Monday, June 30, 2008 6/30/08-Inkpot Terms

In today's excerpt--Latin and Greek words imported into English:

"The discord that we now call the Reformation had immediate consequences for English, in the form of new translations of the Bible [from Latin and Greek] into the vernacular. By 1611, when the King James Bible appeared, over fifty different Protestant or Catholic translations had been made. There were heated arguments over the linguistic choices made by the translators. Charges of heresy could be leveled at a translation depending on whether it used congregation or church, repentance or penance, charity or love.

"One of the issues which exercised the minds of the early Bible translators was: would the English language be able to cope? For a start, were there enough words available to express everything that was said in the Latin and Greek originals? In the early decades of the sixteenth century, the general opinion was that there weren't. ... If the problem was obvious, so was the solution, ... all writers had to do was borrow ... [and] the sixteenth century saw an extraordinary influx of new words from Latin and Greek, especially the former: anonymous, appropriate, commemorate, emancipate, relevant, susceptible ...

"The translator George Pettie affirmed their importance by stating 'if they should be all counted inkpot terms, I know not how we should speake any thing without blacking our mouthes with inke.' Inkpot terms. Inkhorn terms. These two words, both meaning a receptacle for ink, ... came to refer to words which are so lengthy (because of their foreign origins) that to write them down would use up a lot of ink. Accordingly, 'inkhorn terms' became an abusive label to describe the writing of anyone who welcomed Latinate neologisms. ...

"It was not surprising to see the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme, in which such coinages were avoided like the plague. Even a scholar of Greek, Sir John Cheke, was hotly opposed to them. In a 1557 letter he writes: 'I am of the opinion that our tung should be written clean and pure, unmixt and unmangled with borrowing of other tunges.' ... The row went on for half a century--and indeed it has been rumbling ever since. Four hundred years later, George Orwell would be haranguing people for their reliance on classical words: 'Bad writers ... are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon
ones.' "

David Crystal, The Fight for English, Oxford, Copyright 2006 by David Crystal, pp. 36-40.

Friday, June 27, 2008 6/27/08-Albert "Lazy Dog" Einstein

In today's excerpt--young Albert Einstein:

"In the early 1900s, Einstein was a brilliant young scientist (26 in 1905) working independently of the usual academic community, who was obsessed with the idea of proving that atoms are real. [The existence of atoms was widely conjectured but not yet proven at this time.] ... This search was being carried out in the context of Einstein trying to obtain a PhD, which, by the beginning of the twentieth century was already being seen as the scientist's meal ticket, an essential requirement for anyone hoping to pursue a career in university research. Einstein had graduated from the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (ETH--the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zurich in 1900, but although he had done well in his final examinations, his attitude had not endeared him to the professors at the ETH (one of his tutors, Hermann Minkowski, described young Albert as a 'lazy dog' who 'never bothered about mathematics at all'), and he was unable to get a job as one of their assistants, and equally unable to get a decent reference from them for a junior academic post.

"So he had a variety of short-term and part-time jobs before becoming a patent officer in Bern in 1902. He spent a lot of time working on scientific problems (not just in his spare time, but also at his desk when he should have been working on patent applications) and published several papers between 1900 and 1905. But his most important project was to obtain that PhD and reopen the doors to academia. The ETH did not award doctorates itself, but there was an arrangement whereby graduates from the ETH could submit a doctoral thesis to the University of Zurich for approval, and this is the path Einstein took. After an abortive attempt on a piece of work which he decided in the end not to submit, he was ready in 1905 with a paper that would prove entirely satisfactory to the examiners in Zurich, and was the first of two papers in which he established the reality of atoms and molecules beyond reasonable doubt."

John Gribbin, The Scientists, Random House, Copyright 2002 by John and Mary Gribbin, pp. 392-393.

Thursday, June 26, 2008 6/26/08-The New York Yankees

In today's encore excerpt--in 1914, the New York Yankees are the second-rate New York baseball franchise, especially when compared to the world champion New York (now San Francisco) Giants. Then they are acquired by 'the two Colonels," who move to acquire Babe Ruth, the rising superstar of the Boston Red Sox, a move that is central to transforming the Yankees into the greatest franchise in baseball history:

"Col. Jake Ruppert, age 53, was a member of the New York aristocracy, born into wealth, ... a lifelong millionaire bachelor who always explained his marital state with the saying 'he travels fastest who travels alone.' ... Col. Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston, whose name sounded far more regal, actually came from Cincinnati, the civil engineer son of a civil engineer. A captain in the Spanish-American War, he stayed in Cuba for ten years after the war ended and made a lot of money in a project to dredge and improve the harbors in Havana and other port cities.

"The two men were thrown together in an arranged marriage. Each much rather would have bought the New York Giants, the glamour team of the city, the team of John McGraw and Christy Matthewson and championships. ... When the Yankees, the very poor relations of New York sport, came up for sale at the end of the 1914 season, a friend suggested to Ruppert that he join with Huston to buy the team. ... On December 31, 1914, at the Hotel Walcott, they bought the Yankees for $450,000. Ruppert brought a certified check and an attorney to handle his half of the transaction. Huston came alone and reached into his pocket for a large roll of money and counted out 225 thousand-dollar bills. 'For $450,000,' Ruppert said, 'we got an orphan ball club without a home of its own, without players of outstanding ability, without prestige. ...

