Wednesday, September 30, 2009 9/30/09 - Immigration

In today's excerpt - beginning in 1840, the largest human migration in history brought over 30 million immigrants to America, and by the time this migration was interrupted in 1914 by World War I, America stood as the most prosperous nation on earth:

"The reasons for the largest human migration in history had been long in coming.

"One of the main factors was the enormous increase in the European population that took place in less than a century - from 140 million people in 1750 to 250 million in the 1840s. As the numbers increased, peasant families were constricted into increasingly smaller plots of land by powerful landlords who were anxious to reap profits by creating larger farms to feed the growing cities. Soon alarming numbers of peasants found themselves unable to subsist. They were joined in their plight by legions of artisans whose special skills - passed on from father to son and mother to daughter for generations - had earned them both a livelihood and a respected place in society. Now, however, scores of the goods they had so expertly handcrafted were being produced by the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Thousands of' these artisans found themselves out of work, forced to move to the cities and work in factories, where low wages, drudgery, and the loss of their personal independence resulted in a sadly diminished quality of life.

"Devastating as they were, none of these problems compared to the series of famines that, beginning in the 1840s, descended upon various European nations. Nowhere was the situation more desperate than in Ireland where, in 1845, a fungus destroyed the potato crop, the single food staple upon which the poorer classes of the country depended for survival. By the time the disease began to abate in 1849, more than a million Irish men, women, and children had starved to death. ...

"It was not only in Ireland that famine struck. ... A quote from the archives of the Iowa State Historical Society by a Polish youngster put it more personally: 'We lived through a famine,' he explained, '[so] we came to America. Mother said she wanted to see a loaf of bread on the table and then she was ready to die.'

"There were other important reasons for the mass exodus as well. Despite the notions of liberty and equality that both the American and French revolutions had spawned, oppressive governments in countries such as Russia, Germany and Turkey had denied freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or other rights and had brutally put down rebellions aimed at bringing about reform. In Russia and Poland, massacres called pogroms erupted. Designed to eliminate minority groups who lived within their borders - particularly Jews - some of these pogroms were carried out by the governments of these two countries; others were unofficially endorsed by them. ...

"They came in waves; ... more than five million of them arrived between 1840 and 1880, an influx slightly greater than the entire population of the United States in 1790. Most emigrated from northern and western Europe - Scandinavians who settled in the American Midwest; Germans who established enclaves in New York, Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee; and British and Irish who poured into Boston, New York, and other northeastern communities.

"Beginning in 1880 a great shift occurred when an even larger flood of newcomers came from eastern, central, and southern Europe - Russians, Poles, Austro-Hungarians, Greeks, Ukrainians, and Italians. In 1880 less than twenty percent of the 250,000 Jews living in New York had come from Eastern Europe. In the next forty years the number grew to 1,400,000. That was one-fourth of the city's entire population. In the first quarter of the 1900s, more than two million Italians arrived. By the time the human tide was interrupted in 1914 by World War I, some thirty-three million people had fled their native lands, risking all to start life anew across the ocean. "

Martin W. Sandler, Atlantic Ocean, Sterling, Copyright 2008 by Martin W. Sandler, pp. 356-364

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 9/29/09 - His Excellency

In today's excerpt - the framers of the United States Constitution established the Congress first, in Article I, and then the President after that in Article II. That is because many assumed that Congress would be the most powerful branch of government, conceiving and passing legislation, and the President would be secondary, serving primarily to carry out the will of the Congress; and because there was much fear of creating a monarchy. There was much early debate therefore as to whether the executive office should consist of one person or several. Here are excerpts of some of the earliest comments - ultimately discarded - from members of the Constitutional Convention assembled in 1787:

"ROGER SHERMAN [of Connecticut]: The number of executives should not be fixed; the Legislature should be at liberty to appoint one or more as experience might dictate. The executive magistrate is nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the Legislature into effect, and the person or persons ought to be appointed by and accountable to the Legislature only, which is the depository of the supreme will of the society. The Legislature are the best judges of the business which ought to be done by the executive department and consequently of the number necessary from time to time for doing it.

WILLIAM PATERSON [of New Jersey]: The executive should consist of several persons.

EDMUND RANDOLPH [of Virginia]: It is doubtful whether even a council will be sufficient to check the improper views of an ambitious man. A unity of the executive would savor too much of monarchy.

RANDOLPH: The executive should consist of three members, to be drawn from different parts of the country. A unity in the executive magistrate is the foetus of monarchy. The great requisites for the executive department, vigor, dispatch and responsibility, can be found in three men as well as one man.

HUGH WILLIAMSON [of North Carolina]: As the executive is to have a kind of veto on the laws, and as there is an essential difference of interests between the northern and southern states, particularly in the carrying trade, the power will be dangerous to the part of the Union from which the Executive is not taken. Another objection against a single magistrate is that he will be an elective king and will feel the spirit of one. He will spare no pains to keep himself in for life, and will then lay a train for the succession of his children.

ELBRIDGE GERRY [of Maine]: A council should be annexed to the Executive in order to give weight and inspire confidence. A council ought to be the medium through which the feelings of the people ought to be communicated to the Executive.

SHERMAN: Mr. [James] Wilson has observed that in each state a single magistrate is placed at the head of the government. This is properly so, and the same policy should prevail in the federal government. But it should also be remarked that in all the states there is a council of advice, without which the first magistrate cannot act. A council is necessary to make the establishment acceptable to the people.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON [of New York]: The Executive should be known as the Governour of the United States.

JOHN RUTLEDGE [of South Carolina] FOR THE COMMITTEE OF DETAIL: It should be specified that the President's title shall be 'His Excellency.' "

Jane Butzner (Jacobs), Constitutional Chaff, Kennikat Press, Copyright 1941 by Columbia University Press, pp. 84-85

Monday, September 28, 2009 9/28/09 - Presidential Edict

In today's excerpt - in the chaotic and experimental early years of his presidency, FDR intervened to force the U.S. Army's nascent "Air Corps" - the precursor of today's Air Force - to deliver domestic airmail. It was an attempt to save money, but brought death and catastrophe instead:

"In 1934, [President] Franklin Roosevelt came up with a plan involving the Air Corps that would lead to a national disaster. The U.S. government used hired civilian contractors to fly the nation's airmail. The first regular route was started on May 15, 1918, between New York and Washington, with a stop in Philadelphia. The first transcontinental service was inaugurated in 1921. It was very popular with the public and highly lucrative for the federal government, but Roosevelt, always short on money for the treasury, wanted the civilian airlines that carried the nation's airmail to do it for less.

"The airlines refused to back down. During contract negotiations, FDR called their bluff and fired the entire force. In Roosevelt's mind, he already had an air force that was funded by the government, and with no war on, they were not doing much anyway, so he ordered the Army Air Corps to fly the mail. Military pilots, FDR reasoned, were already up in the air, so they might as well carry the mail while they were flying. In the meantime, it would force the civilian airlines to reconsider the federal governments new contract.

