Thursday, April 30, 2009 4/30/09--Julie Andrews

In today's encore excerpt--Julie Andrews, known to the world for her star turns in My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, is left by her mother at the age of five:

"My father, Ted Wells, became a full-time teacher at age twenty-four on Boxing Day, December 26, 1932. On the very same day, at St. Peter's Church in Hersham, he and my mother, Barbara, were married. My mother once told me that Granny Julia had said to her on her deathbed, 'Whatever you do, don't marry Ted Wells.' It was probably because he was so very poor. ...

"Someone once asked me which parent I hated the most. It was a provocative question and an interesting one, because it suddenly became apparent to me which one I loved with all my being ... and that was my father. My mother was terribly important to me and I know how much I yearned for her in my youth, but I don't think I truly trusted her. ... My mother started going away for periods of time, working more regularly [to supplement our income], mostly playing at concert parties. ... In the summer of 1939, Mum played a series of concert parties for the Dazzle Company in the seaside town of Bognor Regis. It was there she became an accompanist for a young Canadian tenor by the name of Ted Andrews, who had just arrived in England. ... That September, World War II broke out. ...

"My mother was now often away performing with Ted Andrews. ... My brother Johnny and I remained with Dad and Aunt Joan. Early in 1940, my mother signed on for ENSA, an organization set up to provide recreation for British armed forces personnel during the war. She went off with Ted to entertain troops in France. There were two children at home who needed her, but I think the compulsion to go with Ted was overwhelming. One particular day before she left is seared upon my memory.

"Mum took me out for a walk, which was unusual since she never had time to take walks with me. We strolled through the village, hand in hand, past the shops--and I saw a child's dress in a window. It was over-the-top, fluffy and pink, but I thought it was the prettiest I had ever seen. A day or so later, I came home from some outing and as I entered the house, I realized it was empty and that she had gone. She had not said good-bye. Though she had been away before, I sensed, the way children can, that she was not coming back.

"Feeling terribly sad, I went upstairs to my bedroom and discovered the fluffy pink dress spread out on the bed with a note. Nothing special--just 'With love, from Mummy' or some such thing. My heart full to bursting, I ached for her, loved her, missed her, knew that she had thought of me as she left--and I wept."

Julie Andrews, Home, Hyperion, Copyright 2008 by Julie Andrews, pp. 14-24.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 4/29/09--Hitler's Library

In today's excerpt--Adolf Hitler's library:

"In 1942 an American journalist called Frederick Oechsner published a book about Hitler entitled This Is the Enemy. It included an account of Hitler's personal library, based on interviews Oechsner had conducted with the Führer's associates while working as the United Press International correspondent in Berlin. And the first thing he made clear was that the library was a very substantial one. Hitler's books were divided between his official residence in Berlin and the Berghof, his mountain retreat near Berchtesgaden, and there were over 16,000 of them--an estimate that subsequent scholarship has confirmed.

"Much of what Oechsner went on to report can hardly have come as a surprise--the fact that a large part of the collection was devoted to military history, for instance. But he also found room for a good deal of curious detail. When books about horse-breeding showed pictures of stallions alongside pictures of mares, Hitler frequently struck through the pictures of the mares with a red pencil, apparently to signal their inferiority. There were whole drawers in the library filled with photographs of famous actors, singers, and dancers. The four hundred-odd books in the section on the Catholic Church included numerous works of pornography, some of them said to have been annotated by Hitler with 'gross and uncouth' marginal notes.

"Oechsner also offered a glimpse of the nine hundred or so works of 'simple, popular fiction' that the library contained. Foremost among them were the German cowboy-and-Indian tales of Karl May, boyhood favorites of Hitler that he repeatedly reread as an adult and recommended to his generals as manuals of strategy. There were also a large number of detective stories, with the British thriller-writer Edgar Wallace a particularly conspicuous presence. (This is not as unlikely as it may sound. Wallace was enormously popular in Germany: another great admirer was Konrad Adenauer.) And love stories were well represented in the library by the novelettes of Hedwig Courts-Mahler, characterized by Oechsner as 'the leading romantic sob sister of Germany,' and scores of similar works. These last volumes were apparently kept in plain covers so as not to reveal their titles.

"In a new study by Timothy W. Ryback, Hitler's Private Library, Oechsner's sketch is reprinted as an appendix. As Ryback says, the sketch is 'journalistic by nature and propagandistic in intent;' some of its claims, he adds, are 'sensational and salacious.' But he also concedes that it is 'the best portrait we have of Hitler's book collection.' Much of it rings true (and about those sensational claims, we simply can't be sure). But what makes it especially valuable is that it is the only account of the library written before it was dispersed or destroyed.

"In 1945 the ten thousand books that Hitler had kept in Berlin were shipped off to Russia by the Soviet authorities. They have not been seen since. Meanwhile, American soldiers were picking through the books that survived at the Berghof (which was by now a smoldering ruin), and others that had been kept in Munich. An unknown number of these minor spoils of war found their way to the States as souvenirs.

"Amid all the chaos, one significant section of the library remained intact--a cache of three thousand books that had been placed for safekeeping in a salt mine near Berchtesgaden. It was sent to Washington, and after duplicates or works judged to be of no great interest had been weeded out, 1,200 volumes were set aside by the Library of Congress as a separate collection."

John Gross, "A Constant Reader," The New York Review of Books, May 14, 2009, p. 8.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 4/28/09--Psychopaths

In today's excerpt--psychopaths. Eric Harris, leader of the duo that carried out the Columbine massacre, was a psychopath:

"Eric Harris was neither normal nor insane. Psychopathy (si-COP-uh-thee) represents a third category. Psychopathic brains don't function like those in either of the other groups, but they are consistently similar to one another. Eric killed for two reasons: to demonstrate his superiority and to enjoy it."To a psychopath, both motives make sense. Psychopaths ... can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.' ...

"Psychopaths have likely plagued mankind since the beginning, but they are still poorly understood. In the 1800s, as the fledgling field of psychology began classifying mental disorders, one group refused to fit. Every known psychosis was marked by a failure of reasoning or a debilitating ailment: paralyzing fear, hallucinations, voices, phobias, and so on. In 1885, the term psychopath was introduced to describe vicious human predators who were not deranged, delusional, or depressed. They just enjoyed being bad.

"Psychopaths are distinguished by two characteristics. The first is a ruthless disregard for others: they will defraud, maim, or kill for the most trivial personal gain. The second is an astonishing gift for disguising the first. It's the deception that makes them so dangerous. You never see him coming. (It's usually a him--more than 80 percent are male.) Don't look for the oddball creeping you out. Psychopaths don't act like Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates. They come off like Hugh Grant, in his most adorable role. ...

"Psychopaths take great personal pride in their deceptions and extract tremendous joy from them. Lies become the psychopath's occupation, and when the truth will work, they lie for sport. 'I like to con people,' one subject told a researcher during an extended interview. 'I'm conning you right now.' Lying for amusement is so profound in psychopaths, it stands out as their signature characteristic. 'Duping delight,' psychologist Paul Ekman dubbed it. ...

"Symptoms appear so early, and so often in stable homes with normal siblings, that the condition seems to be inborn. Most parents report having been aware of disturbing signs before the child entered kindergarten. Dr. Robert Hare described a five-year-old girl repeatedly attempting to flush her kitten down the toilet. 'I caught her just as she was about to try again,' the mother said. 'She seemed quite unconcerned, maybe a bit angry--about being found out.' When the woman told her husband, the girl calmly denied the whole thing. Shame did not register; neither did fear. Psychopaths are not individuals losing touch with those emotions. They never developed them from the start. ...

