Wednesday, May 31, 2006 05/31/06-Oscar Wilde

In today's excerpt--the Irish playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). One of the most successful playwrights of Victorian London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day, he suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned after being convicted in a notorious trial for homosexual acts . A list of his most famous works would include The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel, The Importance of Being Earnest, a play, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a poem. As evidenced here, he was known for his rapier wit:

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

"When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers." An Ideal Husband, 1893

"I can resist anything but temptation." Lady Windermere's Fan, Act I, 1892

"Only the shallow know themselves." Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young, 1882

"There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel no one else has the right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution." The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple." The Importance of Being Earnest, Act I, 1895

"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 05/30/06-Propaganda

In today's excerpt, the British literary elite and other highest profile individuals are brought in to assist in World War I propaganda efforts. A central figure was John Buchan, author in 1915 of the novel the Thirty- Nine Steps, which was adapted to the screen by Hitchcock in 1935. In this war, the British took propaganda--spin doctoring--to an altogether new level in resources employed, structure and sophistication:

"In December 1916...Buchan was put forward to run a propaganda department.

"Propaganda was not a new weapon in the Government's armoury. . . Charles Masterman . . . had been appointed to head a propaganda bureau...and on 2 September 1914 he brought together twenty five leading British authors to discuss propaganda. They included J.M. Barrie, Arnold Bennett, Robert Bridges, G.K. Chesterton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Hope Hawkins, John Masefield, Gilbert Murray, Sir Henry Newbolt, G.M. Trevelyan and H.G. Wells. Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, though unable to attend, also offered their services.

"The Central Committee for National Patriotic Associations had been formed in August 1914 with Asquith as honorary chairman...and coordinated the activities of other groups such as 'The Fight for Right Movement'..."

"(Buchan also) brought in...the explorer Reginald Farrar, E.S.P. Haynes and the cricketer Pelham Warner. Other members of the department included...Sir Ernest Shackleton and the historian Arnold Toynbee...The head of Reuters, Roiderick Jones, whom Buchan had known in South Africa, was appointed to run the section on cable and wireless propaganda, F.S. Oliver went briefly to the British Dominions Section and Alexander Watt was made the Department's Literary Agent."

Andrew Lownie, John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier, Godine Publisher, 1995, p. 127-8

submitted by reader Bob Gervais

Friday, May 26, 2006 05/26/06-Population Trends

In today's excerpt, populations trends. Population trends have been a neglected component in analysis of political and economic trends--often avoided because of the controversy they bring to any analysis. An example: the current situation of Muslims in Europe and Hispanics immigrating into the U.S. can be better understood when it is noted that the Caucasian populations of Europe and the U.S. are essentially not growing, while the Arabic and Hispanic populations are growing at a rate estimated by various sources at between 1% and 3% per year-- and, in the well-established historical pattern, this immigration has been part of the inevitable in- migration necessary to accommodate economic growth. However, the importance of population trends is such that they are now increasingly the subject of commentary:

"President Vladimar V. Putin drew from the Soviet past on Wednesday when he championed the role of motherhood in preventing Russia from becoming a state short of citizens. Russia's population is shrinking, and demographers warn that it is within a generation of plummeting...The problem can be found in the numbers. Russia has roughly 143 million people, and the population drops an average of 700,000 each year..."

C.J. Chivers, 'Russians, Busy Making Shrouds, Are Asked to Make Babies,' The New York Times, May 14, 2006, section 4, p. 4

"(Phillip) Longman has spent many years studying demographic trends, and the conclusions are unsettling...birthrates in America and around the world are declining beneath sustainability...with potential shifts in global prosperity and power...The key concept is that of fertility rates. The 'replacement fertility rate,' which is to say the number of children the average woman needs to bear for a population to sustain itself, is 2.1...The United States has the highest fertility rate in the industrialized world (2.09), but this mainly reflects the contribution of our 1800, the fertility rate among white Americans was 7.04; by 1998, it was 2.07...a decline interrupted by only the Baby Boom.