"By December 1919, the team had shown some progress, ... [and] the Colonels asked manager Miller Huggins what he needed to contend for a championship in 1920. Huggins replied, 'Get me Babe Ruth.' ... [In selling Ruth to the Yankees, financially-distressed Red Sox owner Harry] Frazee said, 'While Ruth, without question, is the greatest hitter the game has ever seen, he is likewise one of the most selfish and inconsiderate men that ever wore a uniform."

Leigh Montville, The Big Bam, Broadway Books, 2006, pp. 93-100.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 6/25/08-Patton and Eisenhower

In today's excerpt--two young graduates of West Point and veterans of World War I disagree: the young and flamboyant George Patton chides Dwight Eisenhower for his mundane philosophy of war:

"The two young majors met in 1919, and almost immediately they began an argument that would last until Patton's death. Patton thought the chief ingredient in modern warfare was inspired leadership on the battlefield. Eisenhower felt that leadership was just one factor. He believed that Patton was inclined to indulge his romantic nature, neglecting such matters as logistics, a proper worldwide strategy, and getting along with allies.

"A letter Patton wrote to Eisenhower in July 1926 illustrated the difference between the two men. 'Ike' had just spent a year at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth. He had applied himself with almost monastic diligence to his studies and had graduated first in his class. Patton, fearful that his friend had concentrated too hard on such subjects as transportation, staff functioning, and how to draft a memo, decided to set him straight. After congratulating Eisenhower on his achievement, Patton declared, 'We talk a hell of a lot about tactics and stuff and we never get to brass tacks. Namely what is it that makes the poor S.O.B. who constitutes the casualty list fight.' Leadership was Patton's answer. Officers had to get out and inspire the men, keep them moving. One or two superheroes would not do; Patton thought any such notion was 'bull.' Finally, he concisely summed up the difference between his and Eisenhower's approach to battle. 'Victory in the next war will depend on EXECUTION not PLANS.' By execution, Patton said, he meant keeping the infantry advancing under fire.

"Eisenhower disagreed. Plans, he said, meant that food and ammunition and gasoline would continue to reach the men at the front lines, that pressure would be applied where it hurt the enemy the most, that supreme effort would not be wasted. The most difficult tasks in the next war, Eisenhower believed, would be raising, training, arming, and transporting the men; getting them ashore in the right places; maintaining good liaison with allied forces. Execution would matter, of course, but it was only one part of the total picture."

Stephen E. Ambrose, Americans at War, Berkley, Copyright 1997 by University Press of Mississippi, pp. 160-161.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 6/24/08-Hawthorne and Lincoln

In today's excerpt--in 1862, Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, was part of a small delegation that visited with Abraham Lincoln at the White House, and Hawthorne reported on the visit for the Atlantic Monthly. Hawthorne wrote:

"There is no describing his lengthy awkwardness, nor the uncouthness of his movement. ... He was dressed in a rusty black frock-coat and pantaloons, unbrushed, and worn so faithfully that the suit had adapted itself to the curves and angularities, and had grown to be an outer skin of the man. He had shabby slippers on his feet. His hair was black, still unmixed with gray, stiff, somewhat brushy, and had apparently been acquainted with neither brush nor comb that morning, after the disarrangement of the pillow, and as to a nightcap, Uncle Abe probably knows nothing of such effeminancies. His complexion is dark and sallow, betokening, I fear, an insalubrious atmosphere around the White House; he has thick black eyebrows and an impending brow; his nose is large, and the lines about his mouth are very strongly defined.

"The whole physiognomy is as coarse a one as you would meet anywhere in the length and breadth of the States; but, withal, it is redeemed, illuminated, softened, and brightened by a kindly though serious look out of his eyes. ...

"[He is] endowed with a sort of tact and wisdom that are akin to craft, and would impel him, I think, to take an antagonist in flank, rather than to make a bull-run at him right in front. But, on the whole, I like this sallow, queer, sagacious visage, with the homely human sympathies that warmed it. ...

"Immediately on his entrance the President accosted our member of Congress, who had us in charge, and, with a comical twist of his face ... greeted us all around, not waiting for an introduction, but shaking and squeezing everybody's hand with the utmost cordiality, whether the individual's name was announced to him or not. His manner towards us was wholly without pretence, but yet had a kind of natural dignity. ... [When our visit ended], we retired out of the presence in high good-humor, only regretting that we could not have seen the President sit down and fold up his legs (which is said to be a most extraordinary spectacle), or have heard tell one of those delectable stories for which he is so celebrated. [They are the] funniest little things imaginable; though, to be sure, they smack of the frontier freedom, and would not always bear repetition in a drawing room, or on the immaculate page of the Atlantic."

Harold Holzer, Lincoln as I Knew Him, Algonquin, Copyright 1999 by Harold Holzer, pp. 167-170.

Monday, June 23, 2008 6/23/08-"Entangling Alliances"

In today's excerpt--the phrase 'entangling alliances' and the policy of isolationism, both often falsely attributed to George Washington:

"The central interpretive strain of [George Washington's] Farewell Address has been to read it as the seminal statement of American isolationism. Ironically, the phrase most associated with this interpretive tradition, 'entangling alliances with none,' is not present in the Farewell Address. (Double irony, it appears in Jefferson's first inaugural, of all places). Here are the salient words, which isolationists hurled against Woodrow Wilson in 1917 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1941: 'Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are foreign to our concerns. ... 'Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign world.'