"Researchers are still just beginning to understand psychopaths, but they believe psychopaths crave the emotional responses they lack. They are nearly always thrill seekers. They love roller coasters and hang gliding, and they seek out high-anxiety occupations, like ER tech, bond trader, or Marine. Crime, danger, impoverishment, death--any sort of risk will help. They chase new sources of excitement because it is so difficult for them to sustain.

"They rarely stick with a career; they get bored. Even as career criminals, psychopaths underperform. They 'lack clear goals and objectives, getting involved in a wide variety of opportunistic offenses, rather than specializing the way typical career criminals do,' Dr. Hervey Cleckley wrote. They make careless mistakes and pass up stunning opportunities, because they lose interest. They perform spectacularly in short bursts--a few weeks, a few months, a yearlong big con--then walk away. ...

"Rare killer psychopaths nearly always get bored with murder, too. When they slit a throat, their pulse races, but it falls just as fast. It stays down--no more joy from cutting throats for a while; that thrill has already been spent."

Dave Cullen, Columbine, Hachette Book Group, Copyright 2009 by Dave Cullen, pp. 239-244

Monday, April 27, 2009 4/27/09--Hopi Language

In today's excerpt--in the 1930s, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf introduced the theory that the structure of language profoundly changes the way its users think and vice-versa, and that, for example, since they believed the Hopi had no way to mark past or future tense, they further believed Hopi society thought very differently about the concept of time. John McWhorter disagrees:

"One of the most popular ideas is that a language's grammar and the way its words pattern reflect aspects of its speakers' culture and the way they think. Countless times I have witnessed the hush in a classroom when introducing undergraduates to this hypothesis. If one doesn't pick this up in college, one will catch it in newspaper and magazine articles about indigenous groups, or even in bits of folk wisdom floating around. ...

"This idea that 'grammar is thought' became influential from the writings of Edward Sapir ... [and] Sapir's student Benjamin Lee Whorf. ... The hypothesis is known, therefore, as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

"The hypothesis has also failed. Repeatedly and conclusively. Decade after decade, no one has turned up anything showing that grammar marches with culture and thought in the way that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis claimed. At best, there are some shards of evidence that language affects thought patterns in subtle ways, which do not remotely approach the claims of Whorf.

"Yet the Sapir-Whorf idea is cited enthusiastically in textbooks even today, and is a favorite approach to language by journalists. In 2004 a New York Times writer supposed that the language of the Kawesqar tribe in Chile has no future tense marking because, having been nomads traveling often in canoes in the past, they would usually have been so unclear on what was going to happen in the future that there was no need to ever talk about it (!). Never mind that Japanese has no future markers either, and yet the Japanese hardly seem unconcerned with the future. The point is that this Times writer would not have even floated such a notion if it weren't for the seed planted by [Sapir and] Whorf's work. ...

"Whorf's piece de resistance was an observation about the language of the Hopi: that it does not mark time in any way. He argued that this made Hopi speakers think in a way completely different from us Westerners, with our persnickety obsession with past, present, and future. The Hopis, he argued, think of time as cyclical, to the extent that they even have a concept of 'time' as an ongoing process in the way that we do.

"Grammars do differ in what concepts they choose to mark. Spanish marks gender on nouns. Japanese does not, but it has markers showing whether a noun is a subject or object. All grammars mark some things; no grammar marks everything. Whorf's idea was that which things a grammar happens to mark determines what its speakers perceive most readily in their daily lives. ...

"Therefore, [Whorf espoused that] Western scientific advances presumably correspond to our languages' rich tense marking: [He wrote] 'Newtonian space, time, and matter are no intuitions. They are recepts from culture and language. That is where Newton got them.' This is why, therefore, it was not Native Americans who gave the world theoretical physics.

"Whorf, as it happened, was a fire insurance inspector by day, and perhaps it was partly because of this that he did not know Hopi very well. Quite simply, Hopi has as much equipment for placing events in time as any language. ... Yet Whorf s claim about Hopi was quite explicit; i.e., that Hopi has 'no words, grammatical forms, constructions, or expressions that refer directly to what we call time; or to past, or future, or to enduring or lasting.' In other words, Whorf was just wrong. ... It is dismaying to see how deeply the idea has permeated educated thought nevertheless."

John McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, Gotham, Copyright 2008 by John McWhorter, pp. 137-144

Friday, April 24, 2009 4/24/09--Propaganda

In today's excerpt-propaganda in war. During all modern wars, there has been a highly active subset of each combatant's population that has spontaneously stepped forward to advocate the justness of the war, the heinousness of the enemy, the importance of unquestioning loyalty, and the nobility of dying for the cause:

"Thus far it has been assumed that by propaganda [in World War I] we mean government propaganda. In fact, much wartime propaganda was not produced by governmental agencies at all, but by autonomous organizations or private individuals. ...

"A good deal of less expensive 'propaganda' was produced without any reference whatever to government by associations like Sir Francis Younghusband's Fight for Right Movement, the Council of Loyal British Subjects, the Victoria League, the British Empire Union and the Central Council for National Patriotic Organisations. The same can be said for Germany, where the Pan-German League and the new Fatherland Party performed a similarly independent role. In America, the search for the enemy within was conducted less by the Justice Department than by vigilante groups like the American Patriotic League, the Patriotic Order of Sons of America and the Knights of Liberty. Such organizations were responsible for hundreds of incidents of extra-legal violence during the war years, including lynchings of individuals suspected of harboring sympathy for the enemy. ...

"Poets mobilized themselves too. The Times estimated that it received around a hundred poems a day in August 1914, the vast majority in the patriotic/romantic vein. According to one estimate, no fewer than 50,000 war poems were written in Germany every day in the same month. ...

"At every level of society war propaganda did not have to be produced by governments; it produced itself. Academics, journalists, amateur poets and ordinary people churned it out unprompted. Businesses manufactured it too. Nothing perhaps illustrates this better than the production of toys and comics for children, a phenomenon discernible in nearly all the combatant countries. In Britain there were toy tanks (available six months after they were first used in battle); in France, Lusitania jigsaws and a militarized version of Monopoly; in Germany, miniature artillery pieces which fired peas. ...

"In all countries there was a torrent of what Paul Fussell has called 'high diction': a friend became a 'comrade', a horse became a 'steed', the enemy became the 'foe'. ... Poetry was the preferred vehicle for such sentiments. 'Death is no death to him that dares to die,' intoned Sir Henry Newbolt, not untypically, in his 'Sacramentum Supremum'. 'Who stands if freedom fall?' asked Kipling in 'For All We Have and Are'; 'Who dies if England live?' No aspect of the war, no matter how unromantic, was safe from this idiom. Newbolt could adopt it even when writing about a war film ('O living pictures of the dead, O songs without a sound. ...) Alfred Noyes, another poet of the old school, described Glaswegian female munitions workers 'lavishing all the passion of motherhood' on their 'gleaming brood of shells ... brought forth to shield a dearer brood of flesh and blood.' Gilbert Murray sought to justify such drivel, arguing that 'the language of romance and melodrama has now become ... the language of our normal life ... The old phrase about 'Death being better than dishonor' - phrases that we thought were fitted for the stage or for children's stories - are now the ordinary truths on which we live.'

