Friday, October 30, 2009 10/30/09 - ivanhoe

In today's excerpt - the Crusades, Sir Walter Scott,
and Ivanhoe. The Crusades were perhaps the
most powerful and long-lasting legacy of the Middle
Ages. Reflecting the power of this legacy, in 1819, Sir
Walter Scott's Ivanhoe exploded onto the
European scene, selling millions of copies, leading to
hundreds of staged productions, and reigniting
interest in the imagined chivalry and religious virtue of
the two hundred years of European Crusades in the
Middle East:

"In November 1095 Pope Urban II called upon the
knights of France to journey to the Holy Land and
liberate the city of Jerusalem and the Christians of the
east from Muslim power. In return they would be
granted an unprecedented spiritual reward - the
remission of all their sins - and thereby escape the
torments of Hell, their likely destination after lives of
violence and greed. The response to Urban's appeal
was astounding; over 60,000 people set out to recover
the Holy Land and secure this reward and, in some
cases, take the chance to set up new territories.
Almost four years later, in July 1099, the survivors
conquered Jerusalem in an orgy of killing. While most
of the knights returned home, the creation of the
Crusader States formed a permanent Christian
(or 'Frankish') presence in the Levant. In 1187,
however, Saladin defeated their forces at the Battle of
Hattin and brought Jerusalem back under Muslim
control. The Franks held onto other lands until 1291
when they were finally driven out by the Mamluks of
Egypt to end Christian rule in the Holy Land.

"Crusading was too deeply established within
Catholic Europe to disappear after the loss of the Holy
Land in 1291, [and] the roots laid down by crusading
proved extraordinarily deep, in part because of the
idea's flexibility. In the course of the 12th and 13th
centuries crusades were launched against the
Muslims of Spain and other enemies of the faith such
as the pagan tribes of northeastern Europe (the Baltic
Crusades). ... Crusading offered a platform for knights
to show bravery and integrity. The idea of fighting for
God, the ultimate lord, gave service in crusading
armies a special attraction, although at times knights'
determination to win fame for themselves could cause
them to put notions of honor ahead of the greater
Christian cause. ...

"Perhaps the last crusading battle of note took place
at Lepanto in 1571 where a fleet of Spanish,Venetian
and Military Order vessels defeated the Turks. The
Knights of St John (the Hospitallers) preserved control
over their island outposts of Rhodes, until 1523, and
then Malta, but otherwise crusading subsided. The
advent of Protestantism brought severe judgments on
such a papally-directed concept. ...

"Yet during the 19th century, crusading, or a mutated
form of it, gained new interest in the West. One reason
was the writing of Sir Walter Scott whose tales of
chivalric endeavor in the Holy Land, most particularly
Ivanhoe (1819) and The Talisman
(1832), enraptured audiences across Europe. As a
Calvinist, Scott's view of 'intolerant zeal' was
restrained, but overall he gave a positive impression
of the crusades. Scott's works were translated into
numerous languages and in France alone he had
sold over two million books by 1840. Ivanhoe alone
inspired almost 300 dramas; within a year of its
publication, 16 versions of the story were being
staged across England. ...

"In tandem with these developments, the 19th century
saw a dramatic expansion of European political power
into the Muslim near east, largely at the expense of the
declining Ottoman Empire. France invaded Algeria in
1830 and soon afterwards Spain and Italy, too,
embarked upon North African adventures. Some
looked to the crusades as a forerunner, especially
after France took control of Syria in 1920. Paul Pic,
Professor of Law at the University of Lyon, regarded
Syria as 'a natural extension of France', while in 1929
Jean Longnon wrote that: 'The name of Frank has
remained a symbol of nobility, courage and
generosity ... and if our country has been called on to
receive the protectorate of Syria, it is the result of that
influence.' [Syria remained a French 'protectorate until
after World War II]."

