Friday, January 30, 2015

The Hulk, Green Lantern, Obadiah Oldbuck….

Comic books are a staple of American literature. Haven’t you wished, at least once, that your cherished comic books of yore had been saved….?

As a matter of fact, kids (and parents) have been carelessly discarding those cherished comic books for almost 200 years. provides the evidence, see it here.

Rudolphe Topffer of Switzerland is credited with publishing the first comic book (in Europe) in 1827—his masterpiece, The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, was published in the U.S. in 1837.

Now, this one would not pass muster as a Marvel comic. In the early 19th century, such as Obadiah and his shenanigans were considered to be targeted to children and “the lower classes.” This marginally droll story may have been a hoot in 1837, but it seems a bit dry for modern taste. Also, no super powers.

Read The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck here.

Spoiler alert: Obadiah tries to kill himself a half dozen times, but he’s not good at it….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Technically, he was elected....

At last, in the mid-1770s, the American colonists actually rebelled against their king and mother country. One of the reasons for the Revolution was most Americans’ persistent belief that they were Englishmen, entitled to all the historical rights of the king’s subjects.

Among these historical, sacred and hard-won rights was the right to vote for men who would represent them in Parliament. You know, “no taxation without representation,” and so on.

It’s too easy to forget that only a select class of men were entitled to vote. Ladies, forget it. Poor and landless folks, in general, forget it.

Case in point: in 1788-89, only 43,782 gents voted in the election that put George Washington in the president’s office of the newly independent American colonies. In other words, less than 2% of the non-slave population of the colonies (roughly 2.4 million free, 600,000 slave) went to the polls.

Another case in point: in 1774, the man who led Britain into war with the North American colonies was re-elected to Parliament by 18 men in the town of Banbury, Oxfordshire.

Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, was King George’s prime minister. Lord North’s Tory government decided to call an early parliamentary election in the summer of 1774, to catch their political opponents off guard—a regular election would have been required in spring of 1775.

North had undisputed control of his Banbury bailiwick, the site of his venerable family estate. Only 18 Banbury men had the bloodlines and legal standing to vote. The prime minister’s agent “assembled them for supper, with wine and cheese and a bowl of punch, and they duly elected Lord North.”(1)

Sometimes the same old story peeks from the pages of the history books….

(1) Nick BunkerAn Empire on the Edge (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 322.

The Declaration was a re-write

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

“Liberty”?....what do you mean?

What did American colonists mean when they spoke of “liberty” and “independence”?

There are many dimensions of those words. In the context of today’s hyper, indulgent claims about the thoughts and opinions of the so-called “Founding Fathers,” I think it’s important to note that our current understanding of those two words is remarkably different from the way typical late 18th century colonists understood them.

For example:
“In the pre-revolutionary world of Washington and Lafayette, the notion of equality was almost literally unthinkable. Lafayette’s early opposition to slavery was as prescient as it was commendable, but neither he nor Washington considered slaves or Native Americans (or most other people) as even remotely their equals, whatever their stated principles. Distinctions of rank were implicit in the unspoken language of everyday life, imbedded too deep to be much remarked on even when they were pointedly felt, as they often were. Freedom, too, was a strange concept. In both the colonies and in France, the word ‘liberty’ usually referred to a traditional or newly granted privilege, such as an exemption from tax. Among the French aristocracy’s greatest complaints against Louis was the loss of such special considerations, or ‘liberties.’ The model of ‘independence’ that Washington held before him was that of the Virginia gentleman, whose property and wealth liberated him from the need to be dependent on anyone, even powerful friends. To declare one’s independence was to declare oneself an aristocrat.”

Neither “liberty” nor “independence” carried what we think of as familiar connotations within the modern liberal-conservative political spectrum. Indeed, in several respects, neither of those words was associated in colonial times with the ideologies, functions or practices of government.

The quote is from For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette and Their Revolutions, by James R. Gaines (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 12-13).

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sheesh! It’s just a piano….

Some people have too much money.

One of the two pianos used in Bogie’s “Casablanca” masterpiece went under the auctioneer's gavel recently—for $3.4 million.

For that kind of dough, you have to figure the new owner is thrilled beyond all human understanding to know that there is an authentic wad of mummified chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the keyboard….maybe Bogie put it there….

It’s a nice looking upright piano and all.

I gladly assume the buyer accumulated his/her obvious wealth in completely legal ways, so he/she absolutely has the right to spend it any which way.

I’m just saying that, f’rinstance, $3.4 million would buy about 425,000 books for poor kids who don’t have even one book in their homes.

Just saying.

…and here’s another thought: suppose it wasn’t Bogie, suppose Dooley Wilson (“Sam” the piano player) stuck that gum there? Is the piano really worth $3.4 mil?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The horses are gone, but....

I think it’s a good idea to reflect, every so often, on what life was really like in the past, especially the even slightly distant past that we may carelessly characterize as “the good old days.”

For instance, let’s talk about carbon monoxide, eternally spewing from the tailpipes of those infernal machines with internal combustion engines, and the accelerating destruction of our atmosphere, and global climate change and global warming and stuff….

Yeah, we can yearn for an earlier time when we weren’t cooking the planet.

Like 1900, before cars and trucks and airplanes were ubiquitous….

….when horses were everywhere, when it was superfluous to use the words “horse-drawn” when mentioning a carriage or wagon or trolley….

….when approximately 3 million horses were the transportation motive power in American cities….

….when all those horses were dropping 20-25 pounds of manure—each—every day….

….when the 15,000 nags in Rochester, NY, produced enough equine hockey pucks in a year to cover 
an acre of ground with a mountain of manure 175 feet deep….

….when everyone just stepped around or over the mounds of horse stuff, and nobody sued anybody about environmental impact statements and stuff….

Y’know, honestly, they just piled it up somewhere, that’s the way they took care of it.

‘Course, that’s the way we take care of a lot of our problems today.

Surprising as it may seem, most of the horses disappeared, but the horseshit is still with us.

See Jeff Jacoby's column in The Boston Sunday Globe, December 28, 2014

Check out this 1974 book by Otto Bettmann, The Good Old Days—They Were Terrible!

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The melting pot is real....

In some parts of the American South, about 1 out of 8 “white” people have at least one black ancestor.

We’ve always known that some black folks have a white granddad somewhere in the family tree.

Recently I read Clotel, or The President’s Daughter, by William Wells Brown. It’s reputed to be the first novel written by a black American. Brown, a former slave, published it in 1853.

In her foreword to the 1996 edition of Clotel, Dr. Joan Cashin notes: “Historians estimate that perhaps 10 percent of the four million slaves living in the South in 1860 had some white ancestry.”Brown extensively documented the well-known inclination of some white male slaveowners to rape their female slaves, and, with some regularity, produce mixed-race children.

We all know a little bit about dominant and recessive genes. Some children of black-and-white parents are very dark-skinned, and some are very light-skinned, and most are somewhere in between. The reality of “passing for white” has been known for centuries.

Now has offered a modern, complementary factoid: “…in a lot of the South, about 10 percent of people who identified as white turned out to have African DNA…” Researchers writing recently in the American Journal of Human Genetics used DNA analysis to characterize the ancestry of folks who think of themselves as white.

In South Carolina and Louisiana, about 1 out of 8 self-identified “white” folks have DNA from African-American ancestors.

Detailed DNA analysis showed that the initial white/black unions “…generally occurred in the early 1800s…”

As we all know, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings weren’t the only ones doing it.

1 -  p. xiii