Friday, August 31, 2007 08/31/07-Television

In today's excerpt--the new medium of television:

"It had been in the offing for a generation. Then suddenly, in 1948, Americans in the nation's largest cities began buying their first televisions. ... The first person in a neighborhood to get a television paid a price: friends and neighbors dropped by. 'Families that purchased a town's initial television sets had delicate social problems,' one contemporary recalled, 'coping with friends and relatives who devised ingenious ways to visit during prime evening hours.' ...

"Throughout the country, consumers far from TV transmitters struggled to obtain a good signal. Mounting an antenna helped improve reception. Status-conscious nonowners could have antennas installed; neighbors would not know they did not actually have a TV to go with the antenna.

"Some resisted the age of television. A North Carolina white man tried holding out, despite the entreaties of his two daughters. When he realized that poor African Americans were purchasing TVs, he relented ... he would be damned if Negroes would have TVs while his family did not. Still, pockets of intransigence flourished well into the early 1960s. Households headed by ministers and rabbis were much less likely to have televisions as were older, childless couples. Many college professors and intellectuals refused to buy TVs-and bragged about their resistance. To them, it signified their superiority, their capacity for self-fulfillment. They did not need a heavy appliance to entertain them. Evenings were for reading and contemplation. Columbia University historian Allan Nevins was surprised to learn that his colleague Richard Morris had purchased a television in 1951, 'one of the first I have seen in the home of a real intellectual,' Nevins wrote. 'Most reading and reflective people abominate them.' The 'television snobbism' at Princeton University was so great, history professor Eric Goldman remarked seven years later, that a distinguished colleague had to sneak into Goldman's house to watch TV. ...

"No technological innovation before or since-not newspapers, the telephone, radio, cable television, personal computers, or even indoor plumbing-achieved such overwhelming popularity in so short a span. By the end of the 1950s, only a dozen years after the television boom began, just under 90 percent of all American homes had one or more TVs."

James L. Baughman, Same Time, Same Station, Johns Hopkins, Copyright 2007 by The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 1-2.

Thursday, August 30, 2007 08/30/07-Melvin Laird

In today's encore excerpt--Republican Melvin Laird, Secretary of Defense and successor to Robert McNamara under Richard Nixon from 1968 forward. Laird was the architect of 'Vietnamization'--the ceding of the military burden to South Vietnam and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Two years ago, in the influential journal Foreign Affairs, Laird led the plea for immediate withdrawal from Iraq in this unheeded article--arguing that the very presence of U.S. soldiers was what fed the insurgency:

"In Iraq, the United States should not let too many more weeks pass before it shows its confidence in the training of the Iraqi armed forces by withdrawing a few thousand U.S. troops from the country. We owe it to the restive people back home to let them know there is an exit strategy, and, more importantly, we owe it to the Iraqi people. The readiness of the Iraqi forces need not be 100%, nor must the new democracy be perfect before we begin our withdrawal. The immediate need is to show our confidence that the Iraqis can take care of Iraq on their own terms. Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency. ...

"For each round of troop withdrawals from Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs suggested a miserly number based on what they thought they still needed to win the war. I bumped those numbers up, always in counsel with General Creighton Abrams, then the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Even Nixon, who had promised to end the war, accepted each troop withdrawal request from me grudgingly. ... I never once publicly promised a troop number that I couldn't deliver. President Bush should move ahead with the same certainty."

Melvin R. Laird, "Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam", Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005, pp. 29-30 (emphasis added).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 08/29/07-Clark Gable

In today's excerpt--Clark Gable, perennially one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, on the set of the 1950s wartime naval thriller, Run Silent, Run Deep, which co-stars Burt Lancaster and young newcomer Don Rickles:

"[Clark] Gable is one of the most relaxed movie stars in the history of the business.

" 'Look,' he tells me, 'I'm a five o'clock guy.'

" 'What does that mean, Mr. Gable?' I ask.

" 'It means, kid, that my day ends at five. Regardless. Five is scotch-and-soda time. And then I'm on my way home.'

"Every day at five, Gable sticks to his guns. Five o'clock comes and he's in the trailer. He enters as a naval commander and exits as a Brooks Brothers model. Driving off the lot in his Bentley convertible, he waves goodbye as he passes through the security gates.

"Because he's a producer of the picture, Lancaster is far more intense and worries about overages. ...

"One scene involves a series of explosions followed by a deluge of water. The mechanics are tricky and the technical guys work on it all day. They can't quite get it right. Finally, at about five to five, it all comes together-the bombastic explosions and a deluge of water. Gable and I are in the battle scene, the climax of the film. Robert Wise signals action and all hell breaks loose. The special effects are spectacular.

"In the midst of this drama, Gable says, 'Sorry, boys, Mr. Five O'Clock is done for the day.'

