Wednesday, December 31, 2008 12/31/08--Alan Jay Lerner

During this holiday week, we are reaching back into our archives to bring you a few of the excerpts from the past that have elicited the most comments and requests. Today's excerpt is from the dazzlingly talented Alan Jay Lerner, partner and co-writer with Frederick Loewe of Camelot, My Fair Lady, Gigi and other plays. Here he explains the painfully poignant lyrics of the Camelot song "How To Handle a Woman," sung by Arthur at a point when he is tragically both lost and losing Guinevere to Lancelot:

"By the middle of the first act, Guinevere has met Lancelot and has begun behaving in a manner that is to Arthur both perplexing and maddening. Alone on stage, he musically soliloquizes his confusion and out of desperation resolves it for himself in an uncomplicated reaffirmation of love in a song called 'How to Handle a Woman.' I had had that idea for two or three years, but I cannot claim sole inspiration for it. My silent partner was Erich Maria Remarque [author of All Quiet on the Western Front].

"He had just married an old friend of mine, Paulette Goddard, all woman, magnificently distributed, as feminine as she is female. One night when we were having dinner, I said to Erich (not seriously): 'How do you get along with this wild woman?' He replied: 'Beautifully. There is never an argument.' 'Never an argument?' I asked incredulously. 'Never,' he replied. 'We will have an appointment one evening, and she charges into the room crying, 'Why aren't you ready? You always keep me waiting. Why do you ...?!' I look at her with astonishment and say, 'Paulette! Who did your hair? It's absolutely ravishing.'; She says, 'Really? Do you really like it?' 'Like it?' I reply. 'You're a vision. Let me see the back.' By the time she has made a pirouette her fury is forgotten. Another time she turns on me in rage about something, and before a sentence is out of her mouth I stare at her and say breathlessly, 'My God! You're incredible. You get younger every day.' She says, 'Really, darling?' 'Tonight,' I say, 'you look eighteen years old.' And that is the end of her rage.' I was as amused as I was admiring and I said to him: 'Erich, one day I will have to write a song about that.' The song was 'How to Handle a Woman' which ends:

"The way to handle a woman is to love her,
Simply love her; merely love her,
Love her, love her."

Alan Jay Lerner, The Street Where I Live, Da Capo Press, 1978, pp. 193-4

Tuesday, December 30, 2008 12/30/08-Steve Martin's Father

During this holiday week, we are reaching back into our archives to bring you a few of the excerpts from the past that have elicited the most comments and requests. In today's excerpt--superstar comedian Steve Martin's strained relationship with his father:

"My father died in 1997 at age eighty-three, and afterwards his friends told me how much they loved him. They told me how enjoyable he was, how outgoing he was, how funny and caring he was. I was surprised by these descriptions, because the number of funny or caring words that had passed between my father and me was few. ... When I was seven or eight years old, he suggested we play catch in the front yard. This offer to spend time together was so rare that I was confused about what I was supposed to do. We tossed the ball back and forth with cheerless formality. ...

"My father was not impressed [with my comedy act]. After my first appearance on Saturday Night Live, he wrote a bad review of me in his newsletter for the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, of which he was president: 'His performance did nothing to further his career.' ... I believe my father didn't like what I was doing in my work and was embarrassed by it. Perhaps he thought his friends were embarrassed by it, too, and the review was to indicate that he was not sanctioning this new comedy. Later, he gave an interview in a newspaper in which he said, 'I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.' ... As my career progressed, ... I did [something that] still makes sense to me: I never discussed my work with him again. ...

"[Years later, just before my father's death] I was alone with him in his bedroom; his mind was alert but his body was failing. He said, almost buoyantly , 'I'm ready now.' I sat on the edge of the bed, and a silence fell over us. Then he said, 'I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry.'

"At first I took this as a comment on his condition but am forever thankful that I pushed on. 'What do you want to cry about?' I said." 'For all the love I received but couldn't return.'

"I felt a chill of familiarity.

"There was another lengthy silence as we looked into each other's eyes. At last he said, 'You did everything I wanted to do.'

" 'I did it for you,' I said. Then we wept for the lost years. I was glad I didn't say the more complicated truth: 'I did it because of you.' "

Steve Martin, Born Standing Up, Scribner, Copyright 2007 by 40 Share Productions, Inc., pp. 19, 171, 197.

Monday, December 29, 2008 12/29/08--schopenhauer's porcupines

During this holiday week, we are reaching back into our archives to bring you a few of the excerpts from the past that have elicited the most comments and requests. In today's excerpt, psychotherapist Deborah Luepnitz introduces her book by recounting and amplifying on Schopenhauer's famous fable (and metaphor) of the porcupines:"I (mention) Arthur Schopenhauer's well known fable, a story Freud liked enough to cite in his book on group psychology (and) I paraphrase the fable as follows:

" 'A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter's day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out, lose the advantage of commingling, and begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of each other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing.

"The story spoke to Freud as a lesson about boundaries. ('No one can tolerate a too intimate approach to his neighbor.') It also spoke to his belief that love is everywhere a thorny affair. Freud wrote: 'The evidence ... shows that almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time--marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children--contains a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostility, which only escapes perception as a result of repression'...

"All relationships ... require us to contain contradictory feelings for the same person. As the poet Molly Peacock observed: "There must be room in love for hate."

Deborah Anna Luepnitz, Schopenhauer's Porcupines, Basic Books, 2002, pp. 2-3

Friday, December 26, 2008

In today's encore excerpt--the wretched state of America's taverns and public houses circa 1790, the time of George Washington's legendary tours of the United States. During these tours he eschewed invitations to stay at private homes to avoid the appearance of favoritism and instead stayed only in public houses. Within the next decade, America had invented its hotels, which were to become the most important form of public architecture in early America--due in no small part to the influence of both Washington's tours and the country's booming commercial needs at the dawn of the industrial revolution:

"Public house was the formal name for an establishment that sold alcoholic drinks and rented lodgings to travelers. Public houses were more commonly called taverns, inns, and sometimes ordinaries, terms that were used interchangeably. ... What made a public house public was its having been licensed by state or local officials. A tavern license involved a fairly simple quid pro quo: the innkeeper was given the privilege of entering the highly profitable business of retailing alcoholic drinks in exchange for a promise to offer overnight accommodations to the public. ...

