industries. It would concentrate too much power in these rapidly evolving consumer industries.

We hear so much—including all the wrong stuff—about the compelling benefits of the so-called “free market.” This kind of consolidation is totally destructive to the arguable advantages of the “free market,” and, in fact, this kind of reality confirms the persistent failure of the “free market” to effect anything that’s much good for the average person.

At a fundamental level, this combination creates a manifestly unmanageable organization. Initially, the merged company would have more than 300,000 employees. No group of human beings can successfully and strategically manage an organization with that many human components. Just. Not. Possible.

I won’t even bother to speculate about how many of those 300,000-plus employees would retain their jobs.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trump blackout?

Here’s my thought: why are the media continuing to report anything that Trump says?

The situation is:
Much of what Trump says are lies.

He says one thing and then he says the opposite, repeatedly.

Just about everything Trump says is bluster, untroubled by facts, details or reality.

Trump says the same things, over and over and over.

Just about all of his senior staffers and “surrogates” try to say—day after day after day—that he really doesn’t mean what he says.

Here’s my thought: the media should completely stop reporting what Trump says, until he says something that’s new, true, civil, and meaningfully detailed….and says it for, say, three or four days in a row.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Movie review: Hard Times

Movie review: Hard Times
1975  PG    94 minutes
Cast: Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Jill Ireland, Strother Martin
Director: Walter Hill

I watch this Bronson movie every few years or so, because it’s a heroic story, because it’s complete unto itself, because it generously invites the viewer to imagine the details that aren't specified, and because it's all about true grit.  (I like that movie, too).

Think you've got what it takes? If you're like me, you've never really had any "hard times." Chaney (Bronson) shows what it's like to be down to your last six bucks with nothing else to lose, and still manage to be courageous, honest, affectionate, high-principled, strong-minded, and in charge of your life. In the final scene Speed (Coburn) looks at Chaney walking away in the darkness and says "He sure was somethin'." He sure was.

They don’t make movies like this anymore. Really.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The art of Jimi Hendrix

"Excuse me, while I kiss the sky."

You know, "Purple Haze"….

I'm no expert on Jimi Hendrix, in fact, I think I'll just keep the exact nature of my fan status to myself. You go ahead and like Hendrix your way….

Click here for one of the earliest versions of "Purple Haze,"  Jimi doing it live, without the feedback steroids….

Guitar Player Magazine called Jimi "guitar player Number One."

He told Dick Cavett, in 1969, that he made his music to "go inside the soul of the person, and awaken some kind of thing inside, because there are so many sleeping people."
Hendrix had massive impact on the music scene—even if you're not a Hendrix fan you have to admit you like some of the stuff he did, and the way he did it…and if you want to, you can forget that he always took hair curlers with him on his road trips…

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, October 21, 2016

I still don’t know who shot J. R.

It was 36 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 lowdown on the lowdown 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 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 20, 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 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 not 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 a 19th century mill 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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"...little red rooster..."

Don't forget about the art of Etta James:

Lots to love on Etta’s “Blues To The Bone” CD, like….

“I have a little red rooster,
too lazy to crow for day.”

or this desperately inviting advice:

“Don’t start me to talking,
I’ll tell everything I know.”

And here’s a bonus, click if you want to hear Big Mama Thornton or Howlin' Wolf doing “Little Red Rooster”….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Movie review: "Crazy Heart"

"Crazy Heart" was released in 2009
Rated R, 1 hr 52 mins
Directed by Scott Cooper
Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jean Craddock

(The country tunes in this film are real good)

Bad Blake is a genuine country singer that some folks have forgotten.

Technically, I guess, Blake is not a loser: he is a celebrity performer, he has CDs to sell, he can write killer country lyrics, he opens for a hot current star, and he's mostly honest with himself. But he loses: loses his wives, loses touch with his son, lets drinking run him off the road to opportunity, loses his relationship with the woman that, finally, he loves in a way that makes his life livable and worth living….

It's tempting to say that "Crazy Heart" is a film about the flaws and successes of a man striving for redemption, but I don't really see it that way.

I see Bad Blake as a man who knows what he is, knows what he can be, finally knows what he wants, and ultimately has to accept solitary self-renewal instead of salvation in Jean's arms….ultimately, and poignantly, he admits to himself and confirms to Jean that all he has left is to live "one day at a time"…..

