Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/30/09 - Debt and Revolution

In today's excerpt - America debtors and the Revolution:

"In England, statutes decreeing imprisonment for debt date to the thirteenth century. The point wasn't to lock you up - as the proverb had it, 'A prison pays no debts' - but to terrify you into paying, to avoid incarceration. Nine times out of ten, that's just what happened, which is why the practice prevailed in most parts of the early modern world and, in the seventeenth century, travelled, with English common law, to America. A 1641 Massachusetts law known as the 'Body of Liberties' closely followed English practice, declaring of the insolvent that 'his person may be arrested and imprisoned where he shall be kept at his owne charge, not the platife's till satisfaction be made.' ... There were no terms: you weren't sentenced for a month, a year, a decade; you stayed in jail until your creditors were satisfied.

"This didn't work that well in the New World. As many as two out of every three Europeans who came to the colonies were debtors on arrival: they paid for their passage by becoming indentured servants. Early on, labor was so scarce that colonists who fell into debt once they got here paid with work; there was much to be done, and there weren't many prisons. In 1674, a Massachusetts court ordered Joseph Armitage, who owed John Ruck twenty-two pounds, to serve as Ruck's servant for seven years. (What relieved the colonies' labor scarcity and spelled the end of debtor servitude was the rise of the African slave trade.) The colonies were also a good place to go to run away from your debts. Some colonies were, basically, debtors' asylums. In 1642, Virginia, eager to lure settlers, promised five years' protection from any debts contracted in the Old World. North Carolina did the same in 1669. Creditors, in any case, found it all but impossible to pursue fugitive debtors across the Atlantic. (Not for nothing did Defoe's Moll Flanders, born in London's Newgate Prison, sail to Virginia.) Then, there was an early version of a farm subsidy: Connecticut and Maryland forbade the prosecution of debtors between May and October and released prisoners to plant and harvest on the unassailable argument that 'the Porest Sort of the Inhabitants' were often 'undone in that they cannot be at Liberty to make their Cropps.' ...

"In London, debtors' prisons filled. And then they teemed. James Oglethorpe, a member of Parliament, ... had an idea: what about just shipping the miserable wretches across the ocean? In 1732, he founded Georgia, a colony intended as a refuge for debtors released from English prisons.

"This only strengthened a prevailing perception: that the colonies' relationship with England was that of a debtor to a creditor. By the seventeen-sixties, sympathy for debtors had attached itself to the patriot cause. Weren't all Americans debtors? Whenever New York's Sons of Liberty held a banquet, they made a show of sending the leftovers to the city's imprisoned debtors. Virginia planters like Jefferson and Washington were monstrously in debt to merchants in London. A creditor was 'lord of another man's purse'; hadn't the British swindled Americans out of their purses, their independence, their manhood? This, anyway, is how many colonists came to view their economic dependence on Britain. Declaring independence was a way of canceling those debts. The American Revolution, some historians have argued, was itself a form of debt relief. ...

"Debtors in New York used to be locked up in the garret of City Hall, at the corner of Wall Street, in a cramped nook under the eaves. From its dormers, they would lower shoes, tied to a string, to collect alms from passersby. Debtors' prisons in other cities and towns had what were called 'beggars' grates,' iron bars through which prisoners in cellar dungeons could extend outstretched palms."

Jill Lepore, "I.O.U.," The New Yorker, April 13, 2009, pp. 35-37

Monday, June 29, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/29/09 - The Post Office and Valentines

In today's excerpt - the U.S. Post Office and Valentine's Day cards:

"It can take people a while to grasp the implications of a new communications system. When Thomas Edison invented his improved telephone receiver in 1877, he thought it would become a medium for broadcasting concerts and plays to remote auditoriums. For twenty-five years after radio was developed at the end of the nineteenth century, people chiefly regarded it as a means of ship-to-shore communication.

"Then there's the US Postal System. For the first half century after its founding, its main function was to circulate newspapers to a national audience. Not that you couldn't send letters, too, but the rates were much higher than for periodicals. In 1840, sending a letter from Boston to Richmond cost 25 cents a sheet, at a time when the average laborer made 75 cents a day. Postal inspectors were always on the alert for people who sent each other newspapers at the cheaper rate and added coded personal messages by putting pin pricks in certain letters.

"That all changed in 1845, when Congress enacted the first in a series of laws that sharply reduced the cost of sending letters. The new rates led to a vast surge in personal correspondence and set up a communications revolution that the historian David Henkin has chronicled in a fascinating new book called The Postal Age.

"One dramatic effect of the cheaper postage was to allow Americans to keep in touch with one another in what was becoming the most mobile society on earth. But as Henkin recounts, the post was used for other purposes. Businesses made mass mailings of circulars, and swindlers sent out letters promoting get- rich-quick schemes. People sent each other portraits of themselves made with the recently invented daguerreotype process. They sent seeds and sprigs to distant friends and family eager for the smells of home. And, oh yes, they also sent valentines.

"St. Valentine's Day was an ancient European holiday. Back in England, people drew lots to divine their future mates and exchanged love poems and intricately folded pieces of paper called 'puzzle purses,' the ancestors of the fortune-telling cootie-catchers that children still make today. But before the 1840s, puritan Americans almost completely disregarded the holiday, like the other saints' days of the Old World.

"The drop in postal rates set off what contemporaries described as 'Valentine mania.' By the late 1850s, Americans were buying 3 million ready-made valentines every year, paying anything from a penny to several hundred dollars for elaborate affairs adorned with gold rings or precious stones. People sent cards to numerous objects of their affection, often taking advantage of the possibilities for anonymity that the mail provided.

"That was alarming to moralists who complained that the postal system in general promoted promiscuity, illicit assignations, and the distribution of pornography - and actually, they weren't entirely wrong about any of that. But fully half of the valentine traffic consisted of comic or insulting cards that people sent anonymously to annoying neighbors or unpopular schoolmasters. By the time the craze tapered off a few decades later, people were sending each other cards for Christmas, Easter, and birthdays, as the greeting card became a fixture of American life."