"A 1973 archaeological study ... determined that taverns in eighteenth-century Virginia generally comprised only six to ten rooms, a size that recent studies ... suggest was close to the norm in the period. ... The small number of rooms in taverns made it impossible for guests to have their own bedchambers. ... While most travelers simply accepted this custom as necessity, it was resented by respectable wayfarers, who complained constantly about being forced into such close encounters with the unclean bodies and rude manners of tradesmen and laborers. One traveler complained that 'after you have been some time in bed, a stranger of any condition comes into the room, pulls off his clothes, and places himself, without ceremony, between your sheets.' ... Another confided to his diary that because other tavern patrons were drunk and staggering, and 'kept up Roar-Rororum till morning,' he had 'watched carefully all night, to keep them from falling over and spewing on me.'

"These were by no means the only criticisms leveled at American public houses. The nation's inns and taverns elicited torrents of invective from diarists and travel writers. The most common complaints involved tavern beds, which were described as dirty, uncomfortable, and insect ridden. ... One wayfarer ... echoing a frequent complaint about cleanliness, observed of his stew that 'everything was so nasty that One might have picked the Dirt off.'

"When President Washington first took office in 1789, the finest public house in the United States was a three-story building ... containing perhaps twenty rooms, and valued at roughly fifteen thousand dollars. Two decades later, in 1809, the nation's leading public accommodations occupied an enormous seven-story edifice which covered nearly an acre of land, comprised more than two hundred rooms, and cost more than half a million dollars."

A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, Hotel, Yale, Copyright 2007 by A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, pp. 15-19.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Delanceyplace 12/24/08--Dickens and Christmas

In today's excerpt-at the end of the 19th century, Charles Dickens' short novel, A Christmas Carol, had readership second only to the Bible's:

"If only Ebenezer Scrooge had not, in the excitement of his transformation from miser to humanitarian, diverged from the traditional Christmas goose to surprise Bob Cratchit with a turkey 'twice the size of Tiny Tim.' But-alas--he did, and as A Christmas Carol approaches its 165th birthday, a Google search answers the plaint 'leftover turkey' with more than 300,000 promises of recipes to dispatch it. As for England's goose-raising industry, it tanked. ...

"The public's extraordinary and lasting embrace of Dickens's short novel is but one evidence of the 19th century's changing attitude toward Christmas. In 1819, Washington Irving's immensely popular 'Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent' had 'glorified' the 'social rites' of the season. Clement Moore's 1823 poem 'The Night Before Christmas' introduced a fat and jolly St. Nick whose obvious attractions eclipsed what had been a 'foreboding figure of judgment' as likely to distribute canings as gifts. Queen Victoria and her Bavarian husband, Albert, 'great boosters of the season,' had installed a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle each year since 1840, encouraging a fad that spread overseas to America by 1848. ...

"What is true is that Christmas, more than any other holiday, offered a means for the adult Dickens to redeem the despair and terrors of his childhood. In 1824, after a series of financial embarrassments drove his family to exchange what he remembered as a pleasant country existence for a 'mean, small tenement' in London, the 12-year-old Dickens, his schooling interrupted--ended, for all he knew--was sent to work 10-hour days at a shoe blacking factory in a quixotic attempt to remedy his family's insolvency. Not even a week later, his father was incarcerated in the infamous Marshalsea prison for a failure to pay a small debt to a baker. At this, Dickens's 'grief and humiliation' overwhelmed him so thoroughly that it retained the power to overshadow his adult accomplishments, calling him to 'wander desolately back' to the scene of his mortification. And because Dickens's tribulations were not particular to him but emblematic of the Industrial Revolution--armies of neglected, unschooled children forced into labor--the concerns that inform his fiction were shared by millions of potential readers. ...

"Replacing the slippery Holy Ghost with anthropomorphized spirits, the infant Christ with a crippled child whose salvation waits on man's--not God's--generosity, Dickens laid claim to a religious festival, handing it over to the gathering forces of secular humanism. If a single night's crash course in man's power to redress his mistakes and redeem his future without appealing to an invisible and silent deity could rehabilitate even so apparently lost a cause as Ebenezer Scrooge, imagine what it might do for the rest of us!"

Kathryn Harrison, "Father Christmas," The New York Times Review of Books, December 7, 2008, p. 14

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 12/23/08--Alfred the Great

In today's excerpt--in one of the Britain's foundational myths, Alfred the Great (849-899) burns a cake:

"The story of Alfred the Great burning the cakes has been recounted in dozens of different forms for over a thousand years. Alfred, king of Wessex--who had been fighting the Vikings all his short life, who had watched his father and brothers worn out by the struggle, seen his kinsmen die, his royal counterparts in the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria driven out or martyred and horribly butchered--was on the run.

"On or about Twelfth Night 878 the Viking army had pounced in a lightning attack on the town of Chippenham, where Alfred and his court were wintering. The West Saxons were taken completely by surprise; there was supposed to be a truce with the enemy, and anyway winter campaigning was unknown. Perhaps the members of Alfred's household were in their cups or suffering the effects of the feasting so memorably described in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Barely managing to escape with his family and a tiny retinue, Alfred holed up in what the annals of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in a rare rhetorical grace-note, memorably call the 'fen-fastnesses' of the Somerset marshes.

"The last independent English king appeared down and Out: 878, rather than 1066, might have been remembered as the death year of Anglo-Saxon England. But from a small marsh island called Athelney, Alfred would rebuild his fight-in-forces and retake his kingdom, after defeating his enemy at the Battle of Edington, in a victory that at last allowed him to impose enduring restrictions on the Vikings. Before this reversal of fortune, however, he had to suffer the ultimate humiliation. Taking refuge in a cowherd's hovel, alone, with no indication of his identity, Alfred was asked to watch the cakes baking in the ashes of the wife's fire. In his A Child's History of England (1851-3) Charles Dickens goes on with a typical version of the story:

" 'Being at work on his bow and arrows, with which he hoped to punish the false Danes when a brighter time should come, and thinking deeply of his poor unhappy subjects whom the Danes chased through the land, his noble mind forgot the cakes, and they were burnt. 'What!' said the cowherd's wife, ... 'you will be ready enough to eat them by-and-by, and yet you cannot watch them, idle dog?' ' ...

"Perhaps in part because of the influence of the story of Alfred and the cakes, the incognito sovereign crops up surprisingly often in stories of English history, from Richard the Lionheart returning from the crusades to Queen Victoria going among her people. The point that the ruler must be unrecognised seems to have been subsumed into the idea that there is some intrinsic merit in merely sharing, however briefly, the daily life of the common people."

David Horspool, King Alfred, Harvard, Copyright 2006 by David Horspool, pp. 1-2, 82

Monday, December 22, 2008 12/22/08--Cotton and the Civil War

In today's excerpt--with the fall of New Orleans in 1862, the defeat of the South in the American Civil War became almost assured, since with the fall of New Orleans, the South lost its primary means of paying for the war:

"The fall of Vicksburg is always seen as one of the great turning points in the war. And yet, from a financial point of view, it was really not the decisive one. The key event had happened more than a year before, two hundred miles downstream from Vicksburg, where the Mississippi joins the Gulf of Mexico. On 29 April 1862, Flag Officer David Farragut had run the guns of Fort Jackson and Fort St Philip to seize control of New Orleans. This was a far less bloody and protracted clash than the siege of Vicksburg, but equally disastrous for the Southern cause. ...

