Wednesday, January 31, 2007 01/31/07-Jane Johnstone Schoolcraft

In today's excerpt, Jane Johnstone Schoolcraft, the first known American Indian literary writer, whose literature became a key source for Longfellow's sensationally popular The Song of Hiawatha. Her Ojibwe name meant "Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky." The following is excerpted from her poem Song for a Lover Killed in Battle:

Oh how can I sing the praise of my love! His spirit still lingers around me. The grass that is growing over his bed of earth is yet too low; its sighs cannot be heard upon the wind.

Oh he was beautiful!
Oh he was brave!

I must not break the silence of this still retreat; nor waste the time in song, when his spirit still whispers to mine. I hear it in the sounds of the newly budded leaves. It tells me that he yet lingers near me, and that he loves me the same in death, though the yellow sand lies over him.

Whisper, spirit,
Whisper to me.

I shall sing when the grass will answer my plaint; when its sighs will respond to my moan. There my voice shall be heard in his praise.

Linger, lover! linger
Stay, spirit! stay.

Robert Dale Parker, The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky, University of Pennsylvania, 2007, p. 205.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 01/30/07-Frequency of Wars

In today's excerpt, wars:

"No twenty-five year period since 1495 has been entirely without war. ... Luard lists 281 wars for the period 1400-1559, falling to 162 (1559-1648) and 145 (1648-1789), but then rising to 270 (1789-1917) before returning to 163 between 1917 and 1984. ... It is striking that there has not been a single year since 1816 without at least one war going on in the world.

"The death toll in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-13) was 1.2 million. A century later, the Napoleonic Wars killed 1.9 million men. And a century after that, the First World War cost more than 9 million servicemen their lives. Perhaps as many as 8 million people died in the maelstrom of the Russian Civil War of 1918-21 ... But even this figure pales into insignificance alongside the total mortality caused by the Second World War. ... According to the best available estimates, total civilian deaths in the Second World War amounted to 37.8 million, bringing the total death toll to nearly 57 million people [when added to the 19 million military casualties]. In other words, the majority of deaths in the Second World War were due to the deliberate targeting--by all sides--of civilians on land and sea and from the air."

Niall Ferguson, The Cash Nexus, Basic, 2001, pp. 26-33.

Monday, January 29, 2007 01/29/07-The Echo

In today's excerpt, the echo:

"Generally speaking, echo has two coextensive histories: the mythological one and the scientific one. ...

"To illustrate the multiple resonances found in an echo, the Greeks conjured up the story of a beautiful mountain nymph. Her name was Echo and she made the mistake of helping Zeus succeed in one of his sexual conquests. Hera found out and punished Echo, making it impossible for her to say anything except the last words spoken to her. Soon after, Echo fell in love with Narcissus whose obsession with himself caused her to pine away until only her voice remained. ...

"[O]nly empty spaces can create echoes of lasting clarity. Ironically, hollowness only increases the eerie quality of otherness inherent in any echo. Strange then how something so uncanny ... can at the same time also contain a resilient comfort: the assurance that ... there is still something else out there, something to stake out in the face of nothingness.

"It is not by accident that choirs singing Psalms are most always recorded with ample reverb. Divinity seems defined by echo.

"Point of fact, the human ear cannot distinguish one sound wave from the same sound wave if it returns in less than 50 milliseconds. Therefore, for anyone to hear a reverberation requires a certain amount of space. At 68 degrees Fahrenheit sound travels at approximately 1,130 ft. per second. A reflective surface must stand at least 56-1/2 ft. away in order for a person to detect the doubling of her voice.

"Myth makes Echo the subject of longing and desire. Physics makes Echo the subject of distance and design. ... And where there is no Echo there is no description of space or love.

"There is only silence."

Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves, Pantheon, 2000, pp. 41, 46, 50.