Geoffrey Nunberg, The Years of Talking Dangerously, Public Affairs, Copyright 2009 by Geoffrey Nunberg, pp. 141-143

Friday, June 26, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/26/09 - Boone's Surprise

In today's excerpt - affection, infidelity and loss in the marriage of America hero Daniel Boone:

"On August 14,1756, Daniel Boone and Rebecca Bryan were married [in North Carolina]. By this time he was twenty-one, she seventeen. Two other couples were married at the same time. Presumably, the families had a party, with Black Betty, the liquor jug, being passed from thirsty lips to thirsty lips and bawdy songs being sung below the nuptial chamber.

"The first child of Daniel and Rebecca, James, was born on May 3, 1757 - eleven days shy of nine months after the wedding date. James was the first of 10 children Boone and Rebecca were to have between 1757 and 1781 - on average, one child every 2.4 years. Rebecca was eighteen when the first child was born and forty-two when the tenth child arrived. Frontier people tended to have large families. Children helped in settling and working the land, but many of them died young. Among Rebecca and Daniel's children, one son died in infancy, and two others were killed by Indians before they were married. In any case, people living along the frontier at that time married young, contraception was minimal, and there were few forms of entertainment to compete with sex.

"The marriage of Daniel Boone and Rebecca Bryan proved remarkably resilient, despite severe challenges, including the perils of Indian attacks, the squalor of frontier settlements, frequent and large financial reverses, repeated moves over thousands of miles, the killings of two sons by Indians, and Boone's recurrent and prolonged absences on long hunts and military campaigns. ...

"On his return [from one such two-year absence], according to several stories gathered many decades later (and denied or questioned by several Boone descendants and biographers), Boone encountered what his nineteenth-century biographer Lyman Draper referred to in his notes as 'Boone's surprise': during her husband's prolonged absence Rebecca had conceived and given birth to another child, Jemima, born on October 4,1762.

"Rebecca reportedly burst into tears when she saw Boone and told him he had been gone so long that everyone thought he was dead. Boone asked who the baby's father was and was told it was a Boone - according to some stories, Boone's younger brother Edward, known as Neddy, who, Rebecca said, 'looked so much like Daniel, she couldn't help it.' Boone took the news in stride. 'It will be a Boone any how,' he reportedly said in another telling of the story, 'and besides I have been obliged to be married in Indian fashion a couple of times. Pho' pho! Dry up your tears and welcome me home.' The teller of the story, who was seventy-six years old and who apologized for having 'only a faint recollection of a mass of incidents without date or form:' reported that Boone's wife was there when Boone told it to him, and she 'made her knitting needles fly very fast' as the story was told. Another account has Rebecca telling the returning Daniel as he sees the new child, 'You had better have staid at home & got it yourself.'

"Like much Boone lore, the stories about Boone's surprise were based on reminiscences of old frontiersmen and women (or their descendants) long after the time in question. The stories also are mutually inconsistent in key aspects, such as the date of the event and the identity of the child and of the father, and other puzzling aspects. When, before Jemima's birth, would Boone have taken an Indian wife? Boone did not live in a Shawnee village until he was taken captive by the Indians in 1778 - sixteen years after Jemima was born. But that does not mean that he would not have had opportunities, traveling in Indian country, for encounters with Indian women."

Meredith Mason Brown, Frontiersman, LSU Press, Copyright 2008 by LSU Press, pp. 23-26

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/24/09 - Dictionaries and Politics

In today's excerpt - dictionaries, meanings, and politics:

"The dictionary's role in settling meanings has always been symbolic more than actual. True, a concise definition can pin down the basic meaning of a concrete word, ... but we don't really expect a dictionary to delineate the finer nuances of more abstract words, particularly the ones that are charged with social or political importance. ...

"For most of its existence, in fact, the Supreme Court rarely referred to dictionaries to determine the meanings of the statutes it was considering. Justices Holmes, Brandeis, and Cardozo didn't once cite a dictionary in all their years on the court. It's only in recent years that the use of dictionaries has become a routine practice. Since 1990, the Court has referred to dictionary definitions in more cases than in the preceding two centuries of its life.

"You can attribute that to the rise of the legal doctrine of textualism. When courts are trying to determine the meaning of a statute or regulation, the doctrine says, they should look only at the plain meanings of the words of the text itself, not the intentions of Congress or the legislative history of the law. And where better to look than in the neutral source that most people turn to when they want to settle a dispute over meaning?

"So it's not surprising that the justice who has referred to dictionaries most often is Antonin Scalia, the most eloquent advocate of textualism, followed by Clarence Thomas - though to judge from Samuel Alito's penchant for citing dictionaries in his decisions, he might give both of them a run for their money. ...

"In one 1993 case, the Supreme Court ruled that a man who traded a rifle for some cocaine could be sentenced under a statute that provided for an increased penalty for someone who uses a firearm to obtain narcotics. Writing for the majority, Justice O'Connor justified the decision by citing one dictionary's definition of use as 'to employ.' To his credit, justice Scalia dissented, following a principle of interpretation that you could paraphrase as 'give me a break, please.' In ordinary usage, he said, using a firearm means using it as a weapon, not as a medium of barter.

"But Scalia himself hasn't been above what the legal scholar Ellen Aprill calls 'dictionary shopping.' Does the word representatives as used in the 1982 Voting Rights Act apply to elected judges in addition to legislators? In a 1991 decision, Scalia said it didn't. He cited the definition of the word in the 1934 Webster's Second International - a dictionary that some language traditionalists regard with the kind of reverence that folk purists have for Bob Dylan's acoustic era. But if he'd wanted to argue the other way, he could have referred to the broader definitions of representative in the more recent Webster's Third or the American Heritage, both of which he has found it convenient to cite on other occasions.

"But the most dramatic recent example of the selective use of dictionaries comes not from a Supreme Court decision but from the memorandum on torture that was written for the Justice Department in 2002 by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, who has since been appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. By cherry-picking his dictionaries and senses, Bybee managed to come up with a definition of torture that ruled out any practice that doesn't cause lasting impairment or inflict pain that rises to the level of death or organ damage. By that standard, nothing that happened at Abu Ghraib would count as torture, even if most people would describe it that way. It's a far cry from the plain meaning of the word, but the appeal to a dictionary seems to cloak the definition in disinterestedness.

"Samuel Johnson (who published the first widely-used dictionary in 1755) himself approached his project with more humility. He wrote that no dictionary could reduce to mechanical certainty 'the boundless chaos of a living speech.'"

