Thursday, August 31, 2006 08/31/06-Cynthia Kling

In today's encore excerpt, Cynthia Kling comments on the tendency of eroticism to depart from a marriage:

"It is the corrosive closeness and (my) tendency to act wifey that seem to drain marriage of its eroticism for me. (Does any husband ever even use the word erotic when talking about his wife?) the high days of feminism, there was never any real examination of the wife role--as long as you had a corporate job, too. Feminism doubled the woman's workload (in the name of respect) and then turned around and killed the femme fatale. She became seen, somehow, as the dumbed down woman, a subspecies of our gender, so she got garroted and buried by women in business suits and scarf ties.

"What was the problem with killing the seductress off? She's the one who kept sex alive in the marriage. Sincerity, clarity, straightforwardness, compromise--these things are antithetical to Eros. Carnality snorts at these modern ideas of marriage-- and one way or another takes off in search of new quests. We respond sexually to the stranger, the unknown, the unfamiliar. The dirty urge has no interest in the known, the picked over, the fully examined. The femme fatale knows that it is not simply a question of acrobatics but a way of being, a way of conducting yourself, that fosters passion...There was no obvious spot for that person in my first marriage, because that ever-present, octopus-armed wife had hogged up all the space. In my second marriage, I knew that if I didn't want to wind up drunk in front of the television again, I had to work to cultivate that other side--and I did. And I do...

"The wife is about striving for some notion of perfection. The mistress is about gaming, invention, closeness. One is high and one is low. I was afraid of diving down there in my first marriage, which is part of what killed that marriage. Now I go there to keep that marriage alive."

Cynthia Kling, "Erotics 102: Staying Bad, Staying Married", The Bitch in the House, Perennial Press, 2002, pp. 130-1

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 08/29/06-Butch Cassidy

In today's excerpt, William Goldman, screenwriter for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, relates a story about Butch:

"There have only been two American outlaws who were outsized legends during their careers: Butch was one, Jesse James the second. But people liked Butch before he was famous. This next anecdote is true, and it killed me not to be able to find a place to use it.

"When he was a young man, Butch was in jail in Wyoming. He came up before the governor with a chance at parole. The governor said, 'I'll set you free if you promise to go straight.' And Butch answered--he really did--'I can't do that.'

"The governor, naturally, was a bit taken aback, but before he could say much, Butch came up with the following offer: 'I'll make you a deal,' he told the governor. (This is a convict offering the governor a deal, remember.) 'I'll promise you that if you let me go, I'll never break the law in Wyoming again-- '

"--and the governor accepted the deal, set Butch free--

"--and Butch never again broke the law in Wyoming: If his gang did a job there, he refused to go along.

"You've just got to admire someone like that."

William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Warner Books, 1983, p. 193

Monday, August 28, 2006 08/24/06-Re-wiring the Brain

In today's encore excerpt, we read that the parts of the brain that get most heavily used literally expand and rewire on demand:

"...Paul Broca's (1857)...and subsequent discoveries gave rise to the dogma of the hard-wired adult brain...It held that if the brain sustained injury...the function of the injured region would be lost forever...But that dogma has been under assault in recent years.

"...(new theories demonstrate) the adult brain is 'plastic,' able to forge new connections among its neurons and thus rewire itself. Sensory input can change the brain, and the brain remodels itself in response to behavioral demands. Regions that get the most use literally expand. In terms of which neural circuits endure and enlarge, you can call it survival of the busiest.

"...(in one example) there was a huge measured difference between violin players and nonmusicians in how much of the cortex was devoted to 'feeling' the fingers of the left hand...(In another example), John Gabrieli of Stanford...found dyslexics whose language comprehension had been improved, the brain's left prefrontal region showed more activity after prescribed, specialized training."

Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD, and Sharon Begley, "Survival of the Busiest", The New York Times, October 11, 2002, B1-4, adapted from the book, The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force 08/28/06-The Numbers on Poverty

In today's excerpt, the contrast between our expectation that the global human condition will improve and current trends:

"...industrialized countries, which accounted for 40 percent of the world's population after World War II, now account for only 20 percent, though they earn 85 percent of the world's income. In coming decades, the industrialized world is expected to make up only 12 to 15 percent of planetary population, as 90 to 95 percent of all births take place in the poorest countries...

