Friday, October 31, 2008 10/31/08-Halloween

In today's encore excerpt, the origins of Halloween:

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

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

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

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

With thanks and all credit to The History Channel.

Thursday, October 30, 2008 10/30/08-Groucho Marx

In today's encore excerpt--Groucho Marx writing, at least somewhat seriously, on the subject of comics:

"I am not sure how I got to be a comedian or a comic. ... I doubt if any comedian can honestly say why he is funny and why his neighbor is not.

"I believe all comedians arrive by trial and error. This was certainly true in the old days of vaudeville, and I'm sure it's true today. The average team would consist of a straight man and a comic. The straight man would sing, dance or possibly do both. And the comedian would steal a few jokes from the other acts and find a few in the newspapers and comic magazines. They would then proceed to play small-time vaudeville theaters, burlesque shows, night clubs and beer gardens. If the comic was inventive, he would gradually discard the stolen jokes and the ones that died and try out some of his own. In time, if he was any good, he would emerge from the routine character he had started with and evolve into a distinct personality of his own. This has been my experience and also that of my brothers, and I believe this has been true of most of the other comedians.

"My guess is that there aren't a hundred top-flight professional comedians, male and female, in the whole world. They are a much rarer and far more valuable commodity than all the gold and precious stones in the world. But because we are laughed at, I don't think people understand how essential we are to their sanity. If it weren't for the brief respite we give the world with our foolishness, the world would see mass suicide in numbers that compare favorably with the death rate of lemmings.

"I'm sure most of you have heard the story of the man who, desperately ill, goes to an analyst and tells the doctor that he has lost his desire to live and that he is seriously considering suicide. The doctor listens to this tale of melancholia and then tells the patient that what he needs is a good belly laugh. He advises the unhappy man to go to the circus that night and spend the evening laughing at Grock, the world's funniest clown. The doctor sums it up, 'After you have seen Grock, I am sure you will be much happier.' The patient rises to his feet, looks sadly at the doctor, turns and ambles to the door. As he starts to leave the doctor says, 'By the way, what is your name?' The man turns and regards the analyst with sorrowful eyes. 'I am Grock.' "

Groucho Marx, Groucho and Me, Da Capo, Copyright 1959 by Groucho Marx, renewed 1987 in the name of Arthur Marx as son, pp. 87-89.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10/29/08-Merrywings and Hurricanes

In today's excerpt--early English settlers in the Caribbean in the 1600s dealt with insects and hurricanes:

"The early settlers constantly complained about the tormenting insect life on the islands. Jonathan Everard, newly arrived in Jamaica, especially disliked the gnats, or merrywings, 'which doe so sting that one would be apt to dance without a fiddle.' Richard Ligon, in Barbados, ... found mosquitoes more bothersome than merrywings, but of course neither Ligon not any other seventeenth-century settler realized that mosquitoes were the chief killers on the islands. To combat these stinging insects the colonists soon learned to clear the foliage around their houses, to set smoky fires, and to daub vinegar on the bites. To combat the ants and woodlice that devoured cloth, paper, and wooden articles inside their houses, they swept the floors frequently, stood their table legs inside cups of water, and hung shelves from the ceiling by tarred ropes for food storage. Cockroaches were likely to attack the colonists at night, unless they slept in hammocks. The skin of Barbados Negroes, Ligon said, looked currycombed from cockroach bites. Most hateful of all were the chiggers, which burrow under the toenails and ulcerate the feet. ...

"Then there were the hurricanes. The English on St. Christopher got their first taste of this West Indies specialty within nine months of their arrival, when a hurricane wiped out their first tobacco crop in 1624. And this was just the beginning of a long parade of ferocious wind-and-rain storms, which generally struck in August. It was easy to believe that these terrifying storms were the devil's work. An early disaster in St. Christopher was reported home in a London pamphlet of 1638: News and strange Newes from St. Christophers of a tempestuous Spirit, which is called by the Indians a Hurrin-cano or whirlewind. The excited author told how some of the colonists hid in caves, some lashed themselves to tree trunks, some climbed into hammocks suspended between two trees where they swung to and from 'like a Bell when it is rung.' ...

"Thirty years later the English were deeply suspicious of the Carib Indians' ability to forecast hurricanes. St. Christopher and Nevis were hit in 1657, 1658, 1660, 1665, and 1667, and every time the Caribs on Dominica and St. Vincent sent a warning ten or twelve days in advance--obvious evidence that they practiced witchcraft and consorted with the devil. ... The Caribs were to blame. If barbarous and sinful Indians had not lived on St. Christopher, God would not have punished the island."

Richard S. Dunn, Sugar & Slaves, University of North Carolina Press, Copyright 1972 by University of North Carolina Press, pp. 40-42.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 10/28/08-Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud

In today's excerpt--during World War II, it became clear that the Middle East was emerging as a very important source of oil. And so it came to pass that after the historic Yalta conference in 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt took a slight detour for a strange and remarkable meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Ibn Saud:

"After Yalta, Roosevelt and his advisers went from Russia to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt, where they boarded the USS Quincy. ... Another American ship, the USS Murphy, pulled up with an honored guest--Ibn Saud.

"For the Saudi King, this was perhaps only his second trip outside his kingdom since that day, forty-five years ago, when he had left exile in Kuwait to take his first step--the assault on Riyadh--toward regaining Arabia. He had boarded the Murphy a couple of days earlier, in Jidda, with a party of forty-eight. His group was also to include one hundred live sheep, but after some negotiation, the number was reduced to just seven in light of the sixty days' worth of provisions, including frozen meat, on board the American ship. Ibn Saud spurned the offer of the commodore's cabin and slept instead on deck, in an improvised tent made of canvas, stretched over the forecastle, and furnished with Oriental carpets and one of the King's own chairs.

"Once Ibn Saud had transferred to the President's ship, the chain-smoking Roosevelt, out of deference to the King's religious precepts, did not light up in his presence. On the way to lunch, however, Roosevelt was taken in his wheelchair into a separate elevator. The President himself pushed the red emergency button, stopping long enough to smoke two cigarettes before meeting again with the King. Altogether, the two men spent more than five very intense hours together. Roosevelt's interests were a Jewish homeland in Palestine, oil, and the postwar configuration of the Middle East. For his part, Ibn Saud wanted to assure continuing American interest in Saudi Arabia after the war, in order to counterbalance what had been for him a chronic threat throughout his reign--British influence in the region. In reply to Roosevelt's call for a Jewish homeland, the bitterly anti-Zionist Ibn Saud suggested those displaced Jews who had somehow managed to survive the war be given a national homeland in Germany.