Jonathan Phillips, "The Call of the Crusades,"
History Today, Volume: 59, Issue: 11.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 10/29/09 - china falls behind

In today's excerpt - how China, once the
world's economic and technological leader,
fell behind. It closed its doors to the
outside world in 1434, and with this
isolation from trade in commerce and ideas,
began a centuries-long period of

"China's population of 1.3 billion
constitutes more than a fifth of humanity.
Asia's population, in total, includes 60
percent of humanity. Asia's fate is truly the
world's fate. ... China and India are ancient
civilizations that in important ways were far
ahead of Europe not so many centuries ago.
The rise of the West - the western part of
the Eurasian landmass - was one of the great
ruptures of human history, overturning more
than a millenium or more in which Asia rather
than Europe had the technological lead.
[Today], Asia is not merely catching up with
Europe and the United States, it is also
catching up with its own past as a
technological leader. ...

"Where did China stumble, and why? ... Around
the start of the sixteenth century, just
after Columbus had found the sea route to the
Americas and Vasco de Gama had circled the
Cape of Good Hope to reach Asia by sea, China
was clearly the world's technological
superpower, and had been so for at least a
millenium. Europe conquered Asia after 1500
with the compass, gunpowder, and the printing
press, all Chinese innovations. There was
nothing fated about such a turnaround.
China's dominance, it appears, was
squandered, and 1434 is increasingly
understood to be a pivotal year.

"In that year, the Ming emperor effectively
closed China to international trade,
dismantling the world's largest and most
advanced fleet of ocean vessels. Between 1405
and 1433, the Chinese fleet, under the
command of the famed eunuch admiral, Zheng
He, had visited ports of the Indian Ocean all
the way to East Africa, showing the flag,
transmitting Chinese culture and knowledge,
and exploring the vast lands of the Indian
Ocean region.

"Then, all at once, the imperial
court decided that the voyages were too
expensive, perhaps because of increased
threats of nomadic incursions over China's
northern land border [which caused the
Chinese to desire to extend the Great Wall,
with its huge financing requirements,
editor's note]. For whatever reason, the
emperor ended ocean-going trade and
exploration, closed down shipyards, and
placed severe limitations on Chinese merchant
trade for centuries to come. Never again
would China enjoy technological leadership in
naval construction and navigation, or command
the seas even in its own neighborhood.

"In 1975, China's per capita income was a
mere 7.5 percent of Western Europe's. Since
then ... China has soared, reaching around 20
percent of Europe's income level by 2000. ...
China is ending extreme poverty, and is on
its way to reversing centuries of relative

Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty,
Penguin, Copyright 2005 by Jeffrey Sachs, pp.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 10/28/09 - officespeak

In today's excerpt - if you happen to work
for a bureaucracy, you'll need to know the
subtleties of "officespeak":

"This section deals with the technical
aspects of officespeak,
such as passive voice, circular reasoning,
and rhetorical questions.
These are the nuts and bolts of the Rube
Goldberg contraption that is
the language of the office. Obscurity,
vagueness, and a noncommittal
stance on everything define the essence of
officespeak. No one wants
to come out and say what they really think.
It is much safer for the company and those up
top to constantly cloak their language in
order to
hide how much they do know or, just as often,
how much they don't
know. ...

Passive voice: The bread and butter of
press releases and official statements. For
those who have forgotten their basic grammar,
a sentence in the passive voice does not have
an active verb. Thus, no one can take the
blame for 'doing' something, since nothing,
grammatically speaking,
has been done by anybody. Using the passive
voice takes the emphasis
off yourself (or the company). Here [is an]
few example of how the passive voice can
render any situation guiltless:

'Five hundred employees were laid off.' (Not
'The company laid
off five hundred employees,' or even worse,
'I laid off five hundred employees.' These
layoffs occurred in a netherworld of
displaced blame, in which the company and the
individual are
miraculously absent from the picture.)

Circular reasoning: Another favorite
when it comes time to deliver bad news. In
circular reasoning, a problem is posited and
a reason is given. Except that the reason is
basically just a rewording of the problem.
Pretty nifty. Here are
some examples to better explain the

'Our profits are down because of [a decrease
in revenues].'