"...capitalism and falling populations don't mix well. Consider Japan and Europe. Japan's fertility rate is 1.34...and its economy is in shambles...Italy--never, and certainly not now, a model of smoothly running capitalism--will lose 13% of its population by 2050. In Russia, which is already losing 750,000 people a year, that future is now."

Jonathan Last, "The Population Contraction," The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 21, 2006, Section C, p. 1

Thursday, May 25, 2006 05/25/06-Government as the Problem

In today's excerpt, words from the first inaugural address of Ronald Reagan, delivered on January 20th, 1981. Starting with his speeches for GE, through his governorship of California, and through his presidential campaign, Reagan's statement of philosophy had increasingly been "get the government out of the bedroom and out of the boardroom." His philosophy was succinctly captured in his first inaugural speech:

"The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we as American have the capacity now, as we've had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time, we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden."

Michael Waldman, My Fellow Americans, Sourcebooks, 2003, pp. 247-8

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 05/23/06-Lyndon Johnson

In today's encore excerpt, Robert Caro describes Lyndon B. Johnson's genius at "reading" others:

"While Lyndon Johnson was not, as his two assistants knew, a reader of books, he was, they knew, a reader of men--a great reader of men. He had a genius for studying a man and learning his strengths and weaknesses and hopes and fears, his deepest strengths and weaknesses: what it was that the man wanted--not what he said he wanted but what he really wanted--and what it was that the man feared, really feared.

"He tried to teach his young assistants to read men-- 'Watch their hands, watch their eyes,' he told them. 'Read eyes. No matter what a man is saying to you, it's not as important as what you can read in his eyes'--and to read between the lines: more interested in men's weaknesses than in their strengths because it was weakness that could be exploited, he tried to teach his assistants how to learn a man's weakness. 'The most important thing a man has to tell you is what he isn't telling you,' he said. 'The most important thing a man has to say is what he's trying not to say.' For that reason, he told them, it was important to keep the man talking; the longer he talked, the more likely he was to let slip a hint of that vulnerability he was so anxious to conceal. 'That's why he wouldn't let a conversation end.' Busby explains. 'If he saw the other fellow was trying not to say something, he wouldnt let (the conversation) end until he got it out of him.' And Lyndon Johnson himself read with a genius that couldn't be taught, with a gift that was so instinctive that a close observer of his reading habits, Robert G. (Bobby) Baker, calls it a 'sense'; 'He seemed to sense each man's individual price and the commodity he preferred as coin.' He read with a novelist's sensitivity, with an insight that was unerring, with an ability, shocking in the depth of its penetration and perception, to look into a man's heart and know his innermost worries and desires."

Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, p. 136

Monday, May 22, 2006 05/22/06-Change

In todays encore excerpts--former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and John Steinbeck on the subject of change:

My general experience in life has been that most people can change only within a narrow range, if at all. Many people can acknowledge criticism and advice, but relatively few internalize it and alter their behavior in a significant way. Sometimes someone can change in one respect but not in another. I was involved in many discussions at Goldman over the years that centered on the question of whether a person who was highly capable professionally, but limited in some way, could grow to assume broader responsibilities. Often the limitations revolved around the ability to work effectively with colleagues and subordinates.

Robert E. Rubin, In an Uncertain World, 2003, Random House, 2003, p. 83

"Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass."

John Steinbeck (1902-1968). American novelist, story writer, playwright, and essayist

Friday, May 19, 2006 05/19/06-Walt Whitman

In today's excerpt, the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892):

"Whitman's intense love of country was reflected in his art. Leaves of Grass was not simply a book of poetry, it was a working manifesto for a new American religion based upon 'the supremacy of Individuality'--and Whitman himself was nothing if not an individual. His groundbreaking poetry, with its frank discussion of sex, bodily functions, and sweaty quotidian life, together with his carefully cultivated image as a rough-and-ready man of the people, openly challenged accepted norms of behavior. His 'barbaric yawp' was a new kind of language, the lingua franca of the common man, transmitting its revolutionary message of self-liberation and personal worth to people across all strata of society.

