Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/31/06-Halloween

In today's excerpt, the origins of Halloween:

"Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations--the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas."

With thanks and all credit to The History Channel.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/30/06-James Bond

In today's excerpt, Simon Winder writes that the birth of the fictional James Bond is in the tattered British psyche of the post-World War II British:

"Fundamentally the War, despite its being won, consisted for Britain of a ceaseless nightly Blitz of humiliations, compromises and setbacks, and these did not stop with 1945 but kept up a relentless battering until well into the 1970s. ... [with Britain as] the European Economic Community's ... poorest member country ...

"[T]his process, whereby over centuries great chunks of the world were repopulated and reconfigured by British settlers--whose almost insectoid blankness and rapacity will surely to some later global generation make them appear far, far worse than the Mongols--fell to pieces. ... If people understood in 1945 that Britain had won the War only because the United States and the USSR had won it with them, then they certainly did not understand that the consequence would be the demolition of the British Empire, a cornerstone of national identity, hopes, fears and opportunities, in the space of about fifteen years. ...

"A historian from the safe distance of, say, the twenty-third century would probably have to conclude that the most far-reaching event of the twentieth century was not the First or Second World Wars themselves but their consequences: the collapse of the European empires, and overwhelmingly most important, the end of the British Empire. ...

"The effect of this change within Britain was massive and profound trauma—it enraged millions of British who neither understood it nor saw how they could create for themselves a new identity without the Empire. ... As Britain's greatness went off a cliff with the chaotic mass decolonization of 1960, the James Bond books' sales went higher and higher. ... As a large part of the planet slipped from Britain's grasp, one man silently maintained the country's reputation. When a secret organization with stolen atomic weapons planned to destroy Miami Beach it was not the Americans who would save the world, but a solitary Englishman, mucking around for wholly implausible reasons in the Bahamas. The beautiful Domino, key to the mystery, approaches him with the immortal exchange, 'And who might you be?' 'My name's Bond, James Bond.' "

Simon Winder, The Man Who Saved Britain, Farrar, Straus, 2006, pp. 4, 51-3, 96-7.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/26/06-Charlemagne and the Caliph

In today's encore excerpt we see the intelligently cordial relations between the legendary Charlemagne, the secular head of the Christian church, and the Caliph of Islam residing in Baghdad:

"The imperial stature Charlemagne assumed in the years leading up to 800 and confirmed by his coronation in St. Peter's was also reflected in his relations with his Muslim equivalent, the caliph of Baghdad. At the time, the prince of believers was Harun al-Rashid, caliph from 786 to 809 and one of the protagonists of A Thousand and One Nights. Like Charles, he was to become a legend among his people. There were excellent relations between the Christian emperor and the Muslim one, whom the Frankish chroniclers called 'Aaron rex Persarum'. In 801 the caliph's ambassadors landed at Pisa and also brought home the Jew Isaac whom Charles (Charlemagne) had sent to Baghdad four years earlier. They brought the gift of the famous elephant, Abdul Abbas, which caused such a sensation that it was repeatedly mentioned in the Royal Annals. [9th Century Frankish historian] Einhard asserted that the elephant had been expressly requested by Charles for his menagerie, and the caliph was so determined to please him that he gave away the only elephant he had, although it would be quite legitimate to doubt the latter detail. ...

"[T]he possession of an elephant or any other exotic animal had symbolic importance. It was the prerogative of an imperial figure to whom God had entrusted the government of a large portion of the world and whose name had been heard in infinitely distant lands. Both Charles and Harun were certainly well aware of all these connotations.

"In 807 another legation from the caliph in Baghdad brought rich gifts that included monkeys, costly fabrics, oriental aromatic herbs and ointments, a mechanical clock with moving figures and chimes, orichalc candelabras, and even a pavilion for encampments. There was every extravagance the East could provide, as the chronicles themselves concluded. Charles could not compete with the splendor and ingenuity of such gifts, but he returned the compliment with hounds, horses, mules, and precious fabrics, which do not appear to have made a similar impression on Arab chroniclers. It is clear, though, that the two rulers had every intention to maintain cordial relations, in spite of the different religions ...

