Friday, June 10, 2016

That tolerance thing

Among the reasons that English Puritans and other colonists came to North America in the 17th century was their desire to escape religious intolerance in Britain.

They brought that intolerance thing across the Atlantic with them.

In 1647 the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony officially banned Roman Catholic Jesuit priests from their territory, and promised death to priests who ignored the ban.

The English colonists thought Catholicism was blasphemous and perceived the priests as “devils,” in this account on, read it here.

Aside from the religious bias, the English feared the success of the Jesuits in converting American Indians to the Catholic faith, and, as a result, to political and military alliance with the French against the English in their competing efforts to colonize North America.

By the way, the French arrived before the Pilgrims. There was a French trading post in Quebec in 1608.

Antipathy to the French and Catholics lingered in Massachusetts for a long time.

More than a century after the Puritans tried to tell the Jesuits to get lost, Boston authorities in 1772 officially outlawed the practice of religion by “Roman Catholicks” because it was “subversive to society.”

Try substituting the word “Muslims” for “Roman Catholicks.”

Does anything seem familiar?

We still have too many fellow human beings who hate “other people.”

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The cod in “Cape Cod”

Some readers may know this, but I didn’t: Cape Cod was named by an English explorer, 

Gosnold (1571-1607)

Bartholomew Gosnold, in 1602. Yup, 18 years before the Mayflower and that Plymouth Rock stuff. His visit is the first recorded European exploration of the Cape Cod area. He also helped settled the Jamestown colony a few years later in Virginia.

In 1602 Gosnold and his men intended to set up a trading post in what hadn’t yet been named “New England.” After landing on the tip of the peninsula, at what is now Provincetown, the explorers started checking out the bay area. The sailors caught so many codfish in the bay that they reportedly had to throw some back in the water. Gosnold named the place “Cape Cod.”

Later, after scouting down the Atlantic shore of the peninsula, he landed on an island with abundant grapes, raspberries, gooseberries, and huckleberries, and named it “Martha’s Vineyard” in memory of his deceased daughter.

Gosnold and his crew met and did some trading with some Native Americans. Ultimately, they abandoned the plan to build an outpost for trade.

By the way, there’s not much cod fishing in the bay these days. The fish stock is sharply reduced due to overfishing and environmental constraints, and the quotas for legal fishing are quite small.

Gosnold’s crewmen wouldn’t recognize the place.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

It wasn’t the good old days….

Sarah Parker Remond

“ 1853, Sarah Parker Remond and two other African Americans entered a Boston theater intending to enjoy a Mozart opera. When the manager discovered they were people of color, he directed them to the segregated balcony. Remond and her companions refused to sit there. When they were asked to leave, an argument ensued, and the police were summoned. One of the officers handled Sarah roughly. Refusing to be intimidated, she sued and won $500 in damages.”

Let’s be clear: this happened in Massachusetts, a boiling cauldron of anti-slavery activism in the middle of the 19th century.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, April 22, 2016

It started out as a “bachelor’s” degree….

There’s a plain Jane reason why that four-year sheepskin is called a “bachelor’s degree.”

In the 11th century, the men who went to college for their first degree attained a respectable mastery of knowledge, but it wasn’t enough to set them up for good jobs.

Hence, they were generally unable to support a family, and thus remained bachelors until they went further in their studies.

In common parlance, they earned the “bachelor’s” degree.

The first Western university was the University of Bologna in Italy, established in 1088. The University of Paris opened its doors about 60 years later, and the University of Oxford was created in 1167.

First rough sketch of Harvard seal
There is some high-toned dispute about the founding date of the first American “university.” Harvard, without a doubt, was established in 1636 as the first “institution of higher learning” in the English colonies. cites Kevin Madigan’s Medieval Christianity in explaining the impact of universities on the development of Western civilization, starting about the mid-point of the Middle Ages.

By the way, the academic powerhouse we think of as a “university” was originally an outgrowth of the medieval guilds, and the name “university” is shorthand for universitas magistrorum et scholarium, that is, a "community of teachers and scholars.”