"Roosevelt's decision demonstrated an amazing lack of understanding. The Air Corps planes were not equipped to ferry hundreds of sacks of mail. The pilots did not know the routes. And an endeavor on this scale required massive planning. ... In 1934, there were exactly 1,372 officers and men on active duty in the Army Air Corps throughout the world - close to the size of a small high school. Roosevelt issued the order on February 9, 1934, that the Air Corps take over dozens of routes in exactly ten days - on February 19. No money had been allocated for the job, and crews found themselves suddenly sent back and forth across the country with no provisions for food or quarters to live in - absolutely nothing."They were eating homemade mulligan [stew] and they were sleeping on planks laid across saw-horses in cold hangars - lucky to be out of the rain. And they were scrounging around for blankets. [One pilot] told the story of a sergeant who was sent to another city and came back with a pillow given to him by an old lady who ran a hot dog stand outside the field, and was already feeding all the men in his outfit on credit. She took pity on him because he was sleeping on the ground. She told him she did not really need the pillow - it was just lying around on her sofa. ...

"The boys were out [freezing and starving]; generous-hearted folks tried to do whatever they could for them. ... [A pilot] remembered with sarcasm, 'It took that Congress until the 27th day of March to appropriate an excruciatingly generous five-dollar per day allowance for our living expenses. Meanwhile, it was hand-to-mouth.' But feeding the crews was the least of the problems.

"Between February 19 and June 1, 1934 (when the airlines resumed the service), sixty-five Army planes crashed, killing twelve pilots. ... It was an unqualified public relations disaster, which eventually led to a Congressional investigation.

"The fact is the Air Corps did not have the planes to do the job. And the planes they had could not accommodate all the sacks of mail. 'We'd stuff mail in wherever we could get a sack in: in the small baggage compartment under the rear cockpit, under the cowling, everyplace else.' Some mail was lost. Some sacks were not discovered until the plane went in for its regular inspection months later."

Warren Kozak, LeMay, Regnery, Copyright 2009 by Warren Kozak, pp. 38-40

Friday, September 25, 2009 9/25/09 - Henry Hudson

In today's excerpt - English sea captain Henry Hudson confiscates a Dutch trading ship and discovers New York (New Amsterdam). In 1609, the Dutch were the wealthiest and most successful traders on earth, and their country, the Netherlands, among the most powerful:

"On Tuesday, September 1, 1609, seventeen of the most powerful and affluent merchants in the world gathered in Amsterdam. They were the directors of the General United Chartered East-Indian Company, better known by its [Dutch] initials as the VOC, and to the English as the Dutch East India Company. However one referred to it, the VOC was the most powerful and profitable commercial entity in the world, the main engine of prosperity for the United Northern Provinces, or Dutch Republic [now known as the Netherlands]. It held the country's monopoly on trade to the Far East on the proven ocean trade routes: around Africa, and through the Strait of Magellan at the tip of South America.

"The enormous profits from porcelain, textiles, coffee, tea, and spices made the little nation a colossus of global trade. Perpetuating that wealth was the responsibility of the VOC's board, the Here Sewentien, or Lords Seventeen. ...

"Henry Hudson [was] an Englishman who had made two arctic voyages aboard a little ship called the Hopewell for commercial interests in his own country in 1607 and 1608. The first voyage had tried and failed to prove the feasibility of a midsummer passage to the Orient over the North Pole. The second had tried and failed to prove the feasibility of a midsummer passage to the Orient over the top of Russia. Thanks to the Amsterdam [merchants], Hudson had been hired to again try the route over Russia, this time by the VOC. The Hopewell voyages, despite their failure, had made Henry Hudson the leading international figure in efforts, however sporadic and unproductive, to prove a northerly passage to the Orient. ...

"A viable route would reduce a round-trip trading voyage to the Far East from two years or more to about six months. Returns on capital would be far quicker, and risks could be greatly reduced. About one ship in five never came back from the round-Africa route. A northern passage could avoid, among other hazards, battles with the Spanish and Portuguese, devastating diseases, hulls that rotted during lengthy stays in tropical waters, and the mysterious, debilitating scourge of scurvy; which cut down men by the score on lengthy ocean passages. ...

"Hudson might have been forty years old when he received his invitation in the autumn of 1608 to come to Amsterdam and chat about arctic passage-making. [He was hired and began his voyage, however,] the truth about Hudson and his ship the Half Moon would have astonished and enraged the VOC's highly pragmatic directors. ...

"The Half Moon [by September 1, 1609] was steering north-northwest, with the lead line tickling the plunge of the continental shelf. ... Henry Hudson was in command of a Dutch ship he had effectively stolen and was skirting the east coast of North America, about a hundred miles off present-day Atlantic City, New Jersey.

"Hudson had turned a basic assignment to assess the Northeast Passage route into a rogue voyage of discovery. He had wandered thousands of miles in defiance of his employers across the northern hemisphere, commanding a voyage whose exact purpose defied explanation."

Douglas Hunter, Half Moon, Bloomsbury Press, Copyright 2009 by Douglas Hunter, pp. 6-12

Thursday, September 24, 2009 9/24/09 - Stadiums

In today's encore excerpt - the post-World War I boom in stadium building and 1923's new Yankee Stadium:

"[In 1923], the nation was in the midst of a stadium-building boom. Harvard University had built the first prestressed concrete stadium in 1903, and Yale, in the ever-running battle of one-upsmanship with its rival, doubled the size of Harvard's effort with the 80,000 seat Yale Bowl in 1908, but the end of the war had started the true building explosion. Games had gained a new importance. Physical training in the cantonments had brought many ordinary men to sport, to athletics, forced them to take part and enjoy physical competition for the first time in their workaday lives. The interest continued.

"Every university in the country seemed to be trying to raise funds to build a new stadium. Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse, Ohio State ... they all had new stadiums or stadiums under construction. In Los Angeles, the L.A. Coliseum was being built in an effort to attract the Olympics. In Chicago, a massive stadium, Soldier Field, was planned on the lake. The fact was pointed out in the Times that the Romans, the all-time lovers of sport, had constructed perhaps 10 to 15 larger stadiums and 100 smaller ones during their time of influence. The United States now not only had matched the Romans in stadiums, but had surpassed them in number and size. The Roman Colosseum, historians decided, held only 45,000 spectators. Bigger stadiums than that were being built every day. ...

"The new [Yankee] Stadium was an amazement. It was a giant three-decked wedding cake in the Bronx, a skyscraper in repose, covering the ten acres of land purchased from the Astor estate. The plan to enclose the field entirely had been altered to allow the structure to be built in 11 months and be ready for opening day. ... The Stadium was an instant hit. ...

"The Stadium was a grand monument to the drawing powers of the resident right fielder [Babe Ruth]. (Did the Romans ever build a stadium simply to show off the talents of one gladiator? And if they did, did they - as the Yankees did - situate the playing surface so the late-afternoon sun always would be behind their star attraction, not shining in his eyes?) ... Ruth was the one who drew the large crowds to the [New York Giants'] Polo Grounds [where they were the second-class tenant], invoking the jealousy of Giants owner Charles Stoneham, who asked the Yankees to leave. Ruth was the one who promised to bring big crowds with him to whatever new park was built, no matter the size. Ruth was the one who at last had given the second-class Yankees first-class style and pizzazz."

