Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/31/09--The Cause of the Civil War

In today's excerpt--the cause of the American Civil War. In the early days of the country, the slavery issue alone, though contentious, had not been enough to sever the country. This was in large part because the economic interests of the northern and southern United States were bound together by the north-south commerce along the Mississippi, the mutual commitment to cotton by southern planters and northern mills, and the intermingling of commerce among border states. Only when a distinctly separate economic system developed--the Great Lakes economy--which was not only economically independent of the South but had a legislative agenda which was opposed by the South, one of tariffs and massive public spending on canals and other works, did the North and South take the fateful step to war. The new Republican Party, the party of big government, was one major outcome of this development:

"By mid-nineteenth-century, new patterns of commerce and new attitudes had emerged, shattering the unities of the earlier era and providing the basis for a decade of increasingly bitter sectional politics. In the North the rise of the Great Lakes economy changed the outlook of many in the region from western New York to Wisconsin. Producers in the Northwest now conducted most of their business along an east-west axis that began with the lakes and included the Erie Canal and New York City. The booming lake economy required extensive spending on the waterways, higher tariffs to pay for those improvements, and an active federal government to oversee these programs. Using the language of nationalism, individuals in this region demanded the federal government assist the growth if the Northern economy.

"A second development helped reorient the North, reinforcing the changes that emerged from the new patterns of trade. Militant anti-slavery grew from a handful of abolitionists in the early 1830s to a powerful movement at midcentury. Perhaps 15 percent of the Northern population came to affirm radical doctrines, including the abolition of bondage in the District of Columbia and the repeal of federal fugitive slave laws, Most of these individuals lived in New England and in the areas of Yankee settlement around the lakes. Together the rise of the lake economy and the spread of antislavery sentiment transformed the North and created the basis for the Republican Party, an organization that had little interest in compromising with the South. The new party was remarkably successful, winning much of the North in its first national contest in 1856 and electing the president in 1860.

"Reflecting their roots, Republicans enunciated both antislavery and economic policies, but their clear priority was Northern growth rather than helping African Americans. Even more fervently than other Northerners, Republicans condemned slavery, citing the Declaration of Independence and its affirmation that 'all men are created equal.' But the only significant initiative Republicans advocated to assist blacks was free soil, a program that furthered both economic and humanitarian goals. Declaring the new territories off-limits to slaveholders, this policy assisted Northern farmers at the same time that it struck a blow against slavery by limiting its expansion. Mainstream Republicans pointedly refused to condemn the Fugitive Slave Act, the interstate slave trade, or slavery in the District of Columbia and federal shipyards. The party acquiesced in the racism that defined Northern society. Although eschewing programs to help blacks, Republicans vigorously supported economic initiatives including higher tariffs, free homesteads, internal improvements, land grant colleges, and a transcontinental railroad."

Marc Egnal, Clash of Extremes, Hill and Wang, Copyright 2009 by Marc Egnal, pp. 9-10.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/30/09--Ronnie and Nancy

In today's excerpt--Ronald Reagan takes Nancy Davis off the blacklist, then marries her:

"In the spring of 1952, while Ronald Reagan's career as a union politician reached its zenith, his acting career was in free fall. ... A B actor was a B actor, and rarely climbed onto the A-list in Hollywood's artificial caste system. ...

"On the domestic front, things were much better. To begin with, he had found Nancy Davis, or rather she had found him. Claiming she was being mistaken in casting calls for a Communist actress by the same name, the thirty-year-old Davis complained to director Mervyn LeRoy. He advised her to talk to the SAG president about the problem. After she asked Reagan to help keep her name off the studio blacklists, he went her one better. He asked the petite, attractive brunette to dinner. Reagan later described in his memoirs how they wound up at Ciro's watching Sophie Tucker perform until after midnight. It was just like the good old days, when Reagan first met Jane Wyman and the two of them lived it up at the Cocoanut Grove with other fun-loving couples, like Jules and Doris Stein.

"On March 4, 1952, Reagan married Nancy Davis and moved with his bride into a three-bedroom, two-story home in Pacific Palisades. They began to live like real movie stars. Reagan even splurged on a 290-acre chunk of real estate in the Santa Monica Mountains which he called Yearling Row Ranch. All it had on it was a two-bedroom, two-bath house and a caretaker's shack, both built in 1918, but the price was a mere $65,000 and it seemed like a great site on which to build his dream ranch someday.

" 'The marriage to Nancy seemed to solidify him, because she was very supportive of his career,' recalled actress Rhonda Fleming, his costar in Hong Kong (1952). 'Suddenly, after a few years of being divorced, he had the solidity of a marriage, a woman who adored him, and he obviously adored her--plus he had the powerful position as leader of the actors' union. He was like a new person. As he entered middle age, Reagan achieved balance in every aspect of his life except his career. His future was obviously not on any producer's A-list. To pay for his new marriage and his new mortgages, Reagan began taking anything MCA sent his way: magazine ads, personal appearances, testimonial dinners. He even emceed a Las Vegas variety show. The one thing Reagan resisted was TV. Television was declasse."

Dennis McDougal, The Last Mogul, Copyright 1998 by Dennis McDougal, Da Capo, pp. 182-184

Friday, March 27, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/27/09--Squanto

In today's excerpt--the 1621 meeting between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims--Thanksgiving and all that--as seen through the eyes of the Native Americans:

"On March 22, 1621, an official Native American delegation walked through what is now southern New England to negotiate with a group of foreigners who had taken over a recently deserted Indian settlement. At the head of the party was an uneasy triumvirate: Massasoit, the sachem (political-military leader) of the Wampanoag confederation, a loose coalition of several dozen villages that controlled most of southeastern Massachusetts; Samoset, sachem of an allied group to the north; and Tisquantum ['Squanto'], a distrusted captive, whom Massasoit had reluctantly brought along as an interpreter.

"Massasoit was an adroit politician, but the dilemma he faced would have tested Machiavelli. About five years before, most of his subjects had fallen before a terrible calamity. Whole villages had been depopulated--indeed, the foreigners ahead now occupied one of the empty sites. It was all he could do to hold together the remnants of his people. Adding to his problems, the disaster had not touched the Wampanoag's longtime enemies, the Narragansett alliance to the west. Soon, Massasoit feared, they would take advantage of the Wampanoag's weakness and overrun them.

"Desperate threats require desperate countermeasures. In a gamble, Massasoit intended to abandon, even reverse, a long-standing policy. Europeans had been visiting New England for at least a century. Shorter than the natives, oddly dressed, and often unbearably dirty, the pallid foreigners had peculiar blue eyes that peeped out of the masks of bristly, animal-like hair that encased their faces. They were irritatingly garrulous, prone to fits of chicanery, and often surprisingly incompetent at what seemed to Indians like basic tasks. But they also made useful and beautiful goods--copper kettles, glittering colored glass, and steel knives and hatchets--unlike anything else in New England. Moreover, they would exchange these valuable items for cheap furs of the sort used by Indians as blankets. It was like happening upon a dingy kiosk that would swap fancy electronic goods for customers' used socks. ...