Friday, January 26, 2007 01/26/07-Robert Clary

In today's excerpt, director John Rich writes about sitcom actor Robert Clary:

"In the 1960s, between my long tenures with [Dick] Van Dyke and All in the Family ... even after I had been working in television for well over a decade, at times I still came across things that surprised or even shocked me. That occurred once during a lunch break on the set of Hogan's Heroes. I had directed several episodes of that series, even though I always had a bit of trouble with its trivialization of a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. ... This feeling was magnified one day when I sat next to Robert Clary, who portrayed a young French prisoner in Colonel Hogan's barracks. Lunch was served outdoors, and since it was a hot day, Robert was wearing a sleeveless shirt.

"As I reached for something on the table, I noticed a numbered tattoo on Clary's arm. I was astonished. 'Forgive me for asking,' I said to him, 'but do those numbers mean what I think they do?'

"Clary responded without hesitation. 'Yes, I was a prisoner in Auschwitz.'

"A chilling thought came into my mind. 'How can you play an inmate ...,' I asked, 'and face those horrible symbols of Nazi authority? How do you interact with swastikas and all other paraphernalia of a system that condemned you to an extermination camp?'

" 'It's a job,' Clary said with a shrug, 'you get over it.'

"Years later ... he admitted that it had been more than a little difficult."

John Rich, Warm Up the Snake, University of Michigan Press, 2006, pp. 111.

Thursday, January 25, 2007 01/25/07-Life in the 1500s

In today's encore excerpt, life for the typical European in the early 1500s:

"In the early 1500s one could hike through the woods for days without encountering a settlement of any size. Between 80 and 90 percent of the population ... lived in villages of fewer than a hundred people, fifteen or twenty miles apart, surrounded by endless woodlands. They slept in their small, cramped hamlets, which afforded little privacy ...

"The centerpiece of the room was a gigantic bedstead, piled high with straw pallets, all seething with vermin. Everyone slept there, regardless of age or gender--grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and hens and pigs--and if a couple chose to enjoy intimacy, the others were aware of every movement. In summer they could even watch ...

"If this familial situation seems primitive, it should be borne in mind that these were prosperous peasants."

William Manchester, A World Lit Only by Fire, Back Bay Books, 1992, pp. 50-2.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 01/24/07-Britain and Egypt

In today's excerpt, Britain loses its domination of Egypt:

"Britain's first occupation of Egypt, supposedly temporary, had begun in 1882 and lasted until June 1956. Thus Egypt became, in all but name, a British protectorate. ... In 1952, the coup led by the free officers led by General Neguib forced the abdication of King Farouk. By June 1956, Neguib had been replaced by Nasser, who became President in 1954. On April 6th, 1955, Anthony Eden became Prime Minister in Britain ...

"Britain had sought to maintain a military balance in the Arab-Israeli dispute by supplying limited amounts of essentially obsolete weapons, but an arms deal with the Soviet bloc in September 1955 meant Egypt was now receiving Czech tanks and modern aircraft. Eden ... did not wish to push Nasser further into the orbit of the Soviet bloc, so talks began in Washington on funding for the Aswan Dam project.

"However, in July 1956 Eisenhower cancelled the promised grant of $56 million towards the dam. The furious Nasser decided to nationalize the Suez Canal so that the revenues from it would finance the Dam instead ... but he stated that shareholders would be compensated at the prevailing market price and the operation of the canal would be administered by an independent body. ...

"In August, British and French military strategists began to plan an invasion ... meanwhile it was increasingly clear that the U.S. was unwilling to sanction the use of force ... Ignoring [U.S. Secretary of State] Dulles's warnings, Eden and Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd, together with the French, now set in train a highly secret process of collusion with Israel against Egypt. ... [J]ust as there seemed little to prevent the occupation of the length of the Canal ... the British and French governments accepted a ceasefire. ... It was American pressure that had forced Eden's hand. This became apparent when the U.S. blocked a British approach to the IMF to access funds to stave off a run on sterling. Some $50 million of the reserves went in the first forty-eight hours. ...