"Charles had another reason for maintaining good relations with Baghdad, given that the benevolence of Harun al-Rashid was indispensable to Christians in the Holy Land, who lived under Muslim rule and had frequent disputes with Bedouin tribes. Concerned about those communities to which he often sent financial assistance, the emperor undoubtedly suggested to the caliph that a gesture of goodwill in that direction would considerably enhance relations, and Harun al-Rashid decided to grant him his wish. He actually extended it to a symbolic gift of the land on which the Holy Sepulchre stood. Hence we can appreciate why in this very period in which the Frankish king exchanged ambassadors and gifts with the caliph, the patriarch of Jerusalem acknowledged him as the protector of the holy places and sent him the keys to the Holy Sepulchre. Charles’s prestige as the supreme leader of Christendom did not rest on his military strength alone."

Alessandro Barbero, Charlemagne, University of California, 2000, pp. 99-100.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/25/06-The Election Never Took Place

In today's excerpt--American foreign policy has long placed the establishment of democracy as secondary to other policy issues. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. had been stunned by the rapid succession of Communist successes after World War II: the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb, Eastern Europe fell under the Iron Curtain, China fell to Mao, Cuba to Castro, and North Korea invaded South Korea. In this post-war climate of fear, the U.S. had acquiesced to the reimpositon of French colonial rule over Vietnam, but the fact that its wars had come from a desire to throw off its colonial masters and fill the resulting leadership void meant little--as did the fact that it was small and distant:

"Long before Japanese, French, and American interference in their affairs, the Vietnamese struggled for nearly 1,000 years to stave off China's unrelenting efforts to swallow up its neighbor to the south. In the process the Vietnamese developed a warrior culture and a tradition of fighting long wars against hopeless odds ... Motivated by religion, strategic impulses, and outright greed, the French, in part due to overwhelming technological superiority, were able to secure rule over Vietnam by the mid- nineteenth century ... as a result, a majority of the nation's sturdy peasants descended into landlessness and poverty ... a dangerous reservoir of discontent that would remain in place until the advent of true land reform. ...

"In 1944, [Franklin D. Roosevelt] commented that the [Vietnamese] people were worse off after 80 years of French occupation. After Roosevelt's death in 1945, such sentiments diminished notably, particularly as anti-communism came to overshadow other factors. Of most concern to the U.S. was Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh resistance to the French in Vietnam. Toward the end of World War II, the Americans had worked cooperatively with Ho against the Japanese, and some American intelligence officials developed a favorable view of the Vietnamese leader. But Ho was a communist, and it ... became impossible to work with him, despite the American's acknowledgment that he was a popular leader. Instead, the Americans supported the French. ...

"French failure in Vietnam, epitomized by the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, resulted in the landmark political settlement of the Geneva Accords. In the agreement, Ho Chi Minh received control over Vietnam north of the 17th Parallel, while French forces regrouped in the South, prior to an election that was meant to reunify the country in 1956. The scheduled election never took place, partly due to the American decision to halt the advance of communism in the area. As a result, the 17th Parallel hardened into an international boundary, separating communist North Vietnam from the American-backed regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam."

"As [Cambodian Prince Sihanouk] put it a few years later, 'The best way to create Communists is to bring Americans where there aren't any [Communists]. Americans attract Communists like sugar attracts ants.' "

Andrew Wiest, Editor, Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land, Osprey, 2006, pp. 22, 29-30, 99, 104.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/24/06-American Terrorists

Today's excerpt--for those reading current headlines from Iraq: Missouri, Bleeding Kansas, and the pro-slavery "bushwhacker" William Clarke Quantrill and his marauders, which included Frank and Jesse James.

Rooted in the ill-fated Missouri Compromise of 1820, and starting in earnest with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Missouri and Kansas had been the site of a slaughterfield--a guerrilla war pitting pro-slavery forces against abolitionists. This anti-slavery guerrilla warfare continued well through the Civil War, and then, in diminished form, to the death of Jesse James in 1882 and beyond:

"In early 1862, Quantrill and his band of bushwhackers launched a series of strikes into Kansas that all but paralyzed the state. Then, in 1863, the revenge-minded Quantrill set his sights on a new target: Lawrence, Kansas. One would be hard-pressed to find a place more thoroughly despised by Quantrill and his comrades than Lawrence. It functioned as a Free-Soil citadel during the 1850s, then as a haven for runaway slaves, and, during the war, as a headquarters for the Redlegs, a band of hated Union guerrillas. Early in the morning of August 21, Quantrill and his 400 bushwhackers--including Frank James and Coleman Younger--struck. ... For the next few hours, his fierce and sweaty long-haired men ... rumbled up and down the streets of Lawrence, looting stores, shops, saloons, and houses. ... By day's end, the deed was done. The city lay in ashes; 200 homes were burned to the ground. Over 150 civilians, all men and young boys, had been murdered in cold blood. ...