"And then, with all the grace of a European prince, Gable struts to his trailer.

"Lancaster chases after him.

" 'Clark,' says Burt, 'we finally got this thing to work. It'll cost a fortune to dismantle it. We gotta film it now!'

"Ever the gentleman, Gable looks at Lancaster sympathetically. 'Relax, Burt,' he says. 'I'll dive with the submarine tomorrow.' "

Don Rickles, Rickle's Book, Simon and Schuster, Copyright 2007 by Wynnefield Productions, Inc., pp. 77- 78.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 08/28/07-Aaron Copland

In today's excerpt--Aaron Copland, the Brooklyn-born composer whose works--including "Appalachian Spring," "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Lincoln Portrait"--have become so iconic and beloved that they are virtually theme music for American values. And yet, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Copland and his work were more associated with the Communist threat than with American virtue--in spite of the fact that Copland himself was, in the final analysis, benign in his politics:

"Countless films, television commercials, news broadcasts, and campaign ads have employed Coplandesque open-interval melodies to suggest the innate goodness of small-town rural life--elderly couple sitting on porches, newsboys on bicycles, farmers leaning on fences. A diluted version of the 'open prairie' manner was heard in Ronald Reagan's 'Morning in America' campaign ads. ... 'Appalachian Spring,' with its grand and gritty harmonization of the Shaker tune 'Simple Gifts,' has evolved into something like national them music--the leitmotif of feel-good news. At the height of the Cold War, however, political watchdogs did not fail to notice Copland's leftward leanings. ...

"[By 1952] he had already been labelled a 'fellow traveler' in the pages of Life. He had watched as old colleagues, such as Marc Blitzstein and Hanns Eisler, were subjected to interrogation or driven out of the country. As a gay man, he had extra reason to worry: the FBI was conducting separate purges of homosexuals on the theory that they made easy targets for Soviet blackmail.

"On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated as President. Copland's 'Lincoln Portrait' had been scheduled for a preliminary inaugural concert by the National Symphony, but, two weeks before the event, Fred Busbey, an Illinois congressman, denounced the work as Communist propaganda and demanded that it be removed from the program. ...

"Copland released a statement couched in the defensive jargon of the day: 'I say unequivocally that I am not now and never have been a communist or member of any organization that advocates or teaches in any way the overthrow of the United States.' nonetheless, 'Lincoln Portrait' was not played for President-elect Eisenhower at Constitution Hall.


"[After the hearing and] for a time, Copland was hassled when he tried to travel abroad; the passport agency declined to renew his passport, and repeatedly requested that he demonstrate affiliations with anti-Communist organizations. In 1953, he had several engagements rescinded on political grounds."

Alex Ross, "Appalachian Autumn," The New Yorker, August 27, 2007, pp. 34-39.

Monday, August 27, 2007 08/27/07-raising romans

In today's excerpt--raising Roman children circa 100 BC, in the era of Julius Caesar's birth:

"Hardness was a Roman ideal. The steel required to hunt out glory or endure disaster was the defining mark of a citizen. It was instilled in him from the moment of his birth. The primary response of Roman parent's to their babies appears to have been less tenderness than shock that anything could be quite so soft and helpless. ... To the Romans, such a condition verged on scandalous. Children were certainly too weak to be idealized, and the highest praise a child could be given was to be compared to an adult.

"A Roman did not become a citizen by right of birth. It was within the power of every father to reject a newborn child, to order unwanted sons, and especially daughters, to be exposed [to die]. Before the infant ... was breastfed, his father would first have had to hold him aloft, signaling that the boy had been accepted as his own and was therefore a Roman.

"The Romans lacked a specific word for 'baby,' reflecting their assumption that a child was never too young to be toughened up. Newborns were swaddled tightly to mold them into the form of adults, their features were kneaded and pummeled, and boys would have their foreskins yanked to make them stretch. Old-fashioned Republican morality and newfangled Greek medicine united to prescribe a savage regime of dieting and cold baths. The result of this harsh upbringing was to contribute further to an already devastating infant mortality rate. It has been estimated that only two out of three children survived their first year, and that under 50 percent went on to reach puberty. The deaths of children were constant factors of family life. Parents were encouraged to respond to such losses with flinty calm. The younger the child, the less emotion would be shown, so that it was commonplace to argue that 'if an infant dies in its cradle, then its death ought not even be mourned.' Yet reserve did not necessarily spell indifference. There is plenty of evidence from tombstones, poetry and private correspondence to suggest the depth of love that Roman parents could feel. The rigors imposed on a child were not the result of willful cruelty. Far from it: the sterner the parents, the more loving they were assumed to be.

"A boy trained his body for warfare, a girl for childbirth, but both were pushed to the point of exhaustion. ... No wonder that Roman children appear to have had little time for play. Far fewer toys have been found dating from the Republic than from the period that followed its collapse, when the pressure to raise good citizens had begun to decline."