"Roosevelt and Ibn Saud got along very well. At one point, the King declared that he was the 'twin' brother of the President because of their close ages, their responsibilities for their nation's well-being, their interests in farming, and their grave physical infirmities--the President confined by polio to a wheelchair and the King walking with difficulty and unable to climb stairs because of war wounds in his legs. ...

"[Because of that] Roosevelt said, 'I will give you the twin of this wheelchair, as I have two on board.' The wheelchair went back with Ibn Saud to Riyadh, where thereafter it would remain in the King's private apartment to be shown off by Ibn Saud as a most valued memento."

Daniel Yergin, The Prize, Free Press, Copyright 1991, 1992 by Daniel Yergin, pp. 403-404.

Monday, October 27, 2008 10/27/08-Dutch Tulips

In today's excerpt--the Dutch tulip mania of the 1630s:

"The intense feeling of the Dutch for flowers can partly be explained by the geography of the Netherlands, whose flat terrain and rich soil provided the perfect ground for the cultivation of bulbs. ... Most prized of all flowers was the tulip (its name came from the Turkish tulipan, meaning a turban). ...

"Collectors classified the tulip varieties according to the coloring of their flowers and gave them splendid militaristic titles to reflect their position in the horticultural hierarchy. At the head of the bulbous troop came the Semper Augustus with its petals streaked in imperial purple, it was followed by Viceroys, Admirals, and Generals. ... The bulbs were relatively easy to cultivate, required little land, and there were no guilds restricting entry into the trade. Those who could not afford to purchase the expensive shares of the great joint-stock companies could instead wager on a bulb. ...

"The beginning of tulpenwoerde, or what the Victorians called tulipomania, is associated with the arrival in the tulip market around 1634 of outsiders who were apparently attracted by stories of rising prices for tulip bulbs in Paris and northern France. Among the entrants into the market--later dismissed by Dutch florists as the 'new entrants'--were weavers, spinners, cobblers, bakers, grocers, and peasants. ...

"No actual delivery of tulips took place during the height of the boom in late 1636 and early 1637 as the bulbs remained snug in the ground ... [and] a market in tulip futures appeared. Most transactions were expedited with personal credit notes and [one individual] boasted of having made 60,000 guilders from his tulip speculations but admits that he had only received 'other people's writing.' By the later stages of the mania the fusion of futures with paper credit created a perfect symmetry of insubstantiality: most transactions were for tulip bulbs that could never be delivered because they didn't exist and were paid for with credit notes that could never be honored because the money wasn't there. ...

"The average annual wage in Holland was between 200 and 400 guilders. A small town house cost around 300 guilders. ... Against these values we can measure the extravagance of tulip prices. ... A Gouda bulb of four aces (one-fifth of a gram) rose from 20 to 225 guilders; a Generalissimo of ten aces which had sold for 95 guilders fetched 900 guilders; a pound of plain yellow Croenen which sold for around 20 guilders rose in a few weeks to over 1,200. ...

"On 3 February 1637, the tulip market suddenly crashed. In Haarlem, the center of the flower trade, rumors circulated that there were no more buyers, and the next day tulips were unsaleable at any price. ... The collapse of Tulip Mania did not cause a national economic crisis. But many of the lower orders [of participants] were not so fortunate. Those who had mortgaged their properties and their chattels for a chance of quick gain must have suffered a permanent loss of wealth. ...

"In the aftermath of the crisis, tulipmania gave way to tulipphobia. The professor of botany at Leyden, Evrard Forstius, was said to be so incensed by the flower that he could not see a tulip without attacking it viciously with his stick."

Edward Chancellor, Devil Takes the Hindmost, Plume, Copyright 1999 by Edward Chancellor, pp. 15-20.

Friday, October 24, 2008 10/24/08-The Composer John Adams

In today's excerpt--composer John Adams (born 1947), among the best known of living American orchestral composers, writes of his move to the West Coast as a young man to escape the influence of the music establishment of the East Coast and Europe. A composer with strong roots in minimalism, his well-known pieces include On the Transmigration of Souls, Harmonium, Nixon in China, and Short Ride in a Fast Machine (Fanfare for Great Woods):

"In 1972 ... I set off for California. At the time, aspiring composers typically pursued postgraduate studies in Europe, learning the latest styles of twelve-tone music and soaking in the great traditions of the past. But the California I had been reading about in books by Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and the beats appealed to my contrary stae of mind. I was twenty-five and had spent my entire life in New England, growing up in East Concord, New Hampshire, and attending Harvard for six years. I was eager to strike out on my own. ...

"A friend, Ivan Tcherepnin, called me and said that the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was looking for someone to teach composing and to direct the school's series of new-music concerts. I took the job. ... In those days, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was based in a former home for unwed mothers in the Sunset district. ... The school was a place of pulsing, chaotic excitement. Students sporting wild hair and dressed in baggy jeans and sandals wandered through the hallways, and, every morning at 8 a.m., the practice rooms began emanating an Ivesian cacophony of pianos, trumpets, drums, double-basses, and singers.

"I taught there for twelve years, from 1972 to 1984, by fits and starts finding my voice as a composer. The Conservatory was still struggling to establish itself, and few students were on par with the typical Julliard or Curtis performer. But there was a keen interest in all kinds of avant-garde music, something unimaginable at any of the East Coast colleges. I had students who could barely play their instruments but were nevertheless delighted to join me in a John Cage 'event' or perform in one of Alvin Lucier's electro-acoustic 'process' pieces.

"One of my duties was directing the school's New Music Ensemble. This group, although made up of students, had for years given attention-getting concerts of avant-garde music at the de Young Museum, in Golden Gate Park. The works of Cage, Stockhausen, Boulez, Ligeti, and others were presented to enthusiastic audiences, and the concerts were covered by three of the local newspapers--again, something unthinkable in Boston.

"My first concert signaled my ambition: Cage, Schoenberg, and Robert Ashley shared the program with the Messe de Nostre Dame by the fourteenth-century French composer Guillaume de Mauchat."

John Adams, "Sonic Youth," The New Yorker, August 25, 2008, pp. 32-33.

Thursday, October 23, 2008 10/23/08-Charles Schulz's Mother

In today's encore excerpt--Charles Schulz, creator, author and illustrator for nearly fifty years of the cartoon strip Peanuts, which at its peak was read by over 300 million people. His most powerful memory was the death of his mother:

"When called on to discuss his life, Charles 'Sparky' Schulz never began at the beginning, never with his birth, on November 26, 1922, or his early years, but always with his mother's death on March 1, 1943, his own departure for the war, and the merciless speed of it all: in that week, Dena Halverson Shulz had died on a Monday, she was buried Friday, and by Saturday the army had taken him away. ...