"Never before--not at the time of various democratic revolutions in Central Europe in 1848 or at the conclusion of World War I--has wealth disparity been so great as after the Cold War. And never before, because of the global communications revolution, has this disparity been so visible...

"And as the tax base of the West (climbs more slowly than)...populations climb in the third world, foreign aid will make even less of a difference in coming decades. Besides, in an age of localized mini- holocausts, decisive action in one sphere will not necessarily help the victims in another. People will either solve or alleviate their problems at the local level, as in Rishi Valley, or they won't."

Robert D. Kaplan, The Ends of the Earth, Vintage, 1996, pp. 434-7

Friday, August 25, 2006 08/25/06-T.S. Eliot

In today's excerpt, T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland, the poem that many consider the most important of the twentieth century. The year is 1922, and the backdrop is the unprecedented horror of the just-ended Great War which, with twenty-three million casualties, has profoundly touched virtually everyone in Europe. Eliot is thirty-three and trapped in a failed marriage, a job he wants to leave, and deteriorating health. In the brief excerpt below, the poem's narrator Tiresias describes the evening's activities of a young man:

The time is now propitious, as he guesses;
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired.
Endeavors to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defense.;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronizing kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit...

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
"Well now that's done, and I'm glad it's over."
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

<> The Complete Text of The Wasteland

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 08/23/06-The Chicago World's Fair

In today's excerpt, competing against the likes of New York, Washington and St. Louis, Chicago wins from congress the right to hold the World's Columbian Exposition, commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. Chicago, newly affluent and anxious to impress, but still the foul-smelling slaughterhouse of the Midwest, is America's great hope for trying to best the success of the Paris World's Fair of 1889:

"It lasted just six months, yet during that time its gatekeepers recorded 27.5 million visits, this when the country's total population was 65 million. On its best day the fair drew more than 700,000 visitors..Visitors wore their best clothes and most somber expressions, as if entering a great cathedral. Some wept at its beauty. They tasted a new snack called Cracker Jack and a new breakfast called Shredded Wheat. Whole villages had been imported from Egypt, Algeria, Dahomey, and other far-flung locales, along with their inhabitants. The Street in Cairo exhibit alone employed nearly two hundred Egyptians and contained twenty-five distinct buildings, including a fifteen-hundred-seat theater that introduced America to a new and scandalous form of entertainment (belly-dancing).

"Within the fair's buildings, visitors encountered devices and concepts new to them and to the world. They heard live music played by an orchestra in New York and transmitted to the fair by long- distance telephone. They saw the first moving pictures on Edison's Kinetoscope, and they watched, stunned, as lightning chattered from Nikola Tesla's body. They even saw more ungodly things--the first zipper; the first-ever all-electric kitchen, which included an automatic dishwasher; and a box purporting to contain everything a cook would need to make pancakes, under the brand name Aunt Jemima's. They sampled a new, oddly flavored gum called Juicy Fruit, and...a new beer did well, winning the exposition's top beer award. Forever after, its brewer called it Pabst Blue Ribbon...

"One of the most compelling, and chilling, exhibits was the Krupp Pavilion, where Fritz Krupp's 'pet monster' (soon to bring unprecedented death and destruction during World War I) stood at the center of an array of heavy guns."

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City, Crown, 2003, pp. 4-5, 247-8

special thanks to CW and ES

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 08/22/06-Cleopatra

In today's excerpt, the Egyptian language becomes marginalized in Egypt for the first time in three thousand years after the country is subjugated by the Persians in 552 BC, who brought with them Aramaic, their official language. Then came Alexander the Great:

"When Alexander took the country in 332 BC, initiating three centuries of Greek rule, he found an administration run in Aramaic...but in general Aramiac was then replaced in official use by Greek. Although the Ptolemies took their role as Greek successors to the Pharoahs seriously, and Greek Egypt became an autonomous and prosperous country again, the Egyptian language was henceforth relegated to the extremes of sacred and profane: in the temples, and on the lips of the common people. Alexandria, which replaced Athens as the academic centre of the ancient world, was a Greek-speaking city. Famously, Queen Cleopatra, the last Ptolemy to rule (51-30 BC), was also the first to learn Egyptian--and that apparently only because she had a passion for languages.