"Nasser remained firmly in power. ... Eden denied that there had been any foreknowledge of Israel's action against Egypt. ... Eden resigned on January 9th, 1957."

Timothy Benson, "Suez 1956," History Today, 2006, pp. 46-7.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 01/23/07-Mirror Neurons and Autism

In today's excerpt, mirror neurons and autism:

"John watches Mary, who is grasping a flower. John knows what Mary is doing and ... why she is doing it. ... The simple scene lasts just moments, and John's grasp of what is happening is nearly instantaneous. ... [H]ow exactly does he understand ... so effortlessly? A decade ago most neuroscientists and psychologists would have attributed an individual's understanding of someone else's actions and, especially, intentions to a rapid reasoning process not unlike that used to solve a logical problem ... [but] the ease and speed with which we typically understand simple actions suggest a much more straightforward explanation.

"In the early 1990s our research group at the University of Parma in Italy, which at the time included Luciano Fadiga, found that answer somewhat accidentally in a surprising class of neurons in the monkey brain that fire when an individual performs simple goal-directed motor actions, such as grasping a piece of fruit. The surprising part was that these same neurons also fire when the individual sees someone else perform the same act. Because this newly discovered subset of cells seemed to directly reflect acts performed by another in the observer's brain, we named them mirror neurons.

"We naturally wondered whether a mirror neuron system also exists in humans. ... Understanding the intentions of others is fundamental to human social behavior, and human mirror neurons appeared to confer that ability. ... We first obtained strong evidence that it does through a series of experiments that employed various techniques for detecting changes in motor cortex activity. ... [Further] our results also demonstrated ... that the mirror neuron system responded strongly to the intention component of an act.

"At first glance you might not notice anything odd on meeting a young boy with autism. But if you try to talk to him, it will quickly become obvious that something is seriously wrong. He may not make eye contact with you; ... More disconcerting, he may not be able to conduct anything remotely resembling a normal conversation ... he may lack genuine empathy for other people and be oblivious to subtle social cues that most children would pick up effortlessly. ...

"Because mirror neurons appeared to be involved in abilities such as empathy and the perception of another individual's intentions, it seemed logical to hypothesize that a dysfunction of the mirror neuron system could result in some of the symptoms of autism. Over the past decade, several studies have provided evidence for this theory."

Giacomo Rizzolatti, Leonardo Fogassi and Vittorio Gallese, "Mirrors in the Mind," Scientific American, November 2006, pp. 54-8; Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Lindsay M. Oberman, “Broken Mirrors: A Theory of Autism," Scientific American, November 2006, pp. 63-4.

Monday, January 22, 2007 01/22/07-Senators and Language

In today's excerpt, Dr. Frank Luntz, "language architect," pollster and advisor to clients from Rudy Guliani to Steve Wynn, talks about U.S. Senators and their use of language:

"Senators go on television, ostensibly, to communicate with their constituents, but then squander the opportunity by droning on about "reconciliation" and "markup" and "cloture." They have the distinct ability to take a simple issue and mutilate it beyond all recognition. In December of 2005, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson stepped onto the Senate floor to talk about the complicated, unfair system of federal taxation--and instead uttered the sentence that did not end.

" 'Simply put [how ironic], we would sunset the current tax code on the Fourth of July, 2008, and command the Congress to take the next three years analyzing consumption taxes, progressive taxes, flat taxes, revenues of all sorts, and the effect each has on the economy and economic policy, and then come back to the American people prior to that date with a new simplified, fairer, flatter tax system, or failing to do so, the Congress of the United States would then be forced to vote on this floor to extend the existing system we have and all the injustice that goes with it'.

"Count it: one hundred and three words to say what should have been said in eighteen: 'Congress needs to study and simplify the tax code, and they have three years to get it done.'

"And that's the reason why John F. Kennedy is the only member of Congress in modern times to have gone from Capitol Hill straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In fact, you'd have to be more than a hundred years old to have voted for the last legislator to move directly to the White House prior to Kennedy. (Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920) ... Legislators are handicapped when they run for executive office precisely because they tend to speak a language the American public simply doesn't find compelling."