Leigh Montville, The Big Bam, Broadway, Copyright 2006 by Leigh Montville, pp. 172-174.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 9/23/09 - More on Russia

In today's excerpt - in approximately 1000 AD, Swedish explorers, known as the "Rus" or "rowers," descended to a land of opportunity, then known as "Sweden the Great" and now known as Russia, and there established their dominance. They built their palaces, or "kremlins," and kept an envious eye fixed southward on the splendor of the Byzantine "capital of the world," Constantinople:

"Even among the Northmen [Scandinavians], the vastness of the landmass that stretched eastwards of the Baltic was capable of inspiring a shudder. 'Sweden the Great,' they termed it - or 'Sweden the Cold.' Giants lived there, it was reported, and dwarfs, and men with mouths between their nipples who never spoke but only barked, 'and also beasts and dragons of enormous size.' Yet the Northmen, a people incorrigibly adventurous, had never been ones to shrink from the rumor of terrors, and they had ventured ever further southwards, until at length, borne along widening currents, the Northmen had found themselves debouching into the warm waters of the South, the Black Sea and the Caspian, with easy passage onwards to fabulous cities rich in silks and gold. The seeming wilderness of Sweden the Great had proved itself in truth the very opposite: a land of opportunity. No less than the surging waters of the Atlantic, mighty rivers such as the Dnieper and the Volga had served the Northmen as highways to adventure and betterment. Tirelessly, their oars had dipped and flashed. No wonder that the natives, watching them from the banks, had referred to them simply as 'rowers' - as the Rus. ...

"Although the Rus were tiny in number, intruders within a vast and hostile land, the very knowledge of how perilous were their circumstances had served to instill in them a ferocious sense of discipline. And steadily, over the decades, their swords had reddened, and their coffers overflowed. ... Inexorably, in the decades that preceded the Millennium, the Rus had succeeded in establishing themselves as something more than merely merchants - as princes. ... Everything in the lands of the Rus - 'Russia' - existed on a vaster and more fabulous scale. ...

"Even though the Vikings in Russia had long been regular visitors to 'Serkland,' (Arabia) where the dark-skinned Tartars and Saracens lived, and even though they had brought back treasures garnered from the very limits of the horizon, whether silver dirhams from Baghdad, or golden tableware from Egypt, or idols of a peculiar god named the Buddha from strange realms unheard of, all along they had never doubted where the surest wellspring of riches lay. To the Northmen, Constantinople was, quite simply, the capital of the world: 'the Great City,' 'Miklagard.' For almost two hundred years it had glittered in their dreams, 'tall-towered Byzantium,' a repository of everything that was most beautiful and wondrous on Middle Earth. ...

"The Rus might have been Swedish in origin, and Slavonic by adoption - and yet deep in their heart of hearts, where inferiority complexes invariably lurk, they yearned to be Byzantine."

Tom Holland, The Forge of Christendom, Doubleday, Copyright 2008 by Tom Holland, pp. 297- 302

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 9/22/09 - Paradox in Business

In today's excerpt - in a study of the common characteristics of eighteen businesses that had demonstrated superior performance over forty to fifty years, researchers noted their exceptional ability to deal with paradoxes and seeming contradictions:

"You'll notice throughout the rest of this book that we use the yin/yang symbol from Chinese dualistic philosophy. We've consciously selected this symbol to represent a key aspect of highly visionary companies: They do not oppress themselves with what we call the 'Tyranny of the OR' - the rational view that cannot easily accept paradox, that cannot live with two seemingly contradictory forces or ideas at the same time. The 'tyranny of the OR' pushes people to believe that things must be either A or B, but not both. It makes such proclamations as:

· 'You can have change OR stability'
· 'You can be conservative OR bold.'
· 'You can have low cost OR high quality.'
· 'You can have creative autonomy OR consistency and control.'
· 'You can invest for the future OR do well in the short- term.'
· 'You can make progress by methodical planning OR by opportunistic groping.'
· 'You can create wealth for your shareholders OR do good for the world.'
· 'You can be idealistic (values-driven) OR pragmatic (profit-driven).'

"Instead of being oppressed by the 'Tyranny of the OR,' highly visionary companies liberate themselves with the 'Genius of the AND' - the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time. Instead of choosing between A OR B, they figure out a way to have both A AND B.

"As [you study these companies], as we did in our research, a series of these paradoxes - apparent contradictions - in many of the visionary companies. For example, you will encounter:

-purpose beyond profit AND pragmatic pursuit of profit
-a relatively fixed core ideology AND vigorous change and movement
-conservatism around the core AND bold, committing, risky moves
-clear vision and sense of direction AND opportunistic groping and experimentation
-audacious goals AND incremental evolutionary progress
-selection of managers steeped in the core AND selection of managers that induce change
-ideological control AND operational autonomy
-extremely tight culture AND ability to change, move, adapt
-investment for the long-term AND demands for short- term performance
-philosophical, visionary, futuristic AND superb daily execution, 'nuts and bolts'
-organization aligned with a core ideology AND organization adapted to its environment

"We're not talking about mere balance here. 'Balance' implies going to the midpoint, fifty-fifty, half and half. A visionary company doesn't seek balance between short-term and long-term, for example. It seeks to do very well in the short-term and very well in the long- term. A visionary company doesn't simply balance between idealism and profitability; it seeks to be highly idealistic and highly profitable. A visionary company doesn't simply balance between preserving a tightly held core ideology and stimulating vigorous change and movement; it does both to an extreme. In short, a highly visionary company doesn't want to blend yin and yang into gray, indistinguishable circle that is neither highly yin nor highly yang; it aims to be distinctly yin and distinctly yang - both at the same time, all the time.

"Irrational? Perhaps. Rare? Yes. Difficult? Absolutely. But as F. Scott Fitzgerald pointed out, 'The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.' This is exactly what the visionary companies are able to do."

Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last, Harper, Copyright 1994, 1997 by Jim C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, pp. 43-45

Monday, September 21, 2009 9/22/09 - Vikings in Constantinople

In today's excerpt - the Vikings reach Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). In spite of their more colorful reputation for invasions of England and the early discovery of the New World, the greater activity of the Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries was in trading with early inhabitants of what is now Russia and other commercial centers as far away Constantinople. It was Scandinavians, a people that included the Vikings, that were among the the ancestors of today's "European" Russians:

"The Vikings, despite their popular reputation as warriors, are now known to have been primarily traders, and they moved into the more southerly, civilized states mainly to trade. Although they are famous, or infamous, for their military actions in the British Isles and Francia via the North Sea, and settled permanently in parts of those countries, their eastern movement ultimately had greater import. They sailed the Baltic eastward into the Finnic areas and southeastward down the rivers to the lands of the Slavs west of the Khazar Kaghanate.