"In truth, Washington's isolationist prescription rests atop a deeper message about American foreign policy, which deserves more recognition than it has received as the seminal statement in the realistic tradition. Here are the key words: 'There can be no greater error to expect, or calculate upon real favours from Nation to Nation. 'Tis an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.' Washington was saying that the relationship between nations was not like the relationship between individuals, which could periodically be conducted on the basis of mutual trust. Nations always had and always would behave solely on the basis of interest.

"It followed that all treaties were merely temporary arrangements destined to be discarded once those interests shifted. In the context of his own time, this was a defense of the Jay Treaty, which repudiated the Franco-American alliance and aligned America's commercial interests with British markets as well as protection of the all-powerful British fleet."

Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency, Knopf, Copyright 2004 by Joseph J. Ellis, p. 235.

Friday, June 20, 2008 6/20/08-Democracy in Latin America

In today's excerpt--the democratic wave in Latin America:

"In 1977 all but four Latin America countries were dictatorships. By 1990 only Cuba was, while Mexico had begun to move along its slow road to democracy. Even as academic treatises were being published claiming that Latin America suffered from 'blocked societies,' incapable of democratic modernization, winds of change blew through the region. The democratic wave began in the Dominican Republic and moved quickly to Peru, Ecuador and beyond. At first, some analysts saw this as just another swing of the pendulum.

"Yet it soon became clear that several deeper factors were at work. The first was that the international climate was changing. ... In the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter had proclaimed the importance of human rights in American foreign policy, especially as regards Latin America. That led to friction between the United States and some of the dictatorships. As important, in Spain and Portugal, mortality put [an end] to the longstanding fascist dictatorships of Francisco Franco and Antonio de Oliviera Salazar. The Iberian transition to democracy in the 1970s was highly influential across the Atlantic. Second, state terror and long years of exile caused the left to reflect on the folly of its conduct in the 1960s and 1970s. Many left-wingers came to accept the value of civil liberties and of democracy--without the derogatory adjectives, such as 'bourgeois' or 'formal,' with which they had previously vilified it.

"An analogous re-evaluation took place on the right and among businessmen. Many of them had assumed that dictatorships, free of the need to satisfy voters, would be able to take the unpopular decisions required to put in place policies that would guarantee faster economic growth in the medium to long term. Yet it had not turned out like that--and this was the third and most important factor behind the turn to democracy. Most of the dictatorships had proved as incapable of grappling with the economic challenges facing the region as their civilian predecessors had been. In fact, if not in left-wing myth, military officers around the world tend to be hostile to free-market economics. In Latin America, that was partly because the armed forces themselves had a vested interest in a large state, since this provided jobs for officers and subsidies for military enterprises such as arms factories.

Michael Reid, Forgotten Continent, Yale, Copyright 2007 by Michael Reid, pp.120-122.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 6/18/08-Impotence

In today's excerpt--from the annals of science: in 1917, a cure was found for impotence and related maladies that involved transplanting the glands and testicles of goats, monkeys and humans into the patient. Though ultimately found to be fraudulent, it became a craze that swept across the U.S. and captured as patients a wide swath of Americans from movie stars to moguls:

"Ever since man began to walk upright, he had been obsessed when his penis would not behave likewise and searched for ways to fix the problem. The world's earliest known medical document, the so-called Edwin Smith Papyrus of Egypt dating from 1600 B.C., presents a strikingly sophisticated view of trauma surgery--except on the back, where one finds 'Incantation for Transforming an Old Man into a Youth of Twenty.' In ancient Greece an herb called satyrion, recommended by the philosopher Theophrastus in 320 B.C., was swiftly harvested to extinction. During the ensuing centuries cloves, ginger, and massaging one's genitals in ass's milk all had their vogue. In England around the year 1000, men were devouring 'love bread' (naked maidens romped in wheat, which was then harvested counterclockwise). The Middle Ages favored lubrication of the afflicted member with melted fat from camel humps. ...

"[For doctors experimenting in the 1910s],finding a human donor was actually easy, thanks to the help of Dr. Leo Stanley, chief surgeon at San Quentin prison in California. Three or four hangings a year offered the perfect chance to relieve relatively young men of their testicles without an argument. ... Testicles of these deceased felons were inserted into other prisoners, usually geezers with no chance of parole. According to Dr. Stanley's reports, most showed improvement. Seventy-two-year-old Mark Williams, half-senile at the implant, perked up within five days. ... Scientific journals, including JAMA, gave this work wide and respectful coverage. Dr. Stanley himself ... injected or implanted testicular material, both animal and human, into 643 inmates and 13 physicians. ...