"As early as his sophomore year in high school, Sparky had come home to a bedridden mother. Some evenings she had been too ill to put food on the table; some nights he had been awakened by her cries of pain. But no one spoke directly about the affliction; only Sparky's father and his mother's trusted sister Marion knew its source, they would not identify it as cancer in Sparky's presence until after it had reached its fourth and final stage--in November 1942, the same month he was drafted.

"On February 28, 1943, with a day pass from Fort Snelling, Sparky returned from his army barracks to his mother's bedside. ... She was turned away from him in her bed against the wall, opposite the windows that overlooked the street. [Late that evening] he said he guessed it was time to go.

" 'Yes,' she said, 'I suppose we should say good- bye.'

"She turned her gaze as best she could. 'Well,' she said, 'good-bye, Sparky. We'll probably never see each other again.'

"Later he said, 'I'll never get over that scene as long as I live,' and indeed he could not, down to his own dying day. It was certainly the worst night of his life, the night of 'my greatest tragedy'--which he repeatedly put into the terms of his passionate sense of unfulfillment that his mother 'never had the opportunity to see me get anything published.' "

David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts, HarperCollins, Copyright 2007 by David Michaelis, pp. 4-5, xii.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10/22/08-Explanations

In today's encore excerpt--explanations rob events of their emotional impact:

"Explanations allow us to make full use of our experiences, but they also change the nature of those experiences. As we have seen, when experiences are unpleasant, we quickly move to explain them in ways that make us feel better, and indeed, studies show that the mere act of explaining an unpleasant event can help defang it. ... But just as explanations ameliorate the impact of unpleasant events, so too do they ameliorate the impact of pleasant events. ...

"For example, college students volunteered for a study in which they believed they were interacting in an online chat room with students from other universities. In fact, they were actually interacting with a sophisticated computer program that simulated the presence of other students. After the simulated students had provided the real students with information about themselves, the researcher pretended to ask the simulated students to decide which of the people in the chat room they liked most ... in just a few minutes, something remarkable happened: Each real student received e-mail messages from every one of the simulated students indicating they liked that student best!

"Now, here's the catch: Some real students (informed group) received e-mail that allowed them to know which simulated student wrote each of the messages, and other real students (uninformed group) received e-mail messages that had been stripped of that identifying information. ... Hence, real students in the informed group were able to generate explanations for their good fortune ('Eva appreciates my values because we're both involved in Habitat for Humanity') ... whereas real students in the uninformed group were not (Someone appreciates my values, I wonder who?) ... Although real students in both groups were initially delighted to have been chosen as everyone's best friend, only the real students in the uninformed group remained delighted fifteen minutes later. If you've ever had a secret admirer, then you understand why. ...

"The reason why unexplained events have a disproportionate emotional impact is that we are especially likely to keep thinking about them. People spontaneously try to explain events, and studies show that when people do not complete the things they set out to do, they are especially likely to think about and remember their unfinished business. Once we explain an event, we can fold it up like fresh laundry, put it away in memory's drawer, and move on to the next one; but if an event defies explanation, it becomes a mystery ... and refuses to stay in the back of our minds. ... Explanation robs events of their emotional impact because it makes them seem likely and allows us to stop thinking about them."

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, Knopf, 2006, pp. 186-189.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 10/21/08-Celibacy

In today's excerpt--in the book of Genesis, humanity is commanded to "be fruitful and multiply." But this idea is overturned in the Christian New Testament when the Apostle Paul writes that "it is well for a man not to touch a woman," which eventually leads the Catholic church to require its priests to be celibate, a prohibition that is egregiously violated through the centuries. Then enters Martin Luther and his Reformation:

"The Apostle Paul is not only celibate and chaste, but he wishes that 'all were as I myself am,' telling his congregants, 'It is well for a man not to touch [have sex with] a woman.' But he isn't delusional. The sexual urge exists, alas, and Paul knows that only the lucky few are capable of 'practicing self control,' as he does. Everyone else should marry, says Paul, 'for it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.' Here he sets up the hierarchy of sexual life that will persist until Martin Luther breaks it down in about fifteen centuries. Single and sexless, celibate and chaste--that's the coming gold standard, the ideal human state. Marriage is inferior to celibacy by a long shot, but superior to fornication. ... In Paul's view, marriage is not a sin, it's a lust-containment facility. ...

"[In 1517], the thousand-year reign of celibacy over marriage is about to end, and the man about to end it is, miraculously, a 40-year-old virgin wearing a monk's cowl. Martin Luther [who posts his ninety-five accusations to the door of Wittenburg Castle Church, primarily condemning indulgences] has seen for himself what happens to clerics who experience the carnal urge--the overwhelming majority he thinks--yet are forbidden to marry. Unable to slake the urge through the conjugal act, all they're left with is fornication. So they fornicate: with prostitutes, with live-in mistresses, and for some priests who serve the public, with female parishioners. ... Far from quelling lusts so that clerics can attend to matters of the spirit instead of the flesh, the celibacy mandate in place for centuries has accomplished precisely the opposite. All of this clerical sin, Luther suspects, is ultimately to the pope's benefit, thanks to the system of indulgences. ...

"[Once he has dispensed] with indulgences, Luther--still wearing his monk's cowl--starts hammering the hell out of celibacy while praising the goodness, indeed the 'godliness,' of marriage with relentless force. He wants to liberate the 'wretched multitude'-- his celibate peers, nuns included--'who now sit in shame and heaviness of conscience' over their sexual sins. As their would-be savior, Luther must convince this multitude to trade the 'villainy and wickedness' of celibacy for the God-given glory of marriage. ... His message does not fall on deaf ears. An escalating number of monks and nuns respond by ditching their communally celibate lives for marriage, sometimes to each other, and with little hesitation--as if they'd been waiting for their prince to come all along."

Susan Squire, I Don't, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2008 by Susan Squire, pp. 90-91, 200-207.

Monday, October 20, 2008 10/20/08-Pearl Harbor

In today's excerpt--Japan, the leading power in Asia in the 1930s, knew from the experience of World War I that it needed oil in order to remain a military power. Japan had the same imperial expansionist desires that European nations had long held, and had recently invaded both China and Korea. But it had virtually no oil. Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor was flanking maneuver for its primary objective--the oil of the Dutch East Indies:

"By the late 1930s, Japan produced only about 7 percent of the oil it consumed. The rest was imported--80 percent from the United States, and another 10 percent from the Dutch East Indies. ... The [Japanese] Navy had its sights set on the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Indochina, and a number of smaller islands in the Pacific, particularly the prime and absolutely essential resource--oil.