Dr. Frank Luntz, Words That Work, Hyperion, 2007, pp. 37-8.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Delanceyplace 01/19/07-Humility and Purpose

In today's excerpt, the humility and sense of purpose of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, who, in the mid- 1960s, was experiencing great commercial success and was the subject of many of the highest accolades and greatest adulation in the jazz world:

"The [Coltrane Quartet] developed a reputation for being one of the hardest-working outfits on the road ... [and] during tours in late 1962 and '63, Europe embraced the quartet as conquering heroes. ... As accolades poured down and album sales stayed up, however, Coltrane remained humble, musically centered, spiritually focused. ...

"[Close friend] Cecelia Foster ... tells of the saxophonist's reaction to his listeners' praise:

" 'Whenever I'd say to John--me trying to be hip--'Boy, John, you really burned on that last set!' he'd look at me for a long time and say, 'What do you mean by that? What did you hear that was different?' ... When I couldn't explain, he would say, 'Don't be like so many people we know. If you can't explain what the difference was that you heard, what impressed you, just don't say anything.' He was really quite a teacher as far as I was concerned. He taught me how to listen to jazz, what to listen for, how to be humble and not frontin' on the music.' ...

"[Coltrane contemporary and jazz musician] Dave Liebman expands the thought: " 'What stays with me about the Coltrane Quartet is an image of them getting up on the bandstand ... completely burning for two hours without a word to anybody, getting off the stage and sitting down like any other person. Not having an entourage around them or anything. Then doing it again, with unpretentiousness, absolute honesty and matter-of-factness. ... I still try to live up to that image: to do your work, to do it intensely, with conviction, and be honest with the music."

Ashley Kahn, A Love Supreme, Penguin, 2002, pp. 66, 210.

Thursday, January 18, 2007 01/18/07-Botnets

In today's encore excerpt, criminals on the internet:

" 'I started prosecuting network-attack cases in 1992, and back then it was sort of lone hackers,' said Christopher Painter. 'Today ... you have organized criminal groups that are adopting technical sophistication.' The most potent weapon for Web gangsters is the botnet. A bot, broadly speaking, is a remote-controlled software program that is installed on a computer without the owner's knowledge. Hackers use viruses, worms, or automated programs to scan the Internet in search of potential zombies. One recent study found that a new P.C., attached to the Internet without protective software, will on average be infected in about twenty minutes.

"In the most common scenario, the bots surreptitiously connect hundreds, or thousands, of zombies [hijacked computers] to a channel in a chat room. The process is called 'herding,' and a herd of zombies is called a botnet. The herder then issues orders to the zombies, telling them to send unsolicited e-mail, steal personal information, or launch attacks. Herders also trade, rent, and sell their zombies. 'The botnet is the little engine that makes the evil of the Internet work,' Chris Morrow, a senior network-security engineer at MCI, said. 'It makes spam work. It makes identity fraud work. It makes extortion ... work.'

"Less than five years ago, experts considered a several-thousand-zombie botnet extraordinary. Lyon now regularly faces botnets of fifty thousand zombies or more. ... '[B]otnets will, unless matters change dramatically, proliferate to the point where much of the Internet ... comes to resemble a mosaic of botnets.' "

Evan Ratliff, "The Zombie Hunters," The New Yorker, October 10, 2005, p. 46.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 01/17/07-The World Bank

In today's excerpt, the creation of the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund):

"The World Bank was conceived six decades before the [9/11] terrorist attacks, in the teeth of another violent threat to American security. In December 1941, scarcely a week after the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt's long-time friend and treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, commissioned a blueprint for the postwar economic order. Morgenthau ... turned to Harry Dexter White, a driven, brilliant Harvard PhD whose service was later rewarded with persecution at the hands of Senator Joseph McCarthy. White's brief was nothing less than to prevent another war, and to do so by forestalling the kind of economic storm that had brought about the current one. As Morgenthau put it a little while later, 'all of us have seen the great economic tragedy of our time. We saw the worldwide depression of the 1930s. We saw currency disorders spread from land to land. ... We saw unemployment and wretchedness. ... We saw bewilderment and bitterness become the breeders of fascism, and, finally, of war.'