Tom Holland, Rubicon, Anchor Books, Copyright 2003 by Tom Holland, 109-111.

Friday, August 24, 2007 08/24/07-Coolidge and Hoover

In today's excerpt--President Calvin Coolidge and his Secretary of Commerce and successor as president, Herbert Hoover. Though he became permanently linked to the catastrophe of the Great Depression, Hoover was a spectacularly successful and self-made businessman who later became famous through his efforts leading emergency relief during World War I and the American Flood of 1927. Coolidge, although a skilled public speaker, in private was a man of few words and referred to as "Silent Cal." Coolidge, a "hands off" president, presided over a period of innovation and expansion. Hoover, an interventionist, ineptly intervened as the country slid into its most terrible depression:

"The differences between the two men started with small things. ... Hoover liked the microphone. Coolidge shied away from it. After a landslide presidential victory in 1924 Coolidge sent a clerk to read aloud his State of the Union address. Hoover ignored politics for the first thirty-five years of his life. Coolidge held his first office, that of city council member in Northampton, Massachusetts, at the age of twenty-eight, and had rarely been out of government since. Hoover was a mining engineer; Coolidge was a country lawyer.

"Hoover believed that government might help business do better, functioning as a sort of beneficent hand. Coolidge liked Adam Smith's old invisible hand. The men were different breeds of Republican. Hoover believed that action was necessary to make a country live up to its potential. Coolidge had long ago determined that the world would do better if he involved himself less. ... Hoover ... was by personality an intervener; he liked to jump in. ...

"Coolidge by contrast believed that the work of life lay in holding back and shutting out. He conducted his official life according to his own version of the doctor's Hippocratic Oath--first, do no harm. It sounded easy ... but Coolidge was not silent; he later estimated that each year as president he wrote or spoke 75,000 words, a share of those involving laying out his explanation for vetoing legislation. And Coolidge's 'no harm' rule came out of strength of character. By holding back, Coolidge believed, he sustained stability, so that citizens knew what to expect from their government. ...

"By age thirty-five or forty Hoover ... began to feel his greatness was unlimited. ... Others might live lives of periodic setbacks; Hoover seemed immune. Sherwood Anderson, the novelist who chronicled such setbacks in Winesburg, Ohio, would write with astonishment that Hoover's was the face of a man who 'had never known failure.' ...

"One of the people who irritated [Coolidge] was the persistent Hoover. ... Coolidge hated Hoover's tendency to react to news with grand, intrusive plans. Could not Hoover see where some of his rescues led? At one point later on, the minimalist president Calvin Coolidge concluded quite simply that 'that man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.' He had a nickname for Hoover: 'Wonder Boy.' "

Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man, Harper Collins, Copyright 2007 by Amity Shlaes, pp. 17-38.

Thursday, August 23, 2007 08/23/07-Butch Cassidy

In today's encore excerpt, William Goldman, award-winning screenwriter for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and numerous other films, relates a story about Butch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2007 08/22/07-Genghis Khan

In today's excerpt--the terrible and insatiable pillager, Genghis Khan:

"One in every 200 men alive today is a relative of Genghis Khan. An international team of geneticists has made the astonishing discovery that more than 16 million men in central Asia have the same male Y chromosome as the great Mongol leader. It is a striking finding: a huge chunk of modern humanity can trace its origins to Khan's vigorous policy of claiming the most beautiful women captured during his merciless conquest.

" 'One thirteenth century Persian historian claimed that within a century of Khan's birth, his enthusiastic mating habits had created a lineage of more than 20,000 individuals,' said team leader Dr Chris Tyler- Smith. 'That now appears to account for around 8% of the men in central Asia.'

"The team, from Britain, Italy, China and Uzbekistan, took tissue samples from 2,000 men from central Asia, and studied each one's Y chromosome, the genetic package that confers maleness and is passed only from father to son. 'Y chromosomes belonging to different men vary slightly. One in every 5,000 DNA units is not the same,' said Tyler- Smith. 'But when we looked at our results, we found a huge group that did not show any differences. We were absolutely amazed.' ...

"First the team, whose results are published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics, found the geographical spread of possessors of the chromosomes almost exactly matched that of Genghis's empire, which stretched from China to the Middle East. Then they discovered that all of these men shared a common ancestor. Again the answer was consistent with the march of Khan, who lived between 1162 and 1227.

" 'There are only two ways a single Y chromosome can make such a mark on a population,' Tyler-Smith said. 'The chromosome could in some way confer its owners with some biological advantage. But given that a Y chromosome is little more than a biochemical switch that turns an embryo into a male child, it is hard to see how it could have such an effect. The other explanation is that its original possessor had some incredible social advantage over other Y chromosome possessors, allowing its owner to pass it on, over and over again. Khan fits that bill perfectly. He had many wives, and was enthusiastic in his attentions to other women.'

