Friday, March 30, 2007 03/30/07-Pianos

In today's excerpt, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in his treatise on the Harlem Renaissance, writes on the importance of the piano:

"For African-Americans, the piano was more than a musical instrument; it became a speedy getaway car to escape the black stereotypes that blocked them from opportunity--artistic, educational, and economic. ...

"[T]he piano hit post-Civil War African-Americans with an impact that would destroy and bury the popular image among white Americans of the dumb and lazy Negro, too slow-witted and undisciplined to learn the complex piano. To white America, African-Americans could only handle the most primitive of instruments, such as the drum or banjo. True, few blacks at the time played piano, but that was because during slavery that had little access to pianos. However, after emancipation, many African-American families bought small organs or harmoniums (pianos were too expensive) as a means both to proudly display their independence by owning what had been denied them, and to promote cultural assimilation for their children.

"Raising children who could play the piano not only dispelled the derogatory myths, but also boosted the children's chances for rising up out of their class, even within the black community. And the cost for this opportunity was only fifty cents down and fifty cents a week for the rest of their lives. In his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington recounts a dinner visitation with one such hopeful family in their Alabama cabin: 'When I sat down to the table for a meal with the four members of the family, I noticed that, while there were five of us at the table, there was but one fork for the five of us to use. ... In the opposite corner of that same cabin was an organ for which the people told me they were paying sixty dollars in monthly installments. One fork, and a sixty- dollar organ!' Fingers could substitute for forks, but the organ was the hope for the future."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, On the Shoulders of Giants, Simon and Schuster, 2007, p. 205.

Thursday, March 29, 2007 03/28/07-How to Pick a Hit

In today's encore excerpt, Oscar winning screenwriter Bill Goldman reveals how hits are picked:

"...did you know that Raiders of the Lost Ark was offered to every single studio in town--and they all turned it down?

"All except Paramount.

"Why did Paramount say yes? Because nobody knows anything. And why did the other studios say no? Because nobody knows anything. And why did Universal, the mightiest studio of all, pass on Star Wars, a decision that may just cost them...over a billion dollars? Because nobody, nobody--not now not ever--knows the least g*dd*m thing about what is or isn't going to work at the box office. ...

"David Picker, a fine studio executive for many years, once said something to this effect: 'If I had said yes to all the projects that I turned down, and no to all the ones I took, it would have worked out about the same.' "

William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Warner Books, 1983, pp. 40-1.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 03/27/07-College

In today's excerpt--Ralph Waldo Emerson attends Harvard in 1821. Boston-born Emerson (1803-1882) was a distinguished philosopher, poet, essayist, and lecturer. His father, a Unitarian minister, died when Emerson was eight years old, and his mother struggled to raise five boys--including a mentally retarded son. With the aid of several grants and part-time work, however, Emerson was able to enter Harvard College when he was fourteen:

"Emerson's Harvard was a small, nondescript place, half boys school, half center for advanced study. It had fewer than two hundred fifty students. Emerson's class had sixty, with most of the boys coming from Massachusetts and New England, and with 27 percent of the students coming from elsewhere. There was a marked southern presence, ... 18 percent were from South Carolina alone. In Emerson's day, a student commonly entered college at thirteen or fourteen, graduating at seventeen or eighteen. As a result, college life had at times a certain rowdiness. In Emerson's sophomore year an epic food fight broke out on the first floor of University Hall. The fight quickly got beyond the throwing of food and almost all of the school's crockery was smashed. But it would be a mistake to assume this was the dominant tone of college life. Young people grew up faster then. Emerson could read before he was three; he taught his first class at fourteen. Girls were little women, boys were little men. The curriculum shows that Harvard was not like either the high school or college of today; it offered a combination of basic and advanced studies, functioning as a sort of early college.

"Emerson took the same set of required courses that everyone else did. He learned enough Greek to read both the Iliad and the New Testament. In Latin he read Livy, Horace, Cicero, Juvenal, and Persius as well as Hugo Grotius's De veritate religionis Christianae. He studied algebra, plane geometry, analytical geometry, and spherical geometry. He took Roman history in his freshman year and in his senior year he studied the principles of American constitutional government, reading the Federalist Papers. In science he did physics and astronomy as a junior, chemistry as a senior. ...

"Back in the college yard, there was class football every day at noon. ...

"Emerson himself said later that even though you knew the university was hostile to genius, you sent your children there and hoped for the best."

Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson, University of California, 1995, pp. 6-7.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007 03/27/07-Chicago

In today's excerpt--Carl Sandburg's poem "Chicago." Sandburg (1878-1967) wrote at a time when Chicago was emerging through geometric population growth as the second largest and most powerful city in the United States. Yet it was a cesspool of pollution and waste from its slaughterhouses and railyards--both located at virtually the center of the city. This very short poem, oft-quoted for its first five lines, deserves a full reading to sense the clash between the enormous pride of achievement and the tragic side-effects of the industrial revolution. Note too the profound influence of Walt Whitman:

Chicago (1916)

   Hog Butcher for the World
   Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat
   Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders.