"White's first priority was to prevent more such 'currency disorders.' The postwar economic system would be anchored by the gold standard, which would shield commerce from the twin evils of exchange rate shocks and inflation. If this system came under pressure--if a balance of payments deficit exhausted a nation's gold reserves--a new international lender of last resort would bail the country out rather than leaving it to devalue. This new bail-out lender ultimately took shape as the International Monetary Fund, which today stands across the street from the World Bank in Washington, and which still fights financial crises from Argentina to Turkey. But White's creativity did not stop there. He also conceived the idea of a new public bank that would promote the rebuilding of Europe, so ending the 'unemployment and wretchedness' that Morgenthau lamented. ...

"In July 1944, when the Allied forces had still not broken out of their Normandy beachhead, several hundred delegates convened in the sprawling Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. ... [T]he conference ended with an agreement on a new International Bank for Reconstruction and Development [later the World Bank] to work alongside the International Monetary Fund.

"The link between security and poverty had been stressed throughout the conference. As White said to his colleagues, 'There is nothing that will serve to drive these countries into some kind of ism-- communism or something else--faster than having inadequate capital.' ... Poverty was even worse then than it is now [the author states that today half of the world's 6 billion people live on less than $2 per day]: in India, life expectancy for the poor was twenty-five years, and 90 percent of the population aged ten or older was illiterate."

Sebastian Mallaby, The World's Banker, Yale, 2004, pp. 14-16.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 01/16/07-London

In today's excerpt, Victorian London:

" 'London ... Immense. The richest town in the world, the biggest port, the greatest manufacturing town, the Imperial city, the centre of civilisation, the heart of the world. It's a wonderful place ... a whirlpool, a maelstrom! It whirls you up and it whirls you down.'

H.G. Wells: Tono-Bungay

"All contemporary observers ... agreed that there was something awe-inspiring about nineteenth-century London. By any objective standard it was the largest city in the world ... but the central fact about the city was the growing awareness on all sides that it presented a series of urgent challenges ...

"The first and most obvious challenge was the population explosion, which in a sense underlay all the others. In the year 1800 approximately one million people lived within ten miles of Westminster. By 1881 it was 4.5 million, and by 1911 it would be 7 million. By the end of this period, part of this increase was due to better health and lower mortality rates, but until around 1860, it was still being fueled by immigration from the English countryside, from Ireland, and Scotland, and from continental Europe. London's population was greater than that of Switzerland, or Greece, or Australia. There were more Irish in London than in Dublin, and more Roman Catholics than in Rome. And these statistics are in spite of high levels of emigration--250,000 people left the capital in the 1870s. The consequences of this surge of population into the city were visible everywhere: overcrowding, squalid housing, relentless competition for work, starvation wages, crime, disease, prostitution, drunkenness, and disorder.

"The second challenge was a very different one: the pursuit of wealth through new industries, and through an intensified spirit of commercialism. ... It did not matter what your social origins were, wealth was open to anyone with the energy and imagination to become an entrepreneur. 'Free trade' became a secular religion, which, it was believed, could cure all social ills."

Peter Whitfield, London: A Life in Maps, British Library, 2006, pp. 106-7.

Friday, January 12, 2007 01/12/07-Costume Design

In today's excerpt, Susan Hilferty, award-winning costume designer whose credits include Into the Woods, Wicked, Hamlet, and many others, speaks about her profession and her work on specific plays. Hilferty also chairs the Department of Design for Stage/Film at New York University:

"Translating thought into design is the hard part. If we make the decision that this is a world where Hamlet has a sense of paranoia, but there's real tension in the court caused by everybody being nervous about losing their head or job, I could start to use that. I probably wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm going to make it like Hitler's Germany. I wouldn't necessarily use that as a specific reference, but I would start weighing up the qualities of different cultures and places that give me access to that kind of paranoia. Stalin is another example. ...