Sometimes a university is more than that, and sometimes, less. That’s a story for another time.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, April 15, 2016

“Mannish Boy”….hold that thought

When McKinley Morganfield was born 103 years ago, nobody knew that he would become “the father of modern Chicago blues.”

That’s because nobody knew he was Muddy Waters. That didn’t come out right away.

Lucky for us, folklorist Alan Lomax “discovered” Muddy Waters” in 1941 and made the first recordings of the unshackled voice of the blues that would make such an enduring, personal statement in such fully dimensioned classics as “Rollin’ Stone,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Got My Mojo Workin,’” and “Mannish Boy.”

If you’ve never heard Muddy’s voice, listen to him here, singing
“…I spell mmm, aaa child, nnn
That represents man
No B, O child, Y…”

Waters can make you a believer about the good qualities of a mannish boy, in a Delta blues kind of way.

He was one of the genuine musicians who seriously influenced the likes of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones—who took their name from the classic Muddy Waters song.

Waters didn’t have to wrap his lips around the microphone to sing his full-throated songs that invoke zest, and longing, and desperately earnest immersion in life, always up to the hilt….

His mojo never stopped working.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 31, 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.

Friday, March 25, 2016

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.

“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.

Scott Joplin
Here’s a link to a 1911 recording made a few months after the song hit the market….and here's a linkto 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.

Monday, March 21, 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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lest we forget….

Maybe it was mentioned in the recent “too white” Oscar flub-a-dub, but I’ll just rack ‘em up one more time for Hattie McDaniel.

If you’re asking “Who’s Hattie McDaniel?” you’re not a Gone With The Wind fan.

Hattie McDaniel (1895-1957) was “Mammy” in that remarkably durable romantic swashbuckler.

She also was the first black thespian to earn an Oscar. She took Best Supporting Actress in 1940, one of the eight Oscars awarded to Gone With The Wind.

Hattie had many talents. She sang in traveling minstrel groups as a teenager, and was one of the first black women to be a radio singer in the U. S.

She started doing films in 1932, and played the roles of maids and cooks in almost 40 films in the 1930s, capping that run with her memorable role as a house slave, opposite Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

Hattie’s portrayal of stereotypical black servants was criticized in some quarters, but she shrugged that off, saying she’d rather play a maid than be one.

Too bad it’s too late to say “You go, girl!”

p.s. my trusted personal advisor notes that Hattie—the only black person who was sitting down at the Oscar awards ceremony—wasn’t seated at one of the banquet tables with the white folks, she sat with her escort at a small round table near the kitchen door. Oh yeah, another thing: Clark Gable had intended to escort Hattie to the premiere of Gone With The Wind in Atlanta, but he was waved off—neither Hattie nor any other black person was allowed to attend the film showing.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A dark corner of history….

Here’s a despicable flashback you’ll wish you don’t have to believe:

May 30, 1922, the formal dedication of the new Lincoln Memorial in Washington. 

The few black folks who were invited were forced to sit in a separate, roped-off section. Robert Moton, president of Tuskegee Institute—he was a featured speaker that day—was not permitted to sit on the speaker’s platform, and instead had to sit in the segregated section.

A reporter for the Chicago Defender, appalled by this flagrant display of racism, wrote “The venomous snake of segregation reared its head at the ded­ication…The conquered have become victorious."

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Alexander Graham Bell patented his “electrical speech machine” 140 years ago. A few months later he tried unsuccessfully to sell the patent to Western Union. Apparently the company didn’t think the invention had much promise. 

I think Bell would have bet the ranch that it was plain crazy to imagine that people would someday be able to walk down the street while they were talking to a friend on the other side of the world. One story has it that Bell thought folks would use the telephone primarily to listen to distant musical performances.