They tell me you are wicked and i believe them, for I have seen
  your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have
  seen the gunmen kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of
  women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this
  my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud
  to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is
  a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage
  pitted against the wilderness,
   Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man
Laughing as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under
  his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-
  naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker,
  Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler
  to the Nation.

Carl Sandburg, Chicago Poems, Dover, 1994, pp. 1-2.

Monday, March 26, 2007 03/26/07-March Madness

In today's excerpt--Dean Smith, retired head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, parlayed a profound understanding of human nature into one of the most successful coaching careers in American sports. The following are axioms he employed in leading his teams:

"The Honor Roll: Our coaching staff graded each game on tape, possession by possession. The entire process took about five hours, and we devoted so much time to it because we wanted to be absolutely sure we were accurate in our grading. Statistics can cause all kinds of problems if they aren't accurate. We thought the time was well worth it because we wanted the players to know that we appreciated the little things they did to help their team win. Based on our grading of the tape, we chose an honor roll for each game, and each category was for unselfish play. The Honor Roll [included several categories]: defense, assist/error ratio, offensive rebounding, drawing charges, screening, good plays, blocked shots, and deflections. We wanted our players to depend on the Honor Roll as an appraisal of who played well, rather than the traditional postgame statistics [such as scoring]. In fact, we didn't even let the game statistics in our locker room after the game. I think the Honor Roll was another part of our philosophy that helped bring about unselfish play.

"Shot selection: Sometime in the last ten to fifteen years of my career, I came up with the idea of scrimmaging without keeping score. The idea was to teach our players good shot selection. I would stand by the scorer's table and award points on how good the shot was, not whether it went in the basket. The scoring was done confidentially with me and a manager until the end of the ten-minute scrimmage, at which time we would announce the winning team. For instance, if someone hit a tough 3-point shot when he should not have taken it, with a defensive player guarding him and no rebounding coverage, I would tell the manager to put down '0 points,' whether it went in or not. If someone had a layup opportunity with no one guarding him and he took but missed the shot, I would tell the manager to mark down the points, because he had taken the best shot. ..."

"Pointing to the passer: It began when John Wooden and I attended a ... conference in Colorado in the mid- sixties. On that trip, Wooden told me he wanted the receiver of a pass that led to a basket to say a quick thank-you to the passer or wink at him. I agreed, but wanted an even more overt gesture, because I felt that while spectators always knew who scored, they were rarely aware of the passer. So the next season, we asked the player who scored to point to the passer in acknowledging the unselfish act of passing the ball to him. Everyone likes to be appreciated."

Dean Smith, The Carolina Way, Penguin, 2005, pp. 132-151.

Friday, March 23, 2007 03/23/07-Cindy Sherman

In today's excerpt--fine arts photographer Cindy Sherman. Since first arriving on the national art scene in 1978, her work has been so influential and imitated that much has become almost cliched. But Sherman is an original:

"In 1978, at the age of 23, Cindy Sherman began her landmark photographic series Untitled Film Stills [now in the permanent Museum of Modern Art collection, New York City]. In each small-format black and white image, Sherman plays a different role--prim office worker, suburban housewife, glamorous femme fatale--in a minutely staged psychologically intense drama. Although she is the only character in shot, her transformation in each image is so complete that her personal identity disappears, and instead of a series of self-portraits, we have a comprehensive repertoire of 20th-century female stereotypes.

"For most of the 1980s, Sherman continued to use her body as her central prop, working with colour photography to explore aspects of horror, violence , and the grotesque. The Fairy Tales, 1984-86, Disaster Series, 1987-89, and Sex Pictures, 1992, employed an array of prosthetic teeth, snouts and breasts, mysterious liquids, rotting food and anatomically rearranged mannequin limbs to portray nightmarish visions of deformity and scenes of sexual violence, half seen, half imagined. A palpable tension exists between the pictures' seductive, vividly coloured surfaces and their disgusting, anxiety-producing subject matter. This sense of anxiety is apparent throughout Sherman's work. Her most recent series Untitled features twelve new fictional characters--all over-tanned, over-dressed, heavily made-up women 'of a certain age.' Occupying the narrow terrain between pathos and parody, these large-format colour portraits examine women's attempts to defy, deny or at least slow down old age, while suggesting the small disappointments and minor tragedies embedded in each character's personal history."

Sherman at the Gagosian
Gallery: <>
Sherman in Museums and Public Art
Galleries: <>

Uta Grosenick & Burkhard Riemschneider, Art Now, Taschen, 2002, pp. 288.

Thursday, March 22, 2007 03/22/07-Hank Williams

In today's encore excerpt--Hank Williams has yet another bitter, hurtful falling out with his wife Audrey, and Tony Bennett has his first hit record:

"The song he wrote about this latest unpleasantness with Audrey was called 'Cold, Cold Heart', and the lyrics read like another page torn from Hank's diary..."