"Over time, the Wampanoag, like other native societies in coastal New England, had learned how to manage the European presence. They encouraged the exchange of goods, but would only allow their visitors to stay ashore for brief, carefully controlled excursions. ... Now Massasoit was visiting a group of British with the intent of changing the rules. He would permit the newcomers to stay for an unlimited time--provided they formally allied with the Wampanoag against the Narragansett.

"Tisquantum, the interpreter, had shown up alone at Massasoit's home a year and a half before. He spoke fluent English, because he had lived for several years in Britain. But Massasoit didn't trust him. ... And he refused to use him to negotiate with the colonists until he had another, independent means of communication with them. ... Their meeting was a critical moment in American history. The foreigners called their colony Plymouth; they themselves were the famous Pilgrims. As schoolchildren learn, at that meeting the Pilgrims obtained the services of Tisquantum, usually known as "Squanto."

"[In our high school texts, the story is told that] 'A friendly Indian named Squanto helped the colonists. He showed them how to plant corn and how to live on the edge of the wilderness. A soldier, Captain Miles Standish, taught the Pilgrims how to defend themselves against unfriendly Indians.' The story isn't wrong, so far as it goes. But the impression it gives is entirely misleading."

Charles C. Mann, 1491, Vintage, Copyright 2005, 2006 by Charles C. Mann, pp. 34-36

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/26/09--Pizza

In today's excerpt--pizza:

"A staggering 93 percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month. According to one study, each man, woman, and child consumes an average of 23 pounds of pie every year. ... Pizza, like teenagedom and rock 'n' roll, is a lasting relic of America's mid-twentieth-century embrace of good times. ...

"Modern pizza originated in Italy, although the style favored by Americans is more a friend than a relative of the traditional Neapolitan pie. Residents of Naples took the idea of using bread as a blank slate for relishes from the Greeks, whose bakers had been dressing their wares with oils, herbs, and cheese since the time of Plato. The Romans refined the recipe, developing a delicacy known as placenta, a sheet of fine flour topped with cheese and honey and flavored with bay leaves."Neapolitans earned the right to claim pizza as their own by inserting a tomato into the equation. Europeans had long shied away from the New World fruit, fearing it was plump with poison. But the intrepid citizens of Naples discovered the tomato was not only harmless but delicious, particularly when paired with pizza. Cheese, the crowning ingredient, was not added until 1889, when the Royal Palace commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito to create a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Of the three contenders he created, the Queen strongly preferred a pie swathed in the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella). ...

"Pizza crossed the Atlantic with the four million Italians who by the 1920s had sought a better life on American shores. ... Although non-Italians could partake of pizza as early as 1905, when the venerable Lombardi's--the nation's first licensed pizzeria--opened its doors in Lower Manhattan, most middle-class Americans stuck to boiled fish and toast. The pungent combination of garlic and oregano signaled pizza as 'foreign food,' sure to upset native digestions. ...

"The number of parlors in the United States skyrocketed from 500 in 1934 to 20,000 in 1956. ... Unlike other ethnically derived foods that enjoyed faddish popularity in modern America, pizza never masqueraded as exotic. Its consumers didn't aspire to be cosmopolitan or courageous. They were simply drawn in by the bewitching interplay of tomatoes, bread, and cheese--drawn in so strongly that by 1958 the novelty singer Lou Monte could issue an album called Songs for Pizza Lovers. ...

"Sophia Loren in 1959 told the Los Angeles Times that having been raised in Italy to consider pizza the food of poverty, she pitied Americans when she saw how many pizza joints they had. 'So I think America not so rich after all. Then I find eating pizza here is like eating hot dog--for fun.' ... The image was polished in 1953 when Dean Martin swung his way through 'That's Amore!,' an Italian-flavored love song that famously compared the moon to 'a big pizza pie' (a phrase that irritated exacting food writers, who insisted it was redundant)."

Hanna Miller, "American Pie: How a Neapolitan street food became the most successful immigrant of all," American Heritage, April/May 2006, Volume 57, Issue 2

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/25/09--Organic Food

In today's excerpt--organic, as it is used on food labels, while it still means chemical-pesticide-free, doesn't mean quite what it used to. And then there's the so-called free range chicken:

"Shopping at Whole Foods is a literary experience. That's not to take anything away from the food, which is generally of high quality, much of it 'certified organic' or 'humanely raised' or 'free range.' But right there, that's the point: It's the evocative prose as much as anything else that makes this food really special. ...

"With the growth of organics and mounting concerns about the wholesomeness of industrial food, ... it is Whole Foods that consistently offers the most cutting-edge grocery 'lit.' On a recent visit I filled my shopping cart with eggs 'from cage-free vegetarian hens,' milk from cows that live 'free from unnecessary fear and distress,' wild salmon caught by Native Americans in Yakutat, Alaska (population 833), and heirloom tomatoes from Capay Farm (S4.99 a pound), 'one of the early pioneers of the organic movement.' The organic broiler I picked up even had a name: Rosie, who turned out to be a 'sustainably farmed' 'free-range chicken' from Petaluma Poultry. ..."The organic movement, as it was once called, has come a remarkably long way in the last thirty years, to the point where it now looks considerably less like a movement than a big business. Lining the walls above the sumptuously stocked produce section in my Whole Foods are full-color photographs of local organic farmers accompanied by text blocks setting forth their farming philosophies. A handful of these farms still sell their produce to Whole Foods, but most are long gone from the produce bins, if not yet the walls. That's because Whole Foods in recent years has adopted the grocery industry's standard regional distribution system, which makes supporting small farms impractical. Tremendous warehouses buy produce for dozens of stores at a time, which forces them to deal exclusively with [huge] farms. ...

"The question is, ... just how well does [today's organic] hold up under close reading and journalistic scrutiny? [Not that well]. At least that's what I discovered when I traced a few of the items in my Whole Foods cart back to the farms where they were grown. I learned, for example, that some (certainly not all) organic milk comes from factory farms, where thousands of Holsteins that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced 'dry lot,' eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day. ...

"I also visited Rosie the organic chicken at her farm in Petaluma, which turns out to be more animal factory than farm. She lives in a shed with twenty thousand other Rosies, who, aside from their certified organic feed, live lives little different from that of any other industrial chicken. Ah, but what about the 'free-range' lifestyle promised on the label? True, there's a little door in the shed leading out to a narrow grassy yard. But the free-range story seems a bit of a stretch when you discover that the door remains firmly shut until the birds are at least five or six weeks old--for fear they'll catch something outside--and the chickens are slaughtered only two weeks later."

Michael Pollan, Omnivore's Dilemma, Penguin, Copyright 2006 by Michael Pollan, pp. 134-140

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/24/09--Henry VIII

In today's excerpt--on the 500th anniversary of his ascension to the throne, we read that England's King Henry VIII went from a benevolent monarch with a 35 inch waist to cruelty and a 54 inch waist:

"Henry was clearly good-looking. The Venetian ambassador Sebastian Giustinian described him as 'the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on.' ... Henry was gifted in other ways too. He demonstrated great intelligence and mental acuity. ... As a skillful linguist, Henry spoke French, Spanish and Latin. He was a talented musician and composer. ...