"The federals swiftly retaliated, issuing the harshest order of the war by either side against civilians, known as General Order Number 11. ... [It was] almost as ruthless as the Lawrence raid itself ... four whole counties were quickly depopulated; virtually every citizen was deported; their crops and their forage were destroyed. So were their homes, which were burned. ... In one town, the population dwindled from 10,000 to a mere 600. ...

"Thus escalated the vicious cycle of retaliation and revenge. ... By 1864 ... it was no longer simply enough to ambush and gun down the enemy. They had to be mutilated and just as often, scalped. When that was no longer enough, the dead were stripped and castrated. ... Then the victims were beheaded ... ears were cut off, faces were hacked, bodies were grossly mangled. Soon, Quantrill and his men rode about wearing scalps dangling from their bridles, as well as an assortment of other body parts--ears , noses, teeth, even fingers--all vivid trophies attesting to their latest victims."

Jay Winik, April 1865, Perennial, 2001, pp. 158-161.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/23/06-The Big Bang

In today's excerpt--the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe:

"[T]he notion of the Big Bang is quite a recent one. The idea had been kicking around since the 1920s, when George Lemaitre, a Belgian priest-scholar, first tentatively proposed it, but it didn't become an active notion in cosmology until the mid-1960s when two young radio astronomers made an extraordinary and inadvertent discovery. ...

"Their names were Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. In 1965, they were trying to make use of a large communication antenna owned by Bell Laboratories at Holmdel, New Jersey, but they were troubled by a persistent background noise--a steady, steamy hiss that made any experimental work impossible. The noise was unrelenting and unfocused. It came from every point in the sky, day and night, through every season. For a year, the young astronomers did everything they could think of to track down and eliminate the noise. They tested every electrical system. They rebuilt instruments, checked circuits, wiggled wires, dusted plugs. They climbed into the dish and placed duct tape over every seam and rivet. They climbed back into the dish with brooms and scrubbing brushes and carefully swept it clean of what they referred to in a later paper as 'white dielectrical material,' or what is known more commonly as bird shit. Nothing they tried worked.

"Unknown to them, just thirty miles away at Princeton University, a team of scientists led by Robert Dicke was working on how to find the very thing they were trying so diligently to get rid of. The Princeton researchers were pursuing an idea that had been suggested in the 1940s by the Russian-born astrophysicist George Gamow that if you looked deep enough in space you should find some cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang ..."

"Still unaware of what caused the noise, Wilson and Penzias phoned Dicke at Princeton and described their problem to him in the hope that he might suggest a solution. Dicke realized at once what the two young men had found. 'Well, boys, we've just been scooped,' he told his colleagues as he hung up the phone. ...

"Although Penzias and Wilson had not been looking for cosmic background radiation ... they received the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics. The Princeton researchers got only sympathy. According to Dennis Overbye in Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, neither Penzias nor Wilson altogether understood the significance of what they had found until they read about it in the New York Times."

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway, 2003, pp. 11-12.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/20/06-Young Claude Debussy

In today's excerpt--young Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Famous for the surreal beauty of such pieces as Clair de Lune and La Mer, he worked within the style commonly referred to as impressionist music--a term which he dismissed--and was not only one of the most important French composers but was also one of the most important figures in music at the turn of the nineteenth century. His discordant originality has provided many of the basic building blocks of our music today. Growing up in modest circumstances, Debussy's talent was first spotted by his father's friend, cabaret composer Charles de Sivry:

"De Sivry decided to introduce the nine-year-old child to his mother, Mme Maute de Fleurville, a pianist who had once studied with Chopin ... 'But he must become a musician!' she declared and offered to give him lessons herself in preparation for the entrance examinations to the Paris Conservatoire. ...

"[At the Conservatoire], Professor Albert Lavignac ... spent long hours with the boy after class, discussing his strange questions that seemed to undermine the whole theory of music, and playing through revolutionary music with him ... Debussy loved to experiment openly with bizarre chords and unresolved tonalities; 'he used to amaze us with his weird playing' fellow-student Gabriel Pierne later wrote. ...

