Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Canadians are coming!


Well, not really, but almost 100 years ago American military planners weren’t so sure.

You may have heard or learned in school that Canada is the only country for which the United States doesn’t have a standby war plan in case hostilities become imminent.

In the 1920s the Canadian military feared that their country might become a battleground if Britain and the United States were to escalate their competition for dominance around the world. So, as explained in a Boston Globe book review, the Canadians developed a plan to preemptively invade and conduct a holding operation to give British troops time to come over and pile on.


On our side, military planners cooked up “War Plan Red” (yeah, they did pick snazzy code names back then) to stop Canadian invaders in their tracks.

World War II got started a short time later and the Canadians and British and Americans found themselves on the same side and the war plans were ultimately pigeonholed.


Now, let’s be frank: today Canada has the world’s third-largest petroleum reserves and it has 20% of the planet’s fresh water supply. Not insignificant treasure.

Still, I don’t think any Americans are going to be heading to Toronto in a troop carrier any time soon.








Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book reviewing, the dubious career path….


Book reviewing never has been the noblest profession.

The art of the book review is relatively young. Edgar Allan Poe wrote some reviews for Graham’s Magazine in the 1840s. The first explicitly titled book review appeared in 1861—it was a sweetheart review, in the awkwardly reserved language of the era:

“The present work has the additional recommendation of an unmistakably useful subject…”

An interesting point is that no one thought there was a need for book reviews before the middle of the 19th century. The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History says:

“By the 1840s, improved production techniques and faster distribution networks meant that middle-class readers in America could expect convenient access to a wide range of literary materials in a variety of formats. But they also meant that readers trained to prize discernment needed more sophisticated ways to evaluate the materials passing before their eyes. This was one of the requirements that led to early attempts to define an American national literary canon.”

Book reviewers haven’t been getting a lot of respect since the early days. Poe criticized book reviews in 1846:

"We place on paper without hesitation a tissue of flatteries, to which in society we could not give utterance, for our lives, without either blushing or laughing outright."

A century later, George Orwell had these unkind words for reviewers:

“In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be ‘This book is worthless’, while the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be “This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to.”

If you’re feeling the urge to be a full-time book reviewer, take a moment and think about medical school.






Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bicycle what?


Sometimes we tend to think the ancients and so-called savages and sadly disadvantaged foreigners have strange medical practices, but we don’t have to look elsewhere for doctors gone bonkers….

Vox.com offers this little gem about a dark corner of late 19th century American medical care that flourished for a while when bicycling was a new fad and all the rage.

Doctors—almost exclusively male—took great pains to warn women that riding a bicycle could cause “bicycle face.” You know, bicycle face….

Here’s a quote from the Literary Digest in 1895: "Over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one's balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted 'bicycle face . . .'"

And more: the “bicycle face” is “usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness . . .characterized by a hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes."


You know, bicycle face….

I guess maybe you had to be a doctor to recognize the symptoms….

And another thing: you have to wonder where women bought those exercise outfits….







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Plugging the meter….


The first parking meter was put into operation on July 16, 1935, in Oklahoma City, OK. It cost a nickel to park downtown for an hour on the southeast corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue.

Park-O-Meter No. 1


Finding a parking space was becoming a problem for motorists and shoppers. Nevertheless, some drivers fought the parking fee, calling it a “tax” without due process of law.

That gripe didn’t get any traction.

Within a half dozen years, there were 140,000 parking meters in America.

You know the rest of the story.









Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Colonization: think of it as a bad idea….


Remember that white European impulse to establish colonies all over the world? It was the thing to do for several centuries, and it died hard.

Just for the record: the first two American soldiers were killed in South Vietnam 56 years ago, in July 1959, long before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, long before “escalation” began and long before some guys started burning their draft cards.

Maj. Dale Ruis and MSgt. Chester Oynand died at Bien Hoa in their Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) compound during a guerrilla attack.

The MAAG had been set up in South Vietnam in November 1955, barely more than a year after the last French soldiers died in Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu.




Some folks in America thought it was a good idea at the time.












Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Trash, it turns out, is really old news


The first identifiable landfill was first used about 5,000 years ago on the island of Crete. I guess it was pretty much a run-of-the-mill landfill, except that probably no one knew exactly what to call it. 

There weren’t any bulldozers back then to cover up the mess, so I wonder if anyone had the courage to object to hauling trash and garbage to that particular spot and just dumping it there in a pile.

We still haven’t figured out a good solution for taking care of our trash, really, and in some parts of the world, like Japan and Europe, acceptable landfill sites are becoming filled to capacity. Guess what happens next—less acceptable landfill sites are going to be used, and then unacceptable landfill sites are going to be used.


The Atlantic magazine recently reported that about three-quarters of the stuff in the trash stream in America could be composted or recycled, but it isn’t. Most of it is being buried or burned.

The average American produces about 130 pounds of trash each month.

Those Cretans who started piling up their trash 5,000 years ago got us started on the wrong track.

We’re trashing the planet, and I think the trash thing is going to bite us soon, in a lot less than 5,000 years.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Declaration was a re-write

Book review:
Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House Inc., 1998.

The Declaration of Independence was a re-write….and it didn’t start the Revolution.

A quick review of what we know about the Declaration, courtesy of the late Prof. Pauline Maier: basically, it’s trash talk to King George III.


This book exposes the backstory of the Declaration. Yes, Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft in his stuffy room in Philadelphia, but the final document is the work of many hands. The Second Continental Congress substantially re-worked Jefferson's draft. The Declaration didn't "start" the American Revolution. It wasn't the "kickoff" event. It was more like a final formality to officially authorize the colonial rebellion which had been evolving for years and which had already been the subject of a shooting war for more than a year.


A point that’s interesting to me: much of the stirring prose in the Declaration had already been written in various forms by Jefferson and others in the multitude of documents approved locally throughout the colonies, expressing the colonials' increasing frustration with the failure of their efforts to negotiate a suitable accommodation with the King and his ministers and Parliament. Until the shooting started, there was persistent strong support throughout the colonies for remaining within the empire as long as American self-government could be sustained. 


 Finally, there is Maier's take on the Declaration as a late blooming "American Scripture." She documents, and challenges, the 19th century politicians' cumulative (and heedlessly incorrect) re-interpretation of the Declaration as a statement of governing principles and a blueprint for American political values and American democracy. Maier makes a plain case that the Declaration was intended only to demonstrate why, finally, the colonial disdain of King George had made American rebellion necessary and unavoidable.

A note for the serious reader: Chapter 4 incongruously seems to stray into anecdotal commentary on various interpretations by Abraham Lincoln and others. I understand the imputed relevance, but this section of American Scripture seemed to be casually written and insufficiently edited.







Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.