'People were laid off because there was a
surplus of workers.' ...

Rhetorical questions: The questions
that ask for no answers. So why even ask the
question? Because it makes it seem as though
the listener is participating
in a true dialogue. When your boss asks,
'Who's staying late tonight?'
you know he really means, 'Anyone who wants
to keep their job will work late.' Still,
there's that split second when you think you
have a
say in the matter, when you believe your
opinion counts. Only to be
reminded, yet again, that no one cares what
you think. ...

Hollow statements: The second cousin
of circular reasoning. Hollow statements make it
seem as though something positive is
happening (such as better
profits or increased market share), but they
lack any proof to support
the claim.

'Our company is performing better than it looks.'

'Once productivity increases, so will
profits.' ...

They and them: Pronouns used to refer
to the high-level management that no one has
ever met, only heard whispers about. 'They'
are faceless and often
nameless. And their decisions render those
beneath them impotent to
change anything. 'They' fire people, 'they'
freeze wages, 'they' make
your life a living hell. It's not your boss
who is responsible - he would
love to reverse all these directives if he
could. But you see, his hands
are tied.

'I'd love to give you that raise, you know I
would. But they're the
ones in charge.'

'Okay, gang, bad news, no more cargo shorts
allowed. Hey, I
love the casual look, but they hate it.'

Obfuscation: A tendency to obscure,
darken, or stupefy. The primary goal of the above
techniques is, in the end, obfuscation.
Whether it's by means of the
methods outlined above or by injecting
jargon-heavy phrases into sentences,
corporations want to make their motives and
actions as difficult to
comprehend as possible."

D.W. Martin, Officespeak, Simon
Spotlight, Copyright 2005 by David Martin,
pp. 11-20.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 10/27/09 - andalusia

In today's excerpt - in the middle ages, a
vast portion of what is now Spain was ruled
by Muslims, who were a model of religious
tolerance, and who provided Europe with the
knowledge and technology that was one of the
keys to its resurgence in the Renaissance
until they were finally driven from Spain in
1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella. Their
territory is in part remembered today as
Andalusia - "Al Andalus":

"After the Moorish conquest of Spain in the
eighth century, the emir
of Al Andalus had been a vassal of the
caliphs of Damascus and Baghdad. But this
western outpost of Islam was the first of the
provinces to break free of its Oriental
masters. When the Mongols destroyed the
caliphate in Baghdad in 1258, the
independence of Al Andalus was solidified,
and the Spanish Moors began to relate more to
Europe than the Middle East.

"In arts and agriculture, learning and
tolerance, Al Andulus was a beacon of
enlightenment to the rest of Europe. In the
fertile valleys of the Guadalquivir and the
Guadiana rivers,
as well as the terraced slopes of the
Alpujarras, agriculture surpassed
anything elsewhere on the continent. Moorish
filigree silver- and
leatherwork became famous throughout the
Mediterranean. In engineering, the skill of
the Spanish Moors had no parallel, and the
splendor of their architecture was manifest
in the glorious mosque of
Cordoba, the Giralda and Alcazar of Seville,
and the Alhambra of
Granada. Its excellence in art and
literature, mathematics and science,
history and philosophy defined this brilliant

"Among its finest achievements was its
tolerance. Jews and Christians were welcomed,
if not as equals, then as full-fledged
citizens. They
were permitted to practice their faith and
their rituals without interference. This
tolerance was in keeping with the principles
of the Koran,
which taught that Jews and Christians were to
be respected as 'peoples
of the Book' or believers in the word of God.
Jews and Christians were
assimilated into Islamic culture, and
occasionally, Moorish leaders
helped to build Christian houses of

"In 1248, work began on the colossal Alhambra
in Granada. With its
thirteen towers and fortified walls above the
ravine of the Darro River,
the river of gold, the red palace took shape
over the next hundred years.
The extraordinary rooms of its interior - the
Courtyard of the Lions,
the Hall of the Two Sisters, the Court of the
Myrtles - were finished
at the end of the long process under the
reign of Yusef I in the mid-fourteenth
century. With their arabesque moldings and
gold ornament and vegetal carvings, these
rooms became the wonder of the world.
Most stunning of all was the Courtyard of the
Lions, whose Oriental
feel was more reminiscent of Japan than the
Middle East and whose vision was to replicate
the Garden of Paradise."