When Mongol armies attacked, their spoils were shared among the troops and officers, with one exception. The most beautiful women were reserved for Khan. The study also sided with the Hazara people of northern Pakistan, whose claim to be direct descendants of Khan is derided by historians. It found the Hazaras' Y chromosomes were identical to those they had already linked to Khan. 'It is not the first time the oral tradition has been proved more reliable than academic treatise,' he added. 'It takes the power of genetics to prove it, however.'

Robin McKie, "We Owe It All To Superstud Genghis," The Guardian, Observer Section, March 2, 2003, Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007 08/21/07-The Guillotine

In today's excerpt--Dr. Guillotin's invention, the guillotine, which debuted in Paris in 1792 and was still being used for capital punishment in the 1950s. Guillotin's motive was to introduce a more humanitarian form of capital punishment, and his success in that was evident from the very first use of the guillotine when "the crowds, accustomed to bloody bouts with the ax and sword, thundered in disappointment, 'Bring back the block!' " Yet almost immediately, guillotine executions became Paris's favorite form of entertainment, with families bringing picnic lunches and reveling in the carnival atmosphere that surrounded them. During the French Revolution, with a virtual civil war raging in the provinces, "at least half a million people were slaughtered on local guillotines or in battles between opposing forces." Here is a description of France's last public guillotine execution, which occurred in Versailles in 1939 when convicted murderer Eugene Weidmann, a German, was decapitated:

"Weidmann's execution was slated for June 17, and throngs had been pouring in from Paris and elsewhere for days, lending a holiday mood to the town. Permitted to stay open all night, bistros overflowed with customers as elated by the event as fans on the eve of a football match. The guillotine, which had normally done its deed inside the jail, was moved to the street outside, and proprietors of apartments above were cashing in by renting seats in their windows. From his cell Weidmann could hear loudspeakers blaring jazz interspersed with commentaries on his impending demise. ...

"Despite his years of experience, Desfourneaux [the executioner] was slow and jittery. Only after three tries did he manage to squeeze Weidmann's neck into the lunette, and he also fumbled with the lever. The operation lasted twelve seconds--twice the normal time. The crowd, which had been waiting in hushed anticipation, stormed the police barrier as the blade fell. Men shouted anti-German epithets; elegant ladies, avid for souvenirs, rushed to dip their handkerchiefs in the blood; and, for the rest of the day and far into the night, revelers chanted songs and swilled wine. ...

"Perched on rooftops, photographers recorded the tumult, and their pictures quickly appeared in newspapers around the world and became a staple of postcards. The fiasco shocked even the most intransigent proponents of capital punishment, and also cast doubt on the doctrine that public executions deterred crime. Fearing that future outbursts would damage France's image abroad, Premier Edouard Daladier decreed that guillotinings were henceforth to be conducted within prison enclosures."

Stanley Karnow, Paris in the Fifties, Three Rivers Press, Copyright 1997 by Stanley Karnow, pp. 161-162.

Monday, August 20, 2007 08/20/07-Prohibition and Other Virtues

In today's excerpt--the U.S. outlaws the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages under the Volstead Act (1920-1933), more commonly called Prohibition. Against expectations, Prohibition resulted in even greater levels of alcohol consumption in America and it was repealed in 1933. The backlash that led to Prohibition extended to other areas as well, including banning highly suggestive language such as "the cat's meow":

"When, at the stroke of New Year 1920, the U.S. formally went 'dry,' most revellers would have only experienced the dull ache of their hangovers. It was only as time went by that the realization sunk in of how profoundly Prohibition had altered American life. It would be 1925 before Variety would note that Times Square--between 34th and 52nd streets--boasted 2,500 speakeasies, where before Prohibition there had been only 300 saloons. In the entire country, in 1925, there were estimated to be three million 'booze joints,' where 'pre-Prohibition cafes numbered 177,000.' In other words, a nation of moderate drinkers was turned into a nation of obsessive alcoholics, paying for criminals to build up an immense black market that would affect the nation's economy for decades (and continues to do so in the drug age). There would be fun, gaiety, abandon, dancing, hot-cha-cha, cheers and laughter, and buzzing joints like the Cotton Club and Texas Guinan's cabarets, but also killings, sickness, fraud, repression and the corruption of states and city halls. ...

"The moral guardians, however, continued their march, moving in, as King Booze leered over the city, on 'suggestive' performances and sexual innuendo. In February 1921, the Music Publisher's Protective Association began a 'housecleaning' campaign aimed at banishing 'all "blue" and double-meaning lyrics' from the market, [stating] all 'indecent material, or songs that are capable of indecent construction' should be banned. ... Vaudeville shows were to be vigorously cleaned up too, 'the latitude allowed shimmy and jazz dancers' was to be curtailed. ... Current slang, like 'Hot Dog,' 'The Cat's Meow,' 'Cat's Pajamas' and 'Hot Cat,' was also on the proscribed list."