"In the early ninth century the Vikings had become intensely involved in commerce with the Islamic lands of the Near East via the Russian rivers. This trade route had first been developed by the Khazars, Jews, and Muslims and only then came under the domination of the Vikings. Three Viking chiefs led by Rurik founded the Rus (Russian, from the word for 'rowers') Kaghanatell in the area of Novgorod around 862, and around 882 Rurik's successor Oleg conquered Kiev and established the Rus Kaghanate as an imperial state stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea . Sailing west on the Black Sea, the Rus reached the Byzantine commonwealth of Orthodox states, including the Slavicized kingdom of Bulgaria, and the imperial capital of Constantinople itself. The Byzantine emperors, who had earlier acquired a comitatus of Ferghanians and Khazars, immediately saw the usefulness of the Vikings and hired them as mercenaries, thus constituting the famous Varangian Guard.

"Via the Volga the Vikings reached the Caspian Sea and the Islamic lands across it, but they ran into conflict with the Khazars, who controlled the lower Volga basin."

Christopher I. Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road, Princeton, Copyright 2009 by Princeton University Press, p. 166.

Friday, September 18, 2009 9/18/09 - Our Bloody Heritage

In today's excerpt - William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, crossed the English Channel from France in 1066 and conquered the English, thus starting what historians consider the true beginnings of modern Britain. William, who had known blood, fear and treachery since his earliest childhood, built a fighting force considered the fiercest in Europe, and his horse-mounted army decisively bested the horseless soldiers of England's King Harald. After the conquest, he tried to include English lords as partners in his new regime, but their treachery led to a need to break the entire kingdom:

"[The child] William was inured to the spectacle of slaughter: two of his guardians were hacked down in quick succession; his tutor as well; and a steward, on one particularly alarming occasion, murdered in the very room in which the young duke lay asleep. Yet even as blood from the victim's slit throat spilled across the flagstones, William could feel relief as well as horror: for he at least had been spared. ...

"[Years later], in 1066, there could be no doubting that William ranked as a truly deadly foe. His apprenticeship was long since over. Seasoned in all the arts of war and lordship, and with a reputation fit to intimidate even the princes of Flanders and Anjou, even the King of France himself, his prime had turned out a fearsome one. So too had that of his duchy. Quite as greedy for land and spoils as any Viking sea king, the great lords of Normandy, men who had grown up by their duke's side and shared all his ambitions, had emerged as an elite of warriors superior, in both their discipline and training, to any in Christendom. ...

"[After defeating the England's King Harald at the Battle of Hastings], what was left of the English turned at last and fled into the gathering darkness, to be hunted throughout the night by William's exultant cavalry, and it was the reek of blood and emptied bowels, together with the moans and sobs of the wounded, that bore prime witness to the butchery. Come the morning, however, and daylight unveiled a spectacle of carnage so appalling that even the victors were moved to pity. 'Far and wide the earth was covered with the flower of the English nobility and youth, drenched in gore.' ...

"[After the victory] William's coronation oath, which stated that he would uphold the laws and customs of his new subjects, had been sworn with all due solemnity - and sure enough, for the first few years of his reign, he did indeed attempt to include them as partners within his new regime. But the English earls could never quite forgo a taste for revolt - with the result that, soon enough, an infuriated William was brought to abandon the whole experiment. In its place, he instituted a far more primal and brutal policy. Just as his ancestors had cleansed what would become Normandy of its Frankish aristocracy, so now did William set about the systematic elimination from England of its entire ruling class. ...

"The task of the Norman lords, set as they were amid a sullen and fractious people, [became] no different in kind to that of the most upstart castellan in France. In England, however, it was not just scattered hamlets and villages that needed to be broken, but a whole kingdom. In the winter of 1069, when the inveterately rebellious Northumbrians sought to throw off their new king's rule, William's response was to harry the entire earldom. Methods of devastation familiar to the peasantry of France were unleashed across the north of England: granaries were burned, oxen slaughtered, ploughs destroyed. Rotting corpses were left to litter the road. The scattered survivors were reduced to selling themselves into slavery, or else, if reports are to be believed, to cannibalism."

Tom Holland, The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, Doubleday, Copyright 2008 by Tom Holland, pp. 289, 316, 325, 327-8

Thursday, September 17, 2009 9/17/09 - Anthony, Bartholomew, Lawrence and Christopher

In today's encore excerpt - after the Black Death, the terrifying plague that killed one-third to one-half of all Europe's inhabitants from 1347 to 1349, there was a change in the names parents gave their children:

"The centrality of religion in medieval European life is impossible to overstate. ... If you want to pray, you go to your parish and submit to the direction of a priest. If you want to confess, you sit in the confessional and [tell] your sins to the man on the other side of the partition, who pronounces judgement and penance. ...

"Then along comes the Black Death, mowing down the sinful and the sinless indiscriminately. ... You can be healthy on Monday, infected on Tuesday, and a corpse on Saturday, leaving precious little time to wipe the sin slate clean by confessing and repenting in preparation for your personal judgement day. The biggest hurdle of all might have been luring the priest, any priest, to one's deathbed of contagion in order to perform last rites, the final cleansing. If a cleric does show up, he might charge an outrageous price for mumbling a few prayers. Stories of deathbed fee-gougers also abound, adding to the popular perception that extravagance and greed motivate more often than not. ...

"Once the epidemic is over, the survivors increasingly turn away from organized religion. Instead, they put their faith in the saints, especially those associated with pain and suffering. One modern historian conducted a comparative study of the most popular names for boys in Florence following the Black Death, in part to determine its effect on religious practice. That effect appears to be, in a word, enormous. Virtually no Florentine born before 1350 was named 'Antonio,' after Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of the oppressed, the elderly, the poor, and the starving. After 1427 the name ranked second. At number six, also unknown preceding the plague, is Bartolomeo - after one of the original twelve apostles; he was purportedly flayed alive and crucified by the Romans, surely qualifying him for the pain-and-suffering category. (Michelangelo's The Last Judgement shows Bartholomew clutching his skin, the organ of the body that most visibly bears the signs of Black Death.)

"Also rising out of nowhere to the heights of post- plague fashion is Lorenzo. Here the inspiration is Lawrence of Rome, a third-century deacon who achieved martyrdom by being roasted on a gridiron. The sudden vogue for 'Christopher,' patron saint of pestilence, needs no further explanation."

Susan Squire, I Don't, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2008 by Susan Squire, pp. 166-167

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 9/16/09 I American Fire

In today's excerpt - Native Americans systematically used large-scale fires to transform the American landscape in the centuries before European dominance of the continent:

"Adriaen van der Donck was a Dutch lawyer who in 1641 transplanted himself to the Hudson River Valley. ... He spent a lot of time with the Haudenosaunee [tribe], whose insistence on personal liberty fascinated him. ... Every fall, he remembered, the Haudenosaunee set fire to 'the woods, plains, and meadows,' to 'thin out and clear the woods of all dead substances and grass, which grow better the ensuing spring.' At first the wildfire had scared him, but over time van der Donck had come to relish the spectacle of the yearly burning. 'Such a fire is a splendid sight when one sails on the [Hudson and Mohawk] rivers at night while the forest is ablaze on both banks,' he recalled. With the forest burning to the right and the left, the colonists' boats passed through a channel of fire, their passengers as goggle-eyed at the blaze as children at a video arcade. 'Fire and flames are seen everywhere and on all sides...a delightful scene to look on from afar.' ..."[From] Hudson's Bay to the Río Grande, the Haudenosaunee and almost every other Indian group shaped their environment, at least in part, by fire. ... For more than ten thousand years, most North American ecosystems have been dominated by fire. ...