"At the Park Avenue Hospital in Chicago in 1920, Dr. John Brinkley performed thirty-four goat-gland transplants, pausing often to chat with reporters. ... He had to say that his own technique, in which the goat gland 'humanized' in the scrotal sac, was 'far in advance of the Old World experts.' ... Dr. Stanley was now averaging fifty operations a month at $750 apiece, for a take of almost half a million dollars a year (in 1920s currency). Most patients walked in and lay down without even asking how the thing worked. 'I suppose a goat gland is a good deal like a potato,' said seventy-seven-year-old A.B. Pierce of Nebraska. 'You can cut a potato all in pieces and plant it and every eye will grow.' "

Pope Brock, Charlatan, Crown, Copyright 2008 by Pope Brock, pp.32-53.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 6/17/08--North Korea

In today's excerpt--China and South Korea work to prop up the failed economy of North Korea. Although they both seek to nudge North Korea toward economic liberalization and away from nuclear arms, they fear more the collapse of North Korea and a disastrous spillover to their own countries--a collapse like the one which came after Moscow ended its subsidies in 1990, causing millions of North Korean deaths from starvation:

"Beijing gives a few hundred thousand tons of grain to North Korea every year and sells it a large amount of oil at heavily discounted prices. ... In recent years, [South Korea] has also essentially assumed responsibility for feeding the North Koreans. From 2002 to 2005, it provided 400,000 to 500,000 tons of grain annually, an amount equal to some ten percent of North Korea's annual harvest. The North's agriculture is heavily dependent on mineral fertilizers that the country can no longer produce; about two- thirds of the fertilizer it uses comes from the South. Seoul may thus be essentially contributing as much as 40-50 percent of the calories consumed by the average North Korean. ...

"The Bank of Korea recently estimated ... that per capita gross national income in the South is 17 times that in the North. By comparison, per capita gross national income in West Germany before unification was roughly double that in East Germany. ...

"[Seoul] worries that if the North were to be reunited with the South, the costs of the North's reconstruction would wipe out the South's hard-won prosperity. In late 2007, a report prepared for the budget committee of the South Korean National Assembly estimated that the expense of unification would be $0.8-$1.3 trillion--a staggering amount and yet just enough to bring the North Korean's average income to only half that enjoyed by South Koreans. ...

"Were North Korea to reform, the disparities with South Korea would only become starker to its population. For decades, Pyongyang has based its legitimacy on its alleged ability to provide its people with a better material life. Even though for most North Koreans living well means eating rice every day, government propaganda has insisted that they enjoy one of the world's highest living standards and has presented South Korea as a land of destitution--a 'living hell.' It has managed to sustain the legitimacy of these claims with a self-imposed information blockade apparently unparalleled anywhere in the communist world, past or present. ... There are at least 150,000 political prisoners in North Korean labor camps today, that is, one political prisoner for every 150 citizens--a ratio comparable to that in the Soviet Union under the worst of Stalin's rule. ...

Andrei Lankov, "Staying Alive: Why North Korea Will Not Change," Foreign Affairs, March/April 2008, pp.9-14.

Monday, June 16, 2008 6/16/08-May 15, 1776

In today's excerpt--a tense and awkward juxtaposition at Independence Hall in 1776--a building then known as the Pennsylvania State House. During the same period the the Second Continental Congress was on the ground floor of the Pennsylvania State House resolving to separate from Great Britain, the rightful tenant of that building--the Pennsylvania State Assembly--was meeting upstairs and affirming its loyalty to the Crown:

"With fighting under way between the Americans and the British in New England, the Second Continental Congress and the Pennsylvania Assembly shared Pennsylvania's capitol building. ... Delegates to Congress and members of the Assembly could cross paths in the central hallway. ... Members of either group might encounter [William Penn's descendant] Governor Penn, who met periodically with representatives of the Assembly on the second floor to tend to the routine business of the province. ...

"To the aggravation of the more radical members of the Congress, the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1775 and early 1776 remained dominated by members with strong allegiance to Britain. At the outset of the Second Continental Congress, the Assembly instructed Pennsylvania's delegates to take actions that would best restore 'Union and Harmony between Great-Britain and the Colonies.' Even though American and British troops were at war, the Assembly instructed its delegates to 'dissent from, and utterly reject, any Proposition ... that may cause, or lead to, a Separation from our Mother Country, or a Change in the Form of this Government.'

"The tension between the Congress and the Assembly reached a breaking point on May 15, 1776, in an action that John Adams called 'the most important resolution that was ever taken in America,' the Congress recommended that the colonies should form new governments if their present governments were not 'sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs.' Within the walls of the Pennsylvania State House, the action meant that the Congress had invited the extralegal government of Pennsylvania to replace the Assembly meeting upstairs. ...

"The Pennsylvania Assembly did not officially adjourn until the following September, but the work of creating a new state government began in the State House on July 15 with the convening of the Pennsylvania Constitution Convention. Signifying the revolution that had occurred in Pennsylvania politics, many of the convention delegates were farmers, artisans, soldiers, with only a few delegates of the type of gentlemen who previously occupied the Assembly."

Charlene Mires, Independence Hall in American Memory, Penn Press, Copyright 2002 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, pp.19-21.

Friday, June 13, 2008 6/13/08-The Death of a Child

In today's excerpt--the death in 1851 of Charles Darwin's ten-year-old daughter Annie--the apple of his eye--after a periodic illness that had begun the year before:

"In the days leading up to her death, there is an anguished and poignant exchange of letters between Charles, who had traveled with her to a doctor, and [his wife] Emma. A few days after the death, Darwin composed a memorial to Annie. ... 'Her joyousness and animal spirits radiated from her whole countenance, and rendered every movement elastic and full of life and vigour. It was delightful and cheerful to behold her. Her dear face now rises before me, as she used sometimes to come running downstairs with a stolen pinch of snuff for me, her whole form radiant with the pleasure of giving pleasure. ... In the last short illness, her conduct in simple truth was angelic. She never once complained; never became fretful; was ever considerate of others, and was thankful in the most gentle, pathetic manner for everything done for her. ... When I gave her some water, she said, 'I quite thank you;' and these, I believe, were the last precious words ever addressed by her dear lips to me.' ...