"Here was the deadly paradox for Japan. It wanted to reduce its reliance on the United States, especially for most of its oil, much of which went to fuel its fleet and air force. Japan feared that such dependence would cripple it in a war. But Tokyo's vision of security and the steps it took to gain oil autonomy [through a takeover of East Indies oil] created exactly the conditions that would point to war with the United States. ...

"On July 24, 1941, ... a dozen Japanese troop transports were on their way south to effect the occupation of southern Indochina, [a steppingstone to the East Indies]. On the evening of July 25, the U.S. government responded ordering all Japanese financial assets in the United States to be frozen [and] ... a virtually total oil embargo was the result. ...

"Tokyo had worked itself into a corner. Japan's petroleum reserves would, without replenishment, last no more than two years. ... Foreign minister Teijiro Toyoda wrote on July 31, 1941, 'Our Empire to save its very life must take measures to secure the raw materials of the South Seas.' ... [Diplomatic negotiations ensued but on] November 27 the United States had completely given up on negotiations with Japan. ...

"The bombs began to fall on the American fleet in Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m., Hawaiian time. ... Senior American officials had fully expected a Japanese attack, and imminently. But they expected it to be in Southeast Asia. ...

"Pearl Harbor was not the main Japanese target. Hawaii was but one piece of a massive, far-flung military onslaught. In the same hours as the attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Japanese were bombing and blockading Hong Kong, bombing Singapore, bombing the Philippines, bombarding the islands of Wake and Guam, taking over Thailand, invading Malaya on the way to Singapore--and preparing to invade the East Indies. The operation against Pearl Harbor was meant to protect the flank--to safeguard the Japanese invasion of the Indies and the rest of Southeast Asia. ... The primary target of this huge campaign remained the oil fields of the East Indies."

Daniel Yergin, The Prize, Free Press, Copyright 1991, 1992 by Daniel Yergin, pp. 307-326.

Friday, October 17, 2008 10/17/08-Blackbeard

In today's excerpt--in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the "golden age" of piracy off the Atlantic coast of America, pirates such as Blackbeard routinely gave kickbacks to governors and other prominent merchants and government officials--and received support and protection in return. In this excerpt, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, whose men had just killed Blackbeard in battle, finds a packet of letters in the fallen pirate's cabin:

"Maynard made his way to the pirate's cabin. It was small but surprisingly well kept. A journal lay next to the bed, though it would offer little insight into the man who kept it. 'Rum all gone,' one entry ran. 'Knaves a'plotting. Weather clear.' Maynard moved on. The desk was as sparse as the rest of the cabin, but on it lay a small strongbox with a lock. A few moments' job with the sharp end of a dirk and it was open. A packet of letters was revealed. One seemed to bear an official seal. Maynard scooped them up and left the cabin. ...

"From the letters themselves and the testimony of surviving pirates, an incredible picture emerged. There were letters from prominent New York traders, assuring the pirates of their goodwill. There were letters from Tobias Knight, colony secretary and personal friend and agent of [North Carolina] Governor Charles Eden. 'My dear friend ...' Cargo manifests revealed that Blackbeard had been liberal with his prizes, sharing some twenty hogsheads of sugar with Knight and another sixty with Eden. And there were other letters, each bearing the distinctive seal of the Royal Governor of His Majesty's Colony of North Carolina. Maynard must have shaken his head in wonderment. Even as [Virginia] Governor Alexander Spotswood was dispatching Maynard south [to attack Blackbeard], Governor Eden sent his own emissary, Knight, to warn the pirate of his approach. ...

"This [type of] sordid scandal of pirate patronage had been and would be played out again and again like a Renaissance comedy throughout the Atlantic world for more than three decades. Blackbeard's case was neither the last nor the worst. ...

"In the long history of piracy in the Atlantic, [these scandals stand in stark contrast to the official story, which is] one of heroism and valor pitted against rank treachery and treason, of brave governments with valiant navies warring against a band of seagoing miscreants that one historian has dubbed 'the lowest form of human scum.' "

Douglas R. Burgess, Jr., The Pirates Pact, McGraw Hill, Copyright 2009 by Douglas Burgess, pp. 7-11.

Thursday, October 16, 2008 10/16/08-Catherine and America

In today's encore excerpt--Catherine the Great, Tsarina of Russia. King George III sought Catherine and Russia's help in suppressing the American rebellion, but was rebuffed. Further, Britain's dominance of the seas was diminished when Catherine formed a naval alliance from which it was excluded. Her concern in both cases was not for the American rebels, but instead for the European balance of power. These two developments, when combined, significantly limit Britain's ability to sustain the war against American independence:

"Confronted with the increasing frenzy of 'His Majesty's unhappy and deluded people' on the other side of the Atlantic, George III's ministers approached Empress Catherine the Great for Russian assistance. Britain had the best fleet in the world but a negligible army, traditionally resorting to hired mercenaries. By contrast, the Russians had a homogeneous force hardened by war, toughened by the elements, and thoroughly brutal. ... King George requested 20,000 disciplined infantry, 'completely equipped and ready to embark' as soon as the Baltic navigation was possible in the spring; he also sought to hire Russian naval ships to bolster his own navy. It was a tempting offer, but Catherine refused. ... Publicly she wrote to George III, wishing him 'good luck,' but privately she was far more smug, convinced that George had badly bungled his handling of the rebels and 'should be taught a lesson.' ... Britain was forced to resort to its second choice ... the German House of Hesse. ...

"[Catherine] was equally unwilling to acknowledge the existence of the American rabble. ... But as fate would have it, the tsarina was also supremely fickle. Edgy and ambitious, she distrusted republics and despised insurgents, but even more than that, she craved power on the grand European stage. This would lead to one of history's most curious moves. The consequences would be far-reaching. ...

"Under the guise of protecting 'freedom of the seas' and 'international law,' Catherine ... grasped her own opportunity to spearhead an alliance that would include the other great powers in Europe--Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and eventually Prussia, Austria, Portugal, and the Ottoman Turks--against the belligerents, which, in effect, meant England. Notably, the French and Spanish also rallied to the cause. ... John Adams and Francis Dana now lauded Catherine's 'idealism' and hailed the empress as 'our friend.' George Washington referred to her as the 'great Potentate of the North.' ...