"In the final analysis, it was as much a lack of hard cash as a lack of industrial capacity or manpower that undercut what was, in military terms, an impressive effort by the Southern states. ...

"When, [in order to finance its war,] the Confederacy tried to sell conventional bonds in European markets, investors showed little enthusiasm. But the Southerners had an ingenious trick up their sleeves. The trick (like the sleeves themselves) was made of cotton, the key to the Confederate economy and by far the South's largest export. The idea was to use the South's cotton crop not just as a source of export earnings, but as collateral for a new kind of cotton-backed bond. When the obscure French firm of Emile Erlanger and Co. started issuing cotton-backed bonds on the South's behalf, the response in London and Amsterdam was more positive. ...

"Yet the South's ability to manipulate the bond market depended on one overriding condition: that investors should be able to take physical possession of the cotton which underpinned the bonds if the South failed to make its interest payments. Collateral is, after all, only good if a creditor can get his hands on it. And that is why the fall of New Orleans in April 1862 was the real turning point in the American Civil War. ...

"With its domestic bond market exhausted and only two paltry foreign loans, the Confederate government was forced to print unbacked paper dollars to pay for the war and its other expenses, 1.7 billion dollars' worth in all. Both sides in the Civil War had to print money, it is true. But by the end of the war the Union's 'greenback' dollars were still worth about 50 cents in gold, whereas the Confederacy's 'greybacks' were worth just one cent, despite a vain attempt at currency reform in 1864. With ever more paper money chasing ever fewer goods, inflation exploded. Prices in the South rose by around 4,000 percent during the Civil War. By contrast, prices in the North rose by just 60 per cent. Even before the surrender of the principal Confederate armies in April 1865, the economy of the South was collapsing, with hyperinflation as the sure harbinger of defeat."

Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money, Penguin, Copyright 2008 by Niall Ferguson, pp. 92-97

Friday, December 19, 2008 12/19/08--D.W. Griffith

In today's excerpt--D.W. Griffith (1875-1948), Hollywood's first superstar director. He was best known for The Birth of a Nation, the iconic 1915 movie that made over $60 million on an investment of $100,000 at a time when selling $10,000 in tickets was considered a roaring success--emphatically demonstrating the earnings power of the new medium. In 1909, a time when the movie industry was still centered in New York, and movies lasted just a few minutes and were made in a few days, Griffith began to push the boundaries of filmmaking:

"Even as a fledgling director, he was determined to make movies his way. When D.W suggested consecutive scenes in [a new movie called] After Many Years showing the husband stranded on a deserted island, then a cut to the dutiful wife waiting in their home for his return, the actors and even Billy Bitzer, his cameraman, were incredulous.

" 'How can you tell a story jumping about like that? The people won't know what it's about.'

" 'Well,' said D.W, 'doesn't Dickens write that way?'

" 'Yes, but that's Dickens. That's novel writing. That's different.'

" 'Oh, not so much,' argued D.W. 'These are picture stories. Not so different.'

"D.W would not be deterred. His vision was intuitive and visceral, and his confidence in his ability to tell a story was unshakable. Besides, [his employer] Biograph was under contract to produce two films each week. Every day was a race to a new deadline, and there was little time for discussions. Moreover audiences liked what D.W was doing. People, as one early moviegoer observed, 'sensed Biograph pictures were 'different.' ' D.W's name was not on the screen, but on Mondays and Thursdays, the days when his films were released, nickelodeons and theaters put up signs reminding the public that it was 'Biograph day.' Nickels in hand, customers flocked to see the new story the studio had filmed.

"So D.W was allowed, as his wife Linda put it, 'to go his lonely way ... contrary to all the old established rules of the game.' At night in New York he would lie in bed in his tiny apartment in Murray Hill unable to sleep, excited by all the connections he was rapidly making, by all the possibilities he was envisioning. The studio had told him to shoot pictures so that full-sized figures appeared on the screen. This instruction troubled D.W. One afternoon he went uptown to the Metropolitan Museum and studied how Rembrandt and other great painters did it. 'All painted pictures,' he observed, 'show only the face.' D.W decided the day would come when he'd have close shots of the actors' faces in his films, too. He was like an explorer who had no map, only his instincts to lead him into this new territory."

Howard Blum, American Lightning, Crown, Copyright 2008 by Howard Blum, pp. 28-29

Thursday, December 18, 2008 12/18/08--A Charlie Brown Christmas

In today's encore excerpt--in December 1965 came A Charlie Brown Christmas, the most successful special in television history. In a simple story from Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz where Charlie Brown looks for genuine meaning in Christmas while Snoopy and Lucy revel in its glitter, the show defied convention by using real kids' voices, no laugh track, sophisticated original music and uncluttered graphics:

"No one was more ready than Charles Schulz to write a parable about commercialism when [his agent] Lee Mendelson telephoned one Wednesday in May 1965 to announce that he had just sold a Christmas show to Coca-Cola. ... He brought in Bill Melendez, the Disney animator who had earned Schulz's respect by not Disneyfying the Peanuts gang ... [by] changing their essential qualities, either as "flat" characters or as his cartoon characters. ...

"[Schulz left] Lee and Bill to audition some forty-five kids, ages six to nine, then train the cast of seven principles, some of them too young to read ... [to deliver] their lines with startling clarity and feeling. ...

"Schulz loathed the hyena hilarity of canned merriment and rightly judged that an audience would not have to be told when and where to laugh; Mendelson countered that all comedy shows used such tracks. 'Well, this one won't,' said [Schulz] firmly. 'Let the people at home enjoy the show at their own speed, in their own way.' Then he rose and walked out, closing the door behind him. ...

"On the subject of scoring and music, however, Schulz put aside his own tastes ... [and his producer hired] Grammy Award-winning composer Vince Guaraldi. The catchy rhythm of 'Linus and Lucy' ... became the centerpiece of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and eventually a pop music standard. But it was the slower, mixed-mood, improvisational pieces in Guaraldi's jazz suite, especially 'Christmas Time is Here,' that elicited the unarticulated emotions lying below the holiday's joyful surface. ...