"[At age twenty] Debussy began work on the composition of a cantata for the Prix de Rome competition, and continued to disrupt the Conservatoire. On one occasion he is reported to have attempted to reproduce the sounds of buses on the piano at one of Guiraud's classes: 'What are you so shocked about?' he shouted at his embarrassed fellow-students, 'Can't you listen to chords without knowing their status and destination? Where do they come from? Whither are they going? What does it matter? Listen: that's enough. If you can't make head or tail of it, go and tell Monsieur le Directeur that I am ruining your ears.' Such arrogance was a natural result of Debussy's attempts to coin a new musical language close to his deepest feelings."

Paul Holmes, Debussy, Omnibus, 1989, pp. 7-20.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/19/06-The Chemical Basis of Love

In today's encore excerpt--the neural and chemical basis of love:

"Anthropologist Helen Fisher ... has devoted much of her career to studying the biochemical pathways of love in all its manifestations: lust, romance, attachment, the way they wax and wane ... [In her studies] when each subject looked at his or her loved one, the parts of the brain linked to reward and pleasure--the ventral segmental area and the caudate nucleus--lit up ... Love lights up the caudate nucleus because it is home to a dense spread of receptors for a neurotransmitter called dopamine ... which creates intense energy, exhilaration, focused attention ... [Thus] love makes you bold, makes you bright, makes you run real risks, which you sometimes survive, and sometimes you don't. ...

"Researchers have long hypothesized that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have a serotonin 'imbalance.' Drugs like Prozac seem to alleviate OCD by increasing the amount of this neurotransmitter available at the juncture between neurons. [Researchers] compared the lover's serotonin levels with those from the OCD group and another group who were free from both passion and mental illness. Levels of serotonin in both the obsessives' blood and the lovers' blood were 40 percent lower than those in normal subjects ... Translation: Love and mental illness may be difficult to tell apart. ...

"Why doesn't passionate love last? ... Biologically speaking, the reasons romantic love fades may be found in the way our brains respond to the surge and pulse of dopamine ... cocaine users describe the phenomenon of tolerance: the brain adapts to the excessive input of the drug ... From a physiological point of view, [couples move] from the dopamine- drenched state of romantic love to the relative quiet of the oxytocin-induced attachment. Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes a feeling of connection, bonding."

Lauren Slater, "Love: The Chemical Reaction," National Geographic, February 2006, pp. 35-45

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/18/06-Farm Girls go to the City

In today's excerpt--during the second half of the American nineteenth century, cheap land was less available, and expansion shifted from the country to the city, making the West more heavily urban than any region other than the Northeast. The cities had become a safety valve for rural discontent:

"As one historian has put it, for every industrial worker who became a farmer, twenty farm boys moved to the city. This is relatively well-known. Less so is the fact that for every twenty farm boys, there were in the late nineteenth century perhaps twenty-five or thirty farm girls moving from the rural to the urban West. ... Many studies of short-distance migration from country to city, throughout the world, confirm that young women predominate in these movements. ... One study of rural households found that among middling to poor farmers, only four in ten daughters as compared to seven in ten sons remained on the land.

"What accounted for the greater number of women choosing the city over the country? ... 'I hate farm life,' says a young wife in Hamlin Garland's Main-Travelled Roads, published during the 1890s. It's nothing but fret, fret, and work the whole time, never going anyplace, never seeing anybody ... I spend my time fighting flies and washing dishes and churning. I'm sick of it.' ...

"But perhaps even more compelling than the push of the country was the pull of the city, which represented the hope of a better life for many women. ... Union organizer Abraham Bisno declared 'The world is bigger than she knew and there are other ways of living than those she had been taught to accept.' ... After the working day, wrote one investigator, girls sought excitement at the dance halls and the theater, or simply by strolling the streets with their companions and enjoying the scene. ... [I]nto their marriages they carried a set of expectations very different than those of their mothers. ...

"[There was considerable fear that naive and innocent young country girls would be ruined by their urban experience. ... But things may have been worse down on the farm; according to a recent study of late nineteenth century women, many reported fleeing sexual abuse at home. ... Let us give these young urban pioneers their appropriate place, side-by-side with the forty-niners ... in the drama of the Great Migration."