"For too long, country music had been regarded as the bastard child of American musical forms, unsophisticated wailings from the outback. Even Billboard had been slow in its recognition, first calling it 'hillbilly' music, then 'folk' and only now 'country'. The power of the music's simplicity and its consequent appeal to the common folk was lost on Tin Pan Alley, the brotherhood of tunesmiths in New York City and Chicago, musical sophisticates churning out mindless ditties like 'Mairzy Doats'...

"Fred Rose, because he had come out of Tin Pan Alley, knew nobody had ever written lyrics like Hank. Both Rose and (Columbia records producer Mitch) Miller knew there was a universality in Hanks's lyrics that spoke as clearly to a hardware salesman in Georgia as to a stockbroker on Wall Street--'In anger unkind words are said that make the teardrops start'--and so it was that [in 1946] Miller presented Hank's demo of the new song to a promising young pop crooner named Tony Bennett, still looking for his first hit record. 'Oh, no, don't make me do cowboy songs.' Bennett said, but his gussied-up version of 'Cold, Cold Heart' rocketed to the top of the pop charts.

"The pop music crowd held to its patronizing mode, a Billboard story being headlined "There's Gold in Them Thar Hillbilly Tunes.' "

Paul Hemphill, Lovesick Blues, Viking, 2005, pp. 128-9.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 03/20/07-The Philippines

In today's excerpt--the U.S. debates whether to take over the Philippines as a colony. The U.S. had just freed the Philippines from Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War, but immediately began to weigh the economic and military advantages of keeping it rather than granting it independence. The U.S. imperialists won the day, leading immediately to the Philippine-American War which lasted until 1913. The Philippines did not gain full independence from the U.S. until 1946:

"[As the U.S. government's desire to keep the Philippines became manifest, leading citizens] assembled a meeting of protest at Faneuil Hall, and here on June 15, 1898, three days after Aguinaldo in the Philippines issued a declaration of independence, the Anti-Imperialist League was founded. ... Its stated purpose was not to oppose war as such, but to insist that having been undertaken as a war of liberation, it must not be turned into one for empire. The quest for power, money, and glory abroad, the League maintained, would distract from ... the problems of municipal corruption, war between capital and labor, disordered currency, unjust taxation, the use of public office for spoils, [and] the rights of colored people in the South and of the Indians in the West. ... Its forty- one vice-presidents soon included ex-President Cleveland, ... President David Starr Jordan of Stanford, ... Andrew Carnegie, William James, ... Mark Twain ...

"The taste of empire, the rising blood of nationalism expressed in terms of wide-flung dominion, found in [U.S. Senator] Albert Beveridge its most thrilling trumpet. ... The war sent Beveridge into transports of excitement. 'We are a conquering race,' he proclaimed in Boston in April ... 'We must obey our blood and occupy new markets and if necessary new lands. ... In the Almighty's infinite plan ... debased civilizations and decaying races' were to disappear 'before the higher civilization of the nobler and more virile types of man.' ...

"Military operations in the Philippines swelled in size and savagery. Against the stubborn guerrilla warfare of the Filipinos, the U.S. Army poured in regiments, brigades, divisions, until as many as 75,000 ... were engaged in the islands at one time. Filipinos burned, ambushed, raided, mutilated; on occasion they buried prisoners alive. Americans retaliated with atrocities of their own, burning down a whole village and killing every inhabitant if an American soldier was found with his throat cut. ... The [U.S. Army] won all skirmishes against an enemy who constantly renewed himself."

Barbara W. Tuchman, The Proud Tower, Ballantine, 1962, pp. 152-163.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 03/20/07-Early Malcolm X

In today's excerpt--the Los Angeles police kill and wound several black members of the Nation of Islam in a highly controversial 1962 incident. For the trial that follows, these members need legal representation, but find it very difficult to secure given the controversy. Malcolm X, little known but already with a feared reputation, spearheads the effort to secure a lawyer by approaching Earl Broady, a former police officer and perhaps the only black lawyer with the expertise and connections to adequately handle the case:

"For Earl Broady, the Malcolm X who appeared unannounced at his office seemed quite different from the daredevil Black Muslim in the news. He spoke with evenhanded precision to reconstruct the chaos and asked for Broady's representation in the criminal trials he felt were sure to come, calculating that the state must prosecute the Muslims in order to ward off civil damage suits. Broady turned Malcolm away more than once, saying he was too busy and too close to Chief Parker. As a policeman himself from 1929 to 1946 before entering the law, Broady saw Parker as a reform autocrat in the style of J. Edgar Hoover and gave him credit for modest improvements over the frontier corruptions of the old Raymond Chandler-era LAPD. Broady's wife, a devout Methodist, objected vehemently to the case on the grounds that the Muslims were openly anti-Christian, unlike the worst of his ordinary criminal clients, and Broady himself resented the Nation of Islam, drawn largely from stereotypical lowlifes, as an embarrassment to the hard-earned respectability of middle-class Negroes. The Broadys recently had acquired an imposing white colonnade home in Beverly Hills, where Malcolm X visited when he could not find Broady at the office--calling day after day, always alone with a briefcase, playing on Broady's personal knowledge of the harsh, segregated inner world of the LAPD precincts. His patient appeals, plus the largest retainer offer in Broady's career, finally induced the lawyer to take the case. ...