"Annie, it seems, was the Darwin's favorite child. She was bright and talented ('a second Mozart,' Darwin once said) ... and she was an exemplary child, a model of generosity, morals, and manners....

"Only months after his father's death, Darwin had declared his grieving at an end, referring in the letter to 'my dear Father about whom it is now to me the sweetest pleasure to think.' In the case of Annie, no such point was ever reached for either Emma or Charles. Another of their daughters, Henrietta, would later write that 'it may be said that my mother never really recovered from this grief. She very rarely spoke of Annie, but when she did the sense of loss was always there unhealed. My father could not bear to reopen his sorrow, and he never, to my knowledge, spoke of her.' Twenty-five years after Annie's death, he wrote in his autobiography that thinking of her still brought tears to his eyes.

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal, Vintage, Copyright 1994 by Robert Wright, pp. 178-179.

Thursday, June 12, 2008 6/12/08-The Atom

In today's encore excerpt--atoms:

"There are more than than one hundred different types of atoms, from lightweights like hydrogen and helium through welterweights like tin and iodine and out to such mumbling mooseheads as ununpentium and ununquadium, but they're all much the same nearly nil size. You can fit more than three atoms in a nanometer, meaning it would take 10 to the 13th power, or ten trillion of them, to coat the disk of our pinhead. And the funny thing about an atom is that its outlandish smallness is still too big for it: almost all of its subnanometer span is taken up by empty space. The real meat of an atom is its core, its nucleus, which accounts for about 99.9 percent of an atom's matter. When you step on your bathroom scale, you are essentially weighing the sum of your atomic nuclei. If you could strip them all from your body, go on a total denuclear diet, you'd be down to about twenty grams, the weight of four nickels, or roughly the weight of the doornail that you would be as dead as.

"Those remaining twenty grams belong to your electrons, the fundamental particles that orbit an atom's nucleus. An electron has less than 1/1,800 the mass of a simple atomic nucleus. ... Viewed from the more impressive angle of volumetrics, we see that, while the nucleus may make up nearly all of an atom's mass, ... it takes up only a trillionth of its volume.

"Here it is worth a final reversion to metaphor. If the nucleus of an atom were a basketball located at the center of Earth, the electrons would be cherry pits whizzing about in the outermost layer of Earth's atmosphere. Between our nuclear [basketball] and the whizzing pits, there would be no Earth: no iron, nickel, magma, soil, sea, or sky, ... nothing, literally, to speak of. ... We live in a universe that is largely devoid of matter. Yet still the Milky Way glows, and still our hemoglobin flows, and when we hug our friends, our fingers don't sink into the vacuum with which all atoms are filled. If in touching their skin we are touching the void, why does it feel so complete?"

Natalie Angier, The Canon, Houghton Mifflin, 2007, pp. 85-86.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 6/11/08-Naming America

In today's excerpt--naming America. After four increasingly unsuccessful voyages to the New Work, Columbus dies in 1506 in ruin and disgrace. "I am ruined," he wrote in one of his last surviving letters, "alone, desolate, infirm, daily expecting death. ... Weep for me, whoever has charity, truth, and justice.":

"In a final insult [to Columbus], the most enduring honor of all went to a fellow Italian who had befriended Columbus in his last years. 'He is a very honorable man and always desirous of pleasing me,' wrote Columbus, ever a poor judge of character, 'and is determined to do everything possible for me.' The man's name was Amerigo Vespucci.

"A well-connected Florentine merchant and a scion of the Medicis, Vespucci moved to Seville and outfitted fleets crossing the Atlantic. He sailed to the Indies several times between 1499 and 1502, under both Spanish and Portuguese auspices, and claimed to be a great navigator. But his true genius was for hype and self-promotion.

" 'I hope to be famous for many an age,' he wrote, in one of the embellished accounts he gave of his voyages. Vespucci invented some episodes and lifted others from Columbus's writing. Unlike the Admiral, though, he showed great flair for lubricious tales designed to titillate his European audience.

"Native women, he claimed, were giantesses--'taller kneeling than I am standing'--and impervious to age and childbearing, with taut wombs and breasts that never sagged. ... Best of all, they were 'very desirous to copulate with us Christians,' Not surprisingly, Vespucci's account became an instant best seller. ...

"[Unlike Columbus, who never gave up his belief that the lands he discovered were part of Asia], Vespucci referred to the [South American] region as 'a new world.' unknown to 'our ancestors,' ... In 1507, a year after Columbus's death, the German geographer Martin Waldseemuller published a text and map adding a 'fourth part' to the known world of Europe, Asia, and Africa. 'I see no reason why one should justly object to calling this part Amerige,' Waldseemuller wrote, 'or America, after Amerigo, its discoverer, a man of great ability.' His revised world map had 'America' engraved next to a landmass roughly resembling Brazil.

"Waldseemuller later changed his mind and dropped the name from a subsequent edition. But 'America' was reprised in 1538 by the great cartographer Gerard Mercator, who applied it to continents both north and south."