"As Plutarch wrote in Antony, 'There was pleasure in the very sound of her voice. Like a many-stringed instrument, she turned her tongue easily to whatever dialect she would, and few indeed were the foreigners with whom she conversed through an interpreter, since she answered most of them in her own words, whether Ethiopian, Trogodyte, Hebrew, Arab, Syriac (Aramaic), Median or Parthian. The kings before her had not even had the patience to acquire Egyptian, and some had even been lacking in the Macedonian.'

"...Plutarch adds that Cleopatra is said to have spoken many other languages besides the ones he does mention. Most likely her amours with Caesar, and later Antony, were conducted in Greek."

Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word, Harper Collins, 2005, p. 131

Monday, August 21, 2006 08/21/06-War and Poverty

In today's excerpt, writing in 1996, Robert Kaplan notes the connection between poverty and modern war:

"Scholars have been writing more and more about the corrosive effects of overpopulation and environmental degradation in the third world, while journalists cover an increasing array of ethnic conflicts that don't configure within state borders. Of the eighty wars since 1945, only twenty-eight have taken the traditional form of fighting between regular armies of two or more states. Forty-six were civil wars or guerrilla (read terrorist) insurgencies. Former UN secretary-general Perez de Cuellar called this the 'new anarchy.'

"...In 1993, forty-two countries were immersed in major conflicts and thirty-seven others experienced lesser forms of political violence: Sixty-five of these seventy-nine countries were in the developing world."

Robert D. Kaplan, The Ends of the Earth, Vintage, 1996, p. 8

Friday, August 18, 2006 08/18/06-Richard Burton

In today's encore excerpt, our familiar contributor Alan Jay Lerner writes of Richard Burton's leadership and emotional role in Camelot. The play is in its out-of- town rehearsals, and proceeding disastrously. Burton--young and subsequently much-maligned--is the star the producers are depending on to show the qualities of leadership:

"God knows what would have happened had it not been for Richard Burton. If ever a star behaved like a star in every sense of the word it was he. Whatever doubts he may have had about the future of the play were his secret only and throughout the four weeks in Boston he radiated a faith and geniality which infected the company and for which I shall he forever grateful to him. He accepted the cuts and changes necessary to open the play in Boston without a word, and two weeks before the play opened in New York he began rehearsing almost a brand new second act...and launched into it with gusto and diligence. It was inevitable that from time to time one of the actors would have a sudden fit of despair, inevitably overstated and inevitably due to the fear that he was being overlooked, or that his part was not being honed or improved. Richard always stepped in, calmed him down, and reassured him all would be taken care of in good time. In simple language he kept the boat from rocking and Camelot might never have reached its final destination on Forty-fourth Street had it not been for him."

Alan Jay Lerner, The Street Where I Live, Da Capo Press, 1978, pp. 230-1

Thursday, August 17, 2006 08/17/06-Art School at Disney

In today's encore excerpt, the driven, endlessly inventive Walt Disney, only 29 years old, deals with the challenge of improving the quality of his animators' work. This problem is only a problem in Walt's eye, as his cartoons are already enormously popular and sufficiently profitable. Consumed with a need for improvement only he can see, he takes the innovative of step of enrolling his animators in 'fine arts' classes:

"The staff continued to grow, but Walt realized that simply adding more animators and background artists and story men would not achieve the quality he sought...In 1931, Walt arranged with the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles for his artists to attend night classes, with the studio paying the tuition. Since many of the young employees couldn't afford cars, Walt himself drove them downtown to the school, returned to the studio for an evening's work, then picked up the students when the classes were over. When the United Artists contract assured a greater flow of funds into the studio, Walt decided to establish a school at the studio. He asked a Chouinard teacher, Don Graham, to conduct classes two nights a week on the studio sound stage...

"Graham was admittedly unschooled in animation, and some of the students resisted his instruction. Scornful cartoons appeared on the studio bulletin board, depicting Mickey Mouse with an anatomically detailed pelvis. But as time went on, each side learned from the other...The art school began to fulfill the function that Walt had designed for it: to develop the talent that would carry animation to heights that only he envisioned."

Bob Thomas, Walt Disney, Disney Editions, 1994, p. 115-6

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 08/16/06-Mass Movements

In today's encore excerpt, we read from The True Believer, Eric Hoffer's classic 1951 book on the nature of mass movements, first brought to national attention when cited by President Dwight Eisenhower:

"Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both...