"Fire is a dominating factor in many if not most terrestrial landscapes. It has two main sources: lightning and Homo sapiens. In North America, lightning fire is most common in the western mountains. Elsewhere, though, Indians controlled it - at least until contact, and in many places long after. In the Northeast, Indians always carried a deerskin pouch full of flints, Thomas Morton reported in 1637, which they used 'to set fire of the country in all places where they come.' The flints ignited torches, which were as important to the hunt as bows and arrows. Deer in the Northeast; alligators in the Everglades; buffalo in the prairies; grasshoppers in the Great Basin; rabbits in California; moose in Alaska: all were pursued by fire. Native Americans made big rings of flame, Thomas Jefferson wrote, 'by firing the leaves fallen on the ground, which, gradually forcing animals to the center, they there slaughter them with arrows, darts, and other missiles.' Not that Indians always used fire for strictly utilitarian purposes. At nightfall tribes in the Rocky Mountains entertained the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark by applying torches to sap-dripping fir trees, which then exploded like Roman candles. ...

"Indian fire had its greatest impact in the middle of the continent, which Native Americans transformed into a prodigious game farm. Native Americans burned the Great Plains and Midwest prairies so much and so often that they increased their extent; in all probability, a substantial portion of the giant grassland celebrated by cowboys was established and maintained by the people who arrived there first. 'When Lewis and Clark headed west from [St. Louis],' wrote ethologist Dale Lott, 'they were exploring not a wilderness but a vast pasture managed by and for Native Americans.'

"In 1792 the surveyor Peter Fidler examined the plains of southern Alberta systematically, the first European to do so. Riding with several groups of Indians in high fire season, he spent days on end in a scorched land. 'Grass all burnt this day,' he reported on November 12. 'Not a single pine to be seen three days past.' A day later: 'All burnt ground this Day.' A day later: 'The grass nearly burnt all along this Day except near the Lake.' A month later: 'The Grass is now burning [with] very great fury.' ... ' 'These fires burning off the old grass,' he observed, 'in the ensuing Spring & Summer makes excellent fine sweet feed for the Horses & Buffalo, &c.' ... Captain John Palliser, traveling through the same lands as Fidler six decades later, lamented the Indians' 'disastrous habit of setting the prairie on fire for the most trivial and worse than useless reasons.' ...

"Carrying their flints and torches, Native Americans were living in balance with Nature - but they had their thumbs on the scale. Shaped for their comfort and convenience, the American landscape had come to fit their lives like comfortable clothing. It was a highly successful and stable system, if 'stable' is the appropriate word for a regime that involves routinely enshrouding miles of countryside in smoke and ash."

Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Vintage, Copyright 2005, 2006 by Charles C. Mann, Kindle Loc. 4587-4681

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 9/15/09 - Fanged Frogs

In today's excerpt - fanged frogs and giant rats:

"A lost world populated by fanged frogs, grunting fish and tiny bear-like creatures has been discovered in a remote volcanic crater on the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea.

"A team of scientists from Britain, the United States and Papua New Guinea found more than 40 previously unidentified species when they climbed into the kilometre-deep crater of Mount Bosavi and explored a pristine jungle habitat teeming with life that has evolved in isolation since the volcano last erupted 200,000 years ago. In a remarkably rich haul from just five weeks of exploration, the biologists discovered 16 frogs which have never before been recorded by science, at least three new fish, a new bat and a giant rat, which may turn out to be the biggest in the world.

"The discoveries are being seen as fresh evidence of the richness of the world's rainforests and the explorers hope their finds will add weight to calls for international action to prevent the demise of similar ecosystems. They said Papua New Guinea's rainforest is currently being destroyed at the rate of 3.5% a year.

" 'It was mind-blowing to be there and it is clearly time we pulled our finger out and decided these habitats are worth us saving,' said Dr George McGavin who headed the expedition.

"The team of biologists included experts from Oxford University, the London Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution and are believed to be the first scientists to enter the mountainous Bosavi crater. They were joined by members of the BBC Natural History Unit which filmed the expedition. ...

"They found the three-kilometre wide crater populated by spectacular birds of paradise and in the absence of big cats and monkeys, which are found in the remote jungles of the Amazon and Sumatra, the main predators are giant monitor lizards while kangaroos have evolved to live in trees. New species include a camouflaged gecko, a fanged frog and a fish called the Henamo grunter, named because it makes grunting noises from its swim bladder.

" 'These discoveries are really significant,' said Steve Backshall, a climber and naturalist who became so friendly with the never-before seen Bosavi silky cuscus, a marsupial that lives up trees and feeds on fruits and leaves, that it sat on his shoulder.

" 'The world is getting an awful lot smaller and it is getting very hard to find places that are so far off the beaten track.' "

Robert Booth, "Lost world of fanged frogs and giant rats discovered in Papua New Guinea," September 7, 2009, The Guardian.

Monday, September 14, 2009 9/14/09 - Frankenstein, the Creature, and Love

In today's excerpt - Dr. Frankenstein's creation, called simply the Creature in Mary Shelley's groundbreaking 1818 novel, Frankenstein. In the early 1800's, at the dawn of science as a profession, some scientists had begun to believe that electricity itself was the life force that animated the spirit in humans. From this idea, Mary Shelley crafted the world's first science fiction novel. In contrast to the mindless grunts of present day "Frankensteins", the original Creature was the most articulate character in Shelley's novel - and yearned for love:

"Many scientific men of the day [were] entranced by the potentialities of the voltaic battery, and its possible connections with 'animal magnetism' and human animation. Electricity in a sense became a metaphor for life itself. ... The most singular literary response to [these ideas], called Vitalism ... was Mary Shelley's cult novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818). In this story ... a sort of human life is physically created, or rather reconstructed. But the soul or spirit is irretrievably damaged. ...

"As her novel developed, Mary Shelley began to ask in what sense Frankenstein's new 'Creature' would be human. Would it have language, would it have a moral conscience, would it have human feelings and sympathies, would it have a soul? (It should not be forgotten that Mary was pregnant with her own baby in 1817.) ...

"[Dr.] Frankenstein's Creature has been constructed as a fully developed man, from adult body parts, but his mind is that of a totally undeveloped infant. He has no memory, no language, no conscience. He starts life as virtually a wild animal, an orangutan or an ape. ...