"[This] case marked a turning point in the hidden odyssey that surfaced Malcolm X as an enduring phenomenon of race. He saw the shootings as a fundamental crisis in several respects--first as a test of Muhammad's teachings on manhood and truth. Ever since the Montgomery bus boycotts of 1955-56, Malcolm had criticized Martin Luther King as a 'traitor to the Negro people,' disparaging his non-violence as 'this little passive resistance or wait-until-you-change-your-mind-and-then-let-me-up philosophy,' and he did not hesitate to ridicule a national movement built on sit-ins and Freedom Rides. 'Anybody can sit,' said Malcolm. 'An old woman can sit. A coward can sit. ... It takes a man to stand.' Always there was an element of swagger in Malcolm's appeal, and at times a bristling, military posture: 'You might see these Negroes who believe in nonviolence and mistake us for one of them and put your hands on us thinking that we're going to turn the other cheek--and we'll put you to death just like that.'

Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire, Simon and Schuster, 1998, pp. 10-13.

Monday, March 19, 2007 03/19/07-mcdonalds

In today's excerpt--Dick and Mac McDonald, who had failed with two small Depression-era businesses, build a hamburger stand:

"So it was in 1940 they opened a small drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino ... a growing blue-collar town of perhaps 100,000 people. Somewhat to their surprise, they were an immediate hit ... [but] the McDonalds figured they needed even greater speed. On average, customers had to wait some twenty minutes for their food. 'My God, the carhops were slow, ... it was obvious the future of drive-ins was self- service.'

"The McDonalds had understood an important new trend in American life: Americans were ... living farther from their workplaces than ever before, ... they had less time and always seemed to be in a rush. ... Therefore, the brothers began to look for the weaknesses in their operation that caused delays. Obviously, the carhops would have to go. ... Their menu was surprisingly large, including hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue, and all manner of sandwiches. However, ... they found that 80 percent of their sales consisted of hamburgers ...

"[So] in the fall of 1948 they closed down for several months, fired all their carhops, and began to reinvent the process. They replaced their small cast iron grill with two stainless-steel six-footers ... They replaced the plates and silverware, which had a tendency to disappear anyway, with paper bags, wrappers, and paper cups. That eliminated the need for the dishwasher. They cut the menu from twenty-five items to nine, featuring hamburgers [for 15 cents] and cheeseburgers. ... The McDonalds, rather than their customers, chose the condiments: ketchup, mustard, onions, and two pickles (condiment stations had always been an eyesore, as far as they were concerned--slopped ketchup was everywhere). The McDonalds decided they wanted a machine to make their patties. Dick pondered the question and then figured out a candy company that made peppermint patties must have just the right device. ... The same machine could make hamburger patties. ... After some experimentation--regular heat lamps had failed--they figured they could keep hamburgers hot with infrared lights. ...

"What the McDonald brothers were doing with food was what Henry Ford had done to automobile manufacturing."

David Halberstam, The Fifties, Random House, 1993, pp. 156-8.

Friday, March 16, 2007 03/16/07-Getting Started

In today's excerpt--Joan Rivers embarks on her comic career:

"Brooklyn-born [in 1933] Joan Sandra Molinsky grew up in a family that displayed an archetypal disapproval of her desire to become a comedian at a time when a female comic was on a level with a showgirl, if not call girl. ... [At twelve] the latent professional comic within stirred ... 'I couldn't wait until I got my childhood over with so I could get into showbiz.'

"Rivers devoted boyfriend ... got her an audience with an agent named Harry Brent, a Broadway Danny Rose type who lived in a tiny apartment with a hot plate and a toaster on the bureau. ... When he renamed her 'Pepper January,' she said fine but once outside told her boyfriend, 'I'm going to commit suicide.' ... Brent got 'Pepper January' her first paying job, as an emcee at a Boston strip club called the Show Bar that paid $125 a week for two shows a night. She took a room in a scary hotel across the street with hookers, bums, musicians, pimps, and strippers. ...

"After being announced, Rivers saw, among the expectant faces staring up at her, a rich guy from Yale she had dated. Immediately, flop sweat set in as her opening jokes were met with silence, followed by cries of 'Get the f**k off! Bring on the girls!' ... Pepper January was fired before the eleven o'clock show and wound up sobbing in her crummy hotel room, asking herself, What am I doing? I'm ruining my life! What am I doing talking to men with their hands in their pockets? If I can't even cut it at this level, maybe I am a loser!' ...