"Lee and his wife had read Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Fir Tree' to their children the previous year, and when he suggested that the show somehow involve a comparable motif, [Schulz] seized upon the idea: 'We need a Charlie-Brown-like tree.' ... [And Schulz] insisted that the season's true meaning could be found in the Gospel according to St. Luke, and they agreed that the show would somehow work in the Nativity story. ... When the script was finished in June 1965, Lee Mendelson made a stand against Linus's recitation of the Nativity story, insisting that religion and entertainment did not mix on television. '[Schulz] just smiled,' Mendelson later wrote, 'patted me on the head, and left the room.' ...

"In a screening room at network headquarters in New York, two CBS vice presidents watched the show in silence. 'Neither of them laughed once,' Mendelson recalled. When the lights came on, the executives shook their heads and shrugged. 'Well,' said one, 'you gave it a good try.' 'It seems a little flat,' said the other. 'Too slow,' said the first, 'and the script is too innocent.' 'The Bible thing scares us,' said the other. The animation was crude--couldn't it be jazzed up a bit? The voice talent was unprofessional--they should have used adults. The music didn't fit--who ever heard of a jazz score on an animated special? And where were the laughs?"

David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts, Harper Collins, Copyright 2007 by David Michaelis, pp. 346- 358

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 12/17/08--The Great Depression

In today's excerpt-the calamity of the Great Depression dwarfs the calamity of 2008, in large part because the Fed turned the crisis of 1929 into the Great Depression by acting to contract the money supply, helping cause U.S. output to decline by a third and unemployment to rise to 33%:

"In perhaps the most important work of American economic history ever published, Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz argued that it was the Federal Reserve System that bore the responsibility for turning the crisis of 1929 into a Great Depression. They did not blame the Fed for the bubble itself [and] ... the New York Fed responded effectively to the October 1929 panic by conducting large-scale (and unauthorized) market operations (buying bonds from the financial sector) to inject liquidity into the market. However, after Strong's death from tuberculosis in October 1928, the Federal Reserve Board in Washington came to dominate monetary policy, with disastrous results.

"First, too little was done to counteract the credit contraction caused by banking failures. This problem had already surfaced several months before the stock market crash, when commercial banks with deposits of more than $80 million suspended payments. However, it reached critical mass in November and December 1930, when 608 banks failed, with deposits totaling $550 million, among them the Bank of United States, which accounted for more than a third of the total deposits lost. The failure of merger talks that might have saved the Bank was a critical moment in the history of the Depression.

"Secondly, ... the Fed made matters worse by reducing the amount of credit outstanding (December 1930-April 1931). This forced more and more banks to sell assets in a frantic dash for liquidity, driving down bond prices and worsening the general position. The next wave of bank failures, between February and August 1931, saw commercial bank deposits fall by $2.7 billion, 9 per cent of the total. Thirdly, ... the Fed raised its discount rate in two steps to 3.5 per cent, ... driving yet more US banks over the edge: the period August 1931 to January 1932 saw 1,860 banks fail with deposits of $1.45 billion. ...

"In the United States, output collapsed by a third. Unemployment reached a quarter of the civilian labour force, closer to a third if a modern definition is used. World trade shrank by two-thirds as countries sought vainly to hide behind tariff barriers and import quotas. ...

"The Fed's inability to avert a total of around 10,000 bank failures was crucial not just because of the shock to consumers whose deposits were lost or to shareholders whose equity was lost, but because of the broader effect on the money supply and the volume of credit [which saw] a decline in bank deposits of $5.6 billion and a decline in bank loans of $19.6 billion, equivalent to 19 per cent of 1929 GDP."

Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money, Penguin, Copyright 2008 by Niall Ferguson, pp. 158, 161-163

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 12/16/08--Princess Leia

In today's excerpt, Carrie Fisher, also known as Princess Leia, George Lucas and Star Wars:

"George made me take shooting lessons because in the first film I would grimace horribly at the deafening sound of the blanks from the blasters and the squibs that the special effects team would place all over the set and on the stormtroopers. So George wanted to make me look like I'd been shooting them for my entire Alderaan existence. So, he sent me to the same man who'd taught Robert DeNiro to shoot weapons in Taxi Driver and so the shooting range was in this cellar in midtown Manhattan, populated with policemen and all manner of firearm aficionados.

"I used to have this fantasy that in some distant Star Wars sequel, we'd finally stop all the shooting and screaming at each other and would go to a shopping-and-beauty planet, where the stormtroopers would have to get facials, and Chewbacca would have to get pedicures and bikini and eyebrow waxes. I felt at some point that I should get--okay, fine, maybe not equal time--but just a few scenes where we all did a lot of girly things. Imagine the shopping we might have done on Tatooine! Or a little Death Star souvenir shop where you could get T-shirts that said 'My parents got the force and jumped to light speed and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!' or 'My boyfriend blew Jabba the Hutt and all I got' .. etc., etc. You get the gist of my drift."But I have to admit, after a series of weapon instruction from a very pleasant ex-cop, I became quite proficient with an assortment of guns, including a double-barreled shotgun. Obviously my family was so proud. Because for Darth sake, I was always doing their endless stupid boy things.

"But back to the first film. Shortly after I arrived, George gave me this unbelievably idiotic hairstyle, and I'm brought before him like some sacrificial asshole and he says in his little voice, 'Well, what do you think of it?' And I say--because I'm terrified I'm going to be fired for being too fat--I say, 'I love it.' Yeah, and the check's in the mail and one size fits all and I'll only put it in a little bit!

"Because, see, there was this horrible fat thing going on! When I got this great job to end all jobs, which truly I never thought I would get because there were all these other beautiful girls who were up for the part--there was Amy Irving and Jodie Foster; this girl Teri Nunn almost got the part ... Oh! and Christopher Walken almost got cast as Han Solo. (Wouldn't that have been fantastic) Anyway, when I got this job they told me I had to lose ten pounds. Well, I weighed about 105 at the time, but to be fair, I carried about fifty of those pounds in my face! So you know what a good idea would be? Give me a hairstyle that further widens my already wide face!"

Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking, Simon & Schuster, Copyright 2008 by Deliquesce, Inc., pp. 81-85

Monday, December 15, 2008 12/15/08-White Flight

In today's excerpt-in the post-war era, when William Levitt pioneered the large-scale housing developments that ushered in the modern American suburb, an era of white flight was born that led rapidly to the racial strife and riots of the next decade:

"When the U.S. Steel Corporation announced plans to open its huge new Fairless Works [outside Philadelphia], William Levitt decided to bring his house-building operation to the Delaware Valley. On December 8, 1951 houses in Levittown, Pennsylvania went on sale. By 1953 fifty-five thousand Levittowners lived in roughly sixteen thousand Levitt houses. ...

"On December 8, 1951 a white prospective buyer told the sales clerk that he had a friend who was also interested in buying. The friend, as it happened, was black. The sales clerk simply responded that Levittown was to be 'a white community.' So it was, and so too were the vast, vast bulk of new suburban houses.