"The all-including 'I' of 'Song of Myself,' the longest poem in Leaves of Grass and the first great poem in the American vernacular, was not simply 'Walt Whitman, an American' but men and women everywhere, particularly those of his native country. 'I celebrate myself and sing myself,' he said in the poem's famous opening lines, 'and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.' He heard America singing, he said, in the humble voices of her workers, the unheralded farmers, sailors, storekeepers and mechanics who quietly transacted the daily business of the republic."

Roy Morris, Jr., The Better Angel, Oxford, 2000, pp. 13-4

Thursday, May 18, 2006 05/18/06-American Revolution

In today's excerpt, the influence of religion on the American Revolution. At the time of the Revolution, a large number of Americans were relatives and descendents of Puritans who had fought against the King in the English Civil War of 1640 to 1649, the war that ended in regicide and with Oliver Cromwell as the head of the government. That was a religious war--the Stuart kings were reviled by these Puritans for their Catholic connections, for the ceremony of the High Anglicans, and for the resulting commercial exclusion they experienced. But Cromwell and the Puritans were finally thrown out and suffered prejudice and oppression in the aftermath, and so for American Puritans/Presbyterians in 1776, the all-to- recent memories of the English Civil War made their enmity to the King both real and personal, and made many American pulpits rage against George III as 'The Great Satan':

"King George III and other highly placed Britons called the colonists' rebellion a 'Presbyterian War.' One after another, royal governors and Anglican clergy damned Presbyterians and Congregationalists as incipient rebels and 'Oliverians.'

"...Protestants in the American colonies were infuriated by Parliament's passage in 1774 of the Quebec Act, which reestablished the rights of the Roman Catholic Church both in Canada and in the Ohio Valley territory taken from France in 1763, thereby putting French Catholicism in the way of the westward expansion that New England and Virginia believed had been promised to them.

"...Provincial religious sensitivities had also been aroused during the 1760s and early 1770s by the maneuvers of Anglican clergymen to have the Church of England appoint bishops in the colonies and to strengthen its structure and influence in North America...One religious historian notes that 'proposals for sending a bishop to America constantly reinforced' not just Puritan but Scotch-Irish and Scots tribal memories of earlier controversies and persecution.

"...To call the American Revolution a religious war is excessive as a stand-alone explanation...yet one does well to remember how religion had been the principal reason for the original settlements in New England, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and how, more recently, the importance of the religious idiom had resurged with the Great Awakening."

Kevin Phillips, The Cousins' Wars, Basic Books, 1999, pp. 92-4

Wednesday, May 17, 2006 05/17/06-Mothers

In today's excerpt--mothers:

"As much as we may like to believe that mother animals are designed to nurture and protect their young, to fight to the death, if need be, to keep their offspring alive, in fact, nature abounds with mothers that defy the standard maternal script in a raft of macabre ways. There are mothers that zestily eat their young and mothers that drink their young's blood. Mothers that pit one young against the other in a fight to the death and mothers that raise one set of their babies on the flesh of their siblings.

"Among several mammals, including lions, mice and monkeys, females will either spontaneously abort their fetuses or abandon their newborns when times prove rocky or a new male swaggers into town. Others, like pandas, practice a post-natal form of family planning, giving birth to what may be thought of as an heir and a spare, and then, when the heir fares well, walking away from the spare with nary a fare-thee-well.

"When Douglas W. Mock of the University of Oklahoma began studying egrets in Texas three decades ago, he knew that the bigger babies in a clutch would peck the smaller ones to death. 'I figured that, if the parents were around, they'd try to block these things.' Instead, Dr. Mock witnessed utter parental indifference...'In the 3000 attacks that I witnessed, I never saw a parent try to stop one. It's as though they expect it to happen.' "

Natalie Angier, Oh, Mothers!, The New York Times, May 9, 2006, The Science Times, F1-4

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 05/16/06-Robert Benchley

In todays excerpt, Robert Benchley (1889-1945), American author, actor, drama critic, humorist and member of the Algonquin roundtable. Benchley published 12 books of short stories, wrote and starred in 48 short films (winning the 1935 Oscar for How to Sleep), wrote and acted in 38 feature films, published more than 600 stories in various magazines, and was drama critic for Life magazine and The New Yorker. Samples of Benchleys wit include:

Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing

Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with, that its compounding a felony.