"Almost his first conscious act of recognition, when he has escaped the laboratory into the wood at night, is his sighting of the moon, an object that fills him with wonder, although he has no name for it. [The Creature himself then narrates:] 'I started up and beheld a radiant form rise from among the trees. I gazed with a kind of wonder. It moved slowly, but it enlightened my path ... It was still cold ... No distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused. I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rung in my ears and on all sides various scents saluted me. ... My mind received, every day, additional ideas.'

"From this moment the Creature evolves rapidly through all the primitive stages of man. Mary's account is almost anthropological, reminiscent of [Sir Joseph] Banks's account of the Tahitians. First he learns to use fire, to cook, to read. Then he studies European history and civilization, through the works of Plutarch, Milton and Goethe. Secretly listening to the cottagers in the woods, he learns conceptual ideas such as warfare, slavery, tyranny. His conscience is aroused, and his sense of justice. But above all, he discovers the need for companionship, sympathy and affection. And this is the one thing he cannot find, because he is so monstrously ugly: 'The cold stars shone in their mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches above me, the sweet voice of a bird burst forth amidst the universal stillness. All, save I, were at rest ... I, like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within me, and finding myself unsympathized with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin.'

"On the bleak Mer de Glace glacier in the French Alps, the Creature appeals to his creator [Dr.] Frankenstein for sympathy, and for love. 'I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator would not call it murder, if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts ... Oh! My creator, make me happy! Let me feel gratitude towards you for one benefit! Let me see that I excite the sympathy of one existing thing. Do not deny me my request!'

"His terrible corrosive and destructive solitude becomes the central theme of the second part of Mary Shelley's novel. Goaded by his misery, the Creature kills and destroys. Yet he also tries to take stock of his own violent actions and contradictory emotions. He concludes that his one hope of happiness lies in sexual companionship. The scene on the Mer de Glace in which he begs Frankenstein to create a wife for him is central to his search for human identity and happiness. The clear implication is that a fully human 'soul' can only be created through friendship and love."

Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, Pantheon, Copyright 2008 by Richard Holmes, Kindle Loc. 6789-6800, 7112-54, 7221-60

Friday, September 11, 2009 9/11/09 - Writers

In today's excerpt - famous writers and their odd ways of writing:

"Dame Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin for a while before she began her day's writing. When I mentioned this macabre bit of gossip to a poet friend, he said acidly, 'If only someone had thought to shut it.' ...

"Sitwell's coffin trick may sound like a prank, unless you look at how other writers have gone about courting their muses. ... For example, the poet Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk and inhale their pungent bouquet when he needed to find the right word. Then he would close the drawer, but the fragrance remained in his head. ...

"Amy Lowell, like George Sand, liked to smoke cigars while writing, and went so far in 1915 as to buy 10,000 of her favorite Manila stogies to make sure she could keep her creative fires kindled. ... Balzac drank more than 50 cups of coffee a day, and actually died from caffeine poisoning, although colossal amounts of caffeine don't seem to have bothered W. H. Auden or Dr. Johnson, who was reported to have drunk 25 cups of tea at one sitting. Victor Hugo, Benjamin Franklin and many others felt that they did their best work if they wrote while they were nude. ...

"Colette used to begin her day's writing by first picking fleas from her cat, and it's not hard to imagine how the methodical stroking and probing into fur might have focused such a voluptuary's mind. After all, this was a woman who could never travel light, but insisted on taking a hamper of such essentials as chocolate, cheese, meats, flowers and a baguette whenever she made even brief sorties. ...

"Alfred de Musset, George Sand's lover, confided that it piqued him when she went directly from lovemaking to her writing desk, as she often did. But surely that was not so direct as Voltaire's actually using his lover's naked back as a writing desk. Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain and Truman Capote all used to lie down when they wrote, with Capote going so far as to declare himself 'a completely horizontal writer.' ...

"Benjamin Franklin, Edmond Rostand and others wrote while soaking in a bathtub. In fact, Franklin brought the first bathtub to the United States in the 1780's, and he loved a good, long, thoughtful submersion. In water and ideas, I mean. ...

"The Romantics, of course, were fond of opium, and Coleridge freely admitted to indulging in two grains of it before working. The list of writers triggered to inspirational highs by alcohol would occupy a small, damp book. T. S. Eliot's tonic was viral - he preferred writing when he had a head cold. The rustling of his head, as if full of petticoats, shattered the usual logical links between things and allowed his mind to roam."

Diane Ackerman, "O Muse! You Do Make Things Difficult!" The New York Times, Sunday, November 12, 1989, Section 7, Page 1

Thursday, September 10, 2009 9/10/09 - Yellowstone Park

In today's encore excerpt - tidbits for your next Yellowstone National Park vacation:

"In the 1960s, while studying the volcanic history of Yellowstone National Park, Bob Christiansen of the United States Geological Survey became puzzled about something: ... he couldn't find the park's volcano. ...

"By coincidence just at this time NASA decided to test some new high-altitude cameras by taking photographs of Yellowstone, copies of which some thoughtful official passed on to the park authorities on the assumption that they might make a nice blow-up for one of the visitors' centers. As soon as Christiansen saw the photos he realized why he had failed to spot the [volcano]: virtually the whole park - 2.2 million acres - was [a volcano]. The explosion had left a crater more than forty miles across - much too huge to be perceived from anywhere at ground level. At some time in the past Yellowstone must have blown up with a violence far beyond the scale of anything known to humans.

"Yellowstone, it turns out, is a supervolcano. It sits on top of an enormous hot spot, a reservoir of molten rock that rises from at least 125 miles down in the Earth. The heat from the hot spot is what powers all of Yellowstone's vents, geysers, hot springs, and popping mud pots. ... Imagine a pile of TNT about the size of Rhode Island and reaching eight miles into the sky, to about the height of the highest cirrus clouds, and you have some idea of what visitors to Yellowstone are shuffling around on top of. ...

"Since its first known eruption 16.5 million years ago, [the Yellowstone volcano] has blown up about a hundred times, but the most recent three eruptions are the ones that get written about. The last eruption was a thousand times greater than that of Mount St. Helens; the one before that was 280 times bigger, and the one before was ... at least twenty-five hundred times greater than St. Helens. ...

"The Yellowstone eruption of two million years ago put out enough ash to bury New York State to a depth of sixty-seven feet or California to a depth of twenty. ... All of this was hypothetically interesting until 1973, when ... geologists did a survey and discovered that a large area of the park had developed an ominous bulge. ... The geologists realized that only one thing could cause this - a restless magma chamber. Yellowstone wasn't the site of an ancient supervolcano; it was the site of an active one. It was also at about this time that they were able to work out that the cycle of Yellowstone's eruptions averaged one massive blow every 600,000 years. The last one, interestingly enough, was 630,000 years ago. Yellowstone, it appears, is due."

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway, Copyright 2003 by Bill Bryson, pp. 224-228

Wednesday, September 09, 2009 9/9/09 - Teenagers

In today's excerpt - a controversial new theory on teenagers, underscoring how rudimentary our knowledge of the human brain remains:

"Thrill seeking and poor judgment go hand in hand when it comes to teenagers-an inevitable part of human development determined by properties of a growing but immature brain. Right? Not so fast. A study being published tomorrow turns that thinking upside down: The brains of teens who behave dangerously are more like adult brains than are those of their more cautious peers.

