Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The art of Victor Hugo

“Aimons toujours ! Aimons encore !
 Quand l'amour s'en va, l'espoir fuit.
 L'amour, c'est le cri de l'aurore,
 L'amour c'est l'hymne de la nuit.”

Victor Marie Hugo (1802-1885)
French Romantic poet and writer

You know Victor Hugo:  Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Les Travailleurs de la Mer….

You might have forgotten that Hugo was the premier French Romantic poet of the early 19th century.

The lines above are the first quatrain of “Aimons toujours! Aimons encore!,” a wonderfully emotive love poem included in Les Contemplations, published in 1856.

My translation:
We love each other always! We love each other still!
When love is no more, hope flies.
Love, the herald of the dawn,
Love is the hymn of the night.

When was the last time you whispered to your beloved: “Love is the hymn of the night”?

Y’know, get Romantic and all….

Try it tonight.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cultural authenticity....wha?

Diane Ravitch thinks we’re missing something in America, and I think she’s right.

Ravitch is an historian of education and a high profile expert on education policy.

She’s also an authentic, reflective thinker and commentator on the American scene.

Almost 25 years ago she edited The American Reader: Words That Moved A Nation, showcasing the span of American wordsmiths from Ben Franklin (Poor Richard’s Almanac) to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (“Paul Revere’s Ride”) to Walt Whitman (“O Captain! My Captain!”) to Jacob Riis (The Battle with the Slum) to Margaret Sanger (“The Right to One’s Body”) to Woody Guthrie  (“This Land Is Your Land”) to Bob Dylan (“Blowin’ in the Wind”) to Ronald Reagan (Speech at Moscow State University).

In the first revision of American Reader in 2000, Ravitch confessed that she had cut some original content from the 1970s and 1980s because the pieces didn’t “…match the literary quality of the earlier selections and [didn’t] resonate in the national consciousness…”

She explained:
“It seems to me…that cultural authenticity is harder to find than in the past…songs were once shared by children, parents, grandparents and entire communities…The popular songs of recent years have short lives; they were written mainly for teenagers, with lyrics that are neither important nor memorable...I am unable to identify any contemporary poems that are known and loved by large numbers of ordinary Americans…With few exceptions, the political speeches of the recent past seem to me to be singularly devoid of lasting significance…Our presidents in the closing decades of the twentieth century were known more for their slogans, sound ‘bites,’ and off-the-cuff remarks than for the kinds of speeches that once spoke directly to the American public’s hopes and concerns and resonated in its collective memory.
“In this age of instantaneous mass communications, words do not seem to be as precious as they once were.”(1)

Ouch. The shoe fits…but, let’s be candid, it pinches quite a bit.

(1) Diane Ravitch, The American Reader: Words That Moved A Nation (New York: Perennial/HarperCollinsPublishers, 2000), xviii-xix.

History, memory....what really happened?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The “first “ 13th Amendment

Ever hear of the “Corwin Amendment”?

I learned about it in an opinion piece by Jon Grinspan in this New York Times piece.

The so-called Corwin Amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that would forever protect the right of states to legalize slavery. In fact, it was passed by Congress on March 2, 1861 (before the shooting started at Fort Sumter), with the approval of President Lincoln, and technically it’s still on the books, waiting for possible ratification by the states.

It would have been the 13th Amendment if two-thirds of the states had ratified it in the early 1860s.
The official 13th Amendment, finally ratified on December 6, 1865, abolished slavery and “involuntary servitude,” except as punishment for a crime.

The Corwin Amendment was sponsored by Rep. Thomas Corwin (OH) and Sen. William Seward (NY), who became Secretary of State as one of Lincoln’s “team of rivals.”

The proposed amendment stated:
“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

In other words, it would have forever prohibited any amendment to the Constitution that would outlaw slavery.

The supporters of the Corwin Amendment hoped that it and other measures might forestall the impending outbreak of hostilities that became the bloody Civil War.

This historical dead-end reinforces my general view that, at least at the outset, the dynamics that created the Civil War were not primarily focused on “keeping or abolishing slavery,” I believe there was a complex dynamic of personal, commercial, state and sectional power issues (including the “peculiar institution” and the hotly disputed extension of slavery to new states) that fostered states’ rights talk, and secession, and the shooting war.

The proposal was approved by bare two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate—and note: seven states had already seceded, and the elected congressmen from those states did NOT vote on the amendment.

Wrong on so many levels.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Saturday, February 7, 2015

$135 per minute for long distance?

“Unlimited minutes” is what we like to hear these days.

Listen, hold that incoming call from your buddy in Hong Kong for a sec….

This month is the 100th anniversary of the first transcontinental phone call in the United States. Alexander Graham Bell—in New York City—called his long-time assistant, Thomas Watson—in San Francisco—over the new ATT&T line that ran 3,400 miles across the country.

“Ahoy! Ahoy! Mr. Watson, are you there? Do you hear me?”

Watson took the call, and history was made.

In 1915 folks had reason to tell themselves that the world was getting smaller. Little did they know….

The first commercial long-distance call was made on the evening of January 25—a fellow in San Francisco called his mom on the East Coast.

Now, of course, he didn’t have unlimited minutes. That call cost him about $7 a minute in 1915 dollars—roughly equivalent to about $135 per minute today.

“Hi Mom, it’s me, Bobby, guess where I am!”

p.s. in 1915 a coast-to-coast railroad trip lasted 90 hours—almost 4 days. 

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015