"In one bold stroke, [Catherine's] Doctrine of Armed Neutrality redressed the balance of global sea power. More than that, the tsarina had isolated Britain diplomatically--the first time that had happened in the eighteenth century--and had curtailed Britain's vaunted maritime fleet while aiding France's. In so doing, she helped bolster the hopes of the beleaguered American rebels fighting for their lives and, in effect, almost inadvertently helped midwife America to independence."

Jay Winik, The Great Upheaval, Harper Collins, Copyright 2007 by Jay Winik, pp. 37- 40.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 10/15/08-Fake Orgasms

In today's excerpt--writer and director Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, This is Spinal Tap) films a scene for his movie When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan's character Sally loudly demonstrates a fake orgasm for her friend Harry, played by Billy Crystal. This scene demonstrates the often collaborative nature of movie-making:

"Perhaps the most famous restaurant scene in the movie--maybe in any movie--is when Harry and Sally go to lunch at Katz's Deli. [Screenwriter Nora] Ephron was the inadvertent source for the scene. The premise of the movie is that, as Harry puts it, 'Men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.' ...

"Much of Ephron's script was based on what she had learned from Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman about how men think. Out of those conversations came such things as Harry explaining that after sex men began worrying about how long they have to hold their partner before they can leave (and whether thirty seconds is enough) while women want to be held all night. So they put it to Ephron to start offering up some of the things women think about and usually don't discuss with men, since if the film was going to work it had to have honesty from both sides. Ephron asked how men could be so selfish as to want to run right out the door after sex, and Reiner replied it wasn't really selfish. After all, the women had had a good time too. Ephron asked Reiner how he knew that.

" 'I told Rob he couldn't be sure about a woman's satisfaction because women fake orgasms,' she said.

"Reiner was surprised. He didn't believe anything like that had ever happened to him, or that this was something most women did. So he started asking the women in his office. More than half told him that, of course, at some time they had done just that. Reiner was shocked, but he realized that not only had Ephron told him the truth, but now they had to work that into the movie. Thus the genesis of the famous 'fake orgasm' scene.

"By the time the script was being read through by the cast--Reiner likes to give the actors plenty of rehearsal time--Ryan suggested that the scene would be even funnier if she demonstrated Sally's acting abilities in counterfeiting the throes of passion. This was immediately added in, but it was left to Billy Crystal to come up with the famous capper. He suggested that another patron of the restaurant who witnessed the scene tell her waiter, 'I'll have what she's having.' In passing out credit for what Reiner would call 'the funniest line in any movie I've ever done,' one can spot the fingerprints of the director, the screenwriter, and both the stars."

Daniel M. Kimmel, I'll Have What She's Having, Ivan R. Dee, Copyright 2008 by Daniel M. Kimmel 196-197.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 10/14/08-Creating Iraq

In today's excerpt--in the aftermath of World War i, Britain carves the new country of Iraq out of the defeated Ottoman (Turkish) Empire to protect access to its newly discovered oil interests in Iran, and to protect transportation lanes to its imperial possessions in Asia. The inherent divisions within Iraq--which will shortly lead Britain to bomb its villages--are already apparent:

"During the war, London had encouraged Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca, to take the lead in raising an Arab revolt against Turkey. This he did, beginning in 1916, aided by a few Englishmen, of whom the most famous was T.E. Lawrence--Lawrence of Arabia. In exchange, Hussein and his sons were to be installed as the rulers of the various, predominantly Arab, constituents of the Turkish empire. Faisal, third son of Hussein, was generally considered the most able. ...

"The British put Faisal on the throne of the newly created nation of Syria, one of the independent states carved out of the extinct Turkish empire. But a few months later, when control of Syria passed to France under the postwar understandings, Faisal was abruptly deposed and turned out of Damascus. He showed up at a railway station in Palestine, where, after a ceremonial welcome by the British, he sat on his luggage, waiting for his connection.

"But his career as a king was not yet over. The British needed a monarch for Iraq, another new state, this one to be formed out of three former provinces of the Turkish empire. Political stability in the area was required not only by the prospect for oil, but also for defense of the Persian Gulf and for the new imperial air route from Britain to India, Singapore, and Australia. The British did not want to rule the region directly; that would cost too much. Rather what [Winston] Churchill, then head of the Colonial Office, wanted was an Arab government, with a constitutional monarch, that would be 'supported' by Britain under the League of Nations mandate. It would be cheaper. So Churchill chose the out-of-work Faisal as his candidate. Summoned from exile, he was crowned King of Iraq in Baghdad in August 1921. ...

"Faisal's task was enormous; he had not inherited a well-defined nation, but rather a collection of diverse groups--Shia Arabs and Sunni Arabs, Jews and Kurds and Yazidis--a territory with a few important cities, most of the countryside under the control of local sheikhs, and with little common political or cultural history, but with a rising Arab nationalism. The minority Sunni Arabs held political power, while the Shia Arabs were by far the most numerous. To complicate things further, the Jews were the largest single group among inhabitants of Baghdad, followed by Arabs and Turks."

Daniel Yergin, The Prize, Free Press, Copyright 1991,2 by Daniel Yergin, pp. 200-201.

Monday, October 13, 2008 10/13/08-Loneliness

In today's excerpt--throughout his life, Frank Sinatra dreaded being alone, and so spent most nights surrounded by friends, insisting that they stay, and often greeting the dawn with them:

"Frank Sinatra did not like to be alone. Alone, he was anxious, even a little fearful. ... And so, for only the lonely, he sang the rhetorical question: 'When you're alone, who cares for starlit skies?' Not him, that's who. When he was alone, night was a bitch, a black hole, a bitter void. Night required company, required fortification and reinforcements. Since the forties, he would not take on the night, any night, single-handedly. So he marshaled troops to sit with him, to drink and to smoke and to laugh with him. 'The thing Frank doesn't seem to understand is that the body's got to get some sleep.' a bedraggled friend complained four decades ago. At that moment, the New York Times declared: 'He fights a relentless battle against sleeping before sun-up.' Even in the sixties, messing around on his cockamamie two-way radio, he gave himself the handle 'Night Fighter.' ...

"He would break more dawns than most mortals. Each one was his triumph, the death of each night. He had survived yet another one. 'He feels reborn in the morning light,' his daughter Tina once attested. When horizons brightened, he exulted over the spoils of war. 'Look at the colors!' he would say, pointing bleary comrades toward thousands of sunrises. 'What kind of blue would you call that?' He called the tint of sky that offered him the most peace Five O'Clock Vegas Blue. ...