Tony Horwitz, A Voyage Long and Strange, Henry Holt, Copyright 2008 by Tony Horwitz, pp. 77-79.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 6/10/08-The Cruelty of Girls

In today's excerpt--Canadian author Margaret Atwood writes of the cruelty of little girls to each other in her semi-autobiographical novel on cruelty among women--Cat's Eye. Here we find nine-year-old Elaine with her new best friends, led by Cordelia:

"On the window ledge beside mine, Cordelia and Grace and Carol are sitting, jammed in together, whispering and giggling. I have to sit on a window ledge by myself because they aren't speaking to me. It's something I said wrong, but I don't know what it is because they won't tell me. Cordelia says it will be better for me to think back over everything I've said today and try to pick out the wrong thing. That way I will learn not to say such a thing again. When I've guessed the right answer, they will speak to me again. All of this is for my own good, because they are my best friends and they want to help me improve. ... What did I say wrong? I can't remember having said anything different from what I would ordinarily say. ...

"[Later] I stand outside the closed door of Cordelia's room. Cordelia, Grace and Carol are inside. They're having a meeting. The meeting is about me. I am just not measuring up, although they are giving me every chance. I will have to do better. But better at what? ...

"[Several days later] they are on the school bus, where Cordelia stands close beside and whispers in my ear: 'Stand up straight! People are looking!' Carol is in my classroom, and it's her job to report to Cordelia what I do and say all day. They're there at recess and in the cellar at lunchtime. They comment on the kind of lunch I have, how I hold my sandwich, how I chew. On the way home from school I have to walk in front of them, or behind. In front is worse because they talk about how I'm walking, how I look from behind. 'Don't hunch over,' says Cordelia. 'Don't move your arms like that.' ...

"But Cordelia doesn't do these things or have this power over me because she's my enemy. ... Cordelia is my friend. She likes me, she wants to help me, they all do. They are my friends, my girl friends, my best friends. I have never had any before and I'm terrified of losing them. I want to please.

"Hatred would have been easier. With hatred, I would have known what to do. Hatred is clear, metallic, one-handed, unwavering; unlike love."

Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye, Anchor, Copyright 1988 by O.W. Toad, Ltd., pp. 127-132.

Monday, June 09, 2008 6/9/08-The Elizabethan Theater

In today's excerpt--the ascendance of the Elizabethan theater:

"Theaters as dedicated spaces of entertainment were a new phenomenon in England in Shakespeare's lifetime. Previously players had performed in innyards or the halls of great homes or other spaces normally used for other purposes. London's first true playhouse appears to have been the Red Lion, built in 1567 in Whitechapel. ...

"William Shakespeare could not have chosen a more propitious moment to come of age. By the time he arrived in London in (presumably) the late 1580s, theaters dotted the outskirts and would continue to rise throughout his career. All were compelled to reside in 'liberties,' areas mostly outside London's walls where City laws and regulations did not apply. It was a banishment they shared with brothels, prisons, gunpowder stores, unconsecrated graveyards, lunatic asylums (the notorious Bedlam stood close by the Theatre), and noisome enterprises like soapmaking, dyeing, and tanning--and these could be noisome indeed. Glue makers and soapmakers rendered copious volumes of bones and animal fat, filling the air with a cloying smell that could be all but worn, while tanners steeped their products in vats of dog feces to make them supple. No one reached a playhouse without encountering a good deal of odor.

"The new theaters did not prosper equally. Within three years of its opening, the Curtain was being used for fencing bouts, and all other London playhouses, with the single eventual exception of the Globe, relied on other entertainments, particularly animal baiting, to fortify their earnings. The pastime was not unique to England, but it was regarded as an English specialty. Queen Elizabeth often had visitors from abroad entertained with bearbaiting at Whitehall. In its classic form, a bear was put in a ring, sometimes tethered to a stake, and set upon by mastiffs, but bears were expensive investments, so other animals (such as bulls and horses) were commonly substituted. One variation was to put a chimpanzee on the back of a horse and let the dogs go for both together. The sight of a screeching ape clinging for dear life to a bucking horse while dogs leaped at it from below was considered about as rich an amusement as public life could offer. That an audience that could be moved to tears one day by a performance of Doctor Faustus could return the next day to the same space and be just as entertained by the frantic deaths of helpless animals may say as much about the age as any single statement could."

Bill Bryson, Shakespeare, The World as Stage, Atlas, Copyright 2007 by Bill Bryson, pp. 70-72.

Friday, June 06, 2008 6/6/08-Yippies

In today's excerpt--in the 1960s, sheer demographics--the baby boom--made the young a percentage of the population that has not been reached since in America. That, combined with profound dissatisfaction with Vietnam, created a flammable context for the events of 1968:

"The protestors of the early 1960s, admirers of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, had believed almost religiously in non-violence. ... By the mid-1960s, however, that tactic was reaching the end of its shelf life. It had not ended the war in Vietnam, nor had it liberated blacks, nor had it won many victories on campus. ...

"By 1968, hardcore activists, tired of talk and bored with marching, put their faith in violence. The ringleaders of the 1968 riots at Columbia University called themselves the Action Faction, and styled themselves on the East Village Motherf**kers, a nihilistic group who asserted their intention to 'defy law and order with ... bricks, bottles, garbage, long hair, filth, obscenity, drugs, games, guns, bikes, fire, fun, and f**king.' ...