"By 1957 not a single one of Levittown's fifty-five thousand residents was black. On August 13 of that year, Bill and Daisy Myers tried to break the color line in Levittown. By midnight, a crowd of over two hundred stone-throwing Levittowners had driven the Myerses back to their old house. The Myerses continued to be subjected to a variety of racial harassments through the fall, until arrests and indictments finally cooled things down.

"Those Levittowners willing to discuss what happened to the Myerses voiced their opinion with an almost refreshing honesty. A Mrs. Robert Gross, who commuted from suburban Levittown to a waitressing job in suburban New Jersey, told a reporter that she didn't want 'Negroes living in my neighborhood, and I don't want my children going to school with Negroes.' Steel worker George Bessam averred that he was no racist: 'I don't have any objections to colored people, but I don't think they ought to live in white neighborhoods.' He reminded the reporter that 'a lot of people moved into Levittown from Philadelphia and other places for just one reason, to get away from colored people.'

"Variations of what happened to the Myerses happened to untold numbers of black Americans who moved into white neighborhoods after the Second World War. It happened in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Cleveland. In the postwar North, the struggle over race took place on the terrain of real estate. As William Levitt himself famously said, 'We can solve a housing problem, or we can try to solve a racial problem. But we cannot combine the two.' In early 1953 a delegation of activists, led by the Nobel Prize winner Pearl Buck, met with William Levitt to discuss housing discrimination. He fell back on the impersonal, and thus ungovernable, forces of the market to defend the racial exclusivity in Levittown, and by extension in all of suburbia: 'People are terribly prejudiced in Pennsylvania, just like anywhere else. They are not ready for Negro neighbors,' he told Buck and the others, but continued generously: 'When the whites get ready for Negro neighbors, I'll be among the first to open up my sales policy.' "

Steven Conn, Metropolitan Philadelphia, Penn Press, Copyright 2006 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 134-136

Friday, December 12, 2008 12/12/08-The Huddle

In today's excerpt-the football huddle is invented at a college for the deaf-- Gallaudet University in Washington, DC--as a means of hiding signals from other deaf teams. It is institutionalized at the University of Chicago as a means of bringing control and Christian fellowship to the game:

"When Gallaudet played nondeaf clubs or schools, Hubbard merely used hand signals--American Sign Language--to call a play at the line of scrimmage, imitating what was done in football from Harvard to Michigan. Both teams approached the line of scrimmage. The signal caller--whether it was the left halfback or quarterback--barked out the plays at the line of scrimmage. Nothing was hidden from the defense. There was no huddle.

"Hand signals against nondeaf schools gave Gallaudet an advantage. But other deaf schools could read [quarterback Paul] Hubbard's sign language. So, beginning in 1894, Hubbard came up with a plan. He decided to conceal the signals by gathering his offensive players in a huddle prior to the snap of the ball. ... Hubbard's innovation in 1894 worked brilliantly. 'From that point on, the huddle became a habit during regular season games,' cites a school history of the football program. ...

"In 1896, the huddle started showing up on other college campuses, particularly the University of Georgia and the University of Chicago. At Chicago, it was Amos Alonzo Stagg, the man credited with nurturing American football into the modern age and barnstorming across the country to sell the game, who popularized the use of the huddle and made the best case for it. ...

"At the time, coaches were not permitted to send in plays from the sideline. So, while Stagg clearly understood the benefit of concealing the signals from the opposition, he was more interested in the huddle as a way of introducing far more reaching reforms to the game. Before becoming a coach, Stagg wanted to be a minister. At Yale, he was a divinity student from 1885 to 1889.

"Thoughtful, pious, and righteous, Stagg brought innovations football as an attempt to bring a Christian fellowship to the game. He wanted his players to play under control, to control the pace, the course, and the conduct of what had been a game of mass movement that often broke out into fisticuffs. Stagg viewed the huddle as a vital aspect of helping to teach sportsmanship. He viewed the huddle as a kind of religious congregation on the field, a place where the players could, if you will, minister to each other, make a plan, and promise to keep faith in that plan and one another."

Sal Palantonio, How Football Explains America, Triumph, Copyright 2008 by Sal Palantonio, pp. 38-41

Thursday, December 11, 2008 12/11/08-Cooking and Brain Size

In today's encore excerpt--raw versus cooked. Since brain tissue requires 22 times the food energy that skeletal muscle does, Homo erectus would have had to chew raw food for six hours each day to obtain enough food energy to sustain its brain size. This fact has led to Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham's controversial theory that fire and cooking were the necessary steps that allowed for the evolution of larger brains:

" 'I tend to think about human evolution through the lens of chimps,' Wrangham remarks. 'What would it take to convert a chimpanzee-like ancestor into a human?' Fire to cook food, he reasoned, which led to bigger bodies and brains. And that is exactly what he found in Homo erectus, our ancestor that first appeared 1.6 million to 1.9 million years ago. H. erectus's brain was 50 percent larger than that of its predecessor, H. habilis, and it experienced the biggest drop in tooth size in human evolution. 'There's no other time that satisfies the expectations that we would have for changes in the body that would be accompanied by cooking,' Wrangham says.

"The problem with his idea: proof is slim that any human could control fire that far back. Other researchers believe cooking did not occur until perhaps only 500,000 years ago. ...

"So Wrangham did more research. He examined groups of modern hunter-gatherers all over the world and found that no human group currently eats all their food raw. Humans seem to be well adapted to eating cooked food: modern humans need a lot of high-quality calories (brain tissue requires 22 times the energy of skeletal muscle); tough, fibrous fruits and tubers cannot provide enough. Wrangham and his colleagues calculated that H. erectus (which was in H. sapiens's size range) would have to eat roughly 12 pounds of raw plant food a day, or six pounds of raw plants plus raw meat, to get enough calories to survive. Studies on modern women show that those on a raw vegetarian diet often miss their menstrual periods because of lack of energy. Adding high-energy raw meat does not help much, either--Wrangham found data showing that even at chimps' chewing rate, which can deliver them 400 food calories per hour, H. erectus would have needed to chew raw meat for 5.7 to 6.2 hours a day to fulfill its daily energy needs. When it was not gathering food, it would literally be chewing that food for the rest of the day. ... [Animals] expend less effort breaking down cooked food than raw. Heat alters the physical structure of proteins and starches, thereby making enzymatic breakdown easier."

Wrangham's theory would fit together nicely if not for that pesky problem of controlled fire. Wrangham points to some data of early fires that may indicate that H. erectus did indeed tame fire."