Geoffrey C. Ward, The West, Back Bay Books, 1996, pp. 268-273.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/17/06-Philippe and the Knights Templar

In today's excerpt--Philippe le Bel (1268-1314), king from 1285 until his death, was one of France's most disastrous kings. He used a king's most onerous methods to deal with the large debt he had incurred to the Knights Templar: he trumped up charges against them and had them executed:

"Under [Philippe] the cost of running France was six times as much as it had been under Philippe Auguste less than a century earlier, even allowing for inflation. ... All of this led to appalling and recurrent financial difficulties, ... [so Philippe] invented new taxes ... cancelled the Crown's debts, and ruthlessly confiscated personal treasures and fortunes. ...

"[I]n Paris, the Knights Templar ... lived in a splendor rivaling that of the Palais Royal. Their wealth was legendary. The order had been founded after [their service in] the First Crusade ... They were fanatically brave in battle ... Recognized all over Europe by their robes of white with a red cross on the front, in 1128 the Templars had acquired a rule of dedicated austerity as monk-soldiers. But over the course of the intervening two centuries, loot derived from the Crusades enabled the Templars to amass immense riches--and therefore power, making them almost a sovereign state unto themselves.

"Inevitably corruption had set in, and with it the venal envy of the outside world. Over the thirteenth century, the Templars had become de facto bankers to the Crown, rivals to the Lombards and the Jews as money-lenders. ... The Templars' reputation for greed was widespread; so were rumors of some of their vices of the flesh. ... Exploiting their unpopularity, in 1307 Philippe declared war on the Templars, leveling trumped-up charges of heresy, necromancy and sodomy against them. ... The Templars were accused, inter alia, of 'sacrificing to idols,' of 'infecting the purity of the air' and of 'torturing Christ a second time.'

"In a remarkably well-orchestrated raid, all the Templars were arrested one night and their property declared forfeit. One after the other they appeared before inquisitors ... the tortures were so appalling that one Templar saw twenty-five freres die 'under the question.' ... In one of the most deplorable episodes ever to be witnessed in Paris, 138 Templars were burned at the stake ... Proceedings against the Templars went on until the climax was reached in 1314 [when] The Grand Master of the order himself, Jacque de Molay, who refused to answer charges, had been tortured and thrown in prison for seven years ... [then] immolated."

Alistair Horne, Paris, Pan Books, 2003, pp. 54-58.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/12/06-Taxation and Representation

In today's encore excerpt--taxation. In 1789, the
French had a far lighter tax burden than the English, but theywere the ones who revolted because, as Baron Montesquieu brilliantly theorized, the ability to tax is constrained when a government is not representative. The same was true in 1776, where American colonials had a far lighter tax burden than citizens of England, but had no representation. Those who feared world takeover by communism or totalitarian states in the twentieth century should have considered this--a non-representative government simply cannot generate sustained wealth:

"Even before (1781), well-informed observers
understood the conundrum of ancien regime
finance. Adam Smith was among them [writing that] '...the people of France, however, it is generally acknowledged, are much more oppressed by taxes than the people of Great Britain.'

"This was an astute observation. Taxes may have
been lower in France, but, perversely they aroused
more opposition. The roles of France and England had been reversed. In the seventeenth century, it was the Stuarts who had struggled in vain to conjure a modest income out of their recalcitrant subjects, and whose regime had been brought down by financial starvation. In the following century, the Bourbons suffered the same fate...The graph shows just how neatly the index of taxpayer pliability had been turned upside down:

"Relative Taxation in France and England, Grams of
Silver per capita:

"1640: France 30 grams; England 14 grams

"1789: France 75 grams; England 188 grams

"Montesquieu's Limits of Absolutism: General rule: one can raise higher taxes in proportion to the liberty of the subjects: and one is forced to moderate them to the degree that servitude increases. This has always been, and will always remain so."

James MacDonald, A Free Nation Deep in
Debt, Farrar, Straus, 2003, pp. 253-5.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/11/06-Vietnam Coup

In today's excerpt, Kennedy, 1963, and a coup in
South Vietnam:

"Rebel troops overthrew the South Vietnamese
government in Saigon that same November 1,
assassinating President Diem ... The bloody coup
shocked many Americans into an unsettling first awareness of the Vietnam War, as news accounts speculated delicately but persistently about clandestine U.S. support for the revolt. ... Vietnamese soldiers had killed monks and civilians in Hue to enforce a government order prohibiting the display of Buddhist colors on Buddha's birthday. Buddhist protests had seized world attention a month later ... when a monk named Trich Quan Duc publicly immolated himself in downtown Saigon. Vietnam's Catholic rulers contemptuously dismissed a string of later suicides as 'Buddhist barbecues' inspired by the communist enemy.

