Saturday, August 27, 2016

Gee willikers, six miles an hour!

Roller coasters have been a hit since the early 1800s in France.

The first roller coaster in America opened in 1884 on Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Hold that thought.

First roller coaster - Coney Island
LaMarcus Thompson built that wooden wonder and called it the “Switchback Railway.” Basically, the cars started at one end of a slightly elevated track, rolled 600 feet to the other end, and then rolled back to the starting point. The ticket price was a nickel. That baby traveled at 6 mph. Ladies, beware!

Nevertheless, it was a big hit and by 1900 there were hundreds of bigger and faster coasters in operation around the country.

Today, the highest roller coaster in the U. S. is Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. It’s 456 feet high and top speed is 128 mph. Gee willikers.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The women who pioneered electronic music

Electronic music doesn’t talk to me in a real loud voice, but this piece from rings a few bells.

It’s intriguing because it mentions the not too surprising fact that women were involved in the earliest incarnations of electronic music, back in the 1950s and even earlier.

Didja ever hear of Daphne Oram, Laurie Spiegel, √Čliane Radigue or Pauline Oliveros?

I think it’s a good bet I can say “Of course you didn’t.”

OpenCulture explains that these women represent a small sampling of too-often-overlooked electronic composers, musicians, engineers, and theorists whose work deserves wider appreciation, not because it’s made by women, but because it’s innovative, technically brilliant, and beautiful music made by people who happen to be women.”

Laurie Spiegel

Read a little bit about them and hear their ethereal music here.

Amen, sister.

I’m sticking with Odetta and Joan Baez (her early work), but this was a tantalizing interlude.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The times they are a-changin’….

The inexorable demographic transformation of America is part of the context for the current dangerous turmoil in our politics.

For instance, points out that less than half of Americans are now classified as white Christians. Less than 30% of the 18-29 age cohort identify themselves as white Christians.

Nevertheless, it’s true that almost three-quarters of all adults claim to be Christian (including Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and other non-Protestant Christian faiths). So, the minority status of white Christians is largely driven by the increasing proportion of persons of color in the U. S. population.

Increasing diversity of the American citizenry is inevitable. Increasingly, ballot boxes will reflect this trend.

I think these changes will make American society richer in so many ways.

I look forward to the election of more folks who will champion the kind of government an increasingly diverse population needs and wants.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Blame the men!

As you know, it wasn’t always true in the United States that women were “permitted” to vote.

In 1889, legislators in the Wyoming territory approved a constitution establishing the right of women to vote. Wyoming became the national pioneer in legalizing women’s suffrage in 1890 when it was admitted to the union as the 44th state. (As territories, Wyoming and a couple others allowed women to vote as early as 1869).

The Isle of Man in the Irish Sea gave women who owned property the right to vote in 1881. In 1893 New Zealand became the first country to establish national women’s suffrage.

In America, women were unable to vote in most eastern states until August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

So, when you’re thinking about U. S. history, keep in mind that men get all the credit—and all the blame—for the actions of the colonies and the national government for the first three hundred years or so.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Kids will be kids -- update

There has been a fascinating and, I think, poorly understood evolution of parenting and childhood since the earliest colonial days of the American experience.

Paula S. Fass writes about it in The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child (Princeton University Press, 2006). A New York Times reviewer points out that the narrative gets a bit lost in the most recent history of “helicopter parents” who are overwhelmingly focused on controlling and protecting their children so they grow up to great lives with success and affluence and notable careers and….cue the all-important play date….make sure Joshua can get into Yale….

It’s intriguing to me to understand that colonial parents rather consciously moved away from the Old World view of children as economic resources, and adopted a more relaxed willingness to give their kids some degree of independence and flexibility in their paths to adult life. Of course, kids were put to work at a young age, but parents gave them opportunity and approval to feel engaged in the work and be open to wider horizons and innovation. Europeans thought that American children were “rude, unmannerly and bold.”

There were many circumstantial differences at work. In the colonies and early United States, there was an abundance of cheap land and a shortage of labor, and thus, pervasive opportunities for personal success. The European tradition of primogeniture was largely absent: on our side of the Atlantic, a father’s land and estate did not pass automatically to the firstborn son, so the more egalitarian inheritance practices boosted the life prospects of most children.

Of course, there’s another side to the childhood narrative: slave children in America were often treated as economic units by their owners. That’s a disgusting reality in our history.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


It was big news 140 years ago.

The Transcontinental Express made the trip from New York City to San Francisco in 83 hours—only three days and 11 hours!—and stunned the nation. A human being could ride the rails and cross the country in less than four days. Yowza!

The coast-to-coast railroad connection had been completed only seven years earlier, after the federal government had supported the epic project with millions in government bonds and vast land grants. (Quite a few people got rich, illegally, in the process, and some members of Congress were in that clique).

The amazing fact of speedy passage from sea to shining seas was celebrated as a boon to commercial and industrial development, and to the national prestige of the United States, which had more miles of railroad track than any other country.

Some of the folks who read the news on June 4, 1876, could remember that it took Vice President Jefferson 10 days to travel the 225 miles, using horsepower, from Monticello to his office in Philadelphia (the national capital until 1801). notes that at the time, the 100-mile trip from Philadelphia to New York City required “two days hard travel in a light stagecoach.” The word “comfortable” wasn’t used in any ads by stagecoach operators. 

 For a lot of folks, travel on the early transcontinental trains wasn’t much of a treat. First-class passengers wallowed in sumptuous splendor, but third-class travelers got a narrow wooden bench to sit on, no privacy and darn little respect—the third-class coaches often were shunted onto sidings to allow faster express trains to take precedence on the single track that served most of the route. The hoi polloi spent a whole lot more than 83 hours in their noisy coaches as they made the cross-country passage.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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.