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who dont.

Tell us your phobias, and we will tell you what you are afraid of.

Of his own biography, Benchley wrote:

Robert Charles Benchley, born on the Isle of Wight, September 15, 1807. Shipped as a cabin boy on the Florence J. Marble, 1815. Arrested for bigamy and murder in Port Said, 1817. Released, 1820. Wrote Tale of Two Cities. Married Princess Anastasia of Portugal, 1831. Children: Prince Ruprecht and several little girls. Wrote Uncle Toms Cabin, 1850. Editor of Godeys Ladies Book, 1851-1856. Began Les Miserables In 1870, finished by Victor Hugo. Died 1871. Buried in Westminster Abbey.

Suggested by a reader

Monday, May 15, 2006 05/15/06-Zarathustra

In today's excerpt, the Iranian prophet Zarathustra, whose followers were known as Zoroastrians and who was brought back to prominence in more recent times by Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra and the Strauss tone poem of the same name that followed it:

"More than a thousand years before Christ, Zarathustra preached the existence of a heaven and a hell, the idea of a bodily resurrection, the promise of a universal savior who would one day be miraculously born to a young maiden, and the expectation that a final cosmic battle that would take place at the end of time between the angelic forces of good and the demonic forces of evil. At the center of Zarathustra's theology was a unique monotheistic system based on the sole god, Ahura Mazda ('the Wise Lord'), who fashioned the heavens and earth, the night and day, the light and the darkness. Like most ancients, however, Zarathustra could not easily conceive of his god as being the source of both good and evil. He therefore developed an ethical dualism in which two opposing spirits, Spenta Mainyu ('the beneficent spirit') and Angra Mainyu ('the hostile spirit') were responsible for good and evil, respectively."

Reza Aslan, No god but God, Random House, 2005, pp. 12-3

Friday, May 12, 2006 05/12/06-nuclear arsenals

In today's excerpt, in the 1950s, Israel becomes one of a now growing list of countries that have made an unauthorized, clandestine entry into the world on nuclear armaments:

"The Israeli program is nearly as old as the state itself. Ben-Gurion authorized it in 1952...(Benjamin Netanyahu) told me that if the survival of the country was at stake, the Israelis would use it and worry about the consequences later...

"In the 1950s, with French assistance, the Israelis had begun to construct a large reactor in the Negev and a facility for processing the fuel rods needed to make plutonium. Then, in 1959, De Gaulle became president of France and said French assistance could continue only if Ben-Gurion gave public assurance that the reactor would be used solely for peaceful purposes. This he did, while knowing full well that the reactor was going to be used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. The reactor was completed in 1963. During this time the Israelis and the Americans engaged in a kind of theater of the absurd. The Americans demanded inspections and the Israelis came up with one ingenious maneuver after another to avoid them. For example, the Americans were informed that the nuclear complex at Dimona was a textile factory...What brought an end to this farce was the testimony of an immigrant Moroccan Jew named Mordechai Vanunu.

"In 1977...Vanunu got a job as a manager in the graveyard shift at the nuclear plant...Vanunu's clearance gave him access to all levels of secure sites at the plant...He went to London with his story of Israel's nuclear program and photographs to back it up. These were published in the London Sunday Times and created a sensation. Vanunu was lured to Rome by a young woman, an Israeli agent, and kidnapped by the Mossad; he was taken back to Isael where he spent seventeen years in prison, partly in harsh solitary confinement. He is now living under tight security in Israel. It was clear from what he revealed...that Israel...has a very considerable and varied nuclear arsenal."

Jeremy Bernstein, "The Secrets of the Bomb", The New York Review of Books, May 25, 2006, pp. 42-3

Thursday, May 11, 2006 05/11/06-Logarithms and Sliderules

In today's excerpt, the invention of logarithms is followed almost immediately by the invention of the sliderule:

"John Napier, a Scottish mathematician, physicist and astronomer, invented logarithms in 1614...logarithms-- that horror of high school algebra--were actually created to make our lives easier. So how did Napier's logarithms work?