"Woe to those missing. More woe to those who greeted dawns by his side. It is there that scores of [his companions] slumped, trapped, for he insisted nobody leave. ... Begin to nod off, he would say, 'Hey! What are you doing? Wake up!' Rise from the table, he would say, 'Where the hell are you going?' Best excuse: 'To the bathroom.' 'Well, that's all right then,' Frank would allow, if suspiciously. ... But many who crept away were summoned back. 'God help you if he knew what room you were in,' says [Hank] Cattaneo. 'Frank himself would light firecrackers under your door.'

" 'Frank is the only person I know who invites you to a black-tie party and, as he is hanging up the telephone, says, 'Be sure to bring your sunglasses.' "

Bill Zehme, The Way You Wear Your Hat, Harper Collins, Copyright 1997 by Bill Zehme, pp. 3-8.

Friday, October 10, 2008 10/08/08-Corn

In today's excerpt--the dominant ingredient in the American diet, directly or indirectly, is corn, which is in a quarter of the forty-five thousand items found in a typical supermarket:

"An American supermarket ... is dominated by a single species: Zea mays, the giant tropical grass most Americans know as corn. Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak. Corn feeds the chicken and the pig, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia and, increasingly, even the salmon, a carnivore by nature that the fish farmers are reengineering to tolerate corn. ... The milk and cheese and yogurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, now typically come from Holsteins that spend their working lives indoors tethered to machines, eating corn.

"Head over to the processed foods and you find ever more intricate manifestations of corn. A chicken nugget, for example, piles corn upon corn: what chicken it contains consists of corn, of course, but so do most of a nugget's other constituents, including the modified corn starch that glues the thing together, the corn flour in the batter that coats it, the corn oil in which it gets fried. Much less obviously, the leavenings and lecithin, the mono-, di-, and triglycerides, the attractive golden coloring, and even the citric acid that keeps the nugget 'fresh' can all be derived from corn.

"To wash down your chicken nuggets with virtually any soft drink is to have some corn with your corn. Since the 1980s virtually all the sodas and most of the fruit drinks sold in the supermarket have been sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup --after water, corn sweetener is their principal ingredient. Grab a beer for your beverage instead and you'd still be drinking corn, in the form of alcohol fermented from glucose refined from corn.

"Read the ingredients on the label of any processed food and, provided that you know the chemical names it travels under, corn is what you will find. For modified or unmodified starch, for glucose syrup and maltodextrin, for crystalline fructose and ascorbic acid, for lecithin and dextrose, lactic acid and lysine, for maltose and HFCS, for MSG and polyols, for the caramel color and the xantham gum, read: corn. Corn is in the coffee whitener and Cheez Whiz, the frozen yogurt and TV dinner, the canned fruit and ketchup and candles, the soups and snacks and cake mixes, the frosting and gravy and frozen waffles, the syrups and hot sauces, the mayonnaise and mustard, the hot dogs and the bologna, the margarine and the shortening, the salad dressings and the relishes and even the vitamins. Yes, it's even in the Twinkies, too. There are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them now contain corn.

"Even in produce on a day when there's ostensibly no corn for sale you'll nevertheless find plenty of corn: in the vegetable wax that gives the cucumbers their sheen, in the pesticide responsible for the produce's perfection, even in the coating on the cardboard it was shipped in. Indeed, the supermarket itself--the wallboard and joint compound, the linoleum and fiberglass and adhesives out of which the building itself has been built--is in no small measure a manifestation of corn."

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Penguin, Copyright 2006 by Michael Pollan, pp. 18-19.

Thursday, October 09, 2008 10/9/08-Washington Surrounded

In today's encore excerpt--in the waning days of his presidency, George Washington was vilified for his support of the Jay Treaty. Though the treaty averted war, solved many issues left over from the American Revolution, and opened ten years of largely peaceful trade in the midst of the French Revolutionary Wars, it was reviled because it favored America's former enemy, Britain, and failed to end to the impressment of American sailors. So Washington and other treaty supporters became despised by much of the public, with countless angry demonstrations--including one where his house was surrounded for days by hostile, chanting protesters:

"When the president dined alone with John Adams to enlist his support [for the Jay treaty], his vice president worried, 'I see nothing but a dissolution of government and immediate war.' ... The press denounced Jay, criticized the treaty, derided the Senate, and in a constant drumbeat, reserved some of its most trenchant words for Washington himself. One Virginia editor actually suggested a toast for a 'speedy death to General Washington.' Meanwhile, when the press wasn't sticking its finger in Washington's eye, popular meetings were. Across the country--in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and countless other cities--they screeched until their voices were hoarse for Washington to reject the treaty, while in Manhattan, seven thousand Republicans, stretching from Broad Street to Wall Street, noisily marched against it. And day after day letters poured in condemning the pact as a deal with the British 'Satan.'

"Then the opposition truly got ugly. Jay's treaty, and his effigy, were burned up and down the entire Eastern Seaboard. Rioters in Philadelphia, clogging the avenues, broke windows in the houses of the British ambassador and a Federalist senator. In New York, Alexander Hamilton was pelted with stones. And John Adams was stunned to see the presidential mansion surrounded from morning to evening by protesters repeating the same stinging calls, a deafening refrain chanted over and over again in an ever-escalating crescendo, demanding war with England, cursing Washington (a 'horrid blasphemer'), and calling for the success of the French patriots; marchers even impaled the treaty on a pole and carried it to the home of the French ambassador. The vitriol was unrelenting: A pale and utterly depleted Washington was [even] compared unfavorably to King Louis XVI."

Jay Winik, The Great Upheaval, Harper Collins, Copyright 2007 by Jay Winik, p. 495.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008 10/8/08-Editing Annie Hall

In today's excerpt--Woody Allen's 1977 Oscar-winner, Annie Hall (originally titled Anhedonia), paved the way for a new generation of romantic comedies, but was a chaotic mess when shooting finally ended and the film arrived in the editing room:

"In the editing room, Annie Hall was an incoherent mess. [Co-writer] Marshall Brickman was appalled. 'To tell you the truth, when I saw the rough cut of Annie Hall, I thought it was terrible, completely unsalvageable. It was two and a half hours long and rambled and was tangential and just endless.'

"The original version was essentially Alvy [Singer, the main character played by Allen] free-associating about his life and his worries. Annie (Diane Keaton) was seen briefly and then disappeared from the movie for fifteen minutes. ... Even the scenes with Annie--they were already there, of course--led to fantasies and flashbacks galore. The sequence where Alvy, Annie, and Rob (Tony Roberts) head to Brooklyn originally ran ten to fifteen minutes and had many more scenes than the one to two we see in the final film. Alvy and his date from Rolling Stone (Shelly Duvall) spun off to a scene where they wound up in the Garden of Eden talking to God. When Alvy is arrested in Los Angeles (after playing bumper cars in the parking lot), there was a long scene of him interacting with the other prisoners in his cell.