"[Superagent Jack] Rollins took her to a studio to hear her perform, and then said, 'You shouldn't be doing other people's material. Do your own because you're naturally funny.' He told her to come back when she knew who she was, comically."

Gerald Nachman, Seriously Funny, Back Stage, 2004, pp. 594-600.

Thursday, March 15, 2007 03/14/07-The Glove

In today's excerpt--the author gets a demonstration of new human performance technology :

"I've spent the last 40 minutes on a treadmill angled at a 9 percent grade. My face is chili-red, my shirt soaked with sweat. ... Then Dennis Grahn, a lumpy Stanford University biologist and former minor league hockey player, walks into the room. He nods in my direction and smiles at the technician. 'Looks like he's ready,' Grahn says. He takes my hand and slips it into a clear coffee-pot looking contraption he calls the Glove. Inside is a hemisphere of metal, cool to the touch. He tightens a seal around my hand, and the cold metal chills my blood before it travels through my veins back to my core. After five minutes, I feel rejuvenated. ... I keep going for another half hour. ...

"Grahn and his research partner, biologist Craig Heller, started working on the Glove at Stanford in the late 1990s as part of their research on improving physical performance. Even they were astounded at how well it seemed to work. Vinh Cao, their squat, barrel-chested lab technician, used to do almost 100 pull-ups every time he worked out. Then one day he cooled himself off with an early prototype. The next round of pull-ups--his 11th--was a strong as his first. Within six weeks, Cao was doing 180 pull-ups a session. Six weeks after that, he went from 180 to more than 600. ...

"In trying to figure out why the Glove worked so well, its inventors ended up challenging conventional scientific wisdom on fatigue. Muscles don't wear out because they use up stored sugars, the researchers said. Instead, muscles tire because they get too hot, and sweating is just a back-up cooling system for the lattices of blood vessels in the hands and feet. The Glove, in other words, overclocks the heat exchange system. 'It's like giving a Honda the radiator of a Mack truck,' Heller says. After four months of using it himself, Heller did 1,000 push-ups on his 60th birthday in April 2003."

Noah Shachtman, "Be More Than You Can Be," Wired, March, 2007, pp. 114-118. 03/15/07-The Cowboy Myth

In today's encore excerpt--the cowboy myth:

"The mythologizing of the West was consolidated in the immensely popular novels of writers like C.J. Mulford, creator of the absurdly uncowboylike Hopalong Cassidy, and Zane Grey, a New York dentist who knew almost nothing of the West but refused to let that get in the way of a good tale. The first movie western, The Great Train Robbery, appeared in 1903. By the 1920s, westerns accounted for nearly a third of all Hollywood features. But their real peak came in the 1950s on television. During the zenith year, 1959, the American television viewer could choose among twenty eight western series running on network television--an average of four a night.

"It is decidedly odd that these figures of the West, whose lives consisted mostly of herding cows across lonely plains and whose idea of ultimate excitement was a bath and a shave and a night on the town in a place like Abilene, should have exerted such a grip on the popular imagination. ...

"They certainly didn't spend a lot of time shooting each other. In the ten years that Dodge City was the biggest, rowdiest cow town in the world, only thirty-four people were buried in the infamous Boot Hill Cemetery, and almost all of them died of natural causes. Incidents like the shootout at the O.K. Corral or the murder of Wild Bill Hickock became famous by dint of their being so unusual."

Bill Bryson, Made in America, Perennial, 1994, p. 129.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 03/13/07-Exporting Criminals

In today's excerpt--Britain exports its criminals:

"Informally, transportation of [British] convicts to the colonies had been going on since the 1600s, though it did not become a formal part of the penal system until 1717. For the next century and a half, the law stated that minor offenders could be transported for seven years instead of being flogged or branded, while men on commuted capital sentences could be transported for fourteen years. By 1777 no fewer than 40,000 men and women from Britain and Ireland had been transported on this basis to the American colonies. ... With the American colonies now lost, somewhere new had to be found to prevent British prisons from overflowing with untransportable inmates. ...

"With its weird red earth and its alien flora and fauna--the eucalyptus trees and kangaroos--Australia was the eighteenth century equivalent of Mars. This helps explain why the first official response to the discovery of New South Wales by Captain Cook in 1770 was to identify it as the ideal dumping ground for criminals. ...

"On 13 May 1787, a fleet of eleven ships set sail from Portsmouth, crammed with 548 male and 188 female convicts, ranging from a nine-year-old chimney sweep, John Hudson, who had stolen some clothes and a pistol, to an 82-year-old rag-dealer named Dorothy Handland, who had been found guilty of perjury. They arrived at Botany Bay, just beyond what is now Sydney harbour, on 19 January 1788, after more than eight months at sea.