"He protested too much. A more sober critic was closer to the mark when he dismissed wartime high diction as 'word paint.' "

Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War, Basic Books, Copyright 1999 by Niall Ferguson, pp. 226-231

Thursday, April 23, 2009 4/23/09--The Marquis de Lafayette

In today's encore excerpt--in the bloodiest hours of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette, a true hero of the American Revolution, lay pale and emaciated in a filthy Austrian dungeon:

"How was it that Lafayette, having blazed trails of glory in America, was so spectacularly unsuccessful in guiding the French Revolution? It is an intriguing puzzle. He was ... six-foot-one, unusually handsome, and marvelously self-deprecating, he possessed an exquisite bloodline that stretched back to service for Joan of Arc. His family had spilled blood in the name of country, served kings in the name of honor,and amassed extraordinary wealth; he was perhaps the richest aristocrat in France. ... But at the age of nineteen, brimming with passions and compassion and idealism, left it all behind, and defying orders of the king, volunteered to fight and bleed for American independence. And fight and bleed he did: He groped his way through South Carolina's swamps, endured the hideous cold at Valley Forge, weathered the tireless crack of enemy fire in Virginia, and was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. ... Lafayette was a courageous and canny soldier, revered and loved by his troops. And when America's Revolution tottered on the brink of failure, he harbored no illusions save for idealism, and promptly set sail for France to help push Europe's oldest, most entrenched monarchy to ally itself with the upstart rebels against a fellow king. Succeeding, he arrived on American shores with a sizable French armada in tow, then played a critical role in the campaign that ultimately led to Britain's defeat at Yorktown, earning him the accolade of 'the conqueror of Cornwallis.' ...

"Washington welcomed him, 'as if he were my own son'; in turn, Lafayette loved Washington back as 'my adoptive father.' ...

"Yet whatever Lafayette's successes in America, they quickly turned to farce and then calamity when he labored to transplant American-style liberty and constitutionalism in his native land; more often than not, as the revolution intensified, and the bloodshed mounted, he was fatally naive, or, at times, downright incompetent. ... Once the royal family was incarcerated in the Temple and as an arrest warrant now hung over his head, he hoped to flee to Britain and settle in his adopted land--America. ... He told his wife: 'Let us settle in America, where we will find the liberty that no longer exists in France.' But it was not meant to be, for in France, he was a marked man, and across Europe, monarchs damned Lafayette for having carried this dreaded disease [of liberty] over from America and releasing it on their continent. ...

"Seized by Austrians, Lafayette protested that he was an American citizen; unmoved, their response was to lock him up in a fortress prison. ... For her part, Lafayette's wife begged Washington to use his influence to obtain Lafayette's release. But Washington was as helpless as she was--the United States was still allied with Jacobin France, which wanted Lafayette's head, and lacked sway with the monarchies of Europe. ... In prison, Lafayette soon became almost unrecognizable: Once days turned to weeks, then weeks to months and months to years, he was covered in rags, his hair fell out, and oozing sores covered his skin. But unlike so many of his compatriots, at least he was still alive."

Jay Winik, The Great Upheaval, Harper Collins, Copyright 2007 by Jay Winik, pp. 400-402

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 4/22/09--Media Accuracy

In today's excerpt--the Columbine massacre and the media. In the hours after the April 20, 1999 Columbine massacre, the press began reporting rumors as fact--that the killers were "targeting" jocks, were victims of bullying, were Goths, and belonged to a gang called the Trench Coat Mafia. The myths they promulgated in those first few hours were all incorrect yet persist as explanations in the popular mind even to this day:

"The Trench Coat Mafia [explanation] was mythologized because it was colorful, memorable, and fit the existing myth of the school shooter as outcast loner. All the Columbine myths worked that way. And they all sprang to life incredibly fast--most of the notorious myths took root [in the few hours] before the killers' bodies were found.

"We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and no Trench Coat Mafia. Most of those elements existed at Columbine--which is what gave them such currency. They just had nothing to do with the murders. The lesser myths are equally unsupported: no connection to Marilyn Manson, Hitler's birthday, minorities, or Christians. Few people knowledgeable about the case believe those myths anymore. Not reporters, investigators, families of the victims, or their legal teams. And yet most of the public takes them for granted. Why? ...

"In a school of two thousand, most of the student body didn't even know the boys. Nor had many seen gunfire directly. Initially, most students told reporters they had no idea who attacked them. That changed fast. Most of the two thousand got themselves to a television or kept a constant cell phone vigil with viewers. It took only a few TV mentions for the trench coat connection to take hold. It sounded so obvious. Of course! Trench coats, Trench Coat Mafia! ...

"Repetition was the problem. Only a handful of students mentioned the Trench Coat Mafia (TCM) during the first five hours of CNN coverage--virtually all fed from local news stations. But reporters homed in on the idea. ... Kids 'knew' the TCM was involved because witnesses and news anchors had said so on TV. They confirmed it with friends watching similar reports. ... Pretty soon, most of the students had multiple independent confirmations. They believed they knew the TCM was behind the attack as a fact. From 1:00 to 8:00 P.m., the number of students in Clement Park citing the group went from almost none to nearly all. They weren't making it up, they were [simply] repeating it back. ...

"The writers assumed kids were informing the media. It was the other way around. Most of the myths were in place by nightfall. By then, it was a given that the killers had been targeting jocks. The target myth was the most insidious, because it went straight to motive. The public believes Columbine was an act of retribution: a desperate reprisal for unspeakable jock-abuse. Like the other myths, it began with a kernel of truth.

"Bullying and racism? Those were known threats. Explaining it away was reassuring. By evening, the target theory was dominating most broadcasts; nearly all the major papers featured it. ... Reuters attributed the theory to 'many witnesses' and USA Today to 'students.' ... If students said targeting, that was surely it. Police detectives ... were baffled by this media consensus."

Dave Cullen, Columbine, Hachette Book Group, Copyright 2009 by Dave Cullen, pp. 149-152.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 4/21/09--Christian Persecution

In today's excerpt--the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, and the subsequent persecution of "pagans" by Christians, as discussed by James J. O'Donnell, a Princeton and Yale-educated historian who has taught at Bryn Mawr, Cornell and Penn, and has published widely on the history and culture of the late antique Mediterranean world:

"Christianity, born and bred in the Jewish matrix, made the rest of the world what it called pagan by detaching the Jewish assertion of uniqueness from place of origin, and opening membership to all humankind. 'Go and teach all nations,' Jesus was said to have taught, and Christians most often took this teaching quite seriously, even if it didn't move most of them to relocate and teach in strange lands. They followed in this regard not only Jesus but Paul, for it was Paul's reading of Christianity--as something far more ambitious than the revival or fulfillment of traditional Judaism--that prevailed in the end.

"Forcing a message of uniqueness and exclusivity allowed Christians to make themselves satisfyingly unpopular. Persecution became their badge of success. Popular imagination probably still thinks of a long period of time in which hard-nosed Roman governors regularly pulled brave, dewy-eyed, idealistic Christians off the streets, tortured them, and then fed them to the lions. The facts are less glamorous, but the influential church historian Eusebius, a fourth-century contemporary and supporter of Constantine, imbued this idea with long life in his account of ten waves of persecution that mirrored Egypt's ten plagues in the time of Moses. What really happened was episodic, local, and highly inconsistent. ...

"Most Christians lived and died like their fellow Romans, undisturbed by government, quarreling now and then with some of their neighbors. In the 250s, the emperor Decius ordered the suppression of Christianity, and in the early 300s, the emperor Galerius launched the most systematic attempt ever to deter and uproot Christian practice. In such times, suspect Christians were required to perform some minimal public religious act and get a certificate to prove they had done so. There is no sign that such fits of suppression and persecution had any lasting effect.

"Christians resisted persecution well--both the ordinary spasmodic kind and the infrequent broader campaign--because their communities were many-headed, did not have substantial real property, and lived so fully intermingled with Roman society that they could not simply be carved out and attacked. A century after Galerius, when Christian emperors set out to--we might as well use the word--persecute 'pagan' communities and practices, they were far more devastatingly effective. They halted the supply of state funds for traditional practices, crippling much of what had been long familiar. Then they seized buildings and banned ritual in them, sweeping the landscape nearly clean of the old ways. What survived--and much did--was personal, small-scale, or highly localized. Over a relatively short time, the new bludgeoned the old into submission and eventually supplanted it. That's what real persecution could do, unafraid to use violence but not needing to use very much of it. But Christianity never faced anything like what it would later visit on the traditional cults."