There is a lot of heart in those words, but a lot of heart has already drained out of them.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A run for it

River talk

Roll on, you burly river,
   roil, run, in jumbling eddies,
      in dervish currents,
   in mute frenzy,
      potent, puissant, dominante,
roll on, you burly river.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Published December 2015 in Northern Stars Magazine

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"The past is a foreign country..."

Book review:  The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley

"The past is a foreign country:
          they do things differently there."

L. P. (Leslie Poles) Hartley (1895–1972)

This is the celebrated first line of The Go-Between, Hartley's novel of Victorian romance and deception published in London in 1953. It can mean whatever you make of it.

I take it as an admonition….one must try to be aware of the unique and partly (perhaps completely) inaccessible context that framed the actions and outlooks of those who did things we think we're interested in…you know, it's not easy to think and feel as the Romans did…

The 1970 movie with Julie Christie and Alan Bates is a genuinely throbbing, set-your-teeth-on-edge rendition of the book…give the book or the movie a try.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Belafonte Sings The Blues

The art of Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. (b. 1927)
His friends call him Harry Belafonte

"Belafonte Sings The Bluesrecord released 1958 by RCA Victor, LPM-1972, a "New Orthophonic" high fidelity recording

Give me a minute, here…
I realize that Harry Belafonte isn't everybody's cup of tea, and the blues may not make you tingle, I get that part, too….

So, just saying, here's a side of Belafonte you may not know, and this is the gritty, gutsy, smoke-gets-in-your-eyes, I-gambled-on-your-love kind of blues….

I realize most folks don't talk like this these days, but this is my favorite album of all time. And I do mean "album," I bought this vinyl 33 1/3 record in a cardboard jacket sometime in the early 1960s, when I  was in high school, I thought reading the jacket notes was cool, I read them time after time, Nat Hentoff wrote the notes for this one, in the old formal style, very articulate, erudite, Hentoff assumed readers would understand his references to blues structure, jazz origins, and he used big words like "exultantly" and "wryly unconquerable spirit"….it's a re-education to read the notes again.

I've listened to Belafonte's blues all my adult life, and listening to the cuts again now is a re-generation of the spirit, I know all the words, I can sing the nuances, I experiment with feeling the hurt in "I gambled on your love , baby, and got a losing hand…"

I just slump into Belafonte's mood when he sings "The Way That I Feel":

This is the way that I do feel,
I feel it everywhere I go…
I feel just like a engine
   that lost its driving wheel.
This is the mojo of the blues, the inconvenient truth, and the inconvenient love.

Thanks again, Harry.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The “golden years”—does anyone still say that?

Americans who aren't retired yet say they're going to keep working for a while….recently they said 66 is the average age when they plan to clean out the desk and head for home.
I think that's optimistic. They're probably going to work a little longer than that, because a lot of folks are getting the idea that Social Security benefits aren't going to get a whole lot better in their realistically attainable future, and, anyway,  most folks who are still working only have about one egg in the old retirement account….

A Gallup poll recently said that folks who are already retired hung up their track shoes at the average age of 61. In the early 1990s that number was 57, so part of the reason that retirees are getting older, aside from increasing life expectancy, is that they're waiting longer to punch out.

The whole notion of "retiring" is a relatively new concept. You only have to look back to the pre-World War II era to see a world in which the average person basically expected to work until she died, or became too sick or frail to work anymore.

American society hasn't completely figured out this retirement thing yet.

If  you're in your prime, you really need to think carefully about the current and long term effects of government policies on your personal future. Congress isn't doing anything that makes sense right now.

All of us need to take personal responsibility for retirement, and we have to make sure the government doesn't screw it up..

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Out of the mouths of babes...."

So, here’s the story:

The 8-year-old asked his father to start recycling in the household.

Indulgent father, chuckling, asked “Why?”

He replied: “So you can help me save the planet.”

Indulgence was extended. “And why do you want me to save the planet” said father.

“Because that's where I keep all my stuff," he said.


It’s the only planet our grandkids will have to live on.

Let’s commit now to the hard work and the expense of cleaning it up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lake Wobegon at Veterans Affairs

A while back the New York Times revealed that every one of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 470 senior executives had been rated “outstanding” or “fully successful” at least once in the last four years, and most of them got one of these top two ratings in multiple years.