"In all, between 1787 and 1853, around 123,000 men and just under 25,000 women were transported on the so-called 'hell ships' to the Antipodes for crimes ranging from forgery to sheep stealing. With them came an unknown number of children, including a substantial number conceived en route. ... At a time when private property was the holiest of holies, British criminal justice routinely convicted people for offences that we today would regard as trivial. Although between half and two-thirds of those transported were 'repeat offenders,' nearly all of their crimes were petty thefts. Australia literally started out as a nation of shoplifters."

Niall Ferguson, Empire, Basic Books, 2002, pp. 83-85.

Monday, March 12, 2007 03/12/07-Truman meets MacArthur

In today's excerpt--President Harry Truman meets General Douglas MacArthur. The occasion is MacArthur's advance across the 38th Parallel in Korea, a move that is viewed as beyond what the President has authorized, and one that seems destined to turn a defensive intervention on behalf of South Korea into a true war:

"[Truman's] lack of pretense and blunt manner worked against him, standing in stark contrast to Roosevelt's consummate elegance. ...His early life had been filled with failure, and ... as he wrote [his wife] Bess in 1942, 'Thanks to the right life partner for me we've come out pretty well. A failure as a farmer, miner, an oil promoter, and a merchant, but finally hit the groove as a public servant--and that due mostly to you and Lady Luck.' ...

"Far more than most generals, [MacArthur] held to the view that the commander in the field was the decision maker--not merely tactically, but strategically as well. ... He was brilliant, talented, petulant, manipulative, highly political, theatrical, and given to remarkable mood swings. ... He was addicted to publicity and fame; he went nowhere without his chosen coterie of journalists and photographers. It was virtually impossible to take a photograph of him that was not posed; he was aware every moment of where the light was best, of how his jaw should jut, and how the cap could be displayed at the most rakish angle. ...

"In late October, [Truman] arranged a meeting with MacArthur at Wake Island. The two men were not a natural fit. Long before Korea, Truman, the good old- fashioned unvarnished populist, had written a memo on the dilemma of dealing with MacArthur: 'And what to do with Mr. Prima Donna, Brass Hat, Five Star MacArthur. He's worse than the Cabots and the Lodges--they at least talked with one another before they told God what to do. Mac tells God right off. It is a great pity that we have to have stuffed shirts like that in key positions. ... Don't see how a country can produce such men as Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, Eisenhower and Bradley, and at the same time produce Custers, Pattons, and MacArthurs.' That, of course, was before they even got to know one each other."

David Halberstam, The Fifties, Ballantine Books, 1993, pp. 20-22, 80-1, 85.

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Friday, March 09, 2007 03/09/07-Samuel Barber

In today's excerpt, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, Op. 11. Barber's Adagio has become widely recognized as one of the truly powerful and enduring pieces of the twentieth century. Yet its recognition has come mostly from its use as a memorial piece: it was played over national radio when news of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death was first announced; it was played at John F. Kennedy's funeral; and more recently it was the music memorably used in the climactic murder scene in Oliver Stone's Platoon. Given this association, it is surprising to learn that the piece was written more as an expression of love, and a listener is rewarded by hearing the piece again with this context. Perhaps it is best understood as one of the twentieth century's most powerful love songs:

"Barber had met and fallen in love with his fellow- student at the Curtis Institute, the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, in the autumn of 1928 and--though you would hardly believe they were more than devoted friends from Barbara B. Heyman's otherwise thorough biography--they were to share a house as lovers for over thirty years. The summer of 1936, which Barber spent spent with Menotti in the Austrian mountain village of St. Wolfgang, was one of the most idyllic times either could remember, and it was toward the end of their stay there that Barber wrote to the cellist Orlando Cole: 'I have just finished the slow movement of my quartet today--it is a knockout!' When, encouraged by Arturo Toscanini, Barber made a five-part arrangement of the String Quartet's Adagio for strings orchestra and Toscanini duly conducted it, the Adagio entered the orchestral repertoire ... [and] won the praise of Barber's contemporaries. Copland praised its 'sense of continuity, the steadiness of the flow, the satisfaction of the arch that it creates from beginning to end,' asserting that 'it comes straight from the heart,' while William Schuman thought 'it works because it's so precise emotionally ... you're not aware of any technique at all.' And Virgil Thomson came closest to the reason why when he described it as 'a detailed love scene' --a fact which its subsequent memorial usage has all but obliterated."

David Nice, Elegy: Music for Strings, Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Neeme Jarvi, Notes on the Music, Chandos Records.

Thursday, March 08, 2007 03/08/07-Canada

In today's encore excerpt, the U.S. tries to conquer and occupy Canada:

"The spring of 1813 found America's thirst for Canada unabated. Any hopes of easy conquest, however, had been sorely tempted by the failed campaigns of the previous summer. ...

"All across the Niagara peninsula on both sides of the river, an eerie and vengeful veil of guerrilla warfare descended. It was neighbor versus neighbor, friend versus friend. With the principal combatants all speaking English and indeed sometimes being related, it was difficult to know which side someone was on and which house might be offered for shelter or capture. ...