"There is a deep reassurance for the frustrated in witnessing the downfall of the fortunate and the disgrace of the righteous. They see in general downfall an approach to the brotherhood of all. Chaos, like the grave, is a haven of equality. Their burning conviction that there must be a new life and a new order is fueled by the realization that the old will have to be razed to the ground before the new can be built...

"A sublime religion inevitably generates a strong feeling of guilt. There is an unavoidable contrast between loftiness of profession and imperfection of practice. And, as one would expect, the feeling of guilt promotes hate and brazenness. Thus it seems that the more sublime the faith the more virulent the hatred it breeds."

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Perennial, 1951, pp. 96-8

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 08/14/06-American Brevity

In today's encore excerpt, in this description of the Gettysburg Address we can see the development of a unique American style of prose--a style that was born in the mid-nineteenth century. This style was simple and plain and powerful, and stemmed from the simple prose of the hard frontiersmen--Lincoln being the most striking example (and stemmed too from the sobering realities of the Civil War-- seen in Walt Whitman's poem "The Wound Dresser", a stark portrait of the suffering in a Civil War hospital). The elaborate prose of England and the United States East Coast seemed increasing inappropriate and inadequate to new realities. Lincoln's address was delivered on November 19, 1863 to commemorate the crucial victory of July 3, and followed the keynote address of Edward Everett:

"At 2pm, two long cold hours after starting, (Edward) Everett concluded his speech...and turned the dais over to President Lincoln...

"Though Lincoln was never expected to provide anything other than some concluding remarks, this was breathtakingly brief. The Gettysburg Address
: <> contained just 268 words, two-thirds of them of only one syllable, in ten mostly short, direct, and memorably crystalline sentences. It took only a fraction over two minutes to deliver...

"...this was an age of ludicrously inflated nineteenth century journalist would write that a house had burned down, but must instead say that "a great conflagration consumed the edifice." Nor would he be content with a sentiment as unexpressive as "a crowd came to see" but instead would write "a vast concourse was assembled to witness"...

"American English had at last found a voice to go with its flag and anthem and national symbol..."

Bill Bryson, Made in America, Perennial, 1994, pp. 79- 81

Monday, August 14, 2006 08/14/06-Anarchists

Today's encore excerpt speaks to the "anarchist" terrorists in the United States and Europe at the beginning of the 20th Century. Like today's terrorists, they used bombings and assassinations, their membership come from the destitute and hopeless, and their leadership often came from the elite. They were also part of the ominous foreshadowing of World War I:

"So enchanting was the vision of a stateless society, without government, without law, without ownership of property, in which, corrupt institutions having been swept away, man would be free to be good as God intended him, that six heads of the state were assassinated for its sake in the twenty years before 1914. They were President Carnot of France in 1894, Premiere Canovas of Spain in 1897, Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898, King Humbert of Italy in 1900, President McKinley of the United States on 1901, and another Premiere of Spain, Canalejas, in 1912. Not one could qualify as a tyrant. Their deaths were the gestures of desperate or deluded men to call attention to the Anarchist idea....

"They came from the warrens of the poor, where hunger and dirt were king....

"The Anarchists believed that with Property, the monarch of all evil, eliminated, no man could again live off the labour of another and human nature would be released to seek its natural level of justice among men....

"The most prominent among the new Anarchist leaders was Prince Peter Kropotkin, by birth an aristocrat, by profession a geographer, and by conviction a revolutionist....

"Anarchism’s new era of violence opened in France just after the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution. A two-year reign of dynamite, dagger and gunshot erupted, killed ordinary men as well as great ones, destroyed property, banished safety, spread terror and then subsided. The signal was given in 1892 by a man whose name, Ravachol, seemed to 'breathe revolt and hatred.' His act, like nearly all that followed it, was a gesture of revenge for comrades who had suffered at the hands of the State....

"His manner was resolute and his eyes had the peculiarly piercing gaze expressive of inner conviction. 'My object was to terrorize so as to force society to look attentively at those who suffer', he said, putting volumes into a sentence."