Geoffrey Nunberg, The Years of Talking Dangerously, Public Affairs, Copyright 2009 by Geoffrey Nunberg, pp. 68-70

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/23/09 - Charlie Chaplin Exiled

In today's excerpt - Charlie Chaplin in exile (1889-1977). Chaplin's Little Tramp character had catapulted him to fame and fortune perhaps not exceeded even to this day. However, late in his career, his political views - though moderate by some contemporary standards - were seen by many as communistic, and J. Edgar Hoover instructed the FBI to keep extensive secret files on him. This, coupled with the controversy associated with his attraction to younger women (at fifty-four, for example, he married eighteen-year-old Oona O'Neill), led to his departure and exile from the United States. To add to this sorrow, he began to feel trapped by the Little Tramp character he had created:

"Thanks to the combined scandals of his 'un-American' politics and his underage bedfellows, Chaplin had been exiled [by the FBI in 1952] from the country whose most popular art form he helped to define. Decamping to a villa in Switzerland, he lived out the next twenty years with his devoted fourth wife, Oona, at his side, returning to the US in 1972 for 'the great American recantation,' when Hollywood offered him an honorary Oscar, and the opportunity for some preening. He died five years later, at the age of eighty-eight, widely considered cinema's greatest genius.

"Although the international adoration the Tramp inspired was gratifying at first, Chaplin came to resent the 'mask' he had assumed: 'There are days when I am filled with disgust at the character that circumstances forced me to create,' he said late in life: 'That dreadful suit of clothes.' This seems less a rejection of the suit itself, than of a career defined by - or as - a suit of clothes, the lingering horror of a costume that became both straitjacket and carapace. But as James Agee pointed out, Chaplin's genius was precisely for finding 'inflections,' for ranging across human nature while remaining within this one, apparently fixed, identity.

"Nonetheless, becoming a living legend is, by all accounts, not much fun. Like Marilyn Monroe after him, Chaplin felt imprisoned by his own creation, as his audiences refused to let him play anyone else. Unlike Monroe, however, Chaplin had the wealth and the creative control to make the attempt. After dozens of shorts and a handful of classic features starring the Tramp, including The Gold Rush and City Lights, Chaplin set about killing him off, first turning him into Hitler, in The Great Dictator, and then into Monsieur Verdoux, the sociopathic serial killer who justifies murdering a string of wives by means of the atomic bomb. Monsieur Verdoux was greeted with a mixture of incomprehension and hostility; although it was nominated for best screenplay of 1947, it lost to that beloved masterpiece, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer starring Cary Grant and Shirley Temple. Chaplin made only one more film in Hollywood, the mawkish and self-pitying Limelight, before the House Un-American Activities Committee drove him into exile."

Sarah Churchwell, "The Tramp and the sort-of-lady," The Times Literary Supplement, June 12, 2009, p. 7.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/22/09 - Space Race

In today's excerpt - spending $150 billion to put a man on the moon. Large government expenditures are normally more easily approved in the face of a major threat, and because the dreaded communists of the Soviet Union had put the first man in space, the Apollo space program was no exception. The goal of putting a man on the moon was fully achieved in eight years from its announcement - just a few years longer than it takes GM to design and build a new model car from conception to first sale, and less time that it will have taken to replace the World Trade Center towers - should that ever happen. As the communist space threat abated, funding for space programs waned as well:

"The Apollo space program was a child of the Cold War. The technological stakes had been raised by the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite, in October 1957. Apollo was the response of a technically fast- developing and confident nation with bewildering reserves of money and talent. It was also symbolic of a different mentality, optimistic, can-do and willing to confront the most awe-inspiring challenges....

"Soviet scientists were soon confident enough to launch Yuri Gagarin into space for a single orbit of the Earth in his Vostok capsule on April 12th, 1961. It marked a new phase in the space race, demonstrating not only immense confidence but also the powerful appeal to the public of men in space. While NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the then young and vigorous agency of US government in charge of the space effort, prepared to match Gagarin's feat, it was clear that the superiority of the US could only be truly demonstrated by a qualitatively and quantitatively more spectacular achievement. The announcement of the Apollo program to land a man on the Moon came just six weeks after Gagarin's flight and was intended to neutralize and ultimately trump the Soviet achievement. ...

"This was to be the space project of the decade and would not be surpassed by any other country. It was to be a 'giant step' that would convince the world and reassure the American public that the United States, once moved, could do what nobody else could do. This point, the first of Kennedy's proclamation, recognized that the most important and most convincing force in international politics is the perception of superiority. ...

"What about the bill? Kennedy did not put a figure on the cost when announcing the program (that would have spoiled the effect of the speech) but recognized that no other space project 'will be so ... expensive to accomplish'. The cost was indeed very high: Official figures show that the original budget for Apollo was estimated to be about $23 billion and ended up costing between $20 and $25 billion, thus being, seemingly, on budget, a remarkable feat considering its vastness, complexity and novelty. (These costs in current terms would add up to around $150 billion.) ... This financial effort is amazing when the other, simultaneous commitments of the US are taken into account, not least waging a war in south-east Asia with a fully equipped army of almost half-a-million men and women. ...

"The Apollo program certainly fulfilled one of its principal aims: showing the Soviet Union who was boss in space and, by implication, frontline technology directly transferable to armaments. The relative ease with which the US paid for the program, as living standards reached heights never seen before, must have impressed the Soviet leadership and their allies. As a weapon of the Cold War, Apollo was a total success, fulfilling its political aim of showing the superiority of the capabilities of the United States to the world. Almost incidentally, the race to the Moon (never seriously joined by the Soviets) was won. ...

"By the time Apollo 17, the final mission, was launched on December 7th, 1972, the importance of space as a battle-ground in the Cold War was fading. It was generally accepted that, whatever the relative capabilities of missiles with thermonuclear warheads, there was enough weaponry on both sides."

Andre Balogh, "Above and Beyond: The Apollo Space Race to the Moon," History Today, June 2009, pp. 14-20

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/18/09 - Inkpot Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/17/09 - Gilda Radner

In today's excerpt - Gilda Radner (1946-1989), the much-loved comedian best remembered as part of the original cast of Saturday Night Live, who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 43:

"Radner was born in Detroit, nine months after the end of World War II, to a Russian Jewish family. Her father ran a successful hotel in town, and many famous nightclub entertainers performed there. Gilda, already named after a Rita Hayworth heroine, was starstruck at an early age. The first wall she banged into was her father's death, when she was a teenager, and it hit her hard. 'She was also heavy,' recounted Alan Zweibel, another close friend and SNL writer. 'So, the death of a Dad and being fat, that was a little bit of a combo platter there, that certainly is a really good recipe to be funny. How else do you survive?'