"New York militia general George McClure ... ordered the burning of the nearby Canadian village of Newark. In a blinding snowstorm and amid bitter cold, its inhabitants were put out on the streets, among them many widows and wives with small children. In all ninety-eight houses were burned that night, almost the entire town of Newark. The British troops and Canadian militia would remember this. This was personal. The revenge would be personal as well, and would burn far longer than the flames of Newark, not only across the river to Buffalo, but also all the way to Washington the following year."

Walter R. Borneman, 1812, Harper Collins, 2004, pp. 99-171.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007 03/07/07-Beatrix Potter

In today's excerpt, Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), English author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, and other children's

"In 1912, by which time Beatrix Potter, the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was a hugely
successful forty-six-year-old writer and illustrator, she sent her publisher
Harold Warne a new story, her darkest yet, called
The Tale of Mr. Tod. The story is about an argument between a fox and a badger, and features the abduction and near death of a sackful of baby rabbits. The story had a particularly good opening sentence: 'I am quite tired of making goody goody books about nice people.' But the candor and acerbity of that were too much for Warne, and he fussed until Potter agreed to change the opening to something inarguably less punchy: 'I have made many books about well-behaved people.' Before she succumbed to this bad editorial advice, Potter relieved herself of her feelings in a letter
to Warne:

" 'If it were not impertinent to lecture one's publisher, you are a great deal too much afraid of the public for whom I have never cared one tuppeny-button. I am sure that it is this attitude of mind which has enabled me to keep up the series. Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work.'

"The world's most popular children's author had a low opinion of both books and children: 'I never have
cared tuppence either for popularity or for the modern child; they are pampered & spoilt with too many toys & books.' ...

"Potter's work was always tinged with a bleak realism about death, right from the opening of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in which we learn that Peter's father has had 'an accident' and ended up in one of Mrs. McGregor's pies. ...

"Even in the lighter stories, such as Two Bad
Mice, the main characters experience 'no end of rage and disappointment,' and that is before we encounter the outright evil of the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, who encourages Jemima to pick the flavorings and seasonings in which she is to be cooked?a gesture of macabre cruelty which would give pause to Hannibal Lecter.

"This darkness and violence is a central reason to
why children like Beatrix Potter. Her bright, brisk, no-nonsense sentences, her sharply observed and
beautifully tinted images, and her strong feeling of
coziness and domesticity are all underpinned and
made real by underlying intimations of darkness,
cruelty, and sudden death."

John Lanchester, "The Heroine of Hill Top Farm,"
The New York Review of Books,
March 15, 2007, p. 25.



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Tuesday, March 06, 2007 03/06/07-Work Ethic

In today's excerpt, Delanceyplace favorite Alan Jay Lerner writes about the work ethic of great stars. The context is the preparation for his greatest hit, My Fair Lady, and Rex Harrison has voluntarily shown up before the rest of the cast to begin his rehearsals. This causes Lerner to reflect on another great star--Fred Astaire:

"[Right before we began rehearsals], while the rest of our future company was enjoying their Christmas in London, Rex arrived three days before the holidays to begin work in advance with Fritz [Loewe, Lerner's partner], Moss [Hart, the producer], and me.

"It was another example of something I found to be true throughout my professional life. Every genuinely great star with whom I have ever worked is a star not only because of talent and that indefinable substance, but because he works harder than anyone else, cares more than anyone else and his sense of perfection, which is deeper than anyone else's, demands more of him.

"I remember when I was doing a film with Fred Astaire, it was nothing for him to work three or four days on two bars of music. One evening in the dark grey hours of dusk, I was walking across the deserted MGM lot when a small, weary figure with a towel around his neck suddenly appeared out of one of the giant cube sound stages. It was Fred. He came over to me, threw his arm around my shoulder and said: 'Oh, Alan, why doesn't someone tell me I cannot dance?' The tormented illogic of his question made any answer insipid, and all I could do was walk with him in silence. Why doesn't someone tell Fred Astaire he cannot dance? Because no one would ever ask that question but Fred Astaire. Which is why he is Fred Astaire."

Alan Jay Lerner, The Street Where I Live, Da Capo, 1978, p. 89.

Monday, March 05, 2007 03/05/07-Necessity and Inventions

In today's excerpt, necessity and inventions:

"The starting point for our discussions is the common view expressed in the saying 'Necessity is the mother of invention.' ...

"In fact, many or most inventions were developed by people driven by curiosity or by a love of tinkering, in the absence of any initial demand for the product they had in mind. Once a device had been invented, the inventor then had to find an application for it. Only after a device had been in use for a considerable time did consumers feel they 'needed' it. Still other devices, invented to serve one purpose, eventually found most of their use for other, unanticipated purposes. It may come as a surprise to learn that these inventions in search of a use include most of the major technological breakthroughs of modern times, ranging from the airplane and automobile, through the internal combustion engine and electric light bulb, to the phonograph and transistor. Thus, invention is often the mother of necessity, rather than vice versa.