In his youth Bell was a dedicated tinkerer, with a steady penchant for inventing gadgets and stuff. Before the telephone became a reality, he and his brothers “built a working model of a mouth, throat, nose, and movable tongue, and attached a set of bellows for lungs. They were so successful in getting the model to wail ‘MaMa’ that the neighbors began to search for a child in distress.”

What are your kids inventing these days?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

“…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 54 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 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, February 26, 2016

"A Man of Feeling…"

Journalist, novelist

Morley once contributed a few words to an advertisement for Leary's Book Store in Philadelphia:

"…Why do the literary journals say so little in honor of man's only nirvana, the Secondhand Bookstore?...A Man of Feeling always frequents the secondhanders."

Exactly. I find that I am never annoyed by spending another few minutes in an old bookstore where there are used books stacked floor to ceiling….

If that makes me a "Man of Feeling," well, yes, I plead guilty.

Sadly, Leary's—despite Morley's kind words—closed its doors in 1969.

Requiescat in pace.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The boob tube….

My parents were early adopters in the early 1950s: they bought a television set. How they rationalized that expenditure I do not know. I think it was a portable, maybe with a 7-inch screen.

They were among millions who were putting down the cash to acquire technology with rabbit ears.

TV in its infancy was the fastest blooming technology in the history of humankind.

At the end of World War II there were only a few tens of thousands of privately owned television sets. Within 10 years, two-thirds of American households had one. By the early 1960s more than 90 percent of homes had a boob tube.

In the early years, when few households had a set, the neighborhood tended to gather at the house with a TV for a social evening, watching whatever was on one of the (maximum 3) available channels. I was a kid when the family drove into Philadelphia to watch The Wizard of Oz on my uncle’s brand-new color TV.

I don’t watch TV now—stopped channel checking almost seven years ago. OK, I make exceptions for the Super Bowl and the State of the Union address and election returns in early November.

I’m bound to say I don’t think I’m missing much.

The news media industry, particularly TV, has become a beast with no scruples. I think it is deranging our society.

At least, in the old days, we had the Milton Berle Show.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Your great-grandmother didn’t have a teddy bear

Did you have a special name for your teddy bear?

I did not, or, at least, I don’t remember one. My teddy bear was nearly as big as me, as I recall my earliest memory of that huggable creature.

He got all scruffy with age, and a bit broken down….nonetheless, I think I cried when I spotted that bear in flames in the trash burner we used way back then. I think I wanted to save him, but I don’t think the rescue actually occurred.
1903 teddy bear

Anyway. Your great-grandmom likely didn’t have one, because retailer Morris Michtom introduced the stuffed bear toy in 1903 after getting approval from President Roosevelt (Teddy) for the use of his nickname in the soon-to-be-quite-popular commercial sensation.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

When safety standards were more interesting….

In 1912, testing the ruggedness and protective features of a football helmet was a fairly straightforward process:

1912 helmet safety test

Find someone who knew how to simulate diving through the defensive line, strap the helmet on him and do the test.

William "Pudge" Heffelfinger

Football already was starting to hit the big time in 1912. You might say that professional football got started on November 12, 1892, when the Allegheny Athletic Association paid William “Pudge” Heffelfinger $500 under the table to help the AAA team beat the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, 4-0 (touchdowns were worth 4 points at that time). Nobody worried too much about head or brain injuries back then.

The thing that bothers me most about the safety test picture is that the three safety consultants appear to be enjoying themselves a bit overmuch. Of course, they didn’t have TV back then.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

“…led by donkeys…”

At the outbreak of World War I, Britain had a relatively small professional army (247,000 men). Close to half of them were stationed overseas throughout the British Empire.

Thus, on the home island in August 1914, Britain’s generals mustered about 150,000 men to be the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that crossed the English Channel, to join the French in fighting the German attackers.

Within three months, that half of Britain’s professional army was gone. Most of the men in the BEF were dead.

p.s. Britain’s total WWI casualties: 673,375 dead and missing, 1,643,469 wounded

Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1492- Present (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005), 360.

See also:

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.