"The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago provided radicals with the perfect sequel to Columbia. Leading the chaos this time were the Yippies (so-called after the Youth International Party they had founded the year before), Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Their plans called for a continuous street party--more circus than demonstration. The main goal was to create a spectacle. 'Like typical Americans,' one organizer proclaimed, 'we got our biggest kicks from contemplating our image in the media.' In the week before the convention, Yippies boasted to local newsmen that they would put LSD in the Chicago water supply, rape the wives of convention delegates, and have a mass copulation in Lincoln Park. Rubin told his admirers: 'Thousands of us will burn draft cards at the same time ... and the paranoia and guilt of the government will force them to bring thousands of troops ... Our long hair alone will freak them out ... and remember--the more troops, the better the theater.' ...

"The few earnest protesters who did go to the Convention to make a point about the war or civil rights were disappointed at the way violence had hijacked politics, depriving it of meaning. ... The Yippies should have been nothing more than mere nuisance. But television has a way of magnifying images. On successive nights in Lincoln Park thousands of police, backed by the National Guard, did battle with the miniscule army of Yippies while the whole world watched. The apocalyptic fantasies of Rubin and Hoffman combined with the paranoia of Mayor Richard Daley to create one of the most shameful episodes in American political history. 'We wanted to f**k up their image on TV,' Hoffman later explained. ... In that sense, at least, they succeeded."

Gerard DeGroot, "Street Fighting Men," History Today, May 2008, 28-31.

Thursday, June 05, 2008 6/5/08-Nitrates

In today's encore excerpt--the discovery of a synthetic process for manufacturing nitrates leads directly and immediately to both the global population explosion and to the unprecedented casualty level--23 million people--of World War I:

"For all the ... guns that their factories could produce, Europeans could not manufacture nitrates, the stuff that made gunpowder explode--they had to find it in the natural world. ... Nitrogen is also crucial to the growth of plants. ... [T]he largest sources of naturally occurring nitrates are produced as animal waste. ... Paradoxically then, both the size of the global human population and its ability to conduct modern warfare depended on, and were limited by, nature. That fact led to a global search for naturally occurring deposits of nitrates, mostly in the form of bat and bird guano. ...

"The first clump of Peruvian guano was brought to Europe in 1804 by the German naturalist and world explorer Alexander von Humbolt, and then extracted in ever greater amounts and exported by British merchants. By 1890, the supplies of Peruvian guano were mostly exhausted, but another natural source (sodium nitrate, or 'saltpeter') that could be mined was found in southern Peru; in 1879 Chile had gone to war with Peru to gain control of the sodium nitrate, and exported it to the industrializing world, which used it to make both fertilizer and gunpowder. ...

"In 1909 a chemist named Fritz Haber synthesized ammonia (which contains nitrogen that could be processed into nitrates) in his laboratory, and a year later the issues of industrial production were resolved by Carl Bosch of the German firm BASF. The process of synthesizing ammonia, known as the Haber-Bosch process, shaped the subsequent course of world history.

"The synthesis of ammonia made possible the growth of the world's population. ... [B]y 1900, most of the good arable land in the world was already being farmed, so that increased food production could come most readily from the application of additional fertilizer. ... The Haber-Bosch process for synthesizing ammonia made it possible to increase the food supply and support the world's current population of about 6.2 billion people. In other words, in the twentieth century, the population of the world increased from about 1.6 to 6.2 billion largely because of the Haber-Bosch process. That increase in the human population alone makes the twentieth century unique in all of human history. ... More than that, it also made possible the industrial production of explosives, and, because Germany was the first to use this new technology, increased the confidence of its military leaders. And that was to be a crucially important factor contributing to the outbreak of world war in 1914."

Robert B. Marks, The Origins of the Modern World, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, 157-159.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008 6/4/08-Britain's Cannibals

In today's excerpt--in 55 B.C., ever anxious to dazzle his fellow Romans, Julius Caesar invades Britain:

"Set within the icy waters of the Channel coast waited the fabulous island of Britain. It was as drenched in mystery as in rain and fog. Back in Rome people doubted whether it existed at all. Even traders and merchants, Caesar's usual sources of information, could provide only the sketchiest of details. Their reluctance to travel widely through the island was hardly surprising. It was well known that the barbarians became more savage the farther north one traveled, indulging in any number of unspeakable habits, such as cannibalism, and even--repellently--the drinking of milk. To teach them respect for the name of the Republic would be an achievement of Homeric proportions. For Caesar, who never let anyone forget that he could trace his ancestry back to the time of the Trojan War, the temptation was irresistible. ...

"Waiting for invaders on the Kentish cliffs was a scene straight out of legend: warriors careering up and down in chariots, just as Hector and Achilles had done on the plain of Troy. To add to the exotic nature of it all, the Britons wore peculiar facial hair and were painted blue. So taken back were the legionaries that they stood cowering in their transport boats until finally a standard-bearer, clutching his eagle to him, plunged into the waves alone and started wading toward the shore. His comrades, shamed into action, piled into the water after him. After some messy fighting a beachhead was established. Some more battles were fought, some villages burned, and some hostages taken. Then, with bad weather closing in, Caesar had his men pack up and sail back to Gaul. ...