"Gilda went across the border to follow a boyfriend to Canada, worked briefly on a children's television show, and then did improv at Toronto's Second City. She came to New York to perform in the National Lampoon Show, where producer Lorne Michaels saw her: she was the first of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players to be hired for Saturday Night Live. Through the first five seasons of the program, Radner became the show's heart, winning the audience over with her gallery of misguided misfits. There seemed to be few risks she was not willing to take, whether it was gluing fake armpit hair on to parody Patti Smith, or slamming full throttle into a bedroom door [or jumping on the bed] as the hyperactive little girl, Judy Miller:

" 'And now it's time for the Judy Miller Show!!!!!! Yea!!! And now presenting the beautiful star of our show - here she is, folks, Miss Judy Miller! I am the most beautiful bride in the whole wide world!!!!!'

" 'Part of the charm of Gilda was the child inside of her, that she was not afraid to access,' said Zweibel. 'She felt comfortable in the world that's in the head of children.'

"Perhaps her greatest risk-taking revolved around her ability to endow each of her unforgettable characters with a humiliating flaw that would have, in less sensitive hands, consigned them to social marginalization. Her version of Barbara Walters combined a speech impediment with a gargantuan ego: 'I mean, wewwy, who does deserve to be Fiwst Wady? Me, Baba Wawa, Fiwst Wady of tewevision.' Emily Litella, the 'Weekend Update' contributor, incapable of getting the simplest facts straight, was continually railing against 'Violins on Television' or 'Soviet Jewelry.' There was 'always something' over-the-top about newscaster Roseanne Rosannadanna, who never seemed to understand the most basic rules of taste or etiquette. ...

"No matter how egregious the faux pas of her characters, no matter how goofy they seemed to be, they always thought they were perfectly fine; that's because Radner did, too. Anne Beatts remembered that 'She once said that she thought comedy originated for her when you're little and you fall down on the ice? And people might laugh at you so you try and make it seem like you fell on purpose? That was the root of her comedy.' Nowhere was that more apparent than with Lisa Loopner, the girl nerd who, despite the fact that her breasts were, in her words, 'miserable maraschino cherries,' still radiated an immense sexual attraction to her pizza-faced classmate, Todd, played by Bill Murray, [who] was 'a boy and a friend, but not my boyfriend,' ...

"As Gilda's star ascended, there were the inevitable rungs in the ladder of crossover success - movies, a one-woman Broadway show - but she always turned down the repeated, fervent requests for her to star in her own sitcom. She was happy where she was, on SNL, but in 1980, when the original cast left after five seasons, it was time to move on. Her huge fame at the time filled her more with ambivalence than anything else; she told a television reporter that 'it happens a lot in comedy that when you get success and celebrity, it changes. There's something about being an underdog, a voyeur, that makes comedy possible.' "

Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon , Make 'Em Laugh, Twelve, The Hachette Book Group, Copyright 2008 by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon , pp. 238-239

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/16/09 - Founding Fathers

In today's excerpt - the success of the American Revolution generated much after-the-fact finger-pointing and criticism among its leaders as they vied for power in the new government and for their place in posterity:

"Even a casual reading of the reflections of those who occupy our national pantheon shows that these founders were far from reverent in their views of one another, and far from agreed on how to tell the story of the nation's birth. ...

" 'The history of our Revolution,' fretted John Adams, 'will be one continued lie from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin's electric rod smote the earth and out sprang George Washington.' Adams complained endlessly about how Franklin was overrated and underhanded, and it pained him immensely to think that the story would go on 'that Franklin electrified [Washington] with his rod, and hence-forward these two conducted all the policy negotiations, legislatures, and war.' Adams couldn't decide who would be best remembered in history - Franklin or Washington - but he knew for a certainty that both deserved less credit than he. 'I never knew but one man who pretended to be wholly free from [vanity],' Adams wrote of Franklin, 'and him I know to be in his heart the vainest man, and the falsest character I have ever met with in life.' Washington wasn't much better. Adams grumbled about 'the superstitious veneration that is sometimes paid to General Washington,' because 'I feel myself his superior.' ...

"The author of the Declaration of Independence also took his lumps, and administered a few, as he and his band of brothers tried to assess the American Revolution after the smoke had cleared and the ink on the peace treaty had dried. Jefferson found Adams impossible: 'He hates Franklin, he hates Jay, he hates the French, he hates the English,' wrote the Monticello patriarch in 1783. Adams returned the favor. At one point he assured a friend in Philadelphia that Jefferson was not 'a true figure' of the Revolution and that drafting the Declaration of Independence was a 'theatrical show' in which the man from Monticello had 'run away with all the stage effect ... and all the glory of it.' After losing the presidency to Jefferson in 1800, Adams called his rival so 'warped by prejudice and so blinded by ignorance as to be unfit for the office he holds.' Many of Adams's Congregational minister friends agreed. One predicted that Americans would 'rue the day and detest the folly, delusion, and intrigue which raised him to the head of the United States.' Other clergymen bombarded their parishioners with descriptions of Jefferson as an adulterous atheist and a toadying lover of the hopelessly corrupt French, whose revolution was as attractive as a plague.

"Washington quickly became the avatar of revolutionary achievement because the nation could hardly do without a conquering hero. But privately - and sometimes very publicly - many of his closest associates thought differently. Charles Lee, who became Washington's third-ranking general and had a low opinion of his commander's generalship, sneered at what he called the 'infallible divinity' of the commander in chief and called him 'a bladder of emptiness and pride.' Tom Paine, even after Washington had virtually been sanctified, told the public that had honored him for the crucial essay Common Sense that Washington was 'treacherous in private friendship . . . and a hypocrite in public life.' In an open letter to the retiring president he capped his denunciation: 'As to you, Sir ... the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any.' "

Gary B. Nash, The Unknown American Revolution, Viking, Copyright 2005 by Gary B. Nash, pp. xviii-xx

Monday, June 15, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/15/09 - Edwin Hubble

In today's excerpt - Edwin Hubble, the man for whom today's Hubble Space Telescope is named, discovers the universe:

"On an October night in 1923, at the Mount Wilson Observatory north of Los Angeles, the view of the night sky was unparalleled. Down in the valley, Hollywood was booming, but the population of the city was till less than a million, and the tide of smog and city lights had not yet crept up the mountain. On its 5,700-foot peak stood the largest telescope in the world, a reflecting telescope with a 100-inch-wide mirror. At the eyepiece that night, guiding the mammoth white tube as it tracked the Andromeda Nebula across the sky, sat a 33-year-old astronomer named Edwin Hubble. He was about to redefine our concept of the universe. ...