James J. O'Donnell, The Ruin of the Roman Empire, HarperCollins, Copyright 2008 by James J. O'Donnell, pp. 150-151.

Monday, April 20, 2009 4/20/09--The Cedars of Lebanon

In today's excerpt--the disappearing cedars of Lebanon. Cedar of Lebanon was important to ancient Middle East civilizations. The trees were used by the ancient Phoenicians for building trade and military ships, as well as houses and temples. The Egyptians used its resin for mummification, and its sawdust was found in pharaoh's tombs. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh designates cedar groves of Lebanon as the dwelling of the gods. Jewish priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and treatment of leprosy. Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world. Kings far and near requested the wood for religious and civil buildings, the most famous of which are King Solomon's Temple and David and Solomon's palaces:

"Once, Lebanese cedars covered about 500,000 hectares of Lebanon, encompassing Mount Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon range. It was in the great Cedars of Lebanon forest that the hero Gilgamesh battled the half-lion monster Humbaba.

"There are four species in the world native to Cyprus, Morocco, Afghanistan and the Himalayas. The Lebanese variety's soft, light wood was highly prized in the ancient world. The trees are mentioned in the Quran and the Bible. King Solomon felled forests to build his temple, and the Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans further depleted the forests.

"The ambitions of the long-gone empires took their toll and modern life is compounding the problem of natural regeneration of the forests. ...

"The tree, cedrus libani, is an emblem of this fractured state. The fragrant evergreens, with their striking reddish colour, are also a rare symbol of national unity: rival Christian, Sunni and Shiite political factions may quarrel on the streets or in parliament but when they need a moment of patriotism they recall the Lebanese cedar. Indeed, when citizens marched on the streets in March 2005 to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops after nearly 30 years of occupation, it was called the Cedar Revolution. The mass protests were a success and the 14,000 Syrian soldiers left. The tree is emblazoned on the flag, the passport, and all manner of tourist tat such as mouse pads, key chains and tea towels. ...

"But the Lebanese cedar is under threat. A combination of little snow, sawfly infestations and forest fires, all blamed on global warming, have thrown the natural rhythm of Mediterranean winters off balance. ...

"There are only 2,000 hectares of the Lebanese cedar left in the country, concentrated in the Shouf and the Tannourine area in northern Lebanon. About 90 per cent is protected by law and cared for by the ministry of environment. "

Hamida Ghafour, "Last Stand," The National, Abu Dhabi, April 4, 2009, M, pp. 13-15

"Any soil is a country to the brave, and the heavens are everywhere overhead." Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Friday, April 17, 2009 4/17/09--Pinocchio

In today's excerpt--the original story of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 as an outgrowth of the efforts to create an "Italian" education and literature for children in the newly united nation of Italy, a nation that had never previously had a national literature:

"The celebrated and sugary Disney film adaptation (1940), by which most people outside Italy have come to know Pinocchio's story, announces itself as an example of how, if sincerely desired, even the greatest of wishes can come true: a reassuring message. Nothing could be further from the acid spirit of Collodi's Pinocchio....

"[From a talking pine log], Geppetto will fashion a traveling companion who can 'dance and fence, and do flips,' so that together the two can earn a 'crust of bread' and a 'cup of wine.' He's thinking of company and economic advantage. But no sooner has Pinocchio been carved from his living log than he is snatching off Geppetto's wig, revealing the reality of his maker's baldness. Taught to walk, he runs off. When Geppetto catches up and starts to give the puppet a fierce shaking, he is arrested for assault and jailed. The artist has lost control of his creation. Raw vitality with no inhibitions, Pinocchio is freed into a world of hot tempers, vanity, ignorance, and appetite; a violent tussle is never far off. ...

"Having got Geppetto arrested, Pinocchio rushes home, only to experience a shock like the one he earlier gave the carpenter: a voice speaks from nowhere: 'Cree, cree, cree.' It is the Talking Cricket (Disney's Jiminy Cricket) who has 'lived in this room for more than a hundred years.' Revealing himself on the wall, the officious insect proceeds to give Pinocchio some hundred-year-old advice: 'Woe to any little boy who rebels against his parents and turns his back on his father's house!' A surprisingly well-informed Pinocchio is having none of it: he's off, he declares, 'because if I hang around the same thing that happens to all the other kids will happen to me, too: I'll be sent to school, and I'll be expected to study whether I like it or not.' ...

"When the cricket warns that this attitude can only lead to disaster, 'Pinocchio jumped up in a rage, grabbed a wooden mallet from the workbench, and flung it at the Talking Cricket.' Far from crooning his way through the puppet's many adventures with blue top hat, red umbrella, and yellow dancing shoes, the creature dies at once, splattered on the wall. It is typical of Collodi that while the rest of the book will show just how right the cricket was, the author nevertheless seems to take as much delight as any child in having this wearisome pedagogue obliterated with such panache....

"Whether the cricket is dead or alive, traditional wisdom is evidently defunct, a tedious chirp no one has time for. Who then will harness the mad vitality of this improbably artificial, newly created Italian? Rather than the uplifting account of a noble wish come true, Collodi's tale records the thoughtless exuberance of a character whose only talent lies in trading insults and whose inevitable destiny is to be exploited at every turn. The writer's achievement here was to tap into the zany spirit of Tuscan humor to deliver a Pinocchio who swings alarmingly between lies and candor, generous sentiment and cruel mockery, good intentions and zero staying power. ... Pinocchio does indeed capture a perplexing waywardness that one experiences every day in Italy."

Tim Parks, "Knock on Wood," The New York Review of Books, April 30, 2009, p. 22.

"Any soil is a country to the brave, and the heavens are everywhere overhead." Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Thursday, April 16, 2009 4/16/09--Raising Money

In today's encore excerpt--France's King Philippe Auguste, who took the throne in 1180 at the age of fifteen, and was one of the master builders of both the nation of France and the city of Paris:

"How did Philippe Auguste manage to raise money for all his vast urban projects in Paris, defensive and peaceful?. ... One of his main sources of income ... derived from the Jewish community of Paris.

"From Philippe Auguste to Philippe Petain, and beyond, treatment of the Jews in Paris, indeed in northern France as a whole, was never conspicuous for its generosity. But this was true of most of medieval Europe. There were the relatively good periods, and the very bad. To his shame, the reign of Philippe Auguste belonged categorically to the latter. In French Jewish lore, he became known as 'that wicked King.' Under Louis VII, the Jews had been relatively well treated, their synagogues protected, and they had prospered. By the end of Louis' long reign, their small community had come to own nearly half of all private property in the city, with large numbers of the citizenry in their debt.

"But before his father was even cold in the grave Philippe, still barely fifteen and probably acting under pressure from the establishment, in 1180 issued orders for the Jews under royal protection in Paris to be arrested in their synagogues, imprisoned and condemned to purchase their freedom through surrender of all their gold and silver and precious vestments. Though not in fact initiated as religious persecution, it was a cynically skillful ploy for getting on his side both the Church and the great mass of wealthy Parisian debtors. Above all it granted Philippe the immense sum of 31,500 livres, which he needed both for building the walls of Paris and Les Halles, and for equipping his army to defeat the Plantagenets. Two years later, he followed up with a decree expelling the Jews from France and confiscating the totality of their wealth. Debts were wiped out--except for a fifth which the royal coffers appropriated."

Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Pan Books, 2003, pp. 39-40

"Any soil is a country to the brave, and the heavens are everywhere overhead." Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 4/15/09--Cover Up

In today's excerpt--the Columbine massacre, at which 13 students were murdered and many more injured. As reported by Dave Cullen, local law enforcement had a large amount of incriminating evidence on Eric Harris, the leader of the massacre, months and years before April 20, 1999, the tragic day--including a felony arrest, evidence of multiple hate crimes, a venomous web site, and the urgent complaints of other parents. However, they not only failed to follow up diligently on these, they denied their existence for years following the tragedy:

"Jeffco [Jefferson County law enforcement] had a problem. Before Eric [Harris] and Dylan [Klebold] shot themselves, officers had discovered files on the boys. The cops had twelve pages from Eric's web site, spewing hate and threatening to kill. For detectives, a written confession, discovered before the killers were captured, was a big break. It certainly simplified the search warrant. But for commanders, a public confession, which they had sat on since 1997--that could be a PR disaster.

"The Web pages had come from Randy and Judy Brown [parent's of Eric's classmate Brooks Brown] . They had warned the sheriff's department repeatedly about Eric, for more than a year and a half. Sometime around noon, April 20, the file was shuttled to the command center in a trailer set up in Clement Park. Jeffco officials quoted Eric's site extensively in the search warrants executed that afternoon, but then denied ever seeing it. (They would spend several years repeating those denials. They suppressed the damning warrants as well.) Then Sheriff Stone fingered [the innocent] Brooks as a suspect on The Today Show.

"It was a rough time for the Brown family. The public got two conflicting stories: Randy and Judy Brown had either labored to prevent Columbine or raised one of its conspirators. Or both.

"To the Browns it looked like retribution. Yes, their son had been close to the killers--close enough to see it coming. The Browns had blown the whistle on Eric Harris over a year earlier, and the cops had done nothing. After Eric went through with his threats, the Browns were fingered as accomplices instead of heroes. They couldn't believe it. They told The New York Times they had contacted the sheriff's department about Eric fifteen times. Jeffco officials would insist for years that the Browns never met with an investigator--despite holding a report indicating they had.

"The officers knew they had a problem, and it was much worse than the Browns realized. Thirteen months before the massacre, Sheriff's Investigators John Hicks and Mike Guerra had investigated one of the Browns' complaints. They'd discovered substantial evidence that Eric was building pipe bombs. Guerra had considered it serious enough to draft an affidavit for a search warrant against the Harris home. For some reason, the warrant was never taken before a judge. Guerra's affidavit was convincing. It spelled out all the key components: motive, means, and opportunity. A few days after the massacre, about a dozen local officials slipped away from the Feds and gathered clandestinely in an innocuous office in the county Open Space Department building. It would come to be known as the Open Space meeting. The purpose was to discuss the affidavit for a search warrant. How bad was it? What should they tell the public?

"Guerra was driven to the meeting, and told never to discuss it outside that group. He complied. The meeting was kept secret, too. That held for five years. ... He described it as 'one of those cover-your- ass meetings.' ...

"At a notorious press conference ten days after the murders, Jeffco officials suppressed the affidavit and boldly lied about what they had known. They said they could not find Eric's Web pages, they found no evidence of pipe bombs matching Eric's descriptions, and had no record of the Brown's meeting with Hicks. Guerra's affidavit plainly contradicted all three claims. Officials had just spent days reviewing it. They would repeat the lies for years."

Dave Cullen, Columbine, Hachette Book Group, Copyright 2009 by Dave Cullen, pp. 165-166

"Any soil is a country to the brave, and the heavens are everywhere overhead." Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 4/14/09--Population Trends

In today's excerpt--population trends in Europe. Statisticians tell us that a population must have an average of 2.1 children per family to maintain its numerical level. Any less than that, that population declines:

"Three deeply misleading assumptions about demographic trends have become lodged in the public mind. The first is that mass migration into Europe, legal and illegal, combined with an eroding native population base, is transforming the ethnic, cultural, and religious identity of the continent. The second assumption, which is related to the first, is that Europe's native population is in steady and serious decline from a falling birthrate, and that the aging population will place intolerable demands on governments to maintain public pension and health systems. The third is that population growth in the developing world will continue at a high rate. Allowing for the uncertainty of all population projections, the most recent data indicate that all of these assumptions are highly questionable and that they are not a reliable basis for serious policy decisions. ...

"One fact that gets lost among ... is that the birthrates of Muslim women in Europe--and around the world--have been falling significantly for some time. Data on birthrates among different religious groups in Europe are scarce, but they point in a clear direction. Between 1990 and 2005, for example, the fertility rate in the Netherlands for Moroccan-born women fell from 4.9 to 2.9, and for Turkish-born women from 3.2 to 1.9. ..."In some Muslim countries--Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Lebanon--fertility rates have already fallen to near-European levels. Algeria and Morocco, each with a fertility rate of 2.4, are both dropping fast toward such levels. Turkey is experiencing a similar trend. ... Reports suggests that in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, the fertility rate for the years 2010-15 will drop to 2.02, a shade below replacement level. ...

"Iran is experiencing what may be one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in human history. Thirty years ago, after the shah had been driven into exile and the Islamic Republic was being established, the fertility rate was 6.5. By the turn of the century, it had dropped to 2.2. Today, at 1.7, it has collapse to European levels. The implications are profound for the politics and power games of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, putting into doubt Iran's dreams of being the regional superpower and altering the tense dynamics between the Sunni and Shiite wings of Islam. ...

"The falling fertility rates in large segments of the Islamic world have been matched by another significant shift: Across northern and western Europe, women have suddenly started having more babies. Germany's minister for the family, Ursula von der Leyen, announced in February that the country had recorded its second straight year of increased births. Sweden's fertility rate jumped eight percent in 2004 and stayed put. Both Britain and France now project that their populations will rise from the current 60 million each to more than 75 million by midcentury. ...

"By contrast, the downward population trends for southern and eastern Europe show little sign of reversal. Ukraine, for example, now has a population of 46 million; if maintained, its low fertility rate will whittle its population down by nearly 50 percent by mid-century. The Czech Republic, Italy, and Poland face declines almost as drastic.

"In Russia, the effects of declining fertility are amplified by an [AIDS and alcoholism] phenomenon so extreme that it has given rise to an ominous new term--hypermortality. ... It is important to consider what this means for the future of the Russian economy. Identified by Goldman Sachs as one of the BRIC quartet (along with Brazil, India, and China) of key emerging markets, Russia has been the object of great hopes and considerable investments. But a very large question mark must be placed on the economic prospects of a country whose young male work force looks set to decrease by half."

Martin Walker, "The World's New Numbers," The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2009, pp. 25-28

"Any soil is a country to the brave, and the heavens are everywhere overhead." Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Monday, April 13, 2009 4/13/09--decision-making

In today's excerpt--decisions. It has long been held that the rational parts of our brains make the best decisions, and better decisions are made when the emotional parts of our brains are suppressed in the decision-making process. It turns out that the opposite is true--we cannot make decisions without employing emotions:

"In 1982, a patient named Elliot walked into the office of neurologist Antonio Damasio. A few months earlier, a small tumor had been cut out of Elliot's cortex, near the frontal lobe of his brain. Before the surgery, Elliot had been a model father and husband. He'd held down an important management job in a large corporation and was active in his local church. But the operation changed everything. Although Elliot's IQ had stayed the same--he still tested in the 97th percentile--he now exhibited one psychological flaw: he was incapable of making a decision.

"This dysfunction made normal life impossible. Routine tasks that should have taken ten minutes now required several hours. Elliot endlessly deliberated over irrelevant details, like whether to use a blue or black pen, what radio station to listen to, and where to park his car. ... His indecision was pathological. Before long, Elliot was fired from his job. That's when things really began to fall apart. He started a series of new businesses, but they all failed. He was taken in by a con man and was forced into bankruptcy. His wife divorced him. The IRS began an investigation. He moved back in with his parents. ...

"But why was Elliot suddenly incapable of making good decisions? What had happened to his brain? Damasio's first insight occurred while talking to Elliot about the tragic turn his life had taken. ... Damasio remembers, 'I never saw a tinge of emotion in my many hours of conversation with him: no sadness, no impatience, no frustration.' ... The results [of tests] were clear: Elliot felt nothing. He had the emotional life of a mannequin.