"Nothing remotely concrete had been achieved, but in Rome the news that an army of the Republic had crossed both the Rhine and the Ocean (Channel) caused a sensation. ... Rome was agog for news. In their impact on a waiting public Caesar's expeditions to Britain have been aptly compared to the moon landings: 'they were an imagination-defying epic, an achievement at once technological and straight out of an adventure story.' Few doubted that the entire island would soon be forced to bow to the Republic's supremacy. Only Cato was immune to the war fever. He shook his head and warned somberly of the anger of the gods.

"And sure enough, Caesar had indeed pushed too far, too fast. As he crossed the Thames in search of the frustratingly elusive Britons, his agents brought him ominous news: the harvest in Gaul had failed; rebellion was threatening; Caesar was needed back in person immediately. ... Caesar decided to cut his losses. A face-saving treaty was patched up with local chieftain. The dream of reaching the end of the world had to be put on hold. Although he disguised the painful truth as well as he could from his fellow citizens, Caesar had over-reached himself."

Tom Holland, Rubicon, Anchor, Copyright 2003 by Tom Holland, pp. 266-268.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008 6/3/08-How To Spell Shakespeare

In today's excerpt--what we know about William Shakespeare:

"After four hundred years of dedicated hunting, researchers have found about a hundred documents relating to William Shakespeare and his immediately family--baptismal records, title deeds, tax certificates, marriage bonds, writs of attachment, court records (many court records--it was a litigious age), and so on. That's quite a good number as these things go, but deeds and bonds and other records are inevitably bloodless. ...

"In consequence there remains an enormous amount that we don't about William Shakespeare, much of it of a fundamental nature. We don't know, for one thing, exactly how many plays he wrote or in what order he wrote them. ... Although he left nearly a million words of text, we have just fourteen words in his own hand--his name signed six times and the words 'by me' on his will. Not a single note or letter or page of manuscript survives. ...

"We are not sure how best to spell his name--then neither, it appears, was he, for the name is never spelled the same way twice in the signatures that survive. (They read as 'Willm Shaksp,' 'William Shakespe,' 'Wm Shakspe,' 'William Shakspere,' 'Willm Shakspere,' and 'William Shakspeare.' Curiously one spelling he didn't use was the one now universally attached to his name.) Nor can we be entirely confident of how he pronounced his name. Helge Kokeritz, author of the definitive Shakespeare's Pronunciation, thought it possible that Shakespeare said it with a short a, as in 'shack.' It may have been spoken one way in Stratford and another in London, or he may have been as variable with the pronunciation as he was with the spelling. ...

"We don't know if he ever left England. ... On only a handful of days in his life can we say with absolute certainty where he was. ... For the rest, he is kind of a literary equivalent of an electron--forever there and not there."

Bill Bryson, Shakespeare, The World as Stage, Harper, Copyright 2007 by Bill Bryson, pp. 7-9.

Monday, June 02, 2008 6/2/08-U.S. Supports the Khmer Rouge

In today's excerpt-the U.S. backs the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia:

"Between 1975 and 1979, between 1 and 1.5 million Cambodians out of a population of 8 million were shot, bludgeoned, starved , or worked to death, or died of disease, in the most intense and awful attempt at social transformation history has ever recorded. It was also the mass murder that will prove hardest to explain to future generations, [and was based on the communist Khmer Rouge] thesis that cities and towns were inhabited by 'parasites' and should, therefore, be emptied out by 'mass transfer' in order to stimulate agricultural growth, since the 'parasites' could be used for farm labor. ...

"April 17, 1975, Day One of the Year Zero by Khmer Rouge reckoning, was the day that the Khmer Rouge occupied [the capital] Phnom Penh, [and] in a matter of hours, prodded by heavily armed Khmer Rouge soldiers, many of them hardly more than children, the inhabitants of Cambodia's capital were marched out of the city in a broad river of humanity. Not Stalingrad, not Hiroshima, never before had a city been so completely emptied of its inhabitants. Within two weeks, Phnom Penh and several other major cities were empty: several million Cambodians had been forcibly evicted to the countryside. ...

"In Cambodia, 'base people' killed 'April 17 people': base people being those Cambodians who were rural, and April 17 people being those Cambodians who moved from the cities to the countryside only on April 17, 1975, when the mass transfers began. The base people showed no mercy, for in the minds of the Khmer Rouge leadership, the April 17 people--women, children, and babies, too--were simply the slag of history. ...

"Because the Khmer Rouge forest children thought that all people who wore glasses were intellectuals, glasses were as deadly as the yellow star in Nazi Germany. Ninety percent of the country's medical doctors were murdered between 1975 and 1979. Babies were bashed to death against trees. ... Many thousands, perhaps more, of the 1 to 1.5 million casualties of the Khmer Rouge regime were executed by having their heads smashed in with hoes and shovels, since ammunition had to be hoarded for fighting fellow communists across the border, whose crime was that they were Vietnamese. ...

"However, because the Vietnamese communists were allied with the Soviet Union, throughout the 1980s the United States and its ally Thailand backed--of all groups--the Khmer Rouge, who were armed by China and were now fighting the Vietnamese occupation authorities."

Robert D. Kaplan, The Ends of the Earth, Vintage, Copyright 1996 by Robert D. Kaplan, pp. 401-406.