"The telescope was the second American thing about this story. It's not just that it was the world's largest, and thus the instrument that could see the farthest into what Hubble would later call 'the realm of the nebulae' - it's that it was paid for, not by the government, but by wealthy philanthropists. John D. Hooker, a local businessman, footed the bill for the mirror, which was cast in France from greenish wine-bottle glass and then shipped to Pasadena for grinding and polishing. The rest of the money came from Andrew Carnegie, who through his Carnegie Institution supported science by supporting 'exceptional' individuals like himself. The brains behind the telescope, George Hale, fit that bill, and so did Hubble, whom Hale recruited. ...

"According to the other camp, however, those nebulae were not intrinsically faint and wispy - they only looked faint because they were very far away. They were other galaxies just like our own, floating in a much bigger sea of empty space. 'Island universes,' Immanuel Kant had called them when he first proposed the theory in the 18th century. ... Hubble had devoted his doctoral work at Chicago to observing nebulae with a 24-inch reflecting telescope; that's what brought him to the attention of Hale. ...

"On the night of Oct. 5, 1923, Hubble noticed a faint star [in the Andromeda Nebula] he had not seen before. Back in his office in Pasadena, though, he found the same star on earlier plates - it was a regularly pulsing star called a Cepheid variable. Astronomers had studied Cepheids in the Milky Way, and discovered that the period of the pulsations was a reliable measure of the star's intrinsic brightness. Comparing that with how bright the star appeared on their photographs, they could calculate how far away it was. Hubble did that right away with his first Cepheid. He found that it and, thus, the Andromeda Nebula were one million light-years away - a distance five times greater than the largest estimate of the Milky Way's diameter. Clearly Andromeda was not part of the Milky Way....

"When Hubble's first results were presented at a scientific meeting at the end of 1924, one astronomer pulled out a slide rule to calculate how much the volume of the universe had just grown: a hundred-fold, he said. When Harlow Shapley, the leader of the our-galaxy-is-the-whole-shebang camp, received a letter from Hubble in 1924, announcing the Cepheids in Andromeda and another nebula, he is reported to have said to a colleague, 'Here is the letter that has destroyed my universe.' "

Robert Kunzig, "America's Cosmic Frontiersman," American History, August 2009, pp. 59-62

Friday, June 12, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/12/09 - Clash of Civilizations

In today's excerpt - new thoughts on the "clash of civilizations" from Robert Wright, author of the highly influential books Nonzero and The Moral Animal, in his new book The Evolution of God:

"It sounds paradoxical. On the one hand, I think gods arose as illusions, and that the subsequent history of the idea of god is, in some sense, the evolution of an illusion. On the other hand: (1) the story of this evolution itself points to the existence of something you can meaningfully call divinity; and (2) the 'illusion,' in the course of evolving, has gotten streamlined in a way that moved it closer to plausibility. In both of these senses, the illusion has gotten less and less illusory.

"Does that make sense? Probably not. I hope it will by the end of the book. For now I should just concede that the kind of god that remains plausible, after all this streamlining, is not the kind of god that most religious believers currently have in mind.

"There are two other things that I hope will make a new kind of sense by the end of this book, and both are aspects of the current world situation. One is what some people call a clash of civilizations - the tension between the Judeo-Christian West and the Muslim world, as conspicuously manifested on September 11, 2001. Ever since that day, people have been wondering how, if at all, the world's Abrahamic religions can get along with one another as globalization forces them into closer and closer contact.

"Well, history is full of civilizations clashing, and for that matter, of civilizations not clashing. And the story of the role played by religious ideas - fanning the flames or dampening the flames, and often changing in the process - is instructive. I think it tells us what we can do to make the current 'clash' more likely to have a happy ending.

"The second aspect of the current world situation I'll address is another kind of clash - the much-discussed 'clash' between science and religion. Like the first kind of clash, this one has a long and instructive history. It can be traced at least as far back as ancient Babylon, where eclipses that had long been attributed to restless and malignant supernatural beings were suddenly found to occur at predictable intervals - predictable enough to make you wonder whether restless and malignant supernatural beings were really the problem.

"There have been many such unsettling (from religion's point of view) discoveries since then, but always some notion of the divine has survived the encounter with science. The notion has had to change, but that's no indictment of religion. After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science. On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth.

"Maybe the same thing is happening to religion. Maybe, in the end, a mercilessly scientific account of our predicament ... is actually compatible with a truly religious worldview, and is part of the process that refines a religious worldview, moving it closer to truth. These two big 'clash' questions can be put into one sentence: Can religions in the modern world reconcile themselves to one another, and can they reconcile themselves to science? I think their history points to affirmative answers."

Robert Wright, The Evolution of God, Little, Brown and Company, Copyright 2009 by Robert Wright, pp. 4-6

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/11/09 - Elizabethan Theater

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/10/09 - Catal Huyuk

In today's excerpt - Catal Huyuk, one of the first cities in the world, established in 7000 BCE and abandoned in 4500 BCE. Its citizens entered their houses from the roof, decorated their rooms with the heads of wild bulls, and intentionally let vultures pick the bones of the dead before burial:

"Catal Huyuk spread over an area of thirty-two acres on the Konya Plain of south central Turkey near a marsh surrounded by well-wooded areas. Constructed of sundried mud bricks made in molds, the houses were designed to back into each other with occasional courtyards. The roofs were flat and were entered by a ladder to an opening in the roof. The outside walls of the outermost houses provided a kind of defense for the town.

"The food supply in Catal Huyuk was based on domesticated sheep, goats, and pigs, and on two kinds of wheat, barley, and peas. Some hunting of red deer, boar, and onager went on, while some wild plant life, such as grasses and acorns, was collected and stored. ...