"[Y]ou have to ... understand real history so that you can identify what you would do in 1776. Then the [next] part is to take all that information and abstract it so that it's not a specific time or place. You have to have the skill to extract a design idea. Designers have to know about history and its relationship to the world, whether it's about the sciences, war, or politics; we have to know about literature, because almost every great play references other great plays. ... I have to deal with an actor who has problem feet and a bad stomach, and insecurities about weight and baldness, but then I'm the one who has to take that actor through the transformation to become somebody else. Actors have to trust that I will not make them look bad. At the same time I have to be confident enough in my choices that I can take them to the place they need to be. It's the greatest compliment when they are finally dressed and say, 'Now I know who I am.' ...

"I believe every designer has to think holistically. If I put somebody in black in a white space, that's one thing; if I put somebody in black in a black space, that's a completely different thing; if I put them in candlelight, that's something else. ..."

"Sometimes you can do something huge with a character. Take Wicked, because it's simple storytelling without a lot of loops in the story. I've got one character who is a kind of ditzy, sweet, woman, and by the end she's a power-hungry killer. I used pictures of Queen Elizabeth I, moving her from this innocent woman to somebody who's got her hair scraped back, structured and powerful. Sometimes you get to tell the story that way."

Babak Ebrahimian, Structured Spaces, Focal Press, 2006, pp. 59-63.

Thursday, January 11, 2007 01/11/07-China Falls Behind

In today's encore excerpt, why China lost its technological lead--a lesson in the consequences of stifling innovation:

"Medieval China led the world in technology. The long list of its major technological firsts includes cast iron, the compass, gunpowder, paper, printing, and many others mentioned earlier. It also led the world in political power, navigation, and control of the seas. In the early 15th century it sent treasure fleets, each consisting of hundreds of ships up to 400 feet long and with total crews of up to 28,000, across the Indian Ocean as far as the east coast of Africa, decades before Columbus's three puny ships crossed the narrow Atlantic Ocean. Why didn't Chinese ships colonize Europe? Why did China lose its technological lead to the formerly so backward Europe? ...

"[The answer is] a power struggle between two factions in the Chinese court. The former faction had been identified with the fleets. Hence when the latter faction gained the upper hand in a power struggle, it stopped sending fleets. The episode is reminiscent of the legislation that strangled development of public lighting in London in the 1880s, the isolationism of the United States between the First and Second World Wars, and any number of backward steps in any number of countries. But in China there was a difference, because the entire region was politically unified. One decision stopped fleets over the whole of China [and] became irreversible.

"Now contrast those events in China with what happened when fleets of exploration began to sail from politically fragmented Europe. Christopher Columbus, an Italian by birth, switched his allegiance to the duke of Anjou in France, then to the king of Portugal. When the latter refused his request for ships in which to explore westward, Columbus turned to the duke of Medina-Celi, who did likewise, and finally to the king and queen of Spain, who denied Columbus's first request but eventually granted his renewed appeal. Had Europe been united under any of the first three rulers, its colonization of the Americas might have been stillborn. In fact, precisely because Europe was fragmented, Columbus succeeded on his fifth try..."

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, Norton, 1997, pp. 412-3.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Delanceyplace 01/10/06-The Democratic Party is Born

In today's excerpt, in 1828, after a period in which one party controlled the U.S. government and an effective alternate party did not exist, a second party rancorously emerges:

"Over the next several years, those hostile to the [John Quincy Adams] administration organized themselves under the direction of Senator [Martin] Van Buren with the active help of Vice President Calhoun in support of the candidacy of Andrew Jackson for President in the 1828 election. They came to be called Democratic-Republicans, or simply Democrats, and emphasized the importance of state's rights and fiscal responsibility. Those who agreed with the administration and its nationalistic program called themselves National Republicans and looked to Secretary [Henry] Clay and President Adams for leadership. So ended the Era of Good Feelings in which one party controlled the government. The two- party system reemerged.