Barbara W. Tuchman, The Proud Tower, Ballantine Books, 1962, selected from pp. 63-78

Friday, August 11, 2006 08/11/06-Raphael

In today's excerpt, Raphael, (his full name Raffaello Sanzio or Santi) 1483 to 1520, painter and architect of the Italian High Renaissance. Born in Urbino, in east central Italy, he is considered one of the three artistic giants to emerge from the Renaissance, along with Michelangelo and Da Vinci, both of whom served as his primary teachers. Raphael set himself deliberately to learn from Michelangelo the expressive possibilities of human anatomy and from Leonardo his lighting techniques and sfumato (strong contrast between light and dark). But Raphael differed from Leonardo and Michelangelo, who were both painters of dark intensity and excitement, in that he wished to develop a calmer and more extroverted style that would serve as a popular, universally accessible form. His work is admired for its clarity and ease of composition and for its achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Raphael is best known and loved for his Madonnas and for his large figure compositions in the Vatican, but much focus has recently been given to the equally great Raphael of the portraits:

"Here, in his portraits, the 'divine' Sanzio is finally human or—if you prefer plays on words—he is divinely human. Here we are exalted and surprised by the presence of an intellectual and critical grasp, which, with an unquiet tension, make the painter not just accessible to us but ascribable to a very modern emotional and dialectical dimension.

" is the intangible manly shadow diffused with limpid vigor in the face of
: <> Agnolo Doni, with veristic detail (unusual in Raphael) of the eyelid wrinkle that makes the Florentine gentleman's gaze more penetrating and watchful. Here is the proud but sluggish stillness of <> La Gravida ,with that admirable hand on top of her belly in a gesture of possession, defense and pride; and here, in contrast, are the vibratile hands of the mysterious, unreachable <> Lady of Urbino (La Muta) ...And here, too, in comparison to the heavy indolence of <> Cardinal Tommaso Inghirami, who is represented halfway between dramatic emphasis and a pitiless rather than ironic caricature, we have the sublime spirituality and ambiguity of the
: <> Cardinal...or the abandonment of <> Julius II on the papal chair, with that presage of death—the corruption of the flesh— which gives the face of the old pope a more sorrowful rather than resigned fixedness of expression. Then there is <> La Velata, in which the prosperity of the woman depicted is made evident by the combination of shining masses and subtle variations of tone..."

Michele Prisco, Introduction to Nicoletta Baldini's Raphael, Rizzoli, 2005, p. 14

Thursday, August 10, 2006 08/10/06-Suffragettes

In today's encore excerpt--the terrible, violent extremes of the women's suffragette movement in England circa 1910:

"Unable to obtain any satisfaction by legal means, the women resorted to tactics which were...anarchic in spirit. They turned up at every political meeting despite all doorkeepers' precautions and drowned out the speakers by ringing bells and shrieking for the vote. They besieged the House of Parliament and offices of Whitehall, attacked ministers on their doorsteps, in one case knocking down Mr. Birrell, the minister of education, and kicking him in the shins, broke down department store windows with hammers, set fires in mail boxes, penetrated the House and stopped proceedings by chaining themselves to the grill of the Ladies Gallery and keeping up the incessant shout, 'Votes for Women!'

"In 1909, under the Liberal Government, occurred the first forcible feeding of imprisoned Suffragettes, a particularly revolting process in which both the victims, who invited it by hunger strikes, and the officials who performed it, writhed like animals. It was accomplished by means of rubber tubes passed through the mouth, or sometimes the nostrils, to the stomach. While the prisoner was strapped in a chair and held down by guards or matrons, liquid food was forced down the tubes by stomach pumps. Outside in the streets (a suffragette) threw herself at the King's feet in the midst of a court reception crying, 'Your Majesty, won't you please stop torturing women?'

"Put off again and again by Asquith's promises to carry through Enfranchisement, which he made to secure quiet and never kept, the feminists in the year 1909 slashed pictures in the National Gallery and set fires in cricket pavilions, race-course grandstands, resort hotels and even churches...They endured starvation and pain with mad fortitude, invited humiliation, brutality and finally, when Emily Davidson threw herself under the hoofs of the horses in the Derby of 1913, even death...When a meeting addressed by Lloyd George in the Albert Hall in December, 1908, was broken up by militants who, shouting 'Deeds not words!' tore off their coats to reveal themselves dressed in prisoner's gowns, the (men) 'went mad with fury and rushed upon the women, ejecting them with nauseating brutality, knocking them against seats, throwing them down steps, dragging them out by the hair."