"This was a completely unexpected discovery. At the time, neuroscience assumed that human emotions were irrational. A person without any emotions--in other words, someone like Elliot--should therefore make better decisions. ... [However], when we are cut off from our feelings, the most banal decisions became impossible. A brain that can't feel can't make up its mind. ... Other patients with similar patterns of brain damage ... all appeared intelligent and showed no deficits on any conventional cognitive tests. And yet they all suffered from the same profound flaw: because they didn't experience emotion, they had tremendous difficulty making any decisions. ... The crucial importance of our emotions--the fact that we can't make decisions without them--contradicts the conventional view of human nature, with its ancient philosophical roots. ...

"How does this emotional brain system work? The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the part of the brain that Elliot was missing, is responsible for integrating visceral emotions into the decision-making process. It connects the feelings generated by the 'primitive' brain--areas like the brain stem and the amygdala, which is in the limbic system--to the stream of conscious thought. When a person is drawn to a specific receiver, or a certain entree on the menu, or a particular romantic prospect, the mind is trying to tell him that he should choose that option. It has already assessed the alternatives--this analysis takes place outside of conscious awareness--and converted that assessment into a positive emotion. And when he sees a receiver who's tightly covered, or smells a food he doesn't like, or glimpses an ex-girlfriend, it is the OFC that makes him want to get away. The world is full of things, and it is our feelings that help us choose among them.

"When this neural connection is severed--when our OFCs can't comprehend our own emotions--we lose access to the wealth of opinions that we normally rely on. All of a sudden, you no longer know what to think about the receiver running a short post pattern or whether it's a good idea to order the cheeseburger for lunch. The end result is that it's impossible to make decent decisions. This is why the OFC is one of the few cortical regions that are markedly larger in humans than they are in other primates. While Plato and Freud would have guessed that the job of the OFC was to protect us from our emotions, to fortify reason against feeling, its actual function is precisely the opposite. From the perspective of the human brain, man is the most emotional animal of all."

Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide, Houghton Mifflin, Copyright 2009 by Jonah Lehrer, Kindle Loc. 233-87
"Any soil is a country to the brave, and the heavens are everywhere overhead." Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Friday, April 10, 2009 4/10/09--Pearl Divers

In today's excerpt--pearl diving. In the small oceanside villages that were the predecessors of modern day Abu Dhabi, pearl diving was the primary source of income for millennia, until the industry was decimated by the invention of cultured pearls by the Japanese:

"Pearls have been treasured and traded as beautiful adornments for the wealthy for centuries, and, until the 1950s, the [Persian] Gulf was one of the most prolific pearl producing areas in the world. In fact it was pearls which initially attracted foreign traders to the area. ... Although the fruits of their labor were exquisite, the conditions under which the pearl divers worked were abominable and it was with considerable dread that Abu Dhabians anticipated the onset of each pearling season. ...

"The pearlers--divers and their helpers--were separated from their families for the duration of the three to four month long season despite the fact that they were often within fifty kilometers of mainland Abu Dhabi. ... The boats could comfortably carry six or seven people. When they set out for the season, however, they were overloaded with as many as twenty-seven men, ... [and] there was hardly room for the men to sit, let alone sleep at night. During the day the sun beat down on them mercilessly, making the already unbearable heat and humidity even more hellish.

"Divers were in the water just after dawn and often stayed there until twelve hours later when the light began to fade. They dived constantly throughout the day, only stopping, literally, to catch their breath. A diver's equipment included a bag in which to gather the oysters, a goat horn clip to close his nose and a rope tied around his waist by which a partner on the boat pulled him up at the end of each dive. The dives lasted for about two minutes each--time enough to pluck a dozen or so oysters from the sandbank soil twenty meters below. They paused for only a minute between each two minute dive, resting a little longer after every tenth trip to the bottom."These long stretches in the salty depths caused debilitating and dangerous muscle cramps as well as painful skin and eye diseases for which the only available treatments at the time were herbal medicines. If a diver surfaced too quickly he risked damaging his ears or his brain, too slowly and he risked death by drowning. ...

"In rare cases the divers were compensated handsomely for a particularly large and lustrous pearl, but the majority could hardly make ends meet let alone pay off their loans. ... The boats rarely returned with sufficient pearls to pay the debts of all those aboard and still make a small profit. In fact the men and their families often slipped into a spiraling circle of debt from which there was little hope of escape. ...

"They came back from the diving expeditions sick and undernourished, often suffering from scurvy or skin afflictions and completely worn out. It took them three to five months to recover from the three month season."

Mohammed Al-Fahim, From Rags to Riches, A Story of Abu Dhabi, Makarem, Copyright 1995 by Mohammed Al-Fahim, pp. 21-24
"Any soil is a country to the brave, and the heavens are everywhere overhead." Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Thursday, April 09, 2009 4/9/09--Columbus Rejected

In today's encore excerpt--Christopher Columbus, promoter, dreamer, and dogged pursuer of his quest, gets his answer from Spain. He had been rebuffed by Portugal, and had now waited six years in Spain while the bold monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand remained preoccupied with both the Inquisition and the war to expel the Moors:

"Columbus had returned to [the recently captured Alhambra at] Granada for the final decision on his proposal. All the impediments had been removed. There could be no further excuse for postponement. He had waited six long years for this infernal war to be over, and now, with something of a chip on his shoulder, he demanded a clear and definitive answer. ...

"The queen reconvened her ponderous philosophers [to opine on the proposed voyage], and they repeated their well-worn objections, barbing them with the usual mockery. ... Within days of the fall of Granada [which ended the successful war against the Moors], the supplicant was summoned into the presence of the queen and informed that his proposal was formally, conclusively, and terminally rejected. Angrily, Columbus threw his belongings on his horse and rode north on the road to Cordoba--and France.

"Sprinkled into the second rank of courtiers, Columbus had his admirers. One was Luis de Santangel, a wealthy Aragonese financier. ... Upon hearing of Columbus's departure, he rushed into the queen's presence to launch a passionate protest. He was surprised and disappointed that so great and high-minded a queen had dismissed this man of quality when his project involved so little risk to the crown, and yet, if successful, would bring such glory. ... If another European country, such as France, sponsored Columbus ... Spain would be the great loser.

"Santangel's passion must have been extraordinary, for his speech shook and moved Isabella. ... Santangel [implored], 'Send for Columbus, because I fear that he has already left.' Immediately, she dispatched a bailiff to ride after Columbus and bring him back to court. Sixteen miles up the road ... the bailiff caught up to him. Suspicious and still resentful, Columbus turned back reluctantly. At Santa Fe, Santangel greeted him effusively. The queen had changed her mind. She had instructed her scribe to draw up the necessary documents, giving Christopher Columbus everything he asked for."

James Reston, Jr., The Dogs of God, Anchor, Copyright 2005 by James Reston, Jr., pp. 247-250

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 4/8/09--Lobotomies

In today's excerpt--lobotomy, a procedure whereby a sharp instrument such as an icepick was inserted through holes that were drilled in the skull or through the eyesocket above the eye to sever the connections between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain. Though thoroughly discredited by the 1970s, in the late 1930s through the 1950s, lobotomies became an increasingly common treatment in America for mental illness:

"Doctors at the time were using many strange methods to treat patients who were depressed or mentally ill. Psychiatrists used electrotherapy, where they ran varying amounts of electricity through people's brains and bodies. They used hydrotherapy, where they gave their patients baths, douches, wet packs, steam, spritzers, and shots from hoses. ... A German psychiatrist developed something called the 'electric shower.' The patient was fitted into a helmet that gave his brain a 'shower' of electricity. ...