"Men in Catal Huyuk grew to an average height of 5'7", while women reached an average of 5'2". Men lived an average of 34 years, while women averaged 30 years. These averages include a high rate of infant and child death. The skeletons found at Catal Huyuk reveal some arthritis but no rickets or vitamin deficiency. An overgrowth of the spongy marrow space of the skull does reveal, however, that about 40 percent of the adults studied suffered from anemia, which implies that malaria was endemic. The population ... reached nearly 6,000 in about 5800 BCE, but this estimate is shaky....

"People in Catal Huyuk made coil-based pottery, not yet the wheel-turned variety. People constructed baskets and wove textiles of wool or flax. They chipped exquisite knives and spears, carved stones and bones, worked leather and wood, and created jewelry and cosmetics. Objects of copper and lead, which occur naturally in almost pure form, were found at Catal Huyuk as decorations and ceremonial objects. ...

"Paintings on plastered walls depict hunting scenes, with men and women draped in leopard skins. Other scenes depict vultures cleaning bones, apparently human ones. Men were buried with weapons rather than with farm tools.

"[Their] rooms featured sculpted heads of wild bulls, relief models of bulls and rams, depictions of female breasts, goddesses, leopards, and handprints. Since fat, fertile, female figures far outnumber those of males, experts believe that inhabitants gave top honors to a goddess. ...

"What people in Catal Huyuk believed about death cannot be known, except that food offerings have been found with the bones, suggesting they believed in an afterlife. Their murals indicate that after death, the bodies of people in Catal Huyuk were exposed to vultures. When the bones had been cleaned. They were buried in the shrines or under the sleeping platforms in the houses that they had occupied in life."

Cynthia Stokes Brown, Big History, The New Press, Copyright 2007 by Cynthia Stokes Brown, pp. 84-86

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/9/09 - Sister Rosetta Tharpe

In today's excerpt - Sister Rosetta Tharpe, viewed by some as the first rock and roll guitarist. Tharpe first gained widespread attention performing in Barney Josephson's Café Society, a New York City nightclub, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Josephson's club was the first to both feature black jazz artists and allow black patrons in the audience, and he brought a stellar variety of previously little known black talent to the broader public - including Billie Holiday and Lena Horne. Here Josephson reminisces about Tharpe:

"Sister Rosetta Tharpe not only could sing electrifying gospel but what an acoustic guitar she could play. [Jazz promoter] John Hammond explained, 'She is one of the first to use it for melody-plucked lines. Her technically astonishing lead breaks invented the rock and roll guitar.' In his 1938 'From Spirituals to Swing' concert, Sister Tharpe 'was a surprise smash; knocked the people out.'

"Rosetta Tharpe was a child star. Born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, she was a baby when her mother took up preaching, traveling from church to church to spread the gospel. As a four-year-old, Rosetta was already singing and playing the guitar. She was the big attraction that brought in the worshippers to her mother's services. Rosetta Tharpe was a pioneer. When she sang gospel on a secular stage she scandalized the sanctified church. They never forgave her. Religious folk opposed singing in cabarets; it was synonymous with the Devil, God's enemy. They told Sister Tharpe that either she serve the devil or God. She would respond that the Lord knew her heart and it wouldn't lead her astray. She was the first gospel singer to sign with a major recording company and to appear in a nightclub - mine. Her song style was filled with blues inversion. ... She bent her notes like a horn player, and syncopated in swing band manner. My secular audiences were fascinated with her blues-oriented gospel, a first for many of them.

"[Critic Malcolm Johnson wrote] 'Sister Rosetta Tharpe rates unqualified enthusiasm for the stirring quality of her songs, sung in the spiritual vein of swing tempo. At Cafe Society she is offering some new compositions of her own.' "

Sister Rosetta Tharpe performs "Up Above My Head"

Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson, Café Society, University of Illinois Press, Copyright 2009 by Terry Trilling-Josephson, pp. 113-114

Monday, June 08, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/8/09 - The American Revolution

In today's excerpt - the economic underpinnings of the America Revolution. Alongside the irritant of taxation without representation (though the tax burdens of colonists were far below those of Englanders), the restrictions of a mercantile economy, and the self-confidence that grew from partial self-governance, many Americans stood to gain financially from separation from England, especially after the point of no return had been passed. In the minor example below, aspiring claimants to the rich new lands of Kentucky and the other lands of the Ohio Valley stood to benefit financially if America's Revolution was successful:

"Several of the American colonies (notably Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and North Carolina but also Connecticut) had conflicting claims to land in the Ohio Valley. Americans from different colonies, in the years since 1763, had staked claims to lands in Kentucky and elsewhere in the Ohio Valley (including lands north of the Ohio River that the British Parliament in October 1774, in the Quebec Act, had proclaimed were part of Quebec). These settlers and absentee claimants alike sought to preserve their land interests during the Revolution. Americans of widely different backgrounds - former officers in the French and Indian War such as George Washington; grantees of the Transylvania Company; settlers with claims under Virginia land law based on preemption or improvements - had claims that involved much of the best land in Kentucky. They shared a strong common interest in keeping the land they had claimed. With few exceptions victory by the British in the Revolutionary War would have hurt that interest.

"In the case of officers and claimants under officers' warrants, the British had officially interpreted the 1763 proclamation to permit trans-Appalachian land grants only to British regular officers, not to colonial militia officers such as Washington. Land claimants under Virginia officers' warrants had to be concerned about whether the Crown would honor warrants that had been issued in contravention of the 1763 proclamation and by a colony that had rebelled against Britain. Similar issues threatened the land claims of settlers such as those at Harrodsburg who based their land claims on preemption or on improvements to claimed lands, under provisions of Virginia's land acts.

"Virginia's governor Lord Dunmore had not won the hearts of Kentucky settlers by issuing a proclamation in March 1775, under directions from the British Ministry of Trade, that all land in Kentucky was to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, rather than being sold at set low prices. As John Floyd wrote to William Preston in April 1775: 'The people in general seem not to approve the Governor's instructions with regard to settling the lands' because the settlers had little money and did not want to pay top dollar but preferred to exercise settlement rights and preemption privileges and to pay a fixed low price intended to encourage settlement. After hearing from Lord Dunmore of the 1775 proclamation, Preston, knowing how unpopular it was, sought guidance from the increasingly anti-British Virginia Convention, which advised the surveyors 'to pay no regard to the Proclamation' Through [Daniel] Boone, Preston directed Floyd and the other Fincastle surveyors not to stretch a chain to survey any land under Dunmore's proclamation.