Simon Louvish, Mae West, St. Martin's Press, Copyright 2005 by Simon Louvish, pp. 82-83. 08/17/07-Weimar Art

In today's excerpt--German art during the economically tumultuous period of the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933:

"Berlin was reeling from the shock of mass slaughter, defeat in war, failed revolution, economic catastrophe, and hyperinflation ... This provided fertile ground for sexual adventure and artistic experimentation but was also the source of social panic, from which the hedonism of the brothel and the dance hall--and, a few years later, massive rallies to worship the Fuhrer-- offered a temporary escape. ..."Weimar period artists tried to do two things at once. They wished to reclaim the individual from the impersonal brutality of the machine age while at the same time they played with roles and stereotypes. Masquerades, of one kind or another, were a feature of cultural life in the 1920s. The trick was to show the face behind the mask, to discover a new equilibrium between character, self-representation, and social roles in an age when everything seemed out of whack.

"You see these concerns in the portraits of others but also in the many self-portraits made at the time. Max Beckmann, for one, was forever posing in different costumes: the lounge lizard in dinner jacket; the pierrot at the circus; the tormented artist. [Otto] Dix portrayed himself as a sinister guest at a wild jazz dance, as a wounded prisoner of war, as a painter with his whorish muse. ... Like Dix, [Christian] Schad created iconic images of 1920s types. ... Then there was [George] Grosz, playacting with his wife, Eva, the nude victim of Jack the Ripper. ...

"Role-playing was the essence of the erotic life of Berlin. Men, boys, girls, and women catered to every fantasy. You had the so-called Boot Girls, prostitutes who hung around cheap hotels, wearing boots in black leather, or green, or blue, or gold patent leather, each color a sign of the wearer's particular sadomasochistic specialty. Then there were the Racehorses, who offered themselves up to be whipped, or the Telephone Girls, often mere children with the names of popular movie stars, or Nuttes, teenagers from good families, out for spare cash and kicks. ...

"The topsy-turvy world of sexual playacting came into being partly as a result of economic necessity. Respectable war widows were sometimes forced to sell themselves in the streets. But it was also a sign of the times, when people played roles, switching them around, perverting them, undermining them, not as an escape from too many social constraints ... but as a symptom of a society that had lost its moorings."

Sabine Rewald, Glitter and Doom, Yale University Press, Copyright 2006 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, pp. 7-19.

Thursday, August 16, 2007 08/16/07-Anarchists

In today's encore excerpt --the "anarchist" terrorists in the United States and Europe at the beginning of the 20th Century. Like today's terrorists, they used bombings and assassinations, their membership came from the destitute and hopeless, and their leadership often came from the elite:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 08/15/07-Barbie

In today's excerpt--the Barbie doll:

"In 1959, wearing a zebra-striped swimsuit and tall stiletto heels, Barbie made her debut at the American Toy Fair in New York. Created by Ruth Handler, the youngest of ten children of Polish immigrants, Barbie became an instant icon of popular culture and one of the world's best-selling toys. Ruth Handler had founded Mattel in 1945 with her husband, Oscar, a specialist in plastic design. Inspired by her own daughter's fascination with paper dolls, the Handlers wanted to produce a doll that looked more like a real teenager. The doll Ruth Handler created was actually modeled on a German sex toy called Lilli, which Handler had seen on a European trip. Barbie was named after the Handler's daughter, and her later male counterpart, Ken, was named after their son.

"Needless to say, there aren't many teenagers who look like Barbie. In fact, it was later determined that if Barbie were 5 feet 6, her measurements would be 39-21-33. But that did not matter. After battling prudish male executives at Mattel, Handler launched the doll into history. At the time, the doll business was dominated by baby dolls from a far more innocent time. Barbie flew off the shelf in the postwar baby boom years. In a 1977 interview, Ruth Handler told the New York Times, 'Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dreams of the future. If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts.

"Although feminists would later object that Barbie gave young girls an unrealistic body image and others would criticize Barbie as overtly sexual, that didn't stop Barbie from becoming a phenomenon. A half billion Barbies later--more than one billion counting sales of her sidekick dolls--and the statuesque young girl with platinum hair and blue eyes was still going strong by 2002."