"These doctors weren't just doing experiments in dark basements somewhere, hidden from the American Medical Association, or from the public eye. They were the subjects of articles in magazines and newspapers that applauded their efforts, [including] Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, Science Digest, and Reader's Digest. ...

"In 1935, visiting London, Dr. Walter Freeman witnessed a presentation on chimpanzees whose frontal lobes had been operated on. No one knew why exactly, but the monkeys all became passive and subdued after the operation. Another doctor attending the presentation was a Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz. He returned to Lisbon, and in late 1935 began performing similar frontal lobe experiments on human beings. Moniz called the process 'psychosurgery,' [it later became known as 'lobotomy.']

"Encouraged [by early experiments in this area], Freeman ... conducted many more prefrontal lobotomies. In that early period, Freeman's statistics said that out of his first 623 surgeries, 52 percent of the patients received 'good' results, 32 percent received 'fair' results, and 13 percent received 'poor' results. The remaining 3 percent died, but they weren't included in the 'poor' results category. Freeman would later get closer to the truth when he admitted that his fatality rate was almost 15 percent. ..."Many of Freeman's patients were so damaged by the surgery that they needed to be taught how to eat and use the bathroom again. Some never recovered. One of Freeman's most famous patients was Rosemary Kennedy, sister of future president John F. Kennedy. Rosemary was born slightly retarded, but she lived an almost normal life until she was twenty-three. Then Freeman went to work on her. He performed a prefrontal lobotomy in 1941. Rosemary wound up in a Wisconsin mental hospital, where she stayed until her death more than sixty years later. ...

"The news coverage was universally positive. ... The New York Times ran a story applauding Freeman's success rate, which their reporter put at 65 percent. Freeman's lobotomy might have gotten popular without the support of the press. America's hospitals were flooded with mental patients. By the late 1940s, there were more than a million mental cases in hospitals or asylums. More than 55 percent of all patients in American hospitals were mental cases. One study reported that the population of mental patients in American hospitals was growing by 80 percent a year."There was no real treatment for these people. They were often drugged, shackled, kept in straitjackets, or locked in rubber rooms. Doctors were able to keep them from harming themselves or others, but they had a cure rate of about zero. Besides, keeping them in hospitals was expensive. Freeman offered a solution. His motto was 'Lobotomy gets them home!' Directors of mental institutions heard that loud and clear. One of Freeman's colleagues said that a procedure that would send 10 percent of mental patients home would save the American taxpayer $1 million a day. Freeman claimed a success rate well above 10 percent. Most hospitals and institutions welcomed him and his lobotomy."

Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, My Lobotomy, Three Rivers Press, Copyright 2007 by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, pp. 63-69

Tuesday, April 07, 2009 4/7/09--The Old Testament

In today's excerpt--the Bible. David Plotz, a Jewish journalist, decides to read the Old Testament as an honest exercise in discovering the roots of his heritage. In his short new book, Good Book--The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible--he reports chapter-by-chapter on the entire Old Testament, and the following excerpt regarding Moses and the Passover captures the style and tone of his reporting:

"Back to Egypt: Aaron and Moses pay a visit to Pharaoh, and at first request merely that he allow the Israelites a few days off for a camp meeting in the wilderness. When the negotiations falter, Moses and Aaron increase their demands, eventually insisting that Pharaoh liberate the Israelites. As Pharaoh resists, Moses begins inflicting plagues on the Egyptians.

"Curiously, the most compelling characters in the drama of the plagues are not Moses, Aaron, or Pharaoh, but Pharaoh's anonymous sorcerers. I am fascinated by these guys. We are introduced to them when Moses and Aaron first visit Pharaoh. To impress Pharaoh, Aaron throws down his rod and it turns into a snake. The cocky sorcerers toss down their rods, which turn into snakes, too. But then Aaron's snake gobbles theirs up. God 1, Sorcerers 0.

"The sorcerers, of course, don't learn their lesson. Aaron and Moses begin delivering plagues, and the sorcerers keep thinking they can trump God. When Moses and Aaron turn the Nile to blood, the sorcerers do 'the same with their spells.' Aaron and Moses cover Egypt with frogs. The sorcerers do 'the same with their spells.' Moses and Aaron bring lice. But the sorcerers, their powers waning, can't conjure up lice. (That's really lame. Even I could conjure up lice: I would just drop by my daughter's first-grade classroom and rub a few heads.) A couple of plagues later, the sorcerers' defeat is total. Moses afflicts the Egyptians with boils. The sorcerers, summoned to work their counter-magic, don't even show up: they can't, because they're covered with boils. The increasing feebleness of their dark arts makes for great black comedy--and hilariously effective testimony for God's power. The sorcerers are the gangster's dumb sidekicks, ... and it's wonderful to see them meet the deserved misfortune of flunkies everywhere.

"Except for the trouncing of the sorcerers, however, the plagues don't speak well for God. In fact, this is the most disturbing story in the Bible so far--even more troubling than the Flood. The ten plagues basically go like this. Moses and Aaron unleash a plague. Pharaoh promises to let the Israelites go if God will lift the plague. The plague ceases, and Pharaoh immediately reneges, so that another plague is unleashed. The mystery, of course, is: why does Pharaoh renege? Exodus tells us the answer: he reneges because God has 'stiffened his heart.'

"Why would God keep hardening Pharaoh's heart so that He can inflict yet another monstrous plague? Why would God prolong the Egyptians' suffering? God tells us why. Listen carefully:

"For I have hardened his heart ... in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and your sons' sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them-in order that you may know I am the Lord.

"In other words, God is causing the plagues so that we can tell stories about the plagues. He's torturing the Egyptians so that we will worship Him. What kind of insecure and cruel God murders children so that His followers will obey Him, and will tell stories about Him? ... He even performs the last and worst plague--the slaying of the firstborn--Himself. He wants the plagues to persist and worsen, so that we will tell stories about them. And lo and behold, 3,500 years later, that's exactly what we do every Passover.

"[And] how stupid is Pharaoh? Egypt has been pummeled by frogs, vermin, lice, cattle disease, hail, and other plagues; it has lost all its firstborn males (the plague that finally leads to freedom for the Israelites); its gods are manifestly impotent against the wrath of our God. But that doesn't deter the idiotic monarch from pursuing the Israelites across the Red Sea. "

David Plotz, Good Book, HarperCollins, Copyright 2009 by David Plotz, Kindle Loc. 677-720

Monday, April 06, 2009 4/6/09--Al Franken

In today's excerpt--Saturday Night Live alumnus and soon-to-be-United States Senator Al Franken, and related by his former comedy team partner Tom Davis:

"Al and I met in 1967. He was in the class above me at the exclusive, all-male, prep Blake School in a suburb of Minneapolis. He was one of those faces I passed in the hallways each day, but what a face--buckteeth, Coke-bottle glasses, and that mouth. On demand, he would demonstrate by slowly and dramatically opening his maw to its fullest extent, then inserting his pudgy fist completely inside. ...

"He was one of those Jewish guys who dominated scholastics--perfect SATs and such. They kept the grade point average up (Jews and Catholics were not admitted at Blake until after World War II)....

"When Al was a precocious four-year-old, there was a city worker digging a ditch in front of the house who became annoyed as young Franken counted aloud the successive number of each shovelful.

"[His mother] Phoebe was a real estate agent. As an eleven-year-old home alone, Al answered the telephone. Apparently she was selling a house to the actor Clayton Moore, who was famous in the midfifties for his leading role in the popular television show The Lone Ranger. Now he was retiring to Minneapolis:

Al: 'Hello?'
Mr. Moore: 'Hello ... is Mrs. Franken there?'
Al: 'No. Who is this?'
Mr. Moore: 'How old are you, young man?'
Al: 'Eleven.'
Mr. Moore: 'You know what? This is the Lone Ranger calling ...'
Al: 'Yeah. And I'm Tonto.'