James Reston, Jr., The Dogs of God,
Anchor, Copyright 2005 by James Reston, Jr.,
pp. 7-8.

Monday, October 26, 2009 10/26/09 - the sound of music

In today's excerpt - The Sound of
Music, which, in its day, was the
highest-grossing Broadway play and then the
highest-grossing film in entertainment
history. It originated as a 1959 Broadway
production starring Mary Martin:

"Vincent J. Donehue was a former actor and
Tony award-winning stage director who had
gone to work at Paramount late in 1956. One
day he was asked to look at a German film
called The Trapp Family Singers which
had been
a big success in Europe and South America,
with a view to his directing a movie in
English based upon it and starring Audrey
Hepburn. The German film told the life story
of Maria, Baroness von Trapp, and her
beginnings as a postulant nun in Austria who was
sent to be governess to the seven children of
the widowed Georg von Trapp. They were
later married and escaped from Austria just
before the Anschluss, finding their way across
the Alps into Switzerland and from there to
the United States, where they became famous
as the singing Trapps.

" 'It was in many ways amateurish,' Donehue
said of the film, 'but I was terribly moved
by the whole idea of it, almost sobbing.' He
saw it immediately as a perfect vehicle for
Mary Martin, whose husband, Richard Halliday,
was one of his closest friends. When Audrey
Hepburn's interest in the project faded,
Paramount lost its enthusiasm and let its option
lapse. Donehue sent the German film to
Richard Halliday. Both he and Mary Martin loved
the film. 'The idea was just irresistible,'
Mary said, 'a semi-Cinderella story, but

"Actually, it wasn't true at all. The
real-life Maria Rainer had had a loveless
as the ward of a provincial judge and joined
a monastery where, far from being a ray of
sunshine, she became so ill she was sent
'outside' to be a governess to one of Georg von
Trapp's daughters, who was bedridden. Unlike
the music-hating martinet portrayed in
the [Broadway] version, von Trapp was a
loving parent who encouraged his children to
play instruments and sing. Nor did they
escape over the Alps pursued by the
Nazis; they took a train to Italy and reached
America by way of England.

"Nevertheless, there was not the slightest
doubt in Halliday's or Mary Martin's minds
that it would make a great musical, and both
agreed from the outset that they wanted
Rodgers and Hammerstein to produce it. But
there were all sorts of obstacles to be
overcome before anything like a Broadway show
could be mounted. First, Halliday had to
try to locate Maria von Trapp and her
children, all of whose permissions would be
required if they were to be portrayed live on
stage. The Baroness, however, was hard to
find. She was on a world tour, establishing
missions in the South Seas. Letters addressed
to her in Australia, Tahiti, Samoa, and other
locations failed to reach her. In addition, the
seven von Trapp children were scattered in
various places around the world and were
proving just as elusive.

"At this point, Halliday's lawyer Bill
Fitelson brought
in producer Leland Hayward,
and Hayward became as enthusiastic as
everyone else about the possibilities of the
story. Together,
Hayward and Fitelson chased all
over Europe picking up hints and
clues as to the whereabouts of the
Trapp children. By the autumn of
1957, they had all the necessary
permissions sewn together. The
seven von Trapp children had
been traced and had signed on
the dotted line. The contract with Baroness
von Trapp was finalized in a hospital ward in
Innsbruck, where she was recuperating from
malaria contracted in New
Guinea. Leland Hayward, who
spoke no German, concluded
his negotiations with the representative of
the German film
company, who spoke no
English, in Yiddish!"