"Psychologists have long believed that the brain's judgment-control systems develop more slowly than emotion-governing systems, not maturing until people are in their mid-20s. Hence, teens end up taking far more risks than adults do. ...

"At least two observations undermine this theory, however. First, American-style teen turmoil is absent in more than 100 cultures around the world, suggesting that such mayhem is not biologically inevitable. Second, the brain itself changes in response to experiences, raising the question of whether adolescent brain characteristics are the cause of teen tumult or rather the result of lifestyle and experiences. ...

"Now neuroscientists Gregory S. Berns, Sara Moore and Monica Capra of Emory University suggest that teen risk-taking is associated not with an immature brain but with a mature, adultlike brain - exactly the opposite of conventional wisdom.

"The researchers assessed 91 teens from ages 12 to 18 in two ways: First, teens completed the Adolescent Risk-Taking Questionnaire (ARQ), [and] ... second, a technology known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was used to assess the development of white matter in the frontal cortex of teens' brains. White matter consists of myelin, a fatty substance that coats the long axons, which carry brain signals; its main function is to increase the efficiency of neural signaling. Between childhood and adolescence, it grows in volume and becomes better organized, improving our ability to think and function. ...

"If the existing theory about the teen brain is correct, then the higher the ARQ score, the less developed the white matter should be - but that is not what the Berns team discovered. 'It was surprising,' Berns says. 'I assumed we'd find that risk-taking would be associated with an immature brain.' In fact, he found the opposite - a strong positive correlation between engagement in dangerous behaviors and the increased myelination typical of mature brains. In other words, young people who engage in dangerous behaviors generally have a more adultlike brain than their conservative peers.

"As for the conventional thinking about the teen brain, according to Berns, 'after reviewing all of the neurodevelopment stuff, I couldn't really find any link between brain development and adolescent risk-taking. Nobody denies that the brain develops or that teens take risks, but how the two got intertwined is beyond me.' Nevertheless, the accepted view of the teen brain is so powerful, Berns says, that his paper faced a lengthy and tumultuous review process. It appears in Wednesday's PLoS ONE.

"Says Michael S. Gazzaniga of the University of California, Santa Barbara, one of the pioneers in modern neuroscience, ... 'So much for the much touted model that the tumultuous teenage brain is that way because it is not fully developed. Back to the drawing board again.' "

By Robert Epstein and Jennifer Ong, "Are the Brains of Reckless Teens More Mature Than Those of Their Prudent Peers?", Scientific American, August 25, 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009 9/8/09 - The Plow

In today's excerpt - the plow:

"According to Robert Temple in his book, The Genius of China, a history of Chinese science and technology published in 1998, the Chinese invented the moldboard plow by the third century B.C. Made of cast iron, the plowshare was shaped like a V, with the blade carving into the ground and the two arms arcing away like gull wings. Because the arms were curved, they turned the earth away from the blade, which both reduced friction and more effectively plowed the soil. (The "moldboard" is the curved plowshare; the name comes from mold, the Old German word for soil.)

"The design of the moldboard plow is so obvious that it seems incredible that Europeans never thought of it. Until the Chinese-style plow was imported in the seventeenth century, farmers in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and other states labored to shove what amounted to a narrow slab of metal through the earth. 'The increased friction meant that huge multiple teams of oxen were required, whereas Chinese plows could make do with a single ox,' Temple explained. The European failure to think up the moldboard, according to science historian [Richard] Teresi, was 'as if Henry Ford designed the car without an accelerator, and you had to put the car in neutral, brake, and go under the hood to change speed. And then we did this for 2,000 years.'

"European agricultural production exploded after the arrival of the moldboard plow. The prosperity this engendered was one of the cushions on which the Enlightenment floated. 'So inefficient, so wasteful of effort, and so utterly exhausting' was the old plow, Temple wrote, 'that this deficiency of plowing may rank as mankind's single greatest waste of time and energy.' Millions of Europeans spent centuries behind the plow, staring at the blade as it ineffectively mired itself in the earth. How could none of them have thought of changing the design to make the plow more useful?"

Charles C. Mann , 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Vintage, Copyright 2005, 2006 by Charles C. Mann, p. 250

Friday, September 04, 2009 9/4/09 - Slavery in Rome

In today's excerpt - It is estimated that over 25 percent of the population of Ancient Rome was enslaved. Though viewed by Roman citizens as one of the perquisites of empire, the tragedy of slavery undermined the values of their society and stifled technological innovation:

"It was hard not to be overwhelmed by the discovery of just how many slaves there were in Italy. Human beings were not the least significant portion of the wealth to have been plundered by the Republic during its wars of conquest. The single market established by Roman supremacy had enabled captives to be moved around the Mediterranean as easily as any other form of merchandise, and the result had been a vast boom in the slave trade, a transplanting of populations without precedent in history. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, had been uprooted from their homelands and brought to the center of the empire, there to toil for their new masters. Even the poorest citizen might own one. In rich households the labor glut obliged slave owners to think up ever more exotic jobs for their purchases to specialize in, whether dusting portrait busts, writing invitations, or attending to purple clothes. By their very nature, of course, such tasks were recherche.

"The work of most slaves was infinitely more crushing. This was particularly the case in the countryside, where conditions were at their worst. Gangs were bought wholesale, branded, and shackled, then set to labor from dawn until dusk. At night they would be locked up in a huge, crowded barracks. Not a shred of privacy or dignity was permitted them. They were fed the barest minimum required to keep them alive. Exhaustion was remedied by the whip, while insubordination would be handled by private contractors who specialized in torture - and sometimes execution - of uppity slaves. The crippled and prematurely aged could be expected to be cast aside, like diseased cattle or shattered wine jars. It hardly mattered to their masters whether they survived or starved. After all, as Roman agriculturists liked to remind their readers, their was no point in wasting their money on useless tools."

Tom Holland, Rubicon, Anchor Books, Copyright 2003 by Tom Holland, pp. 142-143

Thursday, September 03, 2009 9/3/09 - Panics and Crashes

In today's encore excerpt - the history of the United States has been filled with financial panics and market crashes: The Panic of 1819, the Panic of 1837, and the stock market crash that signaled the Great Depression, to name just a handful. In 1819, the end of the Napoleonic Wars brought an economic boom, and when the crash came, the Second Bank of the United States sharply curtailed its lending, greatly worsening the problem and bringing a 50-75% collapse in commodity and real estate prices. This monetary curtailment, also employed by the Federal Reserve in the early 1930s, stands in contrast to the more lenient and salutary policies pursued by the Federal Reserve during the 2008 market crisis:

"February 20, 1817, would prove the zenith of the 'Era of Good Feelings' as far as the Bank of the United States [BUS] and American enterprise were concerned. A year later, [John Jacob] Astor warned [Treasury Secretary Albert] Gallatin that redoubled speculation, goaded by the BUS, now threatened 'a general Blow up' among the state banks. A year after that, the American economy collapsed from top to bottom. ... American staple prices and land values dropped by anywhere from 50 to 75 percent; and backward the dominos fell, from ruined speculator to merchant farmer. ...