"Ambassadors noted how beautifully he danced, while an observer of the 1513 campaign against France recalled the king practising archery with the archers of his guard, and how 'he cleft the mark in the middle, and surpassed them all, as he surpasses them in stature and personal graces.' He was fond of tennis, and was also 'a capital horseman, and a fine jouster'. Henry delighted in hunting, tiring eight or ten horses a day before exhausting himself. ... Perhaps most surprisingly of all, commentators almost universally described his nature as warm and benevolent. ...

"What a contrast this is to reports of Henry VIII in later life. The most obvious change was in the king's appearance. Between the ages of 23 and 45 his waist and chest measurements increased gradually from 35 to 45 inches. After his 45th birthday in 1536, he quickly became gross - by 1541, his waist measured 54 inches, his chest 57. But this was the least of the changes. Instead of being known for the ease of his companionship and gentle graciousness, the older Henry was reputed to be irritable, capricious and capable of great cruelty. ...

"His volatile moods [became] a source of anxiety for his counsellors. He was violent with some - he would 'beknave' his erstwhile closest confidant and chief minister Thomas Cromwell twice a week, hitting 'him well about the pate'. Others he berated - after Cromwell's execution in 1540, Henry blamed his advisers for having 'upon light pretexts, by false accusations ... made him put to death the most faithful servant he ever had'. ... Henry had become a misanthropic, suspicious and cruel king, and his subjects began (discreetly, for such words were illegal) to call him a tyrant. ...

"The year 1536 contained all the ingredients necessary to catalyse, foster and entrench this change. It was Henry VIII's annus horribilis. In the course of one year, the 45-year-old king suffered threats, betrayals, rebellion, disappointments, injury, grief and anxieties on a terrific scale. A near-fatal fall from his horse in January 1536 left this great athlete of the tiltyard injured and unable to joust again, when for Henry the pursuit of physical masculine activity was strongly linked to his sense of self. This injury was also the key to his later obesity. Henry's wife, Anne Boleyn, suffered a miscarriage of a male child on the same day as his first wife's funeral. ... Anne was 'discovered' to be an adulteress [which] provoked her rapid arrest, trial and execution on May 19th.

"In July, soon after Henry had forced his daughter Mary to swear to her own illegitimacy, Henry's only son, the illegitimate Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, died aged 17, leaving the king entirely heirless."

Suzannah Lipscomb, "Who Was Henry VIII?" History Today, April 2009, Volume 59, Issue 4, pp. 14-20.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/23/09--Grammar Myths

In today's excerpt--grammar myths:

"Take the idea that it is wrong to say If a student comes before I get there, they can slip their test under my office door, because student is singular and they 'is plural.' Linguists traditionally observe that esteemed writers have been using they as a gender-neutral pronoun for almost a thousand years. As far back as the 1400s, in the Sir Amadace story, one finds the likes of Iche mon in thayre degree ("Each man in their degree").

"Maybe when the sentence is as far back as Middle English, there is a sense that it is a different language on some level than what we speak--the archaic spelling alone cannot help but look vaguely maladroit. But Shakespeare is not assumed to have been in his cups when he wrote in The Comedy of Errors, 'There's not a man I meet but doth salute me / As I were their well-acquainted friend' (Act IV, Scene 111). Later, Thackeray in Vanity Fair tosses off 'A person can't help their birth.' ...

"Or there's the objection to nouns being used as verbs. These days, impact comes in for especial condemnation: The new rules are impacting the efficiency of the procedure. People lustily express that they do not 'like' this, endlessly writing in to language usage columnists about it. Or one does not 'like' the use of structure as in I structured the test to be as brief as possible."Well, okay--but that means you also don't 'like' the use of view, silence, worship, copy, outlaw, and countless other words that started as nouns and are now also verbs. Nor do many people shudder at the use of fax as a verb. ...

"Over the years, I have gotten the feeling that there isn't much linguists can do to cut through this. ... There are always books out that try to put linguists' point across. Back 1950, Robert Hall's Leave Your Language Alone! was all over the place, including a late edition kicking around in the house I grew up in. Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, which includes a dazzling chapter on the grammar myths, has been one of the most popular books on language ever written. As I write, the flabbergastingly fecund David Crystal has just published another book in the tradition, The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left. But the air of frustration in Crystal's title points up how persistent the myths are. ...

"English is shot through with things that don't really follow. I'm the only one, amn't I? Shouldn't it be amn't after all? Aren't, note, is 'wrong' since are is used with you, we, and they, not I. There's no 'I are.' Aren't I? is thoroughly illogical-and yet if you decided to start saying amn't all the time, you would lose most of your friends and never get promotions. Except, actually, in parts of Scotland and Ireland where people actually do say amn't--in which case the rest of us think of them as 'quaint' rather than correct!"

John McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, Gotham, Copyright 2008 by John McWhorter, pp. 65-69, 8

Friday, March 20, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/20/09--The White Feather of Cowardice

In today's excerpt--British men enlisted in droves at the outset of World War I, in part because British women handed men not in uniform white feathers symbolizing cowardice, and ministers and priests encouraged the idea that the war was a holy war. The fervor quelled as war casualties mounted to an unprecedented 23 million:

"Why then did British men volunteer in such numbers? Five motives suggest themselves:

1. Successful recruitment techniques. The efforts of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee ... built up an impressive organization of 2,000 volunteers who managed to organize 12,000 meetings at which some 20,000 speeches were delivered, to send out 8 million recruiting letters and to distribute no fewer than 54 million posters, leaflets and other publications. ...

2. Female pressure. There is ample evidence of women handing men not in uniform white feathers symbolizing cowardice. Government propaganda capitalized on this. The PRC poster, with its clever implication that the addressee's husband or son would survive either way, was well-aimed: 'When the war is over and someone asks your husband or your son what he did in the Great War, is he to hang his head because you did not let him go?' ...

3. Peer-group pressure. There is no doubting the importance of the so-called 'Pals' Battalions' in getting groups of friends, neighbours or colleagues to join up together. ... As if to confirm the British thesis that the war was a game, there was even a footballers' battalion and a boxers' company. To begin with, exclusivity was possible: some battalions even demanded an entry fee of up to five pounds. ...

4. Economic motives. ... There is no question that the peak of enlistment in Britain coincided with the peak of unemployment caused by the August financial and commercial crisis. Nine out of ten of the working men laid off in Bristol in the first month of the war joined up; enlistment rates were clearly lower in areas where business quickly picked up again. Men were not wholly irrational in 1914.

5. Impulse. Finally, as Avner Offer has pointed out, allowance must be made for the fact that some men volunteered impulsively, with little thought of the consequences for themselves, much less the causes of the war. ...

"As is well known, many ministers and priests encouraged the idea that the war was a holy war, often in a quite grotesque way. ... The most egregious example of militarist churchmanship in England was the shocking Advent sermon preached in 1915 by the Bishop of London, A. F. Winnington-Ingram (later published in a collection of his sermons in 1917), in which he described the war as: 'a great crusade--we cannot deny it--to kill Germans: to kill them, not for the sake of killing, but to save the world.' ... The Germans, wrote Michael Furse, Bishop of Pretoria, were 'enemies of God.' ... Billy Sunday included in his prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives that 'If you turn hell upside down, you'll find 'Made in Germany' stamped on the bottom.' ...