"One of the most important changes to occur in the 1820s was the increased number of voters in state and national elections. The newer western states-- Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio--entered the Union with constitutions that granted voting rights to all adult white male citizens, and this trend was imitated by the older states, which summoned conventions to revise their constitutions and broadened the suffrage. As a result, universal white manhood suffrage was achieved in this Age of Jackson. The nation had begun the process of evolving into a more democratic system ...

"These changes were reflected in what was probably the most disgraceful campaign in American history. The two parties, bolstered by an enlarged electorate, set about organizing the country politically by establishing electioneering committees ... and founding newspapers to attack one another. Adams and Clay were pummeled for 'stealing' the 1824 election, and the President was even accused of pimping for the czar of Russia when he served as the U.S. minister to that country. Jackson, on the other hand, was denounced as a murderer and wife-stealer, having married Rachel Donelson Robards while she was still married to her first husband, Lewis Robards. And his mother was called a prostitute, brought to this country to service British soldiers."

Robert V. Remini, The House, Collins, 2006, pp. 116-7.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007 01/10/06-A Novel Vacation

In today's excerpt, a novel vacation:

"People looking for a highly unusual vacation on the
eve of the second European conflagration might have
been attracted to the following advertisement placed
in tourist offices throughout major cities in Europe:

"National Spain Invites you to visit the War Route
the North (San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Gijon,
Oviedo, and the Iron Ring). See history in the making
among Spanish scenery of unsurpassed beauty.

"So began a tourist brochure created in April 1938 by
the Spanish Nationalists' newly formed National
Spanish State Tourist Department. The Nationalists
beckoned European tourists to visit the 'War Route
of the North' while the Spanish Civil War was still in
progress. Along with its messages targeting markedly
different groups of people--those who wanted the
authenticity of the battlefield experience and those
who just wanted a relaxing, scenic vacation--the
brochure called on tourists to 'Form your own
judgment of the real situation in National Spain

"The Spanish Nationalists began running
organized tours of the recently secured northern
front on July 1, 1938. They added a War Route of
the South through Andalusia in December of that
same year. Collectively known as the Rutas
Nacionales de Guerra (National War Routes), these
tours began every other day, between July 1 and
October 1 in the north and between December and
April in the south, until the end of World War II. For
£8 or its equivalent in other European currencies, the
Nationalists offered nine-day bus tours, which
included three meals a day, accommodations in
first-class hotels, incidental expenses, and tips.
was still in the midst of war, yet the tours attracted
thousands of people from throughout Western

Although battlefield tourism had been around
since at least the Battle of Waterloo, organized visits
to battle sites increased dramatically after World War
I, when the unfathomable death toll compelled many
people to travel to places such as Verdun or the
Somme as pilgrims wishing to hallow the dead or as
thrill-seekers desiring a vicarious experience of
trench warfare. But the Nationalists' Rutas
Nacionales de Guerra were different from these forms
of battlefield tourism. This was the first time that a
regime whose claim to legitimacy remained very much
in question had sponsored and conducted tours
before the completion of a civil war. The tours also
inaugurated a novel combination of solemn battlefield
tourism with a more traditional brand of recreational
tourism, juxtaposing the great deeds of Nationalist
soldiers alongside 'attractive seaside
resorts.' ...

"Tourism could bring much-needed cash to the
regime's war economy. More important, the very idea
that the Nationalists could conduct tours during
wartime gave them a legitimacy that they wanted
and needed from the international community."

Sandie Holguin, "National Spain Invites You," The
American Historical Review, December 2005, pp.