Kenneth C. Davis, Don't Know Much About History, Perennial, Copyright 2003 by Kenneth C. Davis, pp. 434-435.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 08/14/07-Hamilton's Affair

In today's excerpt-Alexander Hamilton's affair. Hamilton, one of the greatest of our founding fathers and principal architect of our country's highly innovative and successful financial systems, stumbles in 1791 into a liaison with a young and married prostitute:

"In 1797, Alexander Hamilton ... told a flabbergasted public about his extended sexual escapade with twenty-three-year-old Maria Reynolds, who must have been very alluring, [which started when] she arrived unannounced at his redbrick house at 79 South Third Street. He began his famous account thus: 'Sometime in the summer of the year 1791, a woman called at my house in the city of Philadelphia and asked to speak to me in private. I attended her in a room apart from the family.' Reynolds beguiled Hamilton with a doleful tale of a husband, James Reynolds, 'who for a long time treated her very cruelly, [and] lately had left her to live with another woman and in so destitute a condition that, though desirous of returning to her friends, she had not the means.' ...

"The thirty-six year old Hamilton never shrank from a maiden in distress, as Maria Reynolds must have known. He told her ... that she had come at an inopportune moment (i.e., Eliza, his wife, was home). He volunteered to bring 'a small supply of money' to her home at 154 South Fourth Street that evening. ... 'I inquired for Mrs. Reynolds and was shown upstairs, at the head of which she met me and conducted me into a bedroom. I took a bill out of my pocket and gave it to her. Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.'

"That encounter was the first of many times that Alexander Hamilton slipped furtively through the night to see Reynolds. Once Eliza had gone off to Albany, the coast was clear to bring his mistress home. 'I had frequent meetings with her, most of them at my own house.' ...

"It is baffling that Hamilton, having worked to achieve a spotless reputation as a treasury secretary, did not see that he was now courting danger and would be susceptible to blackmail ... yet he was in the grip of a dark sexual compulsion, and Maria Reynolds knew how to hold him fast in her toils by feigning love. ... There seems little question that she approached Hamilton as part of an extortion racket, delivering an adept performance as a despairing woman. ..."

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, Penguin Press, Copyright 2004 Ron Chernow, pp. 364-367.

Monday, August 13, 2007 08/13/07-Roman Mining

In today's excerpt, the mining operations of the Roman Republic during the first and second centuries BC:

"The vast sway of the Republic's power, won in the cause of the honor of Rome, stood nakedly revealed [after the rape of Pergamum] as a license to make money. ... In the east great cities were ransacked for treasure-but in the west it was the earth. The result was mining on a scale not to be witnessed again until the Industrial Revolution. Nowhere was the devastation more spectacular than in Spain. Observer after observer bore stunned witness to what they saw. ...

"The mines that Rome had annexed from Carthage more than a century previously had been handed over to the publicani [private individuals and syndicates that typically bid for the rights to collect taxes], who had proceeded to exploit them with their customary gusto. A single network of tunnels might spread for more than a hundred square miles and provide up to forty thousand slaves with a living death. Over the pockmarked landscape there would invariably hang a pall of smog, belched out from the smelting furnaces through giant chimneys, and so heavy with chemicals that it burned the naked skin and turned it white. Birds would die if they flew through the fumes. As Roman power spread the gas clouds were never far behind.

"Initially, large areas of Spain had been regarded as too remote and dangerous to exploit, the haunt of tribesman so irredeemably savage that they believed banditry to be an honorable profession and used urine to brush their teeth [a joke referring to their lack of hygiene]. By the last years of the second century BC, however, all except the the north of the peninsula had been opened up for business. Huge new mines were sunk across central and southwestern Spain. Measurements of lead in the ice of Greenland's glaciers, which show a staggering increase in concentration during this period, bear witness to the volumes of poisonous smoke the mines belched out. The ore being smelted was silver: it has been estimated that for every ton of silver extracted over ten thousand tons of rock had to be quarried. It has also been estimated that by the early first century BC, the Roman mint was using fifty tons of silver each year."

Tom Holland, Rubicon, Anchor Books, copyright 2003 by Tom Holland, pp. 40-42.

Friday, August 10, 2007 08/10/07-Listening

In today's excerpt--listening:

"To learn from people, you have to listen to them with respect. [It is] not as easy as you might imagine. ... The trouble with listening for many of us is that while we're supposedly doing it, we're actually busy composing what we're going to say next. ... [During] your next personal encounter, try to employ the tactics we've outlined here:

* Listen.
* Don't interrupt.
* Don't finish the other person's sentences.
* Don't say 'I knew that.'
* Don't even agree with the other person (even if he praises you, just say, 'Thank you')
* Don't use the words 'no,' 'but,' and 'however.'
* Don't be distracted. Don't let your eyes or attention wander elsewhere while the other person is talking.
* Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking questions that (a) show you are paying attention, (b) move the dialogue forward, or (c) require the other person to talk (while you listen).
* Eliminate any striving to impress the other person with how smart or funny you are. ...

[You will learn, and as an ancillary benefit] you'll uncover a glaring paradox: The more you subsume your desire to shine [and truly listen], the more you will shine in the other person's eyes."

Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Hyperion, Copyright 2007 by Marshall Goldsmith, pp. 148-156.

Thursday, August 09, 2007 08/09/07-World's Fair of 1893

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 08, 2007 08/08/07-Colonial Sex

In today's excerpt--sexual practices in America during colonial times:

"Colonial New England was not as simon pure ... as we might think. Just a half century after the Mayflower Pilgrims landed on Massachusetts's shores, Boston was 'filled with prostitutes,' and other colonial centers were equally well equipped with opportunities for sexual license. Despite its modest size, Williamsburg, capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1779, contained three brothels (though curiously none of these has been incorporated into the sanitized replica community so popular with visitors today).

"Sex among Puritans was considered as natural as eating, and was discussed about as casually, to the extent that, the historian David Fischer writes, 'the writings of the Puritans required heavy editing before they were thought fit to print even in the mid-twentieth century.' Premarital intercourse was not just tolerated but effectively encouraged. Couples who intended to marry could take out something called a pre-contract--in effect, a license to have sex. It was the Puritans, too, who refined the intriguing custom of bundling, or tarrying, as it was often called, in which a courting pair were invited to climb into bed together. ...

"As one seventeenth-century observer explained it: 'When a man is enamoured of a young woman, and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents; if they have no objections they allow him to tarry the night with her, in order to make his court to her.' ... Up to a third of bundling couples found themselves presented with a permanent souvenir of the occasion. Nor did it necessarily mark the advent of a serious phase of the relationship. By 1782, bundling was so casually regarded, according to one account, that it was 'but a courtesy' for a visitor to ask a young lady of the house if she cared to retire with him.

"Although never expressly countenanced, fornication was so common in Puritan New England that at least one parish had forms printed up in which the guilty parties could confess by filling in their names and paying a small fine. By the 1770s, about half of all New England women were pregnant at marriage. In Appalachia and other backcountry regions, according to one calculation, 94 percent of brides were pregnant when they went to the alter.

"Not until the closing quarter of the eighteenth century did official attitudes begin to take on an actively repressive tinge with the appearance of the first blue laws."

Bill Bryson, Made in America, Perennial, Copyright 1994 by Bill Bryson, pp. 305-306.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007 08/07/07-Dada

In today's excerpt--Dada, a international anti-war movement involving visual arts, literature, design, and theatre that began in Switzerland during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1920. The movement was a protest against the barbarism of World War I and its 23 million casualties. Adherents thought that reason and logic had led people into the horrors of war, so the only route to salvation was to reject logic and embrace anarchy and irrationality. Dada was not art --it was 'anti-art.' Ironically, it influenced such modern art movements as Surrealism and Pop Art. Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a prominent Dada and Surrealist artist:

"Max Ernst was drafted into an artillery regiment of the German army in 1914. He was wounded twice in the Great War--once by a gun recoil and once by a mule kick--and earned the nickname 'Iron Head' for these troubles. 'We young people came back from the war in a state of stupefaction,' Ernst later wrote. In his autobiographical sketch, 'Some Data on the Youth of M.E. as Told by Himself' (1942), he presents the entire war as a loss of consciousness, indeed of life: 'Max Ernst died the 1st of August 1914. He resuscitated the 11th of November 1918.' This emphasis on shock is suggestive, as is the alienation of the first-person voiced by that of the third person, for his Dada work often deploys such tell-tale signs of narcissistic disturbance. ...

"If Dada stands for anything, it is for and against. For and against unity; for and against affirmation and negation; for equations as long as they don't equate, against them when they do. The stance extends to the label Dada itself, which means nothing and everything. Dada is any word--cow, cube, bar of soap, nurse, yes, hobby horse--yet Dada is also the heart of words, a modernist mantra, a machine-age tetragrammaton. This simultaneous stance of for and against is never reducible to clowning about. Rather it is integral to a global strategy of contradiction: the positive Dada response to a cluster of negatives."

here for examples of the art of Max Ernst <>

The Dada Seminars, edited by Leah Dickerman with Matthew Witkowsky, Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, pp. 127, 32.

Monday, August 06, 2007 08/06/07-Maybe

In today's excerpt--a different approach to ending the American Civil War that was resoundingly rejected before it was ever tried. The expense of the civil war immediately reached unimaginable levels as compared to previous wars, and Abraham Lincoln's government was forced into constant innovation to pay for it--including such enduring innovations as the income tax and the greenback. Late in the war, in the midst of this dire, continuing need and the financial innovation required to meet it, Lincoln briefly put forward another idea:

"Around the same time, Lincoln was considering yet another tax increase, aimed at financing an initiative to and the war later that spring. He hoped to raise $400 million to give compensation to states of the Confederacy--on a state-by-state basis--if they freed their slaves and agreed to end the war. A state would receive the first half of its funds when it had ceased 'all resistance to the national authority' and the second half if it ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, freeing all slaves, by July 1, 1865. Lincoln's cabinet unanimously objected to the proposition, although the president pointed out that the amount requested was roughly equivalent to the likely cost of continuing the war for another one or two hundred days, and that an early peace would save countless lives and a great deal of property. The president never submitted the plan to Congress."