Barbara Tuchman, The Proud Tower, Ballantine Books, 1962, 381-2

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 08/09/06-Mao's Mother

n today's excerpt, the mother of Chairman Mao, the dictator who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world's population, and was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth century leader. In this excerpt, we see that in the late 1800s, many Chinese girls did not receive names, had their feet bound, and in the case of Mao's mother, chose not to live with the husband:

"The valley of Shaoshan (in Hunan) measures about 5 by 3.5 km. The 600-odd families who lived there grew rice, tea and bamboo, harnessing buffalo to plough the rice paddies...Mao's father, Yi-chang, was born in 1870. At the age of ten he was engaged to a girl of thirteen from a village about ten kilometres away, beyond a pass called Tiger Resting Pass, where tigers used to sun themselves. This short distance was long enough in those years for the two villages to speak dialects that were almost mutually unintelligible. Being merely a girl, Mao's mother did not receive a name; as the seventh girl born in the Wen clan, she was just Seventh Sister Wen. In accordance with centuries of custom, her feet had been crushed and bound to produce the so- called 'three-inch golden lilies' that epitomised beauty at the time...

"Mao was the third son, but the first to survive infancy...Mao loved his mother with an intensity he showed toward no one else. She was a gentle and tolerant person, who, as he remembered, never raised her voice to him...

"Mao had a carefree childhood. Until he was eight he lived with his mother's family, the Wens, in their village, as his mother preferred to live with her own family...Mao only came back to live in Shaoshan in spring 1902, at the age of eight, to receive an education, which took the form of study in a tutor's home. Confucian classics, which made up most of the curriculum, were beyond the understanding of children and had to be learned by heart. Mao was blessed with an exceptional memory, and did well." Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao, The Unknown Story, Vintage Books, 2006, pp. 3-5

Tuesday, August 08, 2006 08/08/06-Knowledge Moves North

In today's excerpt, the movement of business wealth, and its necessary predecessor, knowledge, from southern Europe to northern Europe from the 16th century forward. Spain entered this period as the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world due to its gold from the New World. Italy, of course, had the powerful legacy of the Renaissance and the brilliance of geniuses from Brunelleschi to Galileo, but the pre-eminence of both nations rapidly dissipated:

"Not only money moved, but knowledge as well, and it was knowledge, specifically scientific knowledge, that dictated economic possibilities. In the centuries before the Reformation, southern Europe was a center of learning and intellectual inquiry: Spain and Portugal, because they were on the frontier of Christian and Islamic civilization, and had the benefit of Jewish intermediaries; and Italy, which had its own contacts. Spain and Portugal lost out early, because religious passion and military crusade drove away the outsiders (Jews and then the conversos, those forcibly converted) and discouraged the pursuit of the strange and potentially heretical; but Italy continued to produce some of Europe's leading mathematicians and scientists...

"The Protestant Reformation, however, changed the rules. It gave a big boost to literacy, spawned dissents and heresies, and promoted the skepticism and refusal of authority that is at the heart of scientific endeavor. The Catholic countries, instead of meeting the challenge, responded by closure and censure...

"A rain of interdictions followed (from 1521 on), not only of publishing but of reading heresy, in any language. The Spanish authorities, both lay and clerical, viewed Lutherans (all Protestants were then seen as Lutherans), not as dissenters but as non- Christians, like Jews and Muslims enemies of the 1558 the death penalty was introduced for importing foreign books without permission and for unlicensed printing. Universities were reduced to centers of indoctrination...scientific works were banned because their authors were Protestant...

"Nor were Spaniards allowed to study abroad, lest they ingest subversive doctrine. In 1559, the crown forbade attendance at foreign universities except for such safe centers as Rome, Bologna and Naples. The effect was drastic. Spanish students had long gone to the University of Montpellier for medical training; they just about stopped going--248 students from 1510 to 1559; 12 from 1560 to 1599...

...this reactionary, anti-Protestant backlash, more than Protestantism itself, sealed the fate of Europe for the next 300 years."

Galileo, of course, was humiliated and banished to a stultifying house arrest in 1633, and so the scientifically curious then found it safer to move to the tolerant surroundings of Holland and elsewhere.

David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Norton, 1998, pp. 179-181

Monday, August 07, 2006

Delanceyplace 09/07/06-Sunnis and Shias

In today's excerpt, Sunnis and Shias:

"The origins (of Shiism) lie in the grudge that rapidly grew, following the death of the Prophet in 632 AD, among the partisans (shi'a in Arabic) of Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law. Passed over three times for the title of caliph, or worldly successor to Muhammad, Ali then reigned only briefly before being assassinated...