Frederick Nolan, The Sound of Their
Music, Applause Books, Copyright 2002 by
Frederick Nolan, pp. 244-246

Friday, October 23, 2009 10/23/09 - jazz and the mob

In today's excerpt - jazz, America's great
indigenous musical art form, found its
financial backing from America's organized

"Jazz music was the classic American art form
that had accompanied
virtually every "glorious" era of mobsterism
in the United States since
the end of the nineteenth century. In
Storyville, the legendary turn-of-the-century
red-light district of New Orleans, ragtime
gave way to a
freer, more blues influenced form of jazz as
practiced by the likes of
Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis
Armstrong. The music had
its roots in the African-American experience;
it was also the music of
the bordello, the speakeasy, and Mob-owned
nightclubs from Boston to
Los Angeles. Jazz was race-mixing music,
through which rich and poor
alike came together out of a desire to skirt
the placid white-bread veneer
of American life (that is, until jazz itself
was co-opted by white-bread

"It is probable that jazz would have been
born without the influence of
the Mob, but it is unlikely the music would
have grown and flourished as
it did without the economic framework
provided by organized crime.
Particularly in the era of the Roaring
Twenties (i.e., Prohibition), when
jazz became an international obsession, money
from bootlegging rackets
made it possible for nightclubs to hire large
orchestras. Jay McShann,
Count Basie, and Duke Ellington all created
world renowned orchestras
that were financed by Mob-controlled
nightclubs. These orchestras
spawned many legends of jazz who developed
their talents and headlined
in smaller clubs, some of which were also Mob

"In Chicago, Al Capone adored the music and
fostered an entire generation of musicians.
In Harlem, the Mob-owned Cotton Club had as its
house band the sophisticated Duke Ellington
Orchestra. Kansas City
had an entire district of jazz clubs and
after-hours joints that spawned
their own version of the music known as
'dirty jazz,' a Delta blues-influenced sound
that gave birth to McShann, Basie, and
Charlie 'Bird'
Parker, among others. This flourishing jazz
district in Kansas
City -
which existed from the early 1920s into the
1930s - was made possible
by a corrupt political machine that served as
a model for the Havana
Mob as constructed by Meyer Lansky, Fulgencio
Batista, et al., and which itself spawned
Afro-Cuban jazz.

T.J. English, Havana Nocturne, Morrow,
Copyright 2007, 2008 by T.J. English, p. 244.

Thursday, October 22, 2009 10/22/09 - oil boom and oil bust

In today's encore excerpt - in 1859, in the obscure town of Titusville in northwestern Pennsylvania, "Colonel" E.L. Drake and "Uncle Billy" Smith successfully drilled the first oil well, and ushered in the titanic booms and busts of the oil era. In one town, a parcel of land once worth $2 million was soon thereafter worth only $4.37:

"Nothing revealed the feverish pitch of [oil] speculation better than the strange story of Pithole, on Pithole Creek, some fifteen miles from Titusville. A first well was struck in the dense forest land there in January 1865; by June, there were four flowing wells, producing two thousand
barrels a day - one third of the total output of the Oil Regions - and people fought their way in on the roads already clogged with the barrel-laden wagons. 'The whole place,' said one visitor, 'smells like a corps of soldiers when they have the diarrhea.' The land speculation seemed to know no bounds. One farm that had been virtually worthless a few months earlier was sold for $1.3 million in July 1865, and the resold for two million dollars in September.

"In that same month, production around Pithole Creek reached six thousand barrels per day - two-thirds of all the production in the Oil Regions. And, by that same September, what had once been an unidentifiable spot in the wilderness had become a town of fifteen thousand people. The New York Herald reported that the principal businesses of Pithole were 'liquor and leases';
and The Nation added, 'It is safe to assert that there is more vile liquor drunk in this town than in any of its size in the world.' Yet Pithole was already on the road to respectability, with two banks, two telegraph offices, a newspaper, a waterworks, a fire company, scores of boarding
houses and businesses, more than fifty hotels - at least three of which were up to elegant metropolitan standards - and a post office that handled more than five thousand letters a day.