"At thirteen, he earned money as a caddy at a country club golf course. One golfer was playing poorly and became cranky with his caddy.

Golfer: 'You must be the worst caddy in the world.'
Al: 'That would be too big a coincidence.'

"As a fourteen-year-old, he was going out on his first date, and his father Joe, realized he had never explained the birds and the bees to his son. Beginning with a gentle inquiry, Joe discovered that Al didn't appear to have a grasp of the facts. After carefully explaining the differences between the sexes, Al was confused and upset. 'You mean women don't have penises?' Joe tried a different approach, but his son became even more upset. Joe had to start all over again before Al finally told him he was joking. Poor Joe."

Tom Davis, Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss, Grove, Copyright 2009 by Tom Davis, pp. 25-26

Friday, April 03, 2009 4/3/09--Spring Training

In today's excerpt--as baseball's spring training draws to its close and opening day looms, we look back on Ernest Hemingway at the 1942 spring training camp of the Brooklyn Dodgers:

"In February of 1942, the Brooklyn Dodgers went to spring training camp in Havana, [Cuba] in a subdued mood [after the bombing of Pearl Harbor]. As fighting forces were mobilized, young men were drafted and resources were shifted to military purposes. Future Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller joined the service over the winter. Dodger Don Padgett spent just a few days in spring camp before he left for the Army.

"Ballplayers being ballplayers, those who remained on the team managed to enjoy themselves in their tropical training grounds. Havana's casinos, night-clubs, and recently opened Tropicana cabaret offered more distractions per square mile than any other spring training site. Games at La Tropical Stadium were casual affairs that attracted prominent vacationers and locals. Ernest Hemingway attended almost every day and befriended several players. He took them to a shooting club where they fired on both real and clay pigeons and then to dinner at his country house with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, the famous war correspondent.

"The after-dinner conversation at the Hemingway house focused on the war and battles in Burma, where the Japanese were sweeping aside Allied defenders on their way toward China. (Hemingway had once reported from Burma and predicted that China's last overland supply route would be severed.) Sometime after Gellhorn went to bed and he gave the players signed copies of For Whom the Bell Tolls, a thoroughly drunk Hemingway challenged the man nearest his size, [Dodger pitcher] Apple Cheeks Casey, to play his favorite game: fighting."Casey was more like Hemingway than the writer could have imagined. He was plagued by self-doubt and dark moods and drank to great excess. When Hemingway challenged him, he demurred at first. He was fourteen years younger than Hemingway and had boxed competitively. He didn't want to show up the man in his own house. But the old writer kept pushing until Casey agreed.

"Hemingway disappeared and returned with two sets of red boxing gloves. He laced on one pair and Casey put on the other. When all was ready, Hemingway attacked Casey with all his might, throwing kicks along with punches. Finally a bookcase came crashing onto the floor, making a sound like an explosion. Gellhorn came downstairs and, as one of the players remembered it, Hemingway said, 'Oh, we are just playing. Go to bed, honey.' The fight continued until Casey knocked Hemingway down for good. Soon afterward, the gathering broke up. If the two men ever met again, no record of the event was made, but they were joined, in a way, in death. Casey, distraught over a series of tragedies, would commit suicide by shotgun on July 2,1951. Exactly ten years and one day later, Hemingway would do the same."

Michael D'Antonio, Forever Blue, Riverhead, Copyright 2009 by Michael D'Antonio, pp. 56-57

Thursday, April 02, 2009 4/2/09--The Pain of Comedy

In today's excerpt--the lives of superstar comedians George Carlin and Richard Pryor bear witness to the pain beneath so much of our humor:

"George Carlin's father, an ad salesman, was a drinker prone to violent outbursts, and when George was only two, his mother grabbed him and his older brother, fled down the fire escape, and left for good. Mary Carlin and her boys spent two years shuttling among friends and relatives before finally getting an apartment of their own--with George's father stalking them all the way. 'He hounded her,' says Carlin. 'And he frightened her. When we lived on One Hundred Fortieth Street, we would come back from downtown, get off the subway, and the procedure was, my mother would go to the call box, get the local precinct, and say, 'Hi, it's Mary and the kids. I'm at One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street. Come and get us.' And they would drive us home and see us into the house. Sometimes he'd be across the street, just looking.' Even when they finally moved into an apartment that his father didn't know the whereabouts of, his mother was still on edge. If they got an unexpected knock, she'd tell George to peek under the door. If he saw a lady's shoes, he could open it. A man's shoes, and they would stay quiet until the visitor went away. This family drama ended only when his father died. George was eight. ...

"He was born Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor, on December 1, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois. His mother, who appears to have been a prostitute, and his father married when Richard was three and split up when he was ten. He then went to live with his grandmother, who ran a chain of whorehouses in town. In his autobiography, Pryor Convictions, Pryor describes learning about sex by peeking through keyholes to watch the prostitutes at work, and soaking up neighborhood lore at a bar called the Famous Door, where 'people came in to exchange news, blow steam or have their say.' He was kicked out of Catholic school when they found out about the family business, and he moved into an integrated elementary school. There he got an early taste of racism when he gave a scratch pad as a gift to a little white girl he had a crush on. The next day, as Pryor tells it, the girl's angry father came to school and berated him in front of the class: 'Nigger, don't you ever give my daughter anything.' "

Richard Zoglin, Comedy at the Edge, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2008 by Richard Zoglin, pp. 19-20, 44

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 4/1/09--The Gettysburg Address

In today's excerpt--the authorship of the Gettysburg Address. It has long been known that Abraham Lincoln regularly solicited input into the drafts of his speeches. This led to such results as the change in the ending of the First Inaugural Address to a more conciliatory tone--and the suggestion by Secretary of State William Seward to include an allusion to angels, which was then transformed by Lincoln into "the better angels of our nature." However, recently discovered correspondence suggests that the assistance Lincoln received in speechwriting was perhaps more systematic and pervasive:

"One of the more cherished Lincoln myths tells how he drafted his Gettysburg Address during the journey to the dedication, and delivered the speech from hand-written notes recopied on hotel stationery. Nothing could be further removed from what actually transpired. Lincoln was a careful writer, who regularly involved those around him-including cabinet members--in reviewing his drafts weeks or even months in advance of the actual event. In the case of the Gettysburg speech, Lincoln was fully aware of the symbolic opportunity of the occasion and the need for rhetoric to help shore up the always crumbling resolve of the North. ...

"A recently discovered cache of correspondence from the estate of J.W. Fell (1822-1881), a state legislator from Annapolis, Maryland, reveals 73 letters between the Lincoln and Fell, almost all of which involved detailed suggestions and revisions regarding his speeches, including the Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses. The only previously known correspondence between the two involved three letters relating almost entirely to the politics surrounding Maryland's decision to remain in the Union. ...

"Fell's strongest admonition regarding the Gettysburg draft was that Lincoln strike a more modest overall tone, advocating that he change the language in an early draft from 'The world will long remember ...' to 'The world will little note nor long remember what we say here ... ,' arguing to Lincoln that 'modesty assumed in this speech will ensure its immortality.' Fell unsuccessfully suggested that Lincoln strike the language 'It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do so,' intimating that the sentence was 'superfluous.' ...

"There is at least some indication that the first draft of the Gettysburg speech came from Fell. In a letter to Fell dated July 17, 1863, Lincoln writes, 'It would please me greatly if you would again supply some initial thoughts regarding a speech I am planning for this fall. I shall discuss this with you further upon your arrival next month,' though this could have referred to any number of speeches delivered during this period."

Bernard N. Douglas and Paolo S. Frils, Lincoln's Prose Reconsidered, Simon & Schuster, Copyright 2009 by Bernard N. Douglas and Paolo S. Frils, pp. 27-29.

APRIL FOOLS! And a heartfelt thanks for your continued interest in Delanceyplace