Monday, January 08, 2007 01/08/06-Human Beings and the Future

In today's excerpt, human beings think about the future:

"The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future. Now ... I do recognize that non-human animals often act as though they have the capacity to think about the future. ... For example ... the squirrels in my yard act as though they know they will be unable to eat later unless they bury some food now ... [but instead] they have regular squirrel brains that run food-burying programs when the amount of sunlight that enters their regular squirrel eyes decreases by a critical amount. Shortened days trigger burying behavior with no intervening contemplation of tomorrow ... Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old alone, or turns down a Fudgsicle because it already looks to fat in shorts, I will stand by my [statement]. We think about the future in a way that no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple, ubiquitous, ordinary act is a defining feature of our humanity. ...

"The greatest achievements of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real, and it is this ability that allows us to think about the future. As one philosopher noted, the human brain is an 'anticipation machine,' and 'making future' is the most important thing it does."

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, Knopf, 2006, pp. 4-5.

Friday, January 05, 2007 01/05/07-Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade

In today's excerpt, fictional detective Sam Spade tells the story of a Mr. Flitcraft, who has a good life, but completely disappears, abandoning his wife and two small children:

"Here's what happened to him. Going to lunch he passed an office-building that was being put up--just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk along side him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn't touch him, though a piece of sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek. It only took a piece of skin off, but he still had the scar when I saw him. He rubbed it with his fingers--well, affectionately--when he told me about it. He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like somebody had taken the lid off his life and let him look at the works.

"Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man who was most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.

"It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, not into step, with life. He said he knew before he had got twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace again until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By the time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.

"He went to Seattle that afternoon ... and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn't sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. I don't think he even knew he had settled back into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that's the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon, Vintage, 1992, originally published 1929, pp. 63-4.

Thursday, January 04, 2007 01/04/07-Einstein

In today's excerpt, a practical application for Einstein's theory of relativity:

"Incredibly, the GPS [global positioning satellite] system now in use [in applications such as cars] requires Einstein's theory of general relativity to achieve its one-meter accuracy ... [otherwise it] would build up errors at the rate of more than 10 kilometers each day. ... Determinations of the variation in snow depth on Mars using laser-ranging data from orbiting spacecraft also incorporate general relativity and yield values with an unbelievable precision of 10 centimeters. Certainly, at the time it was developed, no one--not even Einstein--anticipated such practical applications of a theory as abstract as general relativity."

Lisa Randall, Warped Passages, Harper Collins, 2005, pp. 84-5

Wednesday, January 03, 2007 01/03/07-The Plague

In today's excerpt, the plague--the Black Death--which lasted from 1347 to 1349 and was responsible for the deaths of between 30 and 50 percent of Europe's population:

"The plague ... first appeared in Constantinople in 1347 ... introduced by fleas which were in turn carried by rats that infested all ships coming from the east. Curiously enough, these rats were themselves relatively new arrivals in Europe, the first of them having probably been brought in on ships carrying Crusaders back from Palestine ...

"[An] anonymous contemporary chronicler ... claimed that in Constantinople plague accounted for [the deaths of] eight-ninths of its entire population. ... Of all Italian cities, Florence suffered most. Contemporary assessments are famously unreliable, but there is good evidence that out of a population of some 95,000, between 50,000 and 60,000 were dead within six months of the outbreak. Boccaccio himself provides us with an unforgettable description: the headlong flight of whole populations from the cities and towns, abandoning their houses and possessions; the way in which the sick--even sick children--were left to their fate, with no one daring to approach them ...

"Wherever it struck, the most pious of the population withdrew to pray; particularly in the major cities of the north; however, the predominant reaction to imminent death seems to have been a feverish and frenetic gaiety. And why not? If God had deserted his people, why should his commandments be obeyed? If their lives were to be so cruelly cut short, let their last days be devoted to pleasure, whether that of the table, the bottle or the bed--or, ideally, all three. In Paris--where such delights have never been undervalued--there seems to have been what amounted to a complete breakdown in morality, both private and public. ...

"The Black Death took a greater toll of life than any known war or epidemic in previous history."

John Julius Norwich, The Middle Sea, Chatto & Windus, 2006, pp. 208-210.