"...using logs, multiplication simplifies into sums, division becomes subtraction, finding a square root turns into dividing by two, and figuring out a cube root becomes dividing by three. For example, to multiply 3.8 by 6.61, you look up the logarithms of those numbers in a table. There you will find 0.58 and 0.82. Add these together to get 1.4. Now go back to the table and find the number whose log is 1.4 to get a close approximation of the answer: 25.12. Begone ye slippery errors!

"Napier's invention revolutionized mathematics-- mathematicians adopted it immediately to speed their calculations. German astronomer Johannes Kepler used these modern logarithms to calculate the orbit of Mars at the start of the 17th century...but ready access to books of log tables was crucial to the procedure. So in 1620 mathematician Edmund Gunter of London marked a ruler with logarithms...(and) around 1622 William Oughtred, an Anglican minister in England, placed two sliding wooden logarithmic scales next to each other and created the first slide rule.

"...Napier went on to invent the decimal point...and to lay the groundwork for Isaac Newton's calculus."

Cliff Stoll, "When Slide Rules Ruled," Scientific American, May 2006, pp. 81-84

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 05/10/06-Surgery in 1658

In today's excerpt, renowned London diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) elects to undergo surgery for a stone in his urinary tract in March of 1658. He is 25 years old:

Surgery was not an easy choice. It was known to be a hideously unpleasant procedure and a gamble besides. 'In this great and danger­ous Operation, life and death doe so wrastle together, that no man can tell which will have the victory,' warned one treatise for surgeons, and patients were recommended to make their peace with God before undergoing it. Yet, in spite of the risk, the operation was always in demand, because of the 'scarce credible' pain caused by the stone.

The operation was performed in the patient's bedroom. On the day of the surgery a lightly boiled egg was recommended, and a talk with a religious adviser. (Sam) had a last Bath, was dried, after this he was asked to position himself on a table, possibly covered with a straw-filled bag into which he could be settled while the process of binding him up began. Some surgeons thought it wise to say a few reassuring words at this point, because the binding was terrifying to many patients. They were trussed like chickens, their legs up, a web of long linen strips wound around legs, neck and arms that was intended to hold them still and keep their limbs out of the surgeon's way, the patient was further bound to the table. He was shaved around his privy parts, arid a number of strong men were positioned to hold him fast: 'two whereof may hold him by the knees, and feet, and two by the Arm-holes, and hands. The hands are also sometimes tyed to the knees, with a particular rowler, of the knees by themselves, by the help of a pulley fastened into the table. There were no anesthetics, and alcohol was certainly not allowed to a patient undergoing surgery to the bladder.

The surgeon got to work. First he inserted a thin silver instrument, the itinerarium, through the p***s into the bladder to help position the stone. Then he made the incision, about three inches long and a finger's breadth from the line running between s*****m and a**s, and into the neck of the bladder, or just below it. The patients face was sponged as the incision was made. The stone was sought, found and grasped with pincers; the more speedily it could be got out the better. Once out, the wound was not stitched - it was thought best to let it drain and cicatrize itself.

Pepys, no doubt by now fainting with shock and pain, was unbound and moved to his warmed bed. A cold syrup of lemon juice, radishes and marshmallow was ready for him to drink. The first dressing was left for twelve hours, and the thighs were kept tied to help the wound ­heal naturally. Recovery, for those who did not succumb to secondary infection, was expected to take thirty to forty days. Pepys made it in thirty-five. It was a triumph, especially considering the size of Pepys's stone was about 2 1/4 inches.

Clair Tomalin, Samuel Pepys, The Unequalled Self, 2002, p. 61

Submitted by a reader

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 05/09/06-The Smothers Brothers

In today's excerpt, we see television censorship circa 1969. By 1967, the Smothers Brothers, the charming, blazer-clad comedy team that had come to prominence lampooning the ubiquitous folk singing
groups of the time ('mom always liked you best'), had the biggest TV show in America, and were using it to comment on the social upheavals of the '60s. Since there were only three major commercial channels, plus PBS and a smattering of UHF channels, censors
held sway in a way that is, in theory, less possible than in our current age of video clips on the internet, and the show was cancelled as a result of censors in the 1969 season. But we see echoes of this in such things as the Comedy Channel's recently attempted
censorship of African-American Dave Chapelle's Niggah sketch--which led to Chapelle's departure from the highly successful show:

"Tom and Dick Smothers were the perky shills for the subversive satire that, between 1967 and 1969, turned their jaunty variety show into a comedy terrorist cell. The Smotherses were our jolly hosts, but also the secret instigators...of songs and sketches that aggressively took on Lyndon Johnson,
Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, and racism while singing the praises of drugs, sex, the counterculture, and everything else that wasn't nailed down. Looking at the shows now, which give off the happy-go-lucky, devilish air of its chummy hosts, they seem
as innocent as old newsreels of the naughty Jazz Age.

"A TV executive once instructed them, 'We want you to be controversial but at the same time we want everyone to agree with you.' A station owner once told Tom that he was 'incompetent to make social comments.' One CBS memo said it was fine 'to satirize the president, so long as you do it with respect.'

"It all ended noisily in '69 when CBS stepped in and deleted a David Steinberg monologue, a 'sermonette' about Solomon and Jonah that was to have run not only on Easter Sunday but the week of President Eisenhower's funeral...CBS could hide behind religion,
not politics, by blaming the allegedly sacrilegious sketch by Steinberg. A single Steinberg line...caused CBS brass to explode: 'The gentiles, as is their wont from time to time, threw a Jew overboard, and Jonah was swallowed by a giant guppy.' The next line went, 'The New Testament Scholars
literally grab the Jews by the Old Testament.' "

Gerald Nachman, Seriously Funny, Back Stage Books, 2004, pp. 446-452

Monday, May 08, 2006 05/08/06 Revolutionary Slaves

In today's excerpt, American slaves try to gain their own independence during America's war for independence from Britain:

" 1775...the royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunsmore, offered freedom to any slaves who would join His Majesty's troops in suppressing the American rebellion. 'There is not a man of them but would leave us if they believed they could make their escape,' a cousin of (George) Washington's wrote from Mount Vernon, adding bitterly, 'Liberty is sweet.'

"...No one knows how many former slaves had fled the United States by the end of the American Revolution. Not as many as wanted to, anyway. During the war, between eighty thousand and a hundred thousand (nearly one in five) left their homes, running from slavery to the freedom promised by the British, and betting on a British victory. They lost that bet. They died in battle, they died of disease, they ended up someplace else, they ended up back where they started, and worse off. A fifteen-year-old girl captured while heading for Dunsmore's regiment was greeted by her master with a whipping of eighty lashes, after which he poured hot embers into her wounds.

"...but those who did leave America also left American history. Or, rather, they have been left out of it. Theirs is not an undocumented's just one that has rarely been told, for a raft of interesting, if opposing, reasons. A major one is that nineteenth-century African-American abolitionists decided that they would do better by telling the story of the many blacks who fought on the patriot side during the Revolution and had therefore earned for their race the right to freedom and full citizenship and an end to Jim Crow."

Jill Lepore, 'Goodbye, Columbus,' The New Yorker Magazine, May 8, 2006, p. 74

Wednesday, May 03, 2006 05/05/06-Grim Mortality

In today's excerpt, the stark facts of mortality, circa 1662. In the then nascent discipline of population statistics, John Gaunt published the first statistics for London in 1662 in his Natural and Political Observations up the Bills of Mortality:

"Gaunt devised a table of the number of survivors from a random group of 100 Londoners at ages from 0 to 76. The 64 (only 64!) six-year-olds playing at pitch-and-toss in the narrow street or dawdling to their lessons became the 40 who married at sixteen in their half-built Wren parish church, the 25 who brought their first-born for christening (if it had not been overlaid), and the 16 who, in the prime of life, ran the shop and business inherited from their parents. By the age of 56, six of them occasionally met at the feasts of their trade or at its elections; three, never the best of friends, remained at 66 to complain about the young, and one at 76 sat by the fire, a pipkin of gruel on his knees, as the lethargy crept upon him."

From Chances Are... Adventures In Probability, by Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan. VIKING, Published by the Penguin Group, 2006.