"Early in 1819, pushed by Astor and [Stephen] Girard, the bank's directors finally dismissed [BUS president William] Jones and replaced him with the South Carolinian Langdon Cheves. The new president ... tightened the screws, reducing the bank's liabilities by more than half, sharply cutting back the total value of bank notes in circulation, and more than tripling the bank's specie reserve.

"Without question, Cheves's decision to contract instinctually made sense, both in halting the runaway inflation and in doing right by his stockholders. ... Yet, for the national economy, his timing and the extent of his actions could not have been worse, ... turning what might have been a sharp recession into a prolonged and disastrous depression. Just as the bank intensified its deflationary pressure, commodity prices for American staples on the world market collapsed. Coupled with the bank's brutal deflation, the free fall of agricultural prices prevented state banks from either collecting from their debtors or meeting their obligations to the BUS--leading to a tidal wave of bank failures, business collapses, and personal bankruptcies. As the financial writer and bank critic William Gouge later observed, 'The Bank was saved and the people were ruined.' "

Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, Norton, Copyright 2005 by Sean Wilentz, pp. 205-207

Wednesday, September 02, 2009 9/2/09 - New Foods

In today's excerpt - Columbus's discovery of America brought new foods - including tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and widely-available sugar - that completely transformed the European diet:

"Before Columbus, the diet of Europeans had remained basically unchanged for tens of thousands of years, based mainly on oats, barley, and wheat. Within a quarter century of his first voyage, the European diet became richer, more varied, and more nutritious. As Roger Schlesinger wrote in his book, In the Wake of Columbus: 'As far as dietary habits are concerned, no other series of events in all world history brought as much significant change as did [the discovery of the Americas].' The list of foods that made their way into Europe is extensive and includes maize, squash, pumpkin, avocado, papaya, cassava, vanilla, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes (yams), strawberries, and beans of almost every variety.

"The potato was one of the first American foods to be transported to Europe. Valued by the conquistadores, they made it a key item in the diet of their sailors. The potato then spread to England and Scotland, and to Ireland where it became the staple of the Irish diet.

"It was also the Spanish who discovered the tomato, first distributing it throughout their Caribbean possessions and then bringing it to Europe. In both Italy and Great Britain, the tomato was first thought to be poisonous, and it was not until the 1700s that the fruit became widely eaten. As was the case with sweet potatoes, which were regarded by some Europeans as having aphrodisiac-like qualities, the tomato was also viewed in some circles as having medicinal value. ... Actually, some of these claims not have been as farfetched as they seem, since many Old World ailments were caused by the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. ...

"Tapioca, made from cassava root, eventually became a European delicacy, as did a drink made from the cocoa plant. By the time that Hernan Cortes and his men witnessed Aztecs drinking chocolatl, South and Central American natives had been consuming the beverage for hundreds of years. ...

"As diet transforming as all these newly introduced foods became, sugar, perhaps, had the greatest impact of all. As ever-increasing amounts of sugar were transported from New World plantations to Europe, the types of foods that were eaten, and just as significantly, the ways in which they were cooked, were changed forever. Before the early 1500s, sugar was sold in European apothecary shops where, because of its scarcity, only the rich could afford it. But as sugar-laden ships arrived in Old World ports, prices tumbled and sugar became an important foodstuff for the masses. At the time, honey was both expensive and in short supply, but even if that had not been the case, most people found sugar to be a much more desirable sweetener, As a result, tea and coffee drinking gained a popularity that would never diminish.

"Even more important, the availability of sugar led to the proliferation of confections and jams that soon graced tables throughout Europe. ...

"Sugar's impact on the European diet went way beyond jams and confections and the sweetening of tea, coffee, and other beverages. Such leftover foods as rice and bread could now be given new life and a whole new taste when sprinkled with sugar and reheated. Fruits and vegetables could be inexpensively preserved when immersed in a sugary syrup. Sugar's popularity also led to the introduction of a host of new cooking utensils and accoutrements, including new types of saucepans, pie plates, cookie molds, sugar pots, sugar spoons, and tongs."

Martin W. Sandler, Atlantic Ocean, Sterling, Text Copyright 2008 by Martin W. Sandler, pp. 92-100

Tuesday, September 01, 2009 9/1/09 - Health and Friendships

In today's excerpt - health and the importance of friends:

"Belonging to social groups and networks appears to be an important predictor of health - just as important as diet and exercise. This point is demonstrated by a study of 655 stroke patients reported in 2005 by Bernadette Boden-Albala, professor of sociomedical sciences and neurology at Columbia University, and her colleagues. Patients who were socially isolated were nearly twice as likely to have another stroke within five years as were those with meaningful social relationships. In fact, being cut off from others appeared to put people at far greater risk of another stroke than traditional factors such as having coronary artery disease or being physically inactive (each of which increased the likelihood of a second stroke by about 30 percent).

"Such effects are not restricted to those who have a significant health problem. In a 2008 study epidemiologists and health researchers Karen Ertel, Maria Glymour and Lisa Berkman of the Harvard School of Public Health tracked 16,638 elderly Americans over a period of six years. The findings, published in the American Journal of Public Health, revealed significantly less memory loss in those who were more socially integrated and active.

"Using an even more prosaic health indicator, a 2003 study by Carnegie Mellon University psychologist Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues showed that a diverse social network made people less susceptible to the common cold. Their work, published in Psychological Science, indicated that the least sociable people in their sample were twice as likely to get colds as those who were the most sociable - even though the more sociable people were probably exposed to many more germs. ...

"A body of recent research shows that belonging to multiple social groups is particularly critical in shielding people from the health hazards of important life changes. Consider the marathon runner whose injury prevents her from ever running again. Anyone might be devastated by such an injury, but the consequences are greater for a person who defines herself exclusively in terms of being a runner. Likewise, think of the workaholic who never has time for his family or friends and therefore finds adjustment to retirement particularly difficult.

"We hypothesize that it is best not to have all of your eggs (social identities) in one basket in case misfortune strikes. It is better, research suggests, to spread your metaphorical eggs around a number of baskets (that is, to have multiple social identities) so that the loss of one still leaves you with others.

"Three of us (Haslam, Haslam and Jetten) recently examined this notion in a study we conducted with other clinical and social psychologists - Abigail Holmes, W. Huw Williams and Aarti Iyer - at the University of Exeter in England. In the study, published in 2008 in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, we examined the changing circumstances of 53 people who had recently suffered a stroke. Life satisfaction after the stroke was much higher for those who had belonged to more social groups before their stroke. Further analysis suggested the reason for this finding was that stroke patients who had previously belonged to a lot of groups had a bigger social support network to fall back on."

Jolanda Jetten, Catherine Haslam, S. Alexander Haslam and Nyla R. Branscombe, "The Social Cure," Scientific American, Mind Issue, September/October 2009, pp. 26-30