Robert D. Hormats, The Price of Liberty, Times Books, Copyright 2007 by Robert D. Hormats, p. 74.

Friday, August 03, 2007 08/03/07-Untouchables

In today's excerpt--the origin of "untouchables" and the Hindu caste system. The caste system was brought to India by Aryans, an Indo-European people who began to enter India in about 2000 BC:

"Along with their religion, and their language, Sanskrit (which is the basis of Indian languages still spoken today), the caste system is the legacy of Aryans to later India. ... Castes, as they evolved, became groups of people following the same occupation and alone entitled to do so. Membership of caste is hereditary and, ideally, caste members marry only with one another, share special ritual practices and obligatory acts and, if strict, will only eat food prepared by other members of the same caste. ... There eventually came to be hundreds of castes and sub-castes. ...

"The system had begun with a simple division of Aryan society into three classes: brahmans, warriors, and farmers. These were not at first so closely defined nor so exclusive as they later became; for some centuries, it appears, people could move from one caste to another. The only unleapable social barrier in early times seems to have been that between Aryans and non-Aryans. A fourth social class seems to have been singled out rigidly; this contained the original native population, darker-skinned than the invaders, who wanted to keep separate from them and therefore saw them as outside the three-class system altogether. The non-Aryans, members of the new fourth class, became the 'unclean'; because they were non-Aryans they could not take part in religious sacrifices, and study or hear the Vedic hymns. In the end, these 'unclean,' originally identified from a wish to preserve ethnic purity, became the 'untouchables' of modern India, a class to which is left the dirty work of cleaning and scavenging, so looked down upon that some brahmans still feel that the shadow of a sweeper falling across food pollutes it."

J.M. Roberts, A Short History of the World, Oxford University Press, Copyright 1993 by J.M. Roberts, pp. 65-66.

Thursday, August 02, 2007 08/02/07-Disney Art

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 01, 2007 08/01/07-Adolescence

In today's excerpt--adolescence. Laurence Steinberg argues that many of the problems of adolescence stem from the fact that at the time of adolescence, parents are often dealing with their own mid-life disappointments. In his landmark study, The Families at Adolescence Project, Steinberg supports most parental concerns but warns of those stemming from parents' feelings of jealousy, abandonment, loss, powerlessness and regret:

"The findings to emerge from this study show that the child's entrance into adolescence is often a difficult personal period in the parents' lives--perhaps even more difficult for parents than it is for their children. This is not simply because raising teenagers is an arduous task. It is because watching our children mature unearths complicated and intense emotions deep inside us. That these emotions typically rise to the surface during midlife, a time with its own trying agenda, makes matters much more difficult. ...

"The physical blossoming inherent in adolescence provides a cruel contrast to our midlife journey. ... Psychologists note that in middle age there occurs a shift in time perspective, in which individuals start measuring their lives in terms of how long they have left to live rather than how long they have been alive. For people in the throes of a crisis, changes in physical appearance become a daily reminder that time is slipping away. ... Rather than being wrapped up in a state of existential angst, most of the adolescents in our research coast through life in a sort of pleasant fog, far more concerned with whether they have a date on Friday night or a social studies test the following Wednesday than with who they 'really' are or where they are headed. ...

"I heard many more stories of parental joy than parental jealousy over the course of the interviews. But the number of parents who were envious of their adolescent was not at all trivial, and for many, the emotion was quite strong. ... Feeling left behind--feeling abandoned--was an important source of distress among many of the parents in our sample. Parents who experienced their child's maturation as a loss were grappling mainly with the loss of a role and of the self-definition that accompanies it. ... Why did so many parents spend so much time grappling with their children over such mundane things as the way they styled their hair or the music they listened to? Parents' concerns about adolescent autonomy [often] were concerns about power--or, more accurately, powerlessness. Many of the parents in our study were having trouble coping with feeling out of control. ... Among the adults in our study, having a child enter adolescence frequently triggered feelings of regret, feelings which were often accompanied by a longing for another opportunity at building a different, and presumably more satisfying, life. ...

"I am frequently asked by parents--parents whose children are teenagers and those whose children are about to become teenagers--how they can better handle this period in their family's development. ... [My response is] make sure you have genuine and satisfying interests outside of being a parent."

Laurence Steinberg, Crossing Paths, Simon & Schuster, Copyright 1994 by Dr. Laurence Steinberg, pp. 259, 15, 41, 56, 88, 132, 152.