"For many, the First World War was thus a kind of war of religion, despite an almost complete absence of clear denominational conflicts, a crusade without infidels. ... The sense that the world had arrived at the Biblical Armageddon was the most powerful of all the 'ideas of 1914.' And how like Armageddon it proved."

Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War, Basic Books, Copyright 1999 by Niall Ferguson, pp. 204-208

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/19/09--Machiavelli

In today's encore excerpt--Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), statesman, author, and source of the term "machiavellian," which has come to mean "unscrupulously cunning, deceptive, or expedient" in seeking to achieve some end, and comes from the ideas he put forward in his book The Prince. Niccolo was an able and eager political functionary, renowned for his good humor and wit, but was banished from political life when the Republic of Florence he served fell and was replaced by the returning Medici and the old form of autocracy. Though he wrote passionately in advocating republics above autocracies, The Prince was his attempt to show that he could nevertheless be a worthy counselor to the Medici--a notably unsuccessful bid to win a job, since the Medici disregarded him. With this book he was saying, "if you want to be a powerful autocrat, here's how to do it right":

"In his brief work, The Prince, are contained the results of his studies of ancient history and everything he learned during his years as secretary of the Florentine Republic. ... Above all, he wished that his short work might be read and understood by the Medici ... [and] if they read it, they would realize that he knew better than anyone else what a prince should do to consolidate power. ...

"When The Prince began to circulate ... it found a host of enemies who saw it as an evil work, inspired directly by the devil, in which a malevolent author teaches a prince how to win and keep power through avarice, cruelty, and falseness. ... What had Machiavelli written to stir up such indignation? He had explained that the ideas set forth by thinkers who had written advice books for princes before him were simply wrong. ... These writers maintained that a prince who wishes to keep power and win glory must always follow the path of virtue. ... Machiavelli [who had just seen Florence fall under such a 'virtuous' leader] stated in contrast that a prince who followed such advice in all circumstances would surely lose it and be scorned and soon forgotten. ...

" 'It is necessary' [he wrote], for a prince, if he wants to maintain his realm, 'to learn to be able not to be good' and to use or not use this 'according to necessity.' ... A good prince, it has been said for centuries, ... should not try to instill fear in but to win the love of his subjects. ... Machiavelli argues instead that a prince should 'know well how to use the beast and the man.' ... With similar daring, he discarded the doctrine that a good prince must be generous, lavishing gifts and favors on his friends, [writing that he] will succeed only in flattering a few hangers-on and bankrupting his estate. ... Machiavelli writes that a prince should certainly hope to be considered merciful and kind, but that cruelty [could be] 'well-used.' ... It is difficult to be loved and feared at the same time, but 'it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one has to lack one of the two.' ... [Further], princes who have readily broken their word have 'done great things'; and have triumphed over princes who have kept their word. ... In short, he wants a prince who knows how to win.

"When Francesco Vettori, who had become Lorenzo [de'Medici, Duke of Urbino's] most authoritative adviser, presented Lorenzo with Niccolo's masterpiece, Lorenzo barely glanced at it, showing much more interest in two stud dogs that someone had sent him."

Maurizio Viroli, Niccolo's Smile, Hill and Wang, Copyright 1998 by Gius, Laterza & Figli, pp. 153-160.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/18/09--Hamilton's Single Share

In today's excerpt--in the formative years between the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution, soon-to-be-Treasury-Secretary Alexander Hamilton helped form New York's first bank. As political commentator Steven C. Clemons has recently pointed out, Hamilton held only one share of the bank, avoiding the wrenching conflicts of interest that have plagued our most recent Treasury Secretaries. Hamilton's new bank was born in the midst of anti-bank sentiment, but helped facilitate more orderly commerce in a world where inflation had decimated the value of American paper currencies, and much commerce was still conducted in British pounds:

"The creation of New York's first bank, [The Bank of New York] was a formative moment in the city's rise as a world financial center. Banking was still a new phenomenon in America. The first such chartered institution, the Bank of North America, had been started in Philadelphia in 1781, and Alexander Hamilton had studied its affairs closely. It was the brainchild of Robert Morris, and its two biggest shareholders were Jeremiah Wadsworth and Hamilton's brother-in-law John B. Church. These two men now cast about for fresh outlets for their capital. In 1783, ... when Church and Wadsworth deputized him to set up a private bank in New York, Hamilton warmed to it as a project that could help to rejuvenate New York commerce. ... Ironically, he held in his own name only a single share of the bank that was long to be associated with his memory.

"On February 23, 1784, ... General Alexander McDougall was voted the new bank's chairman and Hamilton a director. Snatching an interval of leisure during the next three weeks, Hamilton drafted, singlehandedly, a constitution for the new institution-the sort of herculean feat that seems almost commonplace in his life. As architect of New York's first financial firm, he could sketch freely on a blank slate. The resulting document was taken up as the pattern for many subsequent bank charters and helped to define the rudiments of American banking. ... As a triple power at the new bank-a director, the author of its constitution, and its attorney-Hamilton straddled a critical nexus of economic power.

"One of Hamilton's motivations in backing the bank was to introduce order into the manic universe of American currency. By the end of the Revolution, it took $167 in continental dollars to buy one dollar's worth of gold and silver. This worthless currency had been superseded by new paper currency, but the states also issued bills, and large batches of New Jersey and Pennsylvania paper swamped Manhattan. Shopkeepers had to be veritable mathematical wizards to figure out the fluctuating values of the varied bills and coins in circulation. Congress adopted the dollar as the official monetary unit in 1785, but for many years New York shopkeepers still quoted prices in pounds, shillings, and pence. The city was awash with strange foreign coins bearing exotic names: Spanish doubloons, British and French guineas, Prussian carolines, Portuguese moidores. To make matters worse, exchange rates differed from state to state. Hamilton hoped that the Bank of New York would counter all this chaos by issuing its own notes and also listing the current exchange rates for the miscellaneous currencies.

"Many Americans still regarded banking as a black, unfathomable art, and it was anathema to upstate populists. The Bank of New York was denounced by some as the cat's-paw of British capitalists. Hamilton's petition to the state legislature for a bank charter was denied for seven years, as Governor George Clinton succumbed to the prejudices of his agricultural constituents who thought the bank would give preferential treatment to merchants and shut out farmers. Clinton distrusted corporations as shady plots against the populace, foreshadowing the Jeffersonian revulsion against Hamilton's economic programs. The upshot was that in June 1784 the Bank of New York opened as a private bank without a charter. It occupied the Walton mansion on St. George's Square (now Pearl Street), a three-story building of yellow brick and brown trim, and three years later it relocated to Hanover Square. It was to house the personal bank accounts of both Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and prove one of Hamilton's most durable monuments, becoming the oldest stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange."Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, Penguin, Copyright 2004 by Ron Chernow, Kindle Loc. 4515-61

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/17/09--Jefferson and Small Government

In today's excerpt--Thomas Jefferson, though famed and revered for his "small-government" philosophy, was in his actions one of early America's most active practitioners of large-scale government intervention and activism, buying the Louisiana territory without constitutional authority, selling federal lands at below cost to ensure widespread ownership, and developing a $20 million plan for building roads and canals:

"Jefferson was explicitly averse to expensive central government, federal indebtedness, and a central bank. He was an admirer of Adam Smith's 'invisible hand,' and probably read The Wealth of Nations years after it was published in England in 1776. ... A good government, Jefferson summarized in a letter during Washington's term, must be 'a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.'