"But then, a couple of months later, the oil production abruptly gave out - just as quickly as it had begun. To the people of Pithole, this was a calamity, like a biblical plague, and by January 1866, only a year from the first discovery, thousands had fled the town for new hopes and
opportunities. The town that had sprung up overnight from the wilderness was totally deserted. Fires ravaged the buildings, and the wooden skeletons that were left were torn down to be used for building again elsewhere or burned as kindling by the farmers in the surrounding hills. Pithole returned to silence and to the wilderness. A parcel of land in Pithole that sold for $2
million in 1865 was auctioned for $4.37 in 1878."

Daniel Yergin, The Prize, Free Press, Copyright 1991, 1992 by Daniel Yergin,
p. 31.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 10/21/09 - population growth and national debt

In today's excerpt - modern governments,
those that arose with the Industrial
Revolution and after, have had an
uninterrupted tendency to overspend and
accumulate large debts. However, since
populations have increased almost ten-fold
since then - and economic growth rates had
been even higher - Western governments have
routinely been 'bailed-out' by population and
economic growth. Simply stated, if a
government that had amassed staggering debts
could simply avoid increasing spending, and
the population doubled, the effective debt
would be cut in half on a per capita basis.
It remains to be seen what other debt
reduction strategies governments will need to
employ now that global population growth
rates are slowing:

"Although Hamilton saw a properly funded debt
as a blessing, he did not see
a big debt as one. He warned that
transferring heavy financial obligations to
coming generations threatened the nation's
future creditworthiness. In his
view, debts incurred during wartime should be
paid down during periods
of peace. In his First Report on Public
Credit, Hamilton wrote that he wished
'to see it incorporated as a fundamental
maxim in the system of public
credit of the United States that the creation
of debt should always be accompanied with the
means of extinguishment.'

"In December 1791, he further
pointed out that 'as the vicissitudes of
nations beget a perpetual tendency
to the accumulation of debt, there ought to
be a perpetual, anxious, and
unceasing effort to reduce that which at any
time exists, as fast as should be
practicable, consistent with integrity and
good faith.' ...

"Revenues increased significantly through the
later part of the 1790s. However, Washington
and John Adams after him incurred significant
expenses: building the new national capital,
financing the army and the navy
during what came to be known as the Quasi-War
with France, fighting
Indians, and paying tributes to the Barbary
pirates. These expenditures
thwarted their administrations' ability to
reduce the federal debt despite
their intentions. Government debt rose from
$77 million in 1790 to $83 million in 1801,
although it was offset in part by cash
balances in the Treasury and the value of the
stock the government held in the newly chartered
Bank of the United States.

"The United States enjoyed rapid economic
growth during the 1790s.
On a per capita basis, its wealth rivaled
that of Great Britain. Because the
economy grew more rapidly than borrowing,
debt declined as a portion
of GNP from 40 percent at the very end of the
Revolution to 18 percent in
1795 (editor: a period in which the
population grew by almost 30%). Robust
revenues enabled the government to service
all of Hamilton's
bonds on time, and U.S. government securities
came to enjoy a high degree
of investor acceptance in Europe. By 1795,
the United States was able to
borrow $8 million in Dutch florins from
private bankers in the Netherlands, a strong
testament to the financial credibility the
nation had achieved
in its brief history. It was the last time
the federal government borrowed in
a foreign currency until the late twentieth

Robert D. Hormats, The Price of
Liberty, Times Books, Copyright 2007 by
Robert D. Hormats, pp. 23-24.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 10/20/09 - nixon masters television

In today's excerpt - Nixon masters TV as part
of his successful 1967 presidential campaign,
and as part of that his staff invents the
completely staged "impromptu" encounter with

"The idea for Nixon's new approach to
television had come of an appearance the
previous autumn on Mike Douglas's afternoon
chat show. As Nixon sat in the Douglas show's
chair he chatted perfunctorily with a young
producer about how silly it was that
it took gimmicks like going on daytime talk
shows to get elected in
America in 1968. The producer, a twenty-
six-year-old named Roger Ailes,
did not come back with the expected
deferential chuckle. Instead he lectured
him: if Nixon still thought talk shows were a
gimmick, he'd never become
president of the United States. Ailes then
reeled off a litany of Nixon's TV
mistakes in 1960, when Ailes had been in high
school-and, before he knew
it, had been whisked to New York and invited
to work for the man in charge
of the media team, Frank Shakespeare. ...