"Americans awakening to the Vietnam crisis puzzled over the conduct on both sides. Given the
overwhelmingly Buddhist population, it was as though a Jewish U.S. president had forcibly suppressed Christmas as a Communist conspiracy. ... Kennedy Administration officials ... 'decided long ago,' wrote Max Frankel in the Times, 'to discuss it as little as possible.' Privately, however, they split over the most divisive internal question of the entire Administration: whether it was moral, democratic, or necessary to overthrow Diem in order to preserve a
war against tyranny in Vietnam. 'My government's
coming apart!' President Kennedy had exclaimed on
the day before the [Martin Luther King] March on
Washington. Two days later, his ambassador in
Saigon cabled that the course was set toward a
coup: 'There is no turning back.' All through
September and October, the secret cable traffic had flopped erratically between excited hopes of
imminent success and bouts of bloody remorse, like
speeches from MacBeth. When it was over, U.S.
officials tried to make the best of a fresh start with a new Vietnamese regime of French-educated, Catholic generals."

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters, Simon &
Schuster, 1988. p. 914.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/10/06-Spartans

In today's excerpt, the rigors and rituals of Spartans, the fiercest warriors of the ancient world, circa 560 B.C.:

"Even the newest-born baby was subjected to the proddings of old men. Should an infant be judged too sickly or deformed to make a future contribution to the city, then the elders would order its immediate termination. ... A cleft beside the road which wound over the mountains to Messenia, the Apothetae, or 'Dumping Ground,' provided the setting for the infanticide. There, where they might no longer shame the city that had bred them, the weak and deformed
would be slung into the depths of the chasm ...

"[I]t was the goal of instructors not merely to crush a boy's individuality, but to push him to startling extremes of endurance, discipline and impassivity, so that he might prove himself, supremely, as a being reforged of iron. ... Denied adequate rations, the young
Spartan would be encouraged to forage from the
farms of neighboring Lacedaemonians, stalking and
stealing like a fox, refining his talent for stealth.
Whether in the heat of summer or in the cold of
winter, he would wear only one style of tunic,
identical to that worn by his fellows, and nothing
else, not even shoes. ...

"[A]t the age of twelve, he became legal game for
cruising. Pederasty was widely practised elsewhere in Greece, but only in Sparta was it
institutionalized--even, it is said, with fines for boys who refused to take a lover.

"Just as boys were trained for warfare, so girls had to be reared for their future as breeders. The
result--to foreign eyes, at any rate--was an
inversion of just about every accepted norm. In Sparta, girls were fed at the expense of their brothers. To the bemusement of other Greeks, they were also taught to read, and to express themselves not modestly, as was
becoming for women, but in an aggressively
sententious manner, so that they might better
instruct their own children in what it meant to be a Spartan. They exercised in public: running, throwing the javelin, even wrestling. ..."

Tom Holland, Persian Fire, Abacus, 2005, pp.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/09/06-Larry David Strikes Out

In today's excerpt, Larry David, who later achieved
spectacular success as co-creator of Seinfeld
and creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm,
lasts only one year as a writer on Saturday Night Live:

"Andy Breckman: I was there when Larry David wrote for Saturday Night Live. He was there for one season and he did not get one sketch on the air. Not one. And then he went on to do Seinfeld and be
Mr. NBC. It was a Dick Ebersol year, and I'm sure that Larry has nothing good to say about Dick Ebersol, but of the sketches that Larry David didn't get on, some of them ... became the seeds of Seinfeld episodes. ... One sketch was about a guy who left a message on his girlfriend's answering machine that he regretted leaving, and he broke into his girlfriend's house to retrieve the answering machine tape. ...

"Elliot Wald: Larry would write pieces that, you know, we would just be falling on the floor over. Some of those became great Seinfeld episodes. The
one about trying to get someone's apartment at a wake? Elaine did that in Seinfeld, but Larry wrote it first as a sketch. And we were falling down laughing. And Dick would say, 'That's not going on the air; that's not funny.' ...