"Until recently most Sunnis, most of the time, have given little thought to the challenge presented by Shiism...They have not had to because their brand of Islam has been so dominant. Sunnis make up 85 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. In solidly Sunni countries such as Morocco, Bangladesh, or Indonesia, few have had much idea of what Shias are, or how their practices differ...

"In the first centuries,Sunnism found itself challenged not just by Shia uprisings, but by doubters of all stripes...

"For most of the past millennium, conflict has been in remission. This is not to say that friction was entirely absent. But with perhaps half of the world's Shias living within Iran, and the rest, by and large, diluted within overwhelming Sunni populations, there was little room for contest...

"But it is clear that something has happened to threaten, if not yet to shatter, the wary calm between the sects...perhaps the major impetus for the change, of late, has been the example of Iraq, where the utter breakdown of secular politics has pushed religious leaders and sectarian issues to the center stage."

Max Rodenbeck, "The Time of the Shia," The New York Review of Books, August 10, 2006, pp. 45- 47

Friday, August 04, 2006 08/04/06-Nichols and May

In today's excerpt, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, an improvisational comedy team formed in Chicago, break through on national television as "Nichols and May" in 1959. The team stayed together only a few short years, but had a profound and enduring effect on comedy and popular culture. Both went on to successful careers in entertainment, especially Nichols, who has had a significant career in directing and producingincluding most of Neil Simon's plays and a number of movies including The Birdcage, The Graduate and Catch-22:

"They auditioned for Jack Paar's Tonight show, but their improvisations bombed before a studio audience...

"(Manager Jack) Rollins neatly engineered the ploy that brought them to national prominence when he got them on the prestigious Omnibus as part of a special theme show called 'The Suburban Review'. As he recalls now: 'I knew it was very difficult to present them on television at the time, because TV is a medium of twenty-second bites. Nobody is on longer than five minutes. They needed to be on for fifteen minutes. Where are you gonna get that in TV? But it came along, because there was a show called Omnibus, a very classy cultural show on Sunday afternoon with high ratings, with Alistair Cooke as the host'...after that the world broke open for them...there were lines around the block. Milton Berle came three times and couldn't get in...

"...the program's producer had seen them on a Steve Allen show performing a sketch about a ditsy name- dropping starlet ('the very wonderful, the very talented Barbara Musk') talking to a fatuous deejay, Jack Ego...about her close, personal relationship with Albert Schweitzer: 'Jack, I think you know that I think Al is just a great guy. Al is a lot of laughs. I personally have never dated him,' adding, 'Bertie (Bertrand Russell) also is a heck of a good kid. I think a pushy philosopher is always a drag...'

"The team's literary parodies, which set them apart from their comic peers, ranged from a ten-second version of Dostoyevsky (following ten seconds of uproarious laughter from May, Nichols shouts: 'Unhappy woman!'blackout), to Tennessee Williams (renamed Alabama Glass, whose heroine has taken to 'drink, prostitution and puttin' on airs' and whose husband, Raoul, has killed himself 'on bein' unjustly accused of not bein' a homosexual'), to Oedipus Rex (Look, sweetheart, you're my mother)..."

Nichols and May Audio: <>

Gerald Nachman, Seriously Funny, Back Stage Books, 2004, pp. 341-4

Thursday, August 03, 2006 08/03/06-India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Today's encore excerpt speaks to the 1947 birth of the nation of Pakistan as a partitioned former part of India, and the subsequent 1971 re-birth of East Pakistan as the new nation Bangladesh:

"...(some) would warn like-minded men of Mahatma Gandhi's craftiness, and his ambition to annihilate the Muslims. These were of course common fears and they were reflected on the Hindu side as well. After World War II, as Great Britain rushed to withdraw from its burdensome colonial charge, and India's factions deadlocked over a power-sharing arrangement, a partition was decided that would carve a separate Muslim nation, called Pakistan, from Indian soil. The new nation would itself be split in two, between the Muslim majority area of the west, primarily along the Indus river, and a smaller area far to the east, on the Delta of the Ganges, in Bengal...

"At the time of the Partition, in 1947, one of the greatest migrations in human history got under way, as over the course of a few months more than 10 million people--Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims--fled the hostilities of their old communities and sorted themselves out into the new nations. They moved by train or bus, and on foot...the migrants were attacked by mobs...the history is obscure and propagandized, but it seems that entire trainloads were massacred on both sides, that rape was rampant, and that several hundred thousand people died. In Pakistan perhaps seven million people arrived, however traumatized...