"Like the sculptor who chips away at the block so that the statue hidden inside can emerge, Allen and [editor Ralph] Rosenblum began hacking away at the movie to see if there was something in the material worth saving. 'It was clear to Woody and me that the film started moving whenever the present-tense material with him and Keaton dominated the screen, and we began cutting in the direction of that relationship,' Rosenblum later wrote. They tossed out entire sequences, tightened things up, and always kept the focus on Alvy and Annie. Even the scenes of flashbacks to Alvy's earlier marriages were greatly shortened. Some characters were eliminated altogether. Said Allen, 'There was a lot of material taken out of that picture that I thought was wonderfully funny. ... It wasn't what I intended to do. I didn't sit down with Marshall Brickman and say, 'We're going to write a picture about a relationship.' '

"One of the scenes cut was [Annie's brother] Duane's dark fantasy, but when the film started playing well at test screenings, they decided to put back some of the material they had liked and missed. Christopher Walken's big moment was restored."

Daniel M. Kimmel, I'll Have What She's Having, Ivan R. Dee, Copyright 2008 by Daniel M. Kimmel, pp. 168-169.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008 10/7/08-German Beer and Prohibition

In today's excerpt--at the founding of our country, Americans drank more alcohol than at any time before or since, five gallons of pure alcohol per person per year as opposed to two gallons today. Currently, America is a nation of relatively moderate drinkers, ranking around 20th among the world's countries. Along the way, American anti-German hysteria during World War I helped usher in thirteen years of Prohibition:

"American prohibitionists believed the demon rum and its church, the saloon, were the world's prime sources of evil. 'When the saloon goes,' said Ernest Cherrington, a leader of the Anti-Saloon League, 'the devil will be ready to quit.' The American temperance movement is as old as America itself, but it became a political force in the mid-1800s, fueled in part by a bias against immigrants, including Irish and Italian Catholics, who were stereotyped as shiftless alcoholics. After the Civil War, it spawned two powerful groups--the Prohibition Party and [hatching-toting Carry Nation's] Women's Christian Temperance Union, whose slogan was 'For God, Home and Native Land.'

"But is wasn't the antics of Carry Nation that won the fight for prohibition, it was the political savvy of the Anti-Saloon League. ... Founded in 1895, the league pioneered many of the techniques now used by modern advocacy groups. Working through local churches--generally rural Methodist or Baptist churches--it raised money, endorsed candidates and successfully lobbied for laws banning liquor in many towns and counties. In 1905 the league demonstrated its growing power by defeating Ohio Governor Myron Herrick, who had thwarted the league's legislative agenda--an upset that terrified wet politicians.

"In 1913 the league kicked off its drive for a constitutional amendment prohibiting liquor with a march on Washington and a massive letter-writing campaign that flooded Congress with mail. The amendment failed in 1914, but gained strength during World War I, when the league exploited America's anti-German hysteria by deliberately associating beer with German-American brewers. 'Kaiserism abroad and booze at home must go,' declared the league's general counsel and wily Washington lobbyist, Wayne Wheeler.

"It worked. Congress passed the amendment in 1918. ... When the new law went into effect on January 17, 1920, evangelist Billy Sunday held a funeral for John Barleycorn in Norfolk, Va. 'The slums will soon be a memory,' he predicted. 'We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. ... Hell will be forever for rent.'

"Alas, it didn't work out that way. Prohibitions not only failed to eradicate slums and prisons, it even failed to curtail drinking, a pastime that now took on the allure of a forbidden thrill. ... In 1935, two years after Prohibition's repeal, two middle-class alcoholics, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, founded an organization-- Alcoholics Anonymous--that proved far more effective than Prohibition in combating drunkenness."

Peter Carlson, "Uneasy About Alcohol," American History, December 2008, p. 37.

Monday, October 06, 2008 10/6/08-Oil Boom and Oil Bust

In today's excerpt--in 1859, in the obscure town of Titusville in northwestern Pennsylvania, "Colonel" E.L. Drake and "Uncle Billy" Smith successfully drilled the first oil well, and ushered in the titanic booms and busts of the oil era. In one town, a parcel of land once worth $2 million was soon thereafter worth only $4.37:

"Nothing revealed the feverish pitch of [oil] speculation better than the strange story of Pithole, on Pithole Creek, some fifteen miles from Titusville. A first well was struck in the dense forest land there in January 1865; by June, there were four flowing wells, producing two thousand barrels a day--one third of the total output of the Oil Regions--and people fought their way in on the roads already clogged with the barrel-laden wagons. 'The whole place,' said one visitor, 'smells like a corps of soldiers when they have the diarrhea.' The land speculation seemed to know no bounds. One farm that had been virtually worthless a few months earlier was sold for $1.3 million in July 1865, and the resold for two million dollars in September.

"In that same month, production around Pithole Creek reached six thousand barrels per day--two-thirds of all the production in the Oil Regions. And, by that same September, what had once been an unidentifiable spot in the wilderness had become a town of fifteen thousand people. The New York Herald reported that the principal businesses of Pithole were 'liquor and leases'; and The Nation added, 'It is safe to assert that there is more vile liquor drunk in this town than in any of its size in the world.' Yet Pithole was already on the road to respectability, with two banks, two telegraph offices, a newspaper, a waterworks, a fire company, scores of boarding houses and businesses, more than fifty hotels--at least three of which were up to elegant metropolitan standards--and a post office that handled more than five thousand letters a day.

"But then, a couple of months later, the oil production abruptly gave out--just as quickly as it had begun. To the people of Pithole, this was a calamity, like a biblical plague, and by January 1866, only a year from the first discovery, thousands had fled the town for new hopes and opportunities. The town that had sprung up overnight from the wilderness was totally deserted. Fires ravaged the buildings, and the wooden skeletons that were left were torn down to be used for building again elsewhere or burned as kindling by the farmers in the surrounding hills. Pithole returned to silence and to the wilderness. A parcel of land in Pithole that sold for $2 million in 1865 was auctioned for $4.37 in 1878."

Daniel Yergin, The Prize, Free Press, Copyright 1991, 1992 by Daniel Yergin, p. 31.

Friday, October 03, 2008 10/3/08-Romance and Adultery

In today's excerpt--in the chivalrous twelfth century, relationships and sex, viewed as dutiful and dispassionate under the Church, begin to emerge as rapturous and transcendent. The new age of courtly love sweeps through the courts of Europe and engenders a new genre of songs and poems. Aiding in this transformation are Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) and the troubadors:

"The [new] game of courtly love is an elaborate blueprint for the building of desire, as opposed to the quenching of it. The higher it builds without fulfillment, the more perfect a lover the knight proves himself to be. ...