In a one-year period almost 80% of the VA’s senior execs were rated “outstanding” or “fully successful.” About two-thirds of them got bonuses.

Over four years, none of the senior VA honchos received either of the lowest two performance ratings—not one of them, not once.

It's a miracle. Seems every one of them is above average....

This report says as much about a big organization like the VA as it says about the egregious failure of darn near everyone everywhere to implement a performance evaluation system that actually evaluates widely varying performance, instead of simply forcing supervisors to complete the hated chore of doing a once-a-year gloss of their subordinates' work performance that disguises the identity of all the poor performers.

This report also is another stupefying example of top executives being allowed to claim that "bonuses are vital to hiring and retention" without having to prove it. Of course, that claim can't be proved, because it's not true. 

No bonus plan has ever been shown to materially improve discriminating selection of "the best candidates" or "retention of the high performers."

You know, it's the old "every Little Leaguer gets a trophy" mindset....

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, October 10, 2016

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.

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:

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Are you a great manager?

This started out as another one of those "Top 10 Ideas For...." but I whittled it down to three, for your delectation.

This was distributed by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), see their website here, and originally appeared on Edutopia as "Ten Big Ideas of School Leadership" by middle school principal Mike McCarthy.

I'm pretty sure Mike is pretty much on track, and his take on leadership is motivational and instructive for leaders or wannabe leaders in any organization. A few samples:

6) Take Responsibility for the Good and the Bad
If the problems in your school or organization lie below you and the solutions lie above you, then you have rendered yourself irrelevant. The genius of school lies within the school. The solutions to problems are almost always right in front of you.

I think of it this way: If you think only the folks below you are causing all the problems, and you also think only the guys above you can fix ‘em, what does the boss or your subordinates need you for?

7) You Have the Ultimate Responsibility
Have very clear expectations. Make sure people have the knowledge, resources, and time to accomplish what you expect. This shows respect. As much as possible, give people the autonomy to manage their own work, budget, time, and curriculum. Autonomy is the goal, though you still have to inspect.

I think of it this way: Be the boss, mostly by setting the tone, setting the example, sometimes setting the boundaries, setting the aiming stake in the right place, setting the time for the next team meeting, setting the “But We’ve Always Done It This Way” rule book on fire, etc………..and every so often check to make sure that nobody has set the factory on fire….

9) Consensus is Overrated
Twenty percent of people will be against anything. When you realize this, you avoid compromising what really should be done because you stop watering things down. If you always try to reach consensus, you are being led by the 20 percent.

I've found that most students--and most folks--usually think that “consensus” means that everyone has to agree. No, no, no. I embrace the idea that “consensus” means that every member of the group either stout-heartedly endorses the idea or at least acknowledges that she can live with it and support it as a reasonable alternative to her own favored decision/plan/concept. And yes, it’s true that sometimes the group or the boss must say to the high-principled or defiant holdout: “we respect your view and your input, but we’ve talked it through, we’re gonna do it a different way, and you need to support that.”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2010 All rights reserved.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Finches everywhere

The harbor, in the mind’s eye,
            finches everywhere, hoptoe beggars,
   clouds visiting,
            ice cream boxes with white tops….

Breezes, toujours,
            now zephyr,
   now lamb,
            now colt,
   skimming irresistible airs….

Nearly all is just that far away,
            vaguest sounds,
   l’eau, sur mer, surtout,
            motion, in little speeds….

There are others, chance greetings,
            face to face….

A moment to gaze at you, between us,
            gazing, always,
   hunger, rapture, dream keeping,
            aye, we are dream keepers,
   with books,
            belles livres,
   we arm ourselves for solitude,
            but coolly close them,
               to open for each other….

Toll the hour, careless of the day,
            sounds in seeming silence,
   faint ends of words drift across the bay,
with birdsong raveling out….

The birds sing “today!”
            and we murmur “yesterday,”
   and tomorrow’s languid wing rises up, unseen,
            and sweetly pushes down a twirl,
   one smoothly eddied fan of lightest air,
            to chase the changing shadows
               where we stood awhile….

At Cambridge Beaches, Bermuda