Rachael Moeller Gorman, "Cooking Up Bigger Brains," Scientific American, January 2008, pp. 102-104

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 12/10/08-The Liberty Bell

In today's excerpt-the Liberty Bell owes its fame to the abolition movement, not to the American Revolution:

"To begin with, the Liberty Bell has little to do with 1776 or the Revolutionary War, though it and the city's other bells were evacuated to Allentown when the British captured Philadelphia. That it rang out on July 4, 1776 is a fiction created in the nineteenth century by the writer George Lippard. It was cast to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of William Penn's epochal 1701 Charter of Privileges. The bell arrived in Philadelphia a year late in 1752 and cracked upon its first ringing. It was recast again and then hung in the State House in 1753.

"The bell did ring on certain ceremonial occasions in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth-for the ascension of George III to the throne in 1761, to gather people to discuss the Sugar and Stamp Acts in 1764 and 1765. The bell tolled its last to mark George Washington's birthday in 1846, at which point the crack had widened so much that the bell became unringable.

"Even before that, however, the bell had already begun its journey from functional to symbolic. When the bell was commissioned 'By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania (sic] for the State House in Philada,' it was cast with a quote from Leviticus, 25:10: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.' Seizing on this quote, and on the bell's location in Philadelphia, abolitionists turned the cracked bell into an icon of liberty. The bell appeared as the frontispiece to an 1837 edition of Liberty, a New York publication of the Anti-Slavery Society. In 1839, in his Boston-based paper The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison reprinted a poem about the bell entitled 'The Liberty Bell.' With that poem, the State House bell began its transformation into the Liberty Bell, a process largely completed by the time of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. There visitors could see a thirteen thousand pound replica called the Columbian Liberty Bell, and one made entirely out of California oranges. The Liberty Bell itself was well traveled at the turn of the twentieth century, visiting big world's fairs in Atlanta, New Orleans, and St. Louis, where it was venerated by pilgrims as a sacred relic. ...

"The connection between abolition and the Liberty Bell represents probably the first major example of how Philadelphia's history has been used by various groups to establish a link between their particular concerns and the founding of the nation. It is a peculiar aspect of most American opposition movements that they see a link with the national past rather than a break from it. Abolition, women's suffrage, civil rights--all have called upon the nation to fulfill the promises made in Philadelphia about life and liberty and freedom. Philadelphia's history and its collection of historic icons have thus served since the 1830s as the stage set upon which different groups have tried to establish their historical legitimacy and to demonstrate their connections to the founding ideals."

Steven Conn, Metropolitan Philadelphia, Penn Press, Copyright 2006 University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 95-97

Tuesday, December 09, 2008 12/9/08-Happiness

In today's excerpt-happiness is contagious, and it is more contagious than unhappiness. In a twenty-year study of over 4700 individuals, Harvard professor Nicholas Cristakis carefully examined the effects of happiness within a social network, and documented the results in the British Medical Journal. The following is excerpted from the much more detailed paper presented in a recent issue of that journal:

"Emotional states can be transferred directly from one individual to another by mimicry and 'emotional contagion,' perhaps by the copying of emotionally relevant bodily actions, particularly facial expressions, seen in others. People can 'catch' emotional states they observe in others over time frames ranging from seconds to weeks. For example, students randomly assigned to a mildly depressed room-mate became increasingly depressed over a three month period, and the possibility of emotional contagion between strangers, even those in ephemeral contact, has been documented by the effects of 'service with a smile' on customer satisfaction and tipping. ...

"While there are many determinants of happiness, whether an individual is happy also depends on whether others in the individual's social network are happy. Happy people tend to be located in the centre of their local social networks and in large clusters of other happy people. The happiness of an individual is associated with the happiness of people up to three degrees removed in the social network. Happiness, in other words, is not merely a function of individual experience or individual choice but is also a property of groups of people. Indeed, changes in individual happiness can ripple through social networks and generate large scale structure in the network, giving rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals. These results are even more remarkable considering that happiness requires close physical proximity to spread and that the effect decays over time. ...

"These models show that happy alters (friends) consistently influence [an individual's] happiness more than unhappy alters, and only the total number of happy alters remains significant in all specifications. In other words, the number of happy friends seems to have a more reliable effect on ego happiness than the number of unhappy friends. Thus, the social network effect of happiness is multiplicative and asymmetric. ...

"All these relations indicate the importance of physical proximity, and the strong influence of neighbours suggests that the spread of happiness might depend more on frequent social contact than deep social connections. ..."Happiness spreads significantly more through same sex relationships than opposite sex relationships. ...

"Conclusions: Human happiness is not merely the province of isolated individuals. ... The better connected are one's friends and family, the more likely one will attain happiness in the future. ... People's happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. This provides further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon."

James H Fowler and Nicholas A Christakis, "Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study,"British Medical Journal, 4 December 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008 12/8/08-The Ayatollah Khomeini

In today's excerpt--fundamentalism, whether Christian, Jewish, or Islamic, can be better understood as a reaction to great suffering or the disruption of rapid change. And so it was that the discovery of oil in Iran in the early twentieth century had led that country to a chaotic rush to modernization. That, coupled with the U.S.-led coup that overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran and reaffirmed the Shah as dictator, formed the backdrop to the emergence of an angry Ayatollah Khomeini and the terrible 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran:

"Animosity between the royal house of Iran and the fundamentalists of the dominant Shia Islamic sect dated back to Reza Shah's fierce battle for power with the Shiite clergy in the 1920s and 1930s and was part of a much larger struggle between secular and religious forces. ...

"It had become evident in the mid-1970s that Iran simply could not absorb the vast increase in oil revenues that was flooding into the country. The petrodollar, megalomaniacally misspent on extravagant modernization programs or lost to waste and corruption, was generating economic chaos and social and political tension throughout the nation. The rural populace was pouring from the village, into the already-overcrowded towns and cities; agricultural output was declining. while food imports were going up. Inflation had seized control of the country, breeding all the inevitable discontents. A middle manager or a civil servant in Tehran spent up to 70 percent of his salary on rent.

"Iran's infrastructure could not cope with the pressure suddenly thrust upon it; the backward railway system was overwhelmed; Tehran's streets were jammed with traffic. The national electricity grid could not meet demand, and it broke down. Parts of Tehran and other cities were regularly blacked out, sometimes for four or five hours a day, a disaster for industrial production and domestic life and a further source of anger and discontent. Iranians from every sector of national life were losing patience with the Shah's regime and the pell-mell rush to modernization. Grasping for some certitude in the melee, they increasingly heeded the call of traditional Islam and of an ever more fervent fundamentalism. The beneficiary was the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose religious rectitude and unyielding resistance made him the embodiment of opposition to the Shah and his regime and indeed to the very character and times of Iran in the mid-1970s. ...