"Larry David: It was the day before read-through
around seven o'clock ... and I had been there maybe
three weeks ... I had already written written maybe two or three sketches and maybe two news pieces for the update thing. So I was all set.

"So I'm waiting for the elevator to go home, and I
remember Dick came out of the elevator, and I
said, 'Good night,' and he said, 'What are you
doing?!?' I said, 'Oh, I'm going home.' And he
looked at me like I was out of my mind. He said, 'What do you mean, going home?' I said, 'Well, I've written three sketches and two news pieces and that's it, you know.' And he goes, 'But we stay up all night.' I go, 'What for?' He says, 'To write the show. That's when we write the show.' I said, 'But I've already written three pieces.' And he goes, 'Well, we stay here all night.' I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. And I said, 'I'm not staying up all night. For what? What am I going to do--just walk around? I'm all done.' So we kind of looked at each other and I said, you know, 'Good luck,' and I got on the elevator and left. I think that was the beginning of the end for me.' "

Tom Shales & James Andrew Miller, Live from New York, Little, Brown, 2002, pp. 269-272.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/06/06-Ravel and Gerschwin

In today's excerpt, Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) tours
the United States in 1927. Ravel is noted for piano virtuosic compositions, such as Miroirs and Gaspard
de la Nuit, and for his orchestrations, such as Daphnis et Chloé, and his orchestral arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition,
notable for the effective use of tonal color and
variety of sound and instrumentation. To the general public, he is probably best known for his orchestral work Boléro, which he considered a trivial work and once described as "a piece for orchestra without music":

"He found the New World much to his liking ... as he
had to cross and recross the great spaces in the
course of visiting no less than twenty-five cities and towns. ... He was mightily impressed by the Grand Canyon and other spectacular landscapes and
formations. ...

"He was gratified but not altogether astonished by
the reception invariably received from critics and
audiences, nor was he surprised that he was widely hailed as the greatest living French composer, as he already was in continental Europe and England ... He noted without rancour that 'Only the French journal in New York did not mention me.' ...

"He made many American friends on both sides of the musical fence: he played his violin sonata with
Joseph Szigeti, and it was during this visit that he
turned down George Gershwin's request for lessons on the grounds that 'you would only lose your own spontaneity and end up writing bad Ravel!'--which brings an echo of his declaration that Vaughan Williams was the only one of his pupils who 'n'ecrit pas de ma musique.'
He renewed contact with Bela Bartok, Edgard Varese and others, consorted with Paul Whiteman and more of that kidney, and spent time in Harlem listening to jazz bands. All in all, and despite the strenuous schedules, it is clear that he 'had himself a ball' in the States.

"At the end of his stay he made a sortie south,
sampling the French delights of New Orleans and its often Creole-based jazz, and delivered his lecture on 'Contemporary Music' in Houston at the invitation of the Rice Institute.' "

Burnett James, Ravel, Omnibus, 1983,

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/05/06-Stress at Disney

In today's encore excerpt, the success and rapid
growth of the company, circa 1931, creates
enormous stress for Walt Disney:

"There was always something obsessive about Walt Disney's personality. His single-minded concentration on his career, his possessiveness about his business, his unwillingness to share its management with any outsiders ... all these qualities now began to be noted as the organization started growing and Disney necessarily grew more remote. He became something of a sneak in his own studio, prowling the corridors at night and on weekends, trying to get a glimpse of story ideas and sketches before his writers and editors were ready to show them. ...

"[H]e was beginning to pay the price. 'I kept
expecting more from my artists than they were giving me, and all I did all day long was pound, pound,
pound,' he said later. 'Costs were going up.
Somehow, each new picture we finished cost more to make than we figured it would earn; so I cracked up ... I became irritable ... and I couldn't sleep. I got to the point where I couldn't talk over the
telephone because I'd begin to cry ...' "

Richard Schickel, The Disney Version,
Elephant Paperback, 1968, 143-5

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/04/06-Tokyo Rose

In today's excerpt, Los Angeles-born,
Japanese-American Iva Toguri (1916-2006) is
wrongly convicted as a traitor--the
despicable 'Tokyo Rose' who taunted American
soldiers over the radio throughout World War II--and sentenced to ten years in prison:

"One morning in 1941, Iva's mother received news
that her sister had fallen seriously ill in Tokyo. As her mother suffered from diabetes and could not easily travel, it fell to Iva, then 25, to make the long
journey to Japan to be at her aunt's
bedside. ...