"Thus, the philosophy was set in principle, but Jefferson violated it in practice. The pragmatic basis of American prosperity and freedom resided in one fact, about which Jefferson did not delude himself. Land was widely and inexpensively available. [Thus] Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory from Napoleon for $15 million, which he agreed to borrow. He willingly defied the Constitution's limits on his authority to do so without congressional approval. ...

"But there was another critical choice Jefferson made. The broad distribution of land he thought ideal could be accomplished only through government control and regulation. The federal and state governments owned almost all the unclaimed land at the start of the nation, and Jefferson was among the early political leaders who were determined to be sure the land was sold at affordable prices and was widely owned. ... This was a powerful use of government, even if land availability compared to the size of the population made low prices easier to implement. ... As the historian Frank Bourgin points out, the federal government was by far the largest owner of land in the nation, holding some 1.6 million acres at one point. It could have been a significant source of federal revenues. ...

"For all his disdain for government, Jefferson always sought to set aside federal land for schools. He was initially ideologically hesitant to use federal moneys for new roads, but by his second term he had changed his mind regarding the federal financing of roads. ...

"Jefferson had already approved the building of the Cumberland Road to connect the Potomac and the Ohio Rivers in 1806, which would become the largest public works project undertaken until the Erie Canal. He asked Albert Gallatin to prepare a comprehensive program of roads and canals to be implemented once the national debt was nearly paid off. Gallatin drew up an ambitious ten-year plan for the development of transportation that would cost a stunning $20 million, to be financed with bonds and paid off over time through tariffs and land sales. Jefferson believed a constitutional amendment was needed to authorize the spending. Perhaps he would have gotten it, but the embargo he imposed in 1808 on trade with Britain ended all such ambitious plans. 'The planning that took place in Jefferson's second term of office remains to this day so little known,' writes Frank Bourgin, 'that the student of American history must marvel at this fact.' "

Jeff Madrick, The Case for Big Government, Princeton, Copyright 2009 by Princeton University Press, Kindle Loc. 353-400

Monday, March 16, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/16/09--Communication

In today's excerpt-the six different communication styles-or, just because someone is being terse doesn't mean that they are evasive:

"Communication expert Linda McCallister ... has identified six different communication styles. People can be Reflectives, Nobles, Socratics, Magistrates, Candidates, or Senators. Although no one fits completely into any one category, all of us have a tendency to use one particular style more than the others. Recognizing that [can] help you understand them better.

"At one end of the spectrum are Nobles. These people believe communication serves one purpose and one purpose only: to exchange information. That's what they do when they come into your office, and that's what they hope you do when you come into theirs. Nobles seek to discuss relevant data with as few words as possible. ... Even if you have been working together for years, all a Noble will ask you on Monday morning is the time and location of the next meeting.

"On the other end of the spectrum are Reflectives-the 'touchy-feely' people. To them, communication is all about building relationships. Despite how busy these people may be, the first thing they want to know when they walk into your office on Monday morning is how your son did in his hockey tournament or how your daughter's dance recital went. And they can't wait to tell you what they did over the weekend. ... A Noble, as you might imagine, makes a beeline to her office to get right to work, while a Reflective makes the rounds--greeting and socializing with everyone else before finally settling in at his desk. Problems arise, as you can imagine, when a Noble works with a Reflective. The Noble may read the Reflective as inefficient, spacey, and distracted, while the Reflective may think the Noble is rude.

"For a Socratic, the purpose of communication is to talk. Many of the lawyers I work with are Socratics. They love discussion and debate. These people may seem like they are running at the mouth or being unresponsive, when in reality, they just like to talk things out and exchange ideas.

"Magistrates display some of the characteristics of Socratics, and some of Nobles, and as such, these people are often opinionated, argumentative, and difficult to deal with. Their goal is to explain to you why they are right and you are wrong. You will likely read these people very negatively, even if you don't realize it, because you can sense that they are not listening to you; they are merely selling themselves. At first they may seem to enjoy the exchange of ideas, but as the conversation progresses you will notice that they don't seem to care what you have to say.

"Candidates don't want to upset anyone, so they seek to communicate along a path of least resistance. They are people-pleasers whose goal is to avoid conflict. They may sometimes seem evasive, but if you recognize this communication style you will understand they are not being to be dishonest; they just don't want to displease anyone.

"A Senator chooses whatever communication style works in the situation. Senators go out of their way to respond warmly to Reflectives, respect the austerity of Nobles. They apply whatever communication style works under the circumstances. If a Reflective walks into a Senator's office, he will ask about the Reflective's weekend, and tell the Reflective about his. If a Noble comes in and asks, 'What time is the meeting, and where?' his response win be, 'Two o'clock, conference room.'

"Knowledge of these different communication styles is critical to accurately reading people. Just because someone answers a question with a short and terse response, it doesn't necessarily mean she dislikes you or is being evasive or dishonest."

Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, Ph.D., and Wendy Patrick Mazzarella, Reading People, Ballantine, Copyright to the revised edition 2008 by Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Wendy Patrick Mazzarella, pp. 152-153

Friday, March 13, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/13/09--Zeptoseconds, Yoctoseconds, and Chronons

In today's excerpt-a fraction of a second:

"What happens in subsections of seconds? In a tenth of a second, we find the proverbial 'blink of an eye,' for that's how long the act takes. In a hundredth of a second, a hummingbird can beat its wings once. ... A millisecond, 10 to the -3 power seconds, is the time it takes a typical camera strobe to flash. Five-thousandths of a second is also the time it takes a Mexican salamander ... to snag its prey.

"In one microsecond, 10 to the -6 power seconds, nerves can send a message from that pain in your neck to your brain. On the same scale, we can illuminate the vast difference between the speed of light and that of sound: in one microsecond, a beam of light can barrel down the length of three of our metric-resistant football fields, while a sound wave can barely traverse the width of a human hair.

"Yes, time is fleeting, so make every second and every partitioned second count, including nanoseconds, or billionths of a second, or 10 to the -9 power seconds. Your ordinary computer certainly does. In a nanosecond, the time it takes you to complete one hundred-millionth of an eye blink, a standard microprocessor can perform a simple operation: adding together two numbers ... The fastest computers perform their calculations in picoseconds, or trillionths of a second, that is, 10 to the -12 power seconds. ...

"Ephemera, however, are all relative. When physicists, with the aid of giant particle accelerators, manage to generate traces of a subatomic splinter called a heavy quark, the particle persists for a picosecond before it decays adieu. Granted, a trillionth of a second may not immediately conjure Methuselah or Strom Thurmond to mind, but Dr. [Robert] Jaffe observed that the quark fully deserves its classification among physicists as a long-lived, 'stable' particle. During its picosecond on deck, the quark completes a trillion, or 10 to the 12 power, extremely tiny orbits. By contrast our seemingly indomitable Earth has completed a mere 5 times 10 to the 9 power orbits around the sun in its 5 billion years of existence, and is expected to tally up only maybe another 10 billion laps before the solar system crumples and dies. ... In a very real sense, then, our solar system is far less 'stable' than particles like the heavy quark. ...