"Even the Transylvania Company, for all its ambivalence about the Revolution (coupling professed loyalty to the British sovereign with praise of the patriots' pursuit of liberty), came to have economic reasons to back the rebels. By the end of 1776 the company's proprietors had seen their grand hopes of becoming 'lords of the soil' ended by Virginia's formation of Kentucky as a county of Virginia. Thereafter, the proprietors' only hope was to gain substantial compensatory acreage from Virginia and North Carolina. That hope was more likely to be realized if the Revolution succeeded."

Meredith Mason Brown, Frontiersman, LSU Press, Copyright 2008 by LSU Press, pp. 92-93

Friday, June 05, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/5/09 - Rising Sea Levels

In today's excerpt - the U.N. estimates that sea levels will rise about a foot over the rest of this century. Yet since 1860, our planet has experienced a sea-level rise of about a foot without calamity. Bjorn Lomborg, a leading voice of the "emerging pragmatic center" in the highly-charged debate on climate change, fully acknowledges a global warming crisis and its damaging consequences, but advocates cost-effective alternatives to Kyoto, and cautions against warnings of catastrophe unsupported by current science:

"In its 2007 report, the U.N. estimates that sea levels will rise about a foot over the rest of the century. While this is not a trivial amount, it is also important to realize that it is certainly not outside historical experience. Since 1860, we have experienced a sea-level rise of about a foot, yet this has clearly not caused major disruptions. ...

"Often, the risk of sea-level rise is strongly dramatized in the public discourse. A cover story of U.S. News & World Report famously predicted that 'global warming could cause droughts, disease, and political upheaval' and other nasty effects, from pestilence and famine to wars and refugee movement. We will return to these concerns later, but their primary projection for sea-level rise was this: 'By midcentury, the chic Art Deco hotels that now line Miami's South Beach could stand waterlogged and abandoned.'

"Yet sea-level increase by 2050 will be about five inches - no more than the change we have experienced since 1940 and less than the change those Art Deco hotels have already stood through. Moreover, with sea-level changes occurring slowly throughout the century, economically rational foresight will make sure that protection will be afforded to property that is worth more than the protection costs, and settlement will be avoided where costs will outweigh benefits. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (part of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization) cites the total cost for U.S. national protection and property abandonment for more than a three-foot sea-level rise (more than triple what is expected in 2100) at about $5 billion to $6 billion over the century. Considering that the adequate protection costs for Miami would be just a tiny fraction of this cost spread over the century, that the property value for Miami Beach in 2006 was close to $23 billion, and that the Art Deco National Historic District is the second-largest tourist magnet in Florida after Disney World, contributing more than $11 billion annually to the economy, five inches will simply not leave Miami Beach hotels waterlogged and abandoned.

"But this of course is exactly the opposite of what we often hear."

Bjorn Lomborg, Cool It, Vintage, Copyright 2007 by Bjorn Lomborg, pp. 60-61

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/4/09 - Britain's Cannibals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/3/09 - W.C. Fields

In today's excerpt - W.C. Fields (1880-1946), one of America's greatest comedians, whose film masterpieces were It's a Gift (1934) and The Bank Dick (1941). One of Fields more enduring quotes is that 'You can't cheat an honest man. Never give a sucker an even break or smarten up a chump':

"William Claude Dukenfield was born in 1880, into a working-class neighborhood of Philadelphia, to a volatile British immigrant bartender named James Dukenfield and a tough lady with a sense of humor named Kate whom young 'Whitey' rather alarmingly resembled. At the age of eleven, Fields got into a violent argument with his father - something about an unfortunately placed shovel - and walked out on his family. He lived a peripatetic and grubby existence, sleeping in leaky culverts, eating handouts in local bars, but in his words, 'It was a glorious adventure and every boy in the neighborhood would have been glad to change places with me.' ...

"Young Fields discovered a way out by diligently mastering the art of juggling, making his professional debut at the age of seventeen. Along the way, he experienced hard times. He worked for a scam artist who ran a shell game; he was pressed into service where he had to pretend to drown twice a day in Atlantic City to attract crowds for a vaudeville show; he worked for a series of managers to whom, he said, 'salaries were only polite fictions.' ...

"It was in the Ziegfeld Follies that Fields found his comic voice - literally. He made a breakthrough in 'A Game of Golf' in 1918 and wound up recycling bits from that sketch for years. Although Fields had been performing his pantomime juggling act for nearly two decades, audiences now split their sides at his baroque neologistic formations and his strange muttered ways of spitting out curses. He also began writing his own sketches - and wound up reviving and revising the same two dozen scenarios throughout his career. ...

"Fields came into his own by breaking away from Ziegfeld in 1924 and starring in a stage vehicle called Poppy, a sentimental carnival tale that gave him the role of a lifetime - in fact, it gave him a role that he'd play, one way or another, for the rest of his lifetime. Professor Eustace McGargle is a master of flimflam flummery who tries to marry off his daughter into a higher social circle. ... With his role in Poppy, Fields became fixed in the American popular consciousness as the high-hatted con man with a marked deck in his pocket.

"POKER PLAYER: Uh, is this a game of chance?
"FIELDS: Not the way I play it, no. ...

"[Another distinctive trait was] Fields's seeming antisocial curmudgeonly behavior: despising his wife and mother-in-law, snarling at dogs, kicking little kids in the behind. 'I was the first comic in history to pick fights with children,' he said. ...

"Unlike many other Broadway comedians, he hadn't been hurt by the stock market crash - he saw the Wall Street bubble for the con it was. 'If these stocks are so good, why do the presidents of these companies want me in on it?' he asked sensibly. 'They don't know me, they don't give a damn about me.' ...

"For many, It's a Gift is his masterpiece. It was the perfect expression of his comic philosophy - 'If anything can go wrong, it will' - wedded to his ability to juggle not only objects but also life's unpredictable obstacles. By the end of the film, despite every dream and effort going up in smoke, Fields manages to look on the bright side. 'You're drunk!' someone protests to Fields. 'And you're crazy,' he replies. 'But I'll be sober tomorrow and you'll be crazy for the rest of your life.' ...