"But while she was paying her visit, on December 7, 1941, aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy
attacked the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor. ... [T]here
was no way for her to make her way back to Los
Angeles ...

"There were at the time a number of English-speaking Japanese women broadcasters who specialised in playing up Japanese military victories and pouring scorn on their enemies, especially the Americans. They were chosen for their sexy-sounding voices and their presumed ability to undermine the morale of their target audience. GIs took to calling these women by the generic name Tokyo Rose. But Iva Toguri was not one of these. Her broadcasts ... were bland and almost factual. She used the money she earned to help feed and clothe Allied prisoners ...

"At the Japanese surrender, tabloid reporters combed the country in the search for 'Tokyo Rose', and eventually, through bribes, secured the name of Iva Toguri. ... Her [U.S.] trial was a sensation. The
evidence was either scant or false. Witnesses said whatever they thought was expected of them. ...

"There was the need, in the post-war period, for
traitors to be seen to pay for their crimes ... and the intense desire of an unprincipled group of American reporters to secure the scoop of a lifetime.

"After serving six years of her ten-year sentence, Toguri, a model prisoner, was freed. ... Toguri was pardoned by President Ford ... in 1977. ... Toguri's husband was never allowed to join her in the U.S. ..."

Obituary, The London Times, September 28,
2006, p.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Delanceyplace.com 10/02/06-Marie Antoinette's Pouf

In today's excerpt, Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)
and her hairdresser create the pouf--the yard-high hairstyle that swept through the courts and society circles of Europe. Marie, who became the most controversial French queen, was an Austrian princess betrothed to Louis XVI when she was fourteen. Though she never said "let them eat cake," she was given to excess and was intent on dressing for history. In fashion, furniture and social style, her court is still held forth as the paragon of refined taste, though in reality the French court wallowed in filth. She was beheaded during the French Revolution,three years after her husband, and saw her son taken from her and perish at age ten:

"A gown or headdress from Marie Antoinette's
favorite marchande de mode, Rose Bertin,
could easily cost twenty times what a skilled worker earned in a year, and if he wanted to see where his taxes went he could visit the Queen's wardrobe--it was open to the public.

"Sometime in the mid-seventeen-seventies, a young perfumer named Jean-Louis Fargeon ... was shocked by his first visit to the palace for some of the reasons it must also have shocked Marie Antoinette, who had grown up in a court and a family where impeccable hygiene was an article of faith. Not only did courtiers at Versailles look embalmed behind their masks of white powder and rouge but the many who bathed only once a year smelled like corpses. The filthy halls and courtyards stank of the excrement from humans and pets; dead cats floated in stagnant water; and a butcher plied his trade--gutting and roasting pigs--at the entrance to the ministers' wing.

"Fargeon often collaborated on scented accessories with the earthy Bertin--a genius who ... was the architect of the famous pouf, and
Léonard--the royal hairdresser ... was its engineer.
This amusingly freakish coiffure became the rage all over Europe, and, like most of the Queen's fashion fantasias, it proved particularly ruinous to her plebeian imitators, who, it was said, sacrificed their dowries on the altar of the Austrian's frivolity, and thus their chances of marriage, then turned to rich protectors to take up the slack, so in the end--the omega of such arguments--the French birth rate suffered.

"The pouf was a cross between a topiary and
a Christmas tree, and each creation, about a yard
high, had a sentimental or political theme, depending
on the wearer and the occasion. It started with a
wire form that Léonard padded with wool, cloth,
horsehair, and gauze, interweaving the client's
tresses with fake hair. When the edifice had been
well stiffened with pomade and dusted with powder (vermin were fond of both, so fashionable ladies carried long-handled head-scratchers), it was ready to be trimmed with its defining scene. Ships,
barnyards, vegetables, battles, nativities, and even a husband's infidelities were some of the themes.
Weber calls the poufs 'personalized mobile
billboards,' and the Queen wore a pouf à
l'inoculation to publicize her triumph in persuading
the King to be vaccinated against smallpox. Perched
in the hairdo was a serpent in an olive tree (symbols of wisdom and Aesculapius), behind which rose the golden sun of enlightenment."

Judith Thurman, "Dressed for Excess," The New
Yorker, September 25th, 2006, pp. 138-143.