"For many years, Khomeini had regarded the [Shah's] regime as both corrupt and illegitimate. But he did not become politically active until about the age of sixty, when he emerged as a leading figure in the opposition to the 'White Revolution,' as the Shah's reform program was called, ... landing in jail more than once and eventually ending up in exile in Iraq. His hatred of the Shah was matched only by his detestation of the United States, which he regarded as the main prop of the [Shah's] regime. His denunciations from exile in Iraq were cast in the rhetoric of blood and vengeance; he seemed to be driven by an unadulterated anger of extraordinary intensity, and he himself became the rallying point for the growing discontent. The words of other, more moderate ayatollahs were overwhelmed by the exile's harsh and uncompromising voice."

Daniel Yergin, The Prize, Free Press, Copyright 1991, 1992, pp. 674-675

Friday, December 05, 2008 12/5/08-Regression Analysis

In today's excerpt-regression analysis, the original and still most-widely used statistical technique for analyzing data, which today is used pervasively by retailers, banks, internet search engines and even internet dating services to determine customer preferences, tendencies and other correlations:

"A regression is a statistical procedure that takes raw historical data and estimates how various causal factors influence a single variable of interest. In [internet dating services, for example], the variable of interest is how compatible a couple is likely to be. And the causal factors are the emotional, social, and cognitive attributes of each person in the couple.

"The regression technique was developed more than 100 years ago by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton estimated the first regression line way back in 1877. [Take for example] Orley Ashenfelter's simple equation to predict the quality of wine. That equation came from a regression. Galton's very first regression was also agricultural. He estimated a formula to predict the size of sweet pea seeds based on the size of their parent seeds. Galton found that the offspring of large seeds tended to be larger than the offspring of average or small seeds, but they weren't quite as large as their large parents.

"Galton calculated a different regression equation and found a similar tendency for the heights of sons and fathers. The sons of tall fathers were taller than average but not quite as tall as their fathers. In terms of the regression equation, this means that the formula predicting a son's height will multiply the father's height by some factor less than one. In fact, Galton estimated that every additional inch that a father was above average only contributed two-thirds of an inch to the son's predicted height.

"He found the pattern again when he calculated the regression equation estimating the relationship between the IQ of parents and children. The children of smart parents were smarter than the average person but not as smart as their folks. The very term 'regression' doesn't have anything to do with the technique itself. Dalton just called the technique a regression because the first things that he happened to estimate displayed this tendency--what Galton called 'regression toward mediocrity'--and what we now call 'regression toward the mean.'

"The regression literally produces an equation that best fits the data. Even though the regression equation is estimated using historical data, the equation can be used to predict what will happen in the future. Dalton's first equation predicted seed and child size as a function of their progenitors' size. Orley Ashenfelter's wine equation predicted how temperature and rain would impact wine quality."

Ian Ayres, Super Crunchers, Bantam, Copyright 2007 by Ian Ayres, pp. 23-24

Thursday, December 04, 2008 12/4/08-Comfort for Travelers

In today's encore excerpt--in 1273 AD, nineteen-year-old Marco Polo, who is traveling with his father and uncle, encounters an unusual sexual custom in Kamul, an outpost in present-day Xinjiang, China. The custom is so unusual that Mongke Khan, the Mongol ruler and descendent of Ghengis Khan, had tried to prohibit it:

"The women of Kamul (now called Hami) ... finally brought Marco out of himself. The people of the region as a whole struck him as wonderfully likeable children, freely sharing food and drink with 'the wayfarers who pass that way.' ...

" 'These people have such a custom,' he confides, 'If a stranger comes to his house to lodge, [a man] is too much delighted at it, and receives him with great joy, and labors to do everything to please,' instructing his 'daughters, sisters, and other relations to do all that the stranger wishes,' even to the point of leaving his house for several days while 'the stranger stays with his wife in the house and does as he likes and lies with her in bed just as if she were his wife, and they continue in great enjoyment. All the men of this city and province are thus cuckolded by their wives; but they are not the least ashamed of it.'

"Yes, he admits, it could be said that this licentious behavior dishonored the women and men of Kamul, 'but I tell you that because of the general custom which is in all that province, and is very pleasing to their idols when they give a good reception to wayfarers in need of rest.' Even more remarkable, the family unit remained intact: 'All the women are very fair and gay and very wanton and most obedient to their husbands' orders, and greatly enjoy this custom.' ...

"Marco is discussing a well-established custom of the region and an exception to 'village endogamy,' in which the people of the same community intermarry to preserve assets and bloodlines. Endogamy brings with it the hazard of incest and birth defects. Exogamy, or marriage outside the clan, refreshes a depleted gene pool. If the outsiders were nomadic, as Marco suggests, the replenishing of the gene pool would be accomplished without challenging the existing order. ...

"Once [the emperor] Mongke [Khan] learned of [this practice], he levied 'great penalties to prevent it.' Wayfarers such as the Polos would have to stay in 'public lodgings,' not private homes, to prevent the 'shaming' of the householders' wives. Mongke had his way for three years, although the inhabitants of Kamul remained resentful. Matters worsened when their crops failed and sickness visited one household after another--misfortunes they took to mean they had to restore their customs if prosperity and health were to return. 'They sent their ambassadors,' Marco reports, 'who took a great and beautiful present and carry it to Mongke and pray him that so great a wrong with so great loss to them, and danger, should not be done.' ... With that ... 'he revoked the order.' "

Laurence Bergreen, Marco Polo, Knopf, Copyright 2007 by Laurence Bergreen, pp. 87-89

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 12/3/08-The Invention of Football

In today's excerpt-in the restless, expansionary America of the late 1800s, the America of Jesse James, John D. Rockefeller and Manifest Destiny, the public demanded a sport more exciting than the European imports of rugby and soccer, and so American football was invented:

"Princeton and Rutgers played a game in 1869, a contest that has often been called the first intercollegiate American football game. But this Old World game--a blend of soccer and rugby--had no compelling action or story line. It was just a mass of humanity moving in what was then called a 'scrummage.' Not enough happened. ... And the players and, most important, the spectators quickly grew tired of it.

"The boys at Harvard made the first move. They called it the Boston Game, which allowed running with the football and tackling. Their game was a little more open and much more physical brand of rugby that had for years been played in Wales and England. ... As the Harvard Advocate said in 1874, the Boston Game was much better 'than the somewhat sleepy game now played by our men.'

"In 1876, however, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania still competed under soccer rules, while Harvard and Yale competed under the modified Boston Game. Something had to be done. The four schools held a convention on November 26, 1876, in Springfield, Massachusetts, and formed the Intercollegiate Football Association. The Harvard boys convinced the group to adopt the Boston Game. It was far more compelling. It simply asked the players to do more in more wide-open space. ..."