"In the spring of 1971, after years of discriminatory treatment by Pakistan's dominant west, East Pakistan rose up in rebellion, and began to agitate for independence as a new nation, called Bangladesh. The Pakistan military reacted brutally, and a terrible civil war broke out on the Bengali deltas and plains...generating huge casualties among civilians and sending several million refugees streaming across the borders into India...Emboldened by its friendship with the Soviet Union, India seized the opportunity to dismember its foe...The battles were short. Pakistan's once strutting army collapsed, and in December of 1971, at a humiliating ceremony in a stadium in Dacca, it unconditionally surrendered... (and) an independent Bangladesh was formed."

William Langewiesche, "The Wrath of Khan", The Atlantic, November 2005, pp. 65-8

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 08/02/06-The Cost of Healthcare

In today's excerpt, the cost of healthcare:

"...when one compares life expectancy in the United States with that of other countries, it quickly becomes evident that the vast sums the United States spends on healthcare buys very little health. The United States spends far more on healthcare than any other country--roughly $4,500 per person annually. Yet three-fourths of developed countries outrank America in life expectancy and infant mortality. Even some Third World countries have life tables comparable to the United States, despite miniscule spending on health care. In Costa Rica, total health care expenditures per person come to just $273 a year in 2000. And there are little more than half as many doctors per capita as in the United States. Yet life expectancy at birth in Costa Rica is 76.1 years, virtually the same as in the United Sates. Moreover, the adult population in Costa Rica has a substantially better chance of becoming elderly. In the United States, the chances of dying between age 15 and 59 are 14.4 percent for men and 8.3 percent for women. In Costa Rica, the chances are 13.4 percent for men and 7.8 percent for women.

"...the biggest reasons have to do with behavior and environment. Per capita cigarette consumption in Costa Rica is half that of the United States..The rate of car ownership (and accidents) is rising, but most Ticans spend much of their time walking up and down steep hills. There are more McDonalds and KFCs all the time, and obesity among children is starting to be a problem, but with a traditional diet based on rice, beans, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and moderate amounts of fried food, the number of overweight people is still strikingly less than in the United States."

Phillip Longman, The Empty Cradle, Basic Books, 2004, pp. 100-101

Tuesday, August 01, 2006 07/20/06-Less Than 100 Years Ago

In today's excerpt, world leaders in 1914 do not understand how powerful their armies have become, and how much destruction they will cause. In the centuries before the 1800s, world population had grown at a snail's pace. But between 1870 and the beginning of the first World War, the population of Europe had increased by 100,000,000, as much as its whole population in 1650, as a result of a technological revolution that improves life spans--but also produces unprecedented weaponry. And thus World War I unleashes destruction that would kill 8.5 million and wound in excess of 20 million more, several times the casualties of all the Napoleonic wars combined. A naive and young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, cannot contain his excitement:

"Russia's general mobilization...called up the Russian reserves--a staggering total of four million men, enough to frighten any nation on earth...

"This was war on a truly new scale; the army with which Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo had totaled sixty thousand men...

"The Germans hauled into Belgium...two new kinds of monster artillery: 305 Skoda siege an almost unimaginably huge 420 howitzer produced by Germany's Krupp steelworks (that) weighed seventy- five tons and had to be transported by rail in five sections and set in concrete before going into action.

"Among the holders of high office, one man at least did not share the sense of glum foreboding: the ebullient young Winston Churchill... he wrote to Prime Minister Asquith's wife, 'I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment and yet--I can't help it--I enjoy every second of it.' "

G.J. Meyer, A World Undone, Delacorte Press, 2006, pp. 64, 66, 110, 115, 118 07/31/06-Genius

In today's excerpt, Philip E. Ross argues that genius is a function of hard work--that geniuses are made not born--after reviewing experiments and data on the subject of experts in various fields:

"Herbert A. Simon (of Carnegie Mellon) coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. (Based on the evidence) even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

"...K. Anders Ericsson (of Florida State University) argues that what matters is not experience but 'effortful study,' which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time...

"Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or driving a car. But having reached an acceptable level of performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their field."

Philip E. Ross, "The Expert Mind," Scientific American, August 2006, pp. 69-70