"Scaling down to an even less momentous moment, we greet the attosecond, a billionth of a billionth of a second, or 10 to the -18 power seconds. The briefest events that scientists can clock, as opposed to calculate, are measured in attoseconds. It takes an electron twenty-four attoseconds to complete a single orbit around a hydrogen atom - a voyage that the electron makes about 40,000 trillion times per second. There are more attoseconds in a single minute than there have been minutes since the birth of the universe.

"Still, physicists keep coming back to the nicking of time. In the 1990s, they inducted two new temporal units into the official lexicon, which are worth knowing for their appellations alone: the zeptosecond, or 10 to the -21 power seconds, and the yoctosecond, or 10 to the -24 power seconds. The briskest time span recognized to date is the chronon, or Planck time, and it lasts about 5 x 10 to the -44 power seconds. This is the time it takes light to travel what could be the shortest possible slice of space, the Planck length, the size of one of the hypothetical 'strings' that some physicists say lie at the base of all matter and force in the universe. "

Natalie Angier, The Canon, Houghton Mifflin, Copyright 2007 by Natalie Angier, pp. 77-78

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/12/09--Bananas

In today's encore excerpt--the banana. Originally from the fertile coastal soils of Asia and India, and named after the Arabic word for finger, bananas are the world's largest fruit crop and the fourth-largest product grown overall, after wheat, rice, and corn. Though a food staple for poor people in many parts of the world, bananas face a disease epidemic with no known cure that could lead to their extinction:

"Americans eat more bananas per year than apples and oranges combined; and in many other parts of the world, bananas--more than rice, more than potatoes--are what keep hundreds of millions of people alive. ... A banana tree isn't a tree at all; it's the world's largest herb. The fruit itself is actually a giant berry. Most of us eat just a single kind of banana, a variety called the Cavendish, but over one thousand types are found worldwide, including dozens of wild varieties, many no bigger than your pinky and filled with tooth-shattering seeds. ...

"There is no country on earth that loves bananas more than India. There are more varieties of the fruit there than anywhere else. If you visit, I recommend that you search for the lovely Thella Chakkarakeli, a candy-sweet fruit that is moist enough to almost be considered juicy. ... India grows 20 percent of the world's bananas--about 17 million tons--each year. That's three times more fruit than the world's number two banana-producing nation--Ecuador. ... More than 670 types of bananas, cultivated and wild, grow in the country. Thirty-two forest bananas are so rare that only a single plant or two have been discovered. ...

"The Cavendish is not the fruit your grandparents enjoyed. That banana was the Gros Michel--by all accounts a more spectacular banana than our Cavendish. It was larger, with a thicker skin, a creamier texture, and a more intense, fruity taste. ... But the Gros Michel disappeared. A disease began the ravage banana crops ... [and] by 1960, fifty years after the malady was first discovered, the Gros Michel was effectively extinct. The banana industry was in crisis, itself threatened with disappearance. It was only at the last minute that a new banana was adopted--the Cavendish, which was immune to the disease. ...

"Today, [a new] blight is tearing through banana crops worldwide. It has spread to Pakistan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. It is on the rise in Africa. While it has yet to arrive in our hemisphere, in dozens of interviews I have conducted since 2004, I couldn't find a single person studying the fruit who seriously believes it won't. For the past five years, banana scientist have been trying--in a race against time--to modify the fruit to make it resistant to [this new] disease."

Dan Koeppel, Banana, Hudson Street Press, Copyright 2008 by Dan Koeppel, pp. xii-xviii, 30- 31

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/11/09--Silk

In today's excerpt-silk, one of the most rare and precious commodities of the ancient world:

"Millennia ago, only the most prized merchandise--silk, gold and silver, spices, jewels, porcelains, and medicines--traveled between continents. The mere fact that a commodity came from a distant land imbued it with mystery, romance, and status. If the time were the third century after Christ and the place were Rome, the luxury import par excellence would have been Chinese silk.

"History celebrates the greatest of Roman emperors for their vast conquests, civic architecture, engineering, and legal institutions, but Elagabalus, who ruled from AD 218 to 222, is remembered, to the extent that he is remembered at all, for his outrageous behavior and his fondness for young boys and silk. During his reign he managed to shock the jaded populace of the ancient world's capital with a parade of scandalous acts, ranging from harmless pranks to the capricious murder of children. Nothing, however, commanded Rome's attention (and fired its envy) as much as his wardrobe and the lengths he went to flaunt it, such as removing all his body hair and powdering his face with red and white makeup. Although his favorite fabric was occasionally mixed with linen--the so-called sericum--Elagabalus was the first Western leader to wear clothes made entirely of silk.

"From its birthplace in East Asia to its last port of call in ancient Rome, only the ruling classes could afford the excretion of the tiny invertebrate Bombyx mori--the silkworm. The modem reader, spoiled by inexpensive, smooth, comfortable synthetic fabrics, should imagine clothing made predominantly from three materials: cheap, but hot, heavy animal skins; scratchy wool; or wrinkled, white linen. (Cotton, though available from India and Egypt, was more difficult to produce, and thus likely more expensive, than even silk.) In a world with such a limited sartorial palette, the gentle, almost weightless caress of silk on bare skin would have seduced all who felt it. ...

"The gods themselves could not resist: Isis was said to have draped herself in 'fine silk yielding diverse colors, sometime yellow, sometime rose, sometime flamy, and sometime (which troubled my spirit sore) dark and obscure.' ...

"Although the Romans knew Chinese silk, they knew not China. They believed that silk grew directly on the mulberry tree, not realizing that the leaves were merely the worm's home and its food. ...

"[Silk] was costly enough in China; in Rome, it was yet a hundred times costlier--worth its weight in gold, so expensive that even a few ounces might consume a year of an average man's wages. Only the wealthiest, such as Emperor Elagabalus, could afford an entire toga made from it."

William J. Bernstein, A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, Atlantic Monthly Press, Copyright 2008 by William J. Bernstein, Kindle location 26-51

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/10/09--Billy Graham

In today's excerpt--Billy Graham (b. 1918), came to national prominence in 1949 as part of the national religious revival that followed World War II. His natural audience was displaced southern whites--the great early-to-mid twentieth century diaspora of white southerners away from dwindling rural jobs to the commercial north and west. He received an unexpected and indispensable boost from William Randolph Hearst, whose vast newspaper empire had influenced causes from the Spanish-American War forward:

"Graham first entered the national spotlight in the fall of 1949 during his two-month-long Christ for Greater Los Angeles campaign. The Los Angeles revival holds a firm place in the Graham mythology. He came to Southern California as a representative, if quite successful, preacher following the well-traveled fundamentalist revival circuit. ...