"Consummated or not, courtly love is by definition adulterous. The knight who jousts on horseback, sword in hand, competes against other knights for a highly desirable lady. But they're not fighting for her hand in marriage, or even for the privilege of courting her. She already has a husband. Initially, at least, they're not even fighting for the privilege of sleeping with her. They're fighting for the privilege of loving her--synonymous with serving her. ...

"In 1154, Henry, Duke of Normandy, captures the English throne as Henry I, making his wife Eleanor [of Aquitaine] a queen for the second time--and [through her] bestowing upon the English court a resident expert on the rules of the game. From there the ideal of love ... will be converted into the middle-class ideal of marriage: the melding of two minds, bodies, and hearts into one. ... Eleanor and her kin would find it next to unimaginable that the heady quality of adultery would one day converge with the dutiful, dispassionate quality of marriage as they experience it.

"Maybe that's what finally enables the convergence: Love enters marriage through the extramarital back door. As [Christian author] C.S. Lewis noted in his study of courtly doctrine, Allegory of Love, 'Any idealization of sexual love, in a society where marriage is purely utilitarian, must begin by an idealization of adultery.' ...

"What troubadors bring about is the reinvention of love. They make its pursuit desirable, even admirable. Previously, epic tales of sexual desire ended in mutually assured destruction for all concerned. ... [Now], to gamble all you have, even your life, on romantic rapture becomes the route to transcendence. The most memorable romantic lovers of courtly literature--Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere, Troilus and Cressida--meet tragic ends, but noble ones. They martyr themselves for the glory of the faith. The new religion of love is a wedge to the future."

Susan Squire, I Don't, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2008 by Susan Squire, pp. 151-159.

Thursday, October 02, 2008 10/2/08-America Recruits Immigrants

In today's encore excerpt, having completed the transcontinental railroad in 1869, U.S. businesses and the U.S. government try to recruit immigrants to settle the middle of the country--promising such things as freedom to speak their native language, local self-governance, and exemption from military service. For the railroads it was not only a way to support their operations, but a way to increase the value of the landholdings they had received from the government as inducement to build the railroads:

"It had at first been thought that no settlers could survive anywhere on the semiarid, mostly treeless Great Plains that rolled all the way from Montana and the Dakotas south into Texas ... but the Homestead Act of 1862 began to change all that. It promised 160 acres of public land to any person who filed a claim, paid a ten-dollar fee, and agreed to work the property for five years. As it happened, the 1870s and early 1880s were unusually wet years in the West, and the prairies, plowed and planted for the first time, yielded bumper crops. Promoters made the most of it ... [but] most of these efforts came to nothing. Factory workers [from the East] weren't farmers, and even those who might try it could rarely afford it. Land itself was cheap, but getting to it, getting started, and surviving for the five years required to get title to a homestead cost money that most of them didn't have.

"Prospects seemed better overseas. The Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society recruited Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe to establish farming communes in Oregon, Colorado, Kansas, and the Dakotas. The First Swedish Agricultural and Galesburg Colonization Companies started the towns of Salemsborg and Lindsborg in Kansas. Small groups of Dutch, French, Bohemian, English, and Irish families scattered across the Plains. Two hundred Scottish families settled together on the Kansas-Nebraska border. By 1875, more than half of Nebraska's 123,000 settlers were members of families headed by foreign immigrants. ...

"Then C.B. Schmidt [of the Santa Fe railroad] was dispatched for the biggest prize of all--the German- Russian Mennonites. They were pacifists who had fled Prussia rather than serve in its army three- quarters of a century earlier. ... There was plenty of competition for these able and prosperous farmers. After Canada offered them immunity from military service and free transportation if they would settle there, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota all also solemnly offered to exempt them from military duty-- although they had no legal authority to do so. Everyone promised them the right to govern themselves in their own communities, to speak German in their own schools, plenty of land at good prices, and easy credit.

"Mennonite emissaries were taken to Washington to meet President Grant. ... Secretary of State Hamilton Fish personally assured them the United States would not go to war again for at least fifty years."

Geoffrey C. Ward, The West, Back Bay Books, 1996, pp. 243-7.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008 10/1/08-China Falls Behind

In today's excerpt--how China, once the world's economic and technological leader, fell behind. It closed its doors to the outside world in 1434, and with this isolation from trade in commerce and ideas, began a centuries-long period of stagnation:

"China's population of 1.3 billion constitutes more than a fifth of humanity. Asia's population, in total, includes 60 percent of humanity. Asia's fate is truly the world's fate. .., China and India are ancient civilizations that in important ways were far ahead of Europe not so many centuries ago. The rise of the West--the western part of the Eurasian landmass--was one of the great ruptures of human history, overturning more than a millenium or more in which Asia rather than Europe had the technological lead. [Today], Asia is not merely catching up with Europe and the United States, it is also catching up with its own past as a technological leader. ...

"Where did China stumble, and why? ... Around the start of the sixteenth century, just after Columbus had found the sea route to the Americas and Vasco de Gama had circled the Cape of Good Hope to reach Asia by sea, China was clearly the world's technological superpower, and had been so for at least a millenium. Europe conquered Asia after 1500 with the compass, gunpowder, and the printing press, all Chinese innovations. There was nothing fated about such a turnaround. China's dominance, it appears, was squandered, and 1434 is increasingly understood to be a pivotal year.

"In that year, the Ming emperor effectively closed China to international trade, dismantling the world's largest and most advanced fleet of ocean vessels. Between 1405 and 1433, the Chinese fleet, under the command of the famed eunuch admiral, Zheng He, had visited ports of the Indian Ocean all the way to East Africa, showing the flag, transmitting Chinese culture and knowledge, and exploring the vast lands of the Indian Ocean region. Then, all at once, the imperial court decided that the voyages were too expensive, perhaps because of increased threats of nomadic incursions over China's northern land border. For whatever reason, the emperor ended ocean-going trade and exploration, closed down shipyards, and placed severe limitations on Chinese merchant trade for centuries to come. Never again would China enjoy technological leadership in naval construction and navigation, or command the seas even in its own neighborhood. ...

"In 1975, China's per capita income was a mere 7.5 percent of Western Europe's. Since then ... China has soared, reaching around 20 percent of Europe's income level by 2000. ... China is ending extreme poverty, and is on its way to reversing centuries of relative decline."

Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty, Penguin, Copyright 2005 by Jeffrey Sachs, pp. 149-151.