"When he made his other masterpiece, The Bank Dick, in 1941, no other star in Hollywood had above-the-title billing and carried contractual responsibility for writing and directing as well as performing. ... You've heard the old legend that it's the little put-upon guy who gets the laughs, but I'm the most belligerent guy on the screen. I'm going to kill everybody. But at the same time, I'm afraid of everybody - just a great big frightened bully. There's a lot of that in human nature. When people laugh at me, they're laughing at themselves. Or at least the next fellow. ..."

Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon , Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, Twelve, Hachette Book Group, Copyright 2008 by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon, Kindle Loc. 2571-2716

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/2/09 - Madrassas

In today's excerpt - madrassas, the Islamic schools in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan viewed with concern by the U.S. as a breeding ground for terrorists. Yet government funding in these countries for basic services such as schools is severely limited, leaving madrassas as the only viable option for many of the poorer citizens, and providing an opportunity for terrorist groups to gain credibility vis-à-vis the government by providing such necessities as school, food, and clothing:

"American national security strategists remained deeply concerned over the fact that the madrassas were actually growing in number. In the autumn of 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld penned a memo in which he confessed that 'we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror.' Rumsfeld added, 'Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?' At the time, I was interning at the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities, a think tank in Quantico, Virginia, conducting research on religion and violence around the world. Frankly, I didn't know much on the subject, though Rumsfeld's memo piqued my curiosity. Why were the madrassas growing in number? And were terrorists, like the ones involved in the 9/11 plot, prone to plan a sophisticated attack inside one of these backcountry schools?

"Soon after arriving in Pakistan I embarked on a journey around the country to observe an array of madrassas - and to find out what compelled students to go there, and whether they showed any signs of the reforms Musharraf had promised to enact. I found that, in many cases, economic factors and the state's collapsed education system - rather than some obsession with radical ideology - offered a better explanation for why parents sent their students to madrassas. At the public schools teachers didn't show up for work, schools laid in disrepair, and the nation's literacy rate hovered around 50 percent. For parents, especially in the more desperate households, opting to pull their children out of public schools and put them in madrassas was an easy choice. In a 2004 essay, Dr. Tariq Rahman, author of Denizens of Alien Worlds: A Study of Education, Inequality, and Polarization in Pakistan, wrote that, of the madrassa students he surveyed in his research, '76.6 percent belonged to the poorer sections of society.'

"To serve the most destitute families, some madrassas even offered scholarships, according to Amir Rana, a terrorism analyst in Lahore. 'For each child they send to a madrassa, a family could make another eight or ten dollars a month,' he said. 'A poor family with no chances for work could send five or six kids to madrassas, and use the money they get to feed the rest of the family.' Plus, those who attended the madrassa received three meals a day, clean clothes, and a place to sleep. In the absence of a welfare state, or even a well-functioning state, madrassas performed the double role of being a school and an NGO (nongovernmental organization [which are typically involved in providing charitable services to the very poor]).

" 'In the U.S., they say madrassas are a big problem in Pakistan. That's not our problem,' Dr. Ata-ur-Rahman, a sharp, impressive leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, former member of parliament, and a principal of a madrassa in the North-West Frontier Province, told me. 'Our problem in Pakistan is not madrassas. Our problem is clean drinking water. Our problem is sanitation. Our problem is health care. These are our problems that you should highlight somewhere.'"

Nicholas Schmidle, To Live or To Perish Forever, Henry Holt, Copyright 2009 by Nicholas Schmidle, pp. 61-62

Monday, June 01, 2009

Delanceyplace.com 6/1/09 - Early American Real Estate Promoters

In today's excerpt - early American real estate promoters. As with the establishment of many of the colonies themselves, much of the work of settling the West - from Kentucky to Texas to Utah and a thousand other locations besides - was done by real estate promoters, exaggerating or fabricating the virtues of their real estate in order to entice settlers to take the high risks of moving. One such promoter was Richard Henderson and his Transylvania Company, which included Daniel Boone:

"It was not easy to get settlers to come to Kentucky in the midst of Indian raids and title uncertainties, and [Judge Richard Henderson's] Transylvania Company's claim to most of Kentucky, fatally flawed from the outset, came under strong attack from other settlers, was inconsistent with the thrust of the Revolution, and was quickly dying.

"Henderson continued to promote the wonders of Kentucky with a torrent of superlatives. In June 1775 he told his fellow proprietors in North Carolina that the country 'far exceeds the idea which I had formed of it; and indeed it is not surprising, for it is not in the power of any person living to do justice to the fertility of the soil, beauty of the country, or excellence of its range.' The following month Henderson and fellow proprietor John Luttrell wrote to the proprietors who remained in North Carolina: 'The country might invite a prince from his palace, merely for the pleasure of contemplating its beauty and excellence; but only add the rapturous idea of property, and what allurements can the world offer as an equivalent for the loss of so glorious a prospect?'

"In September 1775 the proprietors ran in the Williamsburg newspapers an advertisement calculated to cause prospective settlers to salivate:

" 'This country lies ... in a temperate and healthy climate. It is in general well-watered with springs and rivulets, and has several rivers, up which vessels of considerable burden may come with ease. In different places of it are a number of salt springs, where the making of salt has been tried with great success. ... The fertility of the soil and goodness of the range almost surpass belief; and it is at present well stored with buffalo, elk, deer, bear, beaver, and etc., and the rivers abound with fish of various kinds. Vast crowds of people are daily flocking to it, and many gentlemen of the first rank and character have bargained for lands in it, so that there is a great appearance of a rapid settlement, and that it soon will be a considerable Colony, and one of the most agreeable countries in America.'

"It is hard to square the advertisement's claims with Henderson's descriptions in his journal and letters of actual conditions in Kentucky: lack of meat, lack of salt, diminishing game, frequent Indian attacks, and settlers leaving the country. On June 12 Henderson had told the proprietors in North Carolina that 'our company has dwindled from about eighty in number to about fifty odd, and I believe in a few days will be considerably less,' and that the number of settlers in the two neighboring settlements to the west had dropped from about one hundred to not more than sixty or seventy. But promotion is promotion, and sellers of real estate have been known from time to time to overstate the virtues of what they seek to sell."

Meredith Mason Brown, Frontiersman, Daniel Boone and the Making of America, LSU Press, Copyright 2008 by LSU Press, pp. 84-85