"A good example is the history of Thomas Edison's phonograph, the most original invention of the greatest inventor of modern times. When Edison built his first phonograph in 1877, he published an article proposing ten uses to which his invention might be put. They included preserving the last words of dying people, recording books for blind people to hear, announcing clock time, and teaching spelling. Reproduction of music was not high on Edison's list of priorities. A few years later, Edison told his assistant that his invention had no commercial value. Within another few years he changed his mind and did enter business to sell phonographs--but for use as office dictating machines. When other entrepreneurs created jukeboxes by arranging for a phonograph to play popular music at the drop of a coin, Edison objected to this debasement, which apparently detracted from serious office use of his invention. Only after about twenty years did Edison reluctantly concede that the main use of his phonograph was to record and play music."

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Norton, 1997, pp. 242-3.

Saturday, March 03, 2007 03/02/07-George Balanchine

In today's excerpt, George Balanchine (1904-1983), one of the 20th century's
foremost choreographers and one of the founders of American ballet, whose
work formed a bridge between classical and modern ballet. Born in Russia and
already established as a preeminent choreographer in Europe, he was
recruited to New York and, with a determination to build a new American
ballet vocabulary, immersed himself in all things American, including

"[I]n April 1936, came the show that put Balanchine squarely on the Broadway
map, as well as changing the nature of dance in musical comedy. It was On
Your Toes, score by [Richard] Rodgers and [Lorenz] Hart, directed by George
Abbott, and starring Tamara Geva and the great hoofer Ray Bolger (later to
become know to the world as the Scarecrow of Oz). This was the first show to
integrate the dance into its story line, paving the way for Agnes de Mille's
Oklahoma! And (at Balanchine's insistence) the first to credit the dance
maker as the "choreographer." And it was a smash hit. The first-act
highlight was the parodic La Princesse Zenobia ballet, a takeoff on the
outmoded orientalisms of Scheherazade. But the real showstopper was the
second-act Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, in which the hero (Bolger) has to go
on hoofing and hoofing and hoofing to avoid being assassinated by a thug
hired by a rival danseur.

"It must have been the participation of Balanchine that inspired Richard
Rodgers's irresistible music for Slaughter, and Rodgers paid generous
tribute to Balanchine's talent and professionalism. To begin with, Rodgers
was to say, he was nervous about working with a Russian ballet genius,
anticipating all the high drama that the show itself would parody. 'I
expected fiery temperament. ... I was scared stiff of him. I asked him ...
did he make the steps and have music written to fit them, or what? He
answered, in the thick Russian accent he had then, 'You write, I put on.'

"He was certain what he wanted but sometimes stood still as if listening to
inner music, visualizing dance movements. There was no sign of rapid
re-creation of preconceived ideas, but the unfolding of steps and patterns
born at the moment from inner impulse. ... He was calm, he guided people, he
never raised his voice or lost his temper. ... He always seemed to have a
solution to a problem and conspiratorially pointed it out, never offending
anybody but, rather, producing sighs of relief. The mastery of his craft
made him flexible, so that if something didn't work out either in
choreography or concepts, he simply changed it.

"Richard Rodgers commented on the same phenomenon: 'With most other
choreographers I've known, it was like asking them to give up some of their
living flesh if they were told that, for one reason or another, one of their
dance numbers wouldn't work. But Balanchine would just take it in his stride
and cheerfully produce on the spot any number of perfectly brilliant ideas
to take the place of what came out.' "

Robert Gottlieb, George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker, HarperCollins, 2004,
pp. 89-96.

Thursday, March 01, 2007 03/01/07-Playing Dead

In today's encore excerpt, we get a tiny, indelible portrait of seven-year-old Walt Disney. The year is 1908, the chronically poor Disney family lives in Kansas. Walt's father, Elias, struggles to find stable employment. Little Walt is the youngest boy in the family--eight years younger than Roy, the brother with whom he would create the Walt Disney Company and from whom he would be essentially inseparable throughout his life:

"Life on the farm was certainly more pleasant in retrospect than it had been in actuality. For Elias Disney was a hard man--a believer in physical punishment and harsh economic discipline. The children received no allowances and no playthings either. For Christmas their presents were practical items like shoes and underwear. It was Roy Disney, working at odd jobs, who supplied Walt and his sister with an occasional toy and who, as soon as Walt was big enough to try and handle it, put him on to an occasional good thing. Mrs. Miller (Walt's sister) tells a story, for example, of Roy's getting a job washing the town hearse and allowing his little brother to participate in the profits of the enterprise despite Walt's having spent most of the time playing dead inside the vehicle. The proceeds were spent at a carnival that passed through town a little later."

Richard Schickel, The Disney Version, Elephant Paperback, 1968, pp. 48-9.