"Graham arrived in Los Angeles toward the start of a well-publicized postwar national religious revival that eventually saw Congress add 'one nation under God' to the Pledge of Allegiance. Churches and synagogues boomed along with the birth rate. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Graham's chosen denomination, saw five hundred new churches built between 1946 and 1949, with the denomination growing by around 300,000 members during the same period. 'Religion-in-general,' in historian Martin E. Marty's famous phrase, gained new credence during the postwar years. 'Our government,' President Dwight Eisenhower flatly declared, 'makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith--and I don't care what it is.' Such reflexive, but not self-reflexive, 'faith in faith,' as Marty also called it, did not inevitably portend a revival of the old-time gospel. Yet it certainly offered an opening for an evangelist claiming that the faith of the fathers could resolve the conundrums of modern man.

"The Christ for Greater Los Angeles campaign took a while to gain steam. The pivotal moment came when newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst ordered his army of editors to 'Puff Graham,' words that Graham supporters have happily recounted almost from the moment their effects first registered. Hearst ... was likely drawn to the strident anticommunist message of the dynamic young evangelist. ... Word about the lanky young evangelist quickly spread from the headlines of Los Angeles newspapers to the pages of Time, Life, and Newsweek. Graham became a religious media phenomenon to a degree unseen on North American soil since the eighteenth-century peregrinations of English evangelist George Whitefield. The hoopla thrust Graham into a national mainstream from whose current he has rarely strayed since.

"Graham's success in Los Angeles and other areas outside his native South had more to do with his southern background than is initially apparent. In his early career, the evangelist benefited from the continuing migration of white southerners westward and northward in search of industrial jobs. The white southern diaspora, a phenomenon less explored than the related Great Migration of black southerners, left a distinct imprint on twentieth-century American Christianity. The 1949 Los Angeles revival drew strength from the many fundamentalist-inclined 'country preachers' who had moved from Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma to the 'Southland' of California."

Steve P. Miller, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, release date 4/1/2009, excerpted with permission of the University of Pennsylvania Press, Copyright 2009 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 14-1.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/9/09--Romans and Age

In today's excerpt-as many as half of the people in classical Rome and medieval Europe did not know their age:

"The average numeracy and literacy of even rich people in the classical and medieval eras in Europe was surprisingly poor. Aurelius Isidorus, a prosperous landowner in Roman Egypt in the third century AD, gave five known age declarations. No two of the declarations are consistent. Clearly Isidorus had no clear idea of his own age. Within two years' time he gives ages that differ by eight years. Other sources show that Isidorus was illiterate.

"Isidorus's age declarations show a common pattern for those who are 'innumerate.' That is a tendency to round the age to one ending in a 0 or a 5. In populations in which ages are recorded accurately, 20 percent of the recorded ages will end in 5 or 0. We can thus construct a score variable H-which measures the degree of "age heaping," where H = 5/4(X-20), and X is the percentage of age declarations ending in 5 or 0-to measure the percentage of the population whose real age is unknown. ...

"A lack of knowledge of their true age was widespread among the Roman upper classes as evidenced by age declarations made by their survivors on tombstones, which show a high degree of age heaping. Typically half had ages unknown to their survivors. Age awareness did correlate with social class. More than 80 percent of officeholders' ages were known to relatives. When we compare this with death records for modern Europe we find that by the eve of the Industrial Revolution age awareness in the general population had increased markedly. In the eighteenth century in Paris only 15 percent of the general population had unknown ages at the time of death, in Geneva 23 percent, and in Liege 26 percent.

"We can also look at the development of age awareness by examining censuses of the living. Some of the earliest of these are for medieval Italy, including the famous Florentine catasto of 1427, a wide-ranging survey of wealth for tax purposes. Even though Florence was then one of the richest cities of the world and the center of the Renaissance, 32 percent of the city's population did not know their ages. In comparison a census in 1790 of the small English town of Corfe Castle, with a mere 1,239 inhabitants, most of them laborers, shows that all but 8 percent knew their age. The poor in England around 1800 had more age awareness than office holders in the Roman Empire.

"Another feature of the Roman tombstone age declarations is that many ages were greatly overstated. We know that life expectancy in ancient Rome was perhaps as low as 20-25 at birth. Yet the tombstones record people as dying at ages as high as 120. In North Africa, 3 percent allegedly died at 100 or more. Almost all these great ages must be complete fantasy. In comparison, a set of 250 relatively prosperous testators in England circa 1600, whose ages can be established from parish records, had a highest age at death of 88. Yet the children and grandchildren who memorialized richer Romans did not detect any implausibility in recording these fabulous ages."

Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton, Copyright 2007 by Princeton University Press, Loc. 3246-85

Friday, March 06, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/6/09--Supersizing

In today's excerpt--supersizing and the "thrifty gene":

"That distinction [of inventing supersizing] belongs to a man named David Wallerstein. Until his death in 1993, Wallerstein served on the board of directors at McDonald's, but in the fifties and sixties he worked for a chain of movie theaters in Texas, where he labored to expand sales of soda and popcorn--the high-markup items that theaters depend on for their profitability. As the story is told in John Love's official history of McDonald's, Wallerstein tried everything he could think of to goose up sales--two-for-one deals, matinee specials--but found he simply could not induce customers to buy more than one soda and one bag of popcorn. He thought he knew why: Going for seconds makes people feel piggish.

"Wallerstein discovered that people would spring for more popcorn and soda--a lot more--as long as it came in a single gigantic serving. Thus was born the two-quart bucket of popcorn, the sixty-four-ounce Big Gulp, and, in time, the Big Mac and the jumbo fries, though Ray Kroc himself took some convincing. In 1968, Wallerstein went to work for McDonald's, but try as he might, he couldn't convince Kroc, the company's founder, of supersizing's magic powers.

" 'If people want more fries,' Kroc told him, 'they can buy two bags.' Wallerstein patiently explained that McDonald's customers did want more but were reluctant to buy a second bag. 'They don't want to look like gluttons.'

"Kroc remained skeptical, so Wallerstein went looking for proof. He began staking out McDonald's outlets in and around Chicago, observing how people ate. He saw customers noisily draining their sodas, and digging infinitesimal bits of salt and burnt spud out of their little bags of French fries. After Wallerstein presented his findings, Kroc relented and approved supersized portions, and the dramatic spike in sales confirmed the marketer's hunch. Deep cultural taboos against gluttony--one of the seven deadly sins, after all--had been holding us back. Wallerstein's dubious achievement was to devise the dietary equivalent of a papal dispensation: Supersize it! He had discovered the secret to expanding the (supposedly) fixed human stomach.

"One might think that people would stop eating and drinking these gargantuan portions as soon as they felt full, but it turns out hunger doesn't work that way. Researchers have found that people (and animals) presented with large portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise. Human appetite, it turns out, is surprisingly elastic, which makes excellent evolutionary sense: It behooved our hunter-gatherer ancestors to feast whenever the opportunity presented itself, allowing them to build up reserves of fat against future famine. Obesity researchers call this trait the 'thrifty gene.' And while the gene represents a useful adaptation in an environment of food scarcity and unpredictability, it's a disaster in an environment of fast-food abundance, when the opportunity to feast presents itself 24/7. Our bodies are storing reserves of fat against a famine that never comes."