[But American] fans 'demanded [even more] action,' wrote Parke H. Davis in Football--The American Intercollegiate Game. 'A great clamor broke out.' So, the tinkering was over. Time for dramatic change. The year was 1880. Another convention was held [in Philadelphia]. ... First thing to go: the scrum. It suggested everything that was un-American: a mass of humanity moving in no particular direction, with no particular purpose. Instead, one team was given possession of the ball, and a line of scrimmage was created--a line on the field clearly delineating which team had the ball, and which team did not. ... 'The man who first receives the ball from the snap-back shall be called the quarter-back,' a new rule stated. By creating the position of 'quarter-back,' football's founders created a man on the field who would stand out among equals (a deliciously American concept).

"That was not enough. Another convention was held in 1882, and the participants implemented a great idea, an idea completely foreign to the football/rugby/soccer players around the world: the concept of the first down. It was like somebody flipped a light switch. Here was the new rule they created: 'If on three consecutive fairs and downs a team shall not have advanced the ball five yards or lost ten, they must give up the ball to the other side at the spot where the fourth down was made.' ... Ah, Manifest Destiny! Now, that's something American players and spectators could embrace. Capture territory. Hold it. Advance."

Sal Palantonio, How Football Explains America, Triumph, Copyright 2008 by Sal Palantonio, pp. 4-7

Tuesday, December 02, 2008 12/2/08-The Ziegfeld Follies

In today's excerpt-Florenz Ziegfeld (1869-1932), the great impresario of the Ziegfeld Follies, and his first Ziegfeld Girl, the international sensation Anna Held. Ziegfeld, one of the greatest showmen of his or any age, created a fervor for his stars and his shows through masterful publicity tales, staged scandals, and dazzling, sexy theater:

"Some of Ziegfeld's publicity tales about Anna Held mark her as an unnaturally bold member of her sex; that was Ziegfeld's point. He was a salesman, and his product was not just song and dance but the unnamable feelings of pleasure and stimulation that musical theatre create in us. To Ziegfeld, talent in a man was useful. But talent in a woman was sexy; and part of Anna's talent lay in the way she played at life, dared in life, adventured in it.

"So the height of all his regulating of the media was the story of the milk baths, still spoken of today. Master promoter though he was, Ziegfeld couldn't think of everything himself, and he seems to have offered to make it worth one's while to dream up yet another fable that would prove irresistible to newspaper editors. A minor writer of this and that, Max Marcin, conceived the notion that Anna had a standing order with a dairy to deliver to her hotel suite forty gallons of milk a day--eighty on Sundays! This, of course, would be what gave Anna her lustrous skin tone, her Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire volupte. Marcin even found a milk dealer to stooge for this nonsense, his name given variously as R. H., H. R., and H. B. Wallace, of 25 Patchen Avenue in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, Wallace was not warned about the tale's kicker: Ziegfeld was going to default on payment because the milk was sour. Imagine bathing in sour milk! So, as the story ended, Wallace was supposedly taking Ziegfeld to court.

"It was all Marcin's fantasy, of course, though the press printed it--just as they printed Wallace's expose. He had never delivered any milk to Anna, he said, and was outraged at the suggestion that he sold spoiled milk. Ziegfeld was delighted, because it is all but impossible to dispel a tale that allows people to believe the worst of a celebrity, impossible even with the truth. The question is not, Who has the facts? but rather, Who is persuasive? Anna had beautiful skin; besides, she was French. ... But Ziegfeld was no more than anticipating modern American culture, in which all public life is a form of theatre. If it's news, it's true, whether it's true or not. You call it lies. Ziegfeld calls it the script.

"And he must be right, because, ever after, most people believed that Anna Held took milk baths. Actually, as she later revealed, her beauty-secret ingredient was Italian olive oil, three tablespoonsful a day, taken internally, along with external applications as part of massage therapy. However, that was too sedate an explanation for the vivacious Anna. Many were the clerics, professional bluenoses, and other custodians of the American moral character who insisted on returning to the milk baths when inveighing against this hussy, this professional Jezebel."

Ethan Mordden, Ziegfeld, St. Martin's Press, Copyright 2008 by Ethan Mordden, pp. 43-44.

Monday, December 01, 2008 12/1/08-Philadelphia

In today's excerpt-the Quaker William Penn and his revolution in city planning, the open grid plan that became Philadelphia. And with the success of Philadelphia-which quickly became the largest city in the New World--scores of new American cities adopted his blueprint:

"Having witnessed plague in London in 1665 and the famously calamitous fire of 1666, Penn wanted his Philadelphia to be 'a greene countrie towne, which will never be burnt, and allways be wholsome.' The way he proposed to achieve this was as simple as it was revolutionary: the grid.While he held title to a very large tract of land, Penn set aside roughly two square miles for his 'great towne.' He then subdivided within those boundaries into a regular, orderly gridiron. Streets ran straight, north and south, east and west, intersecting at right angles. The two widest streets--now called Market and Broad--were more commodious than any street in seventeenth-century London. The grid made its public debut in London in 1683 in a plan titled 'Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia,' an advertisement designed to attract purchasers. That grid, and the city that was laid out from it, constituted the most dramatic act of urban planning in the West probably since the Romans. In an early act of Enlightenment rationality, Penn imposed abstract geometry on the American wilderness.

The grid had a purpose beyond a mere abstract, geometric exercise. Orderly space, Penn believed, would shape an orderly society. Rational space, rational people. Rectilinear geometry would be Penn's way of keeping the city's density low, or at least lower than the packed, crowded conditions typical of most European cities, and of creating spacious building lots with trees on them. The grid was the shape of utopia. ...

Plan and principle came together in a few mutually reinforcing ways. As originally envisioned in the grid, the city looked inward on itself, toward Center Square in the middle, without privileging a few sites over others, much like the way benches in a Quaker meeting house all face each other. New ideas for city planning swirled in the seventeenth century, but many--Versailles comes quickly to mind--attempted to organize space for grand displays of power. Washington, D.C., with its overwide diagonals cutting through its rectilinear grid, has become the city where Americans use space to display power. A product of the baroque period, there is nothing at all baroque about Penn's grid.

More than that, the plan embodied [Penn's Quaker vision of] brotherly love through what it did not include: a wall or any other fortifications. City walls were on the wane in Europe as the medieval world passed into the modern one, but they were certainly still regarded as a necessity in the rough frontier of America. Penn believed, however, that his would be a city of peace, and thus Philadelphia was founded to be an open city."

Steven Conn, Metropolitan Philadelphia, Penn Press, Copyright 2006 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 30-32