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Penguin, Copyright 2006 by Michael Pollan, pp. 105-106

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/5/09--Mack the Knife

In today's encore excerpt--"Mack the Knife," surely one of the strangest songs in recent times, topped the U.S. charts in versions sung by Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong, and found renewed fame in a Steve Martin comedy routine, in which Martin repeats the famous line:

"Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear, and he shows them pearly white ... ." However, the song was born in the despair, chaos and perversion of Germany in the 1920s, written by playwright Berthold Brecht and composer Kurt Weill as part of their dark 1928 musical The Threepenny Opera:

"Weill grew up a shy, serious boy, devoted to music. ... The transformation of his style was quickened by Lotte Lenya. ... Weill became romantically and professionally involved with Lenya starting in 1924, and was never the same afterward. The product of a poor background and an abusive father, she found employment variously as a dancer, a singer, an actress, a stage extra, an acrobat, and briefly, a prostitute--a profession that ensnared countless German and Austrian women during the years of chaos and inflation. Weill's music began to resemble her voice--that famously unpolished, cutting, wearily expressive instrument. ...

"Brecht loved outlaws, thugs, men of no principles. In his adolescence, he idolized the turn-of-the-century Austrian playwright Frank Wedekind, who shocked Vienna with his scabrous, criminal appearance. ... Macheath, a.k.a. Mackie, the antihero of The Threepenny Opera, is the nastiest of Brecht's homunculi. ... He is at once charming and menacing, mainly because of the musical number that introduces him: 'Die Moritat vom Mackie Messer,' otherwise known as 'Mack the Knife.' This most famous of Weimar songs takes the form of a 'murder ballad,' a catalog of killings. Macheath is revealed not merely as a high-living highwayman but as an apparent psychopath who kills as much for pleasure as for financial gain. Schmul Meier has disappeared, along with many rich men; Jenny Towler is found with a knife in her breast; seven children die in a great fire in Soho; a young girl is raped. [The libretto reflects the] Weimar culture which then exhibited an unhealthy fixation on the figure of the serial or sexual killer. ...

"In 1962 Lenya appeared in the revue Brecht on Brecht at the Theater de Lys in New York's Greenwich Village. A young Minnesota-born singer-songwriter named Bob Dylan came to see the show and found himself mesmerized by Lenya's singing of 'Pirate Jenny,' in which a prostitute fantasizes revenge on the men who exploit her. 'The audience was the 'gentlemen' in the song,' Dylan wrote in his autobiography, Chronicles. ... 'It wasn't a protest or topical song and their was no love of people in it.' ...

"In the spirit of Brecht and Weill, Dylan proceeded to carve his own phrases into the minds of late-twentieth-century listeners: 'The answer is blowin' in the wind,' 'A hard rain's a-gonna fall,' 'The times they are a-changin' .' The last was a direct quotation from one of Brecht's lyrics for Hanns Eisler. The spirit of Berlin played on."

Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Copyright 2007 by Alex Ross, pp. 187-194

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/3/09-Blood is the Manure of the Tree of Liberty

In today's excerpt--Thomas Jefferson, writing when the states were truly thirteen separate governments under the Articles of Confederation, thought blood to be the manure in which the tree of liberty grows, and wished for rebellions no less than every twenty years. Later, as President under the new Constitution, he underscored his preferences on this point by pardoning all those prosecuted under the Alien and Sedition Acts, which had (among other things) made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials:

"I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, & as necessary in the political world as storm in the physical. "

To James Madison, Paris, January 30,1787

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now & then. It is like a storm in the Atmosphere"

To Abigail Adams, Paris, February 22, 1787

"God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people can not be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13 states independent for 11 years. There has been one rebellion [Shays's Rebellion]. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve its liberties, if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure."

To William Stephens Smith, Paris, November 13, 1787

"For my own part I consider the [Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798] as merely an experiment on the American mind to see how far it will bear an avowed violation of the constitution."

To Stevens Thomson Mason, Monticello, October 11, 1798

"I discharged every person under punishment or prosecution under the Sedition law, because I considered & now consider that law to be a nullity as absolute and as palpable as if Congress had ordered us to fall down and worship a golden image; and that it was as much my duty to arrest its execution in every stage, as it would have been to have rescued from the fiery furnace those who should have been cast into it for refusing to worship their image."

To Abigail Adams, Washington, July 22,1804

John P. Kaminski, The Quotable Jefferson, Princeton, Copyright 2006 by the Princeton University Press, pp. 390-391, 134.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 3/2/09--Poltava!

In today's excerpt--300 years ago, Sweden was the terrible and terrifying power of Northern Europe--"the best fighting machine in Europe"--and Russia was an uncivilized backwater. Then on June 27, 1709 at the Battle of Poltava, Tsar Peter the Great bested Sweden's Charles XII and Russia emerged as a major European power:

"Charles XII inherited the crown of Sweden in 1697 at the age of 15. He ... was determined to emulate the feats of his great predecessor Gustav II Vasa (1611 to 1632), ... Protestant hero of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) who had established the greatness of Sweden. Gustav had forced European monarchs to accept this ruler of a remote northern land as an equal and had established the basis of an empire which by 1697 embraced Sweden, Finland, Lapland, ... Estonia, and the bishoprics facing the North Sea. The Baltic had, in effect, become a Swedish lake and Charles's navy was able, very largely, to control the commercial relations of Poland, the north German states and Russia with the outside world.

"Peter I became sole ruler of Russia in 1696 at the age of 23. He understood well the importance of international trade. ... The problem was that Russia was virtually land-locked. ... Peter needed a Baltic outlet. He created and equipped a new-style army and built a Russian navy from scratch. He was determined to challenge Swedish supremacy. ... [The port areas in] the northwestern tip of today's Russia on which St Petersburg now stands had been a bone of contention between the two countries for centuries, having passed back and forth between them. Since 1617 it had been under Swedish dominion and had become a region marked by bitter rivalry between Orthodox residents and Lutheran rulers.

"In 1699 Peter allied himself with Sweden's other enemies, Denmark and Saxony, and declared war. [In the conflict] Charles quickly disposed of Denmark and turned his attention towards Tsar Peter. ... Charles regarded himself as embarked on a Protestant crusade against a decadent, heretical oriental for whom he had no respect. ... The Swedish soldiers were devoted to their king and he turned them into a fighting force without equal ...

"[But the Russian winter became the would-be conqueror's nemesis as he advanced against Peter.] A Lutheran pastor with the Swedish army wrote: 'The spittle from mouths turned to ice before it reached the ground, sparrows fell frozen from the roofs to the ground. You could see some men without hands, others without hands and feet, others deprived of fingers, face, ears and noses, others crawling like quadrupeds.' ...

"By the end of the winter the Swedish army had been reduced almost by half ... as Charles brought his army up to the small fortified town of Poltava situated at the point where the Kharkov road crossed the river Vorskla. ...

"By midday it was all over. The shreds of Charles's army were hurrying southwards. The king himself only narrowly avoided capture; his litter was smashed by a cannon ball and several of his bearers were killed. ...

"All Europe was stunned by the news from Poltava. The statesmen knew that a major player had entered their game. It was still several years before Sweden was forced to admit defeat but its empire was crumbling. As the European map was redrawn, kings and princes scrambled to grab territory. One man commanded a foremost position in the negotiations - Tsar Peter of Russia."

Derek Wilson, "Poltava: The Battle that Changed the World," History Today, March 2009, pp. 23-29