"His young confederate Ailes was a
TV-producing prodigy, transforming
Douglas from a local Philadelphia fixture
into a national icon of square chic:
'Each weekday more than 6,000,000 housewives
in 171 cities set up their
ironing boards in front of the TV set to
watch their idol,' said a feature story
in Time. Ailes was perfect to execute the
newest Nixon's new idea, the most
brazen in the history of political TV. Ailes,
Garment, Shakespeare, Ray Price,
and a young lawyer [named] Tom Evans, met in
a CBS screening room. Like football coaches,
they reviewed game film: seven hours of
Nixon TV appearances. As a stump speaker, the
medium could make him
look like an earnest, sweaty litigator. He
did better on camera in informal
settings, looking a questioner in the eye.
They decided that this would be
how they would make sure Nixon was seen - all
through 1968.

"But Richard Nixon had enemies. Genuinely
impromptu encounters - the
sort that were supposed to be the charm of
New Hampshire campaigning -
had a chance of turning nasty. Thus the
innovation. They would film
impromptu encounters. Only they would be

"Shakespeare brought on board a TV specialist
from Bob Haldeman's old
employer, J. Walter Thompson [Advertising].
Harry Treleaven was a TV-obsessed nerd
who perennially bored people by rhapsodizing
over the technical details of
his craft. Militantly indifferent to
ideology, his last triumph was rewiring the
image of George Herbert Walker Bush, the new
congressman from Houston who'd lost a Senate
race as a Goldwater Republican in '64.
street in Houston had thought George Bush
likable, though 'there was a
haziness about exactly where he stood
politically,' Treleaven wrote in a
postmortem memo. Treleaven thought that was
swell. 'Most national issues
today are so complicated, so difficult to
understand,' he said, that they
'bore the average voter.' Putting 85 percent
of Bush's budget into advertising, almost
two-thirds of that into TV, he set to work
inventing George
Bush as a casual kind of guy who walked
around with his coat slung over his
shoulder (he was actually an aristocrat from
Connecticut). Since the polls
had him behind, Treleaven also made him a
'fighting underdog,' 'a man
who's working his heart out to win.' His
ideology, whatever it was, wasn't

"Nixon gave this team carte blanche: 'We're
going to build this whole
campaign around television. You fellows just
tell me what you want me to
do and I'll do it.'

"On February 3, he was slipped out a back
door in Concord and spirited
to tiny Hillsborough, where an audience of
two dozen townsfolk handpicked by the local
Nixon committee sat waiting in a local
courtroom. Outside were uniformed guards to
keep out the press - the men to whom Richard
had just pledged his most open campaign ever.
Lights, camera, action; citizens asked their
questions; cameras captured their man's
answers; then, Treleaven, Ailes, and Garment
got to work chopping the best bits into TV
spots. ...

"The reporters threatened mutiny. Ailes
offered them a compromise: from
now on they'd be allowed to watch on monitors
in a room nearby and interview the audience
after the show. If they didn't like it,
tough. A man who
raged at what he could not control, Richard
Nixon had found a way to be in

Rick Perlstein, Nixonland, Scribner,
Copyright 2008 by Rick Perlstein, pp. 233-235.

Monday, October 19, 2009 10/19/09 - marco polo and the renaissance

In today's excerpt - the Renaissance in
Europe owed a tremendous debt to the
inventions that Marco Polo (1254-1324), his
father Niccolò and his uncle Maffeo brought
back to Venice from their twenty four years
of travel in China:

"[Upon their return from China], the three
Polos received respect
from their fellow citizens, with Marco singled
out for special attention. 'All the young men
went every day continuously to visit and
converse with Messer Marco,' Giambattista
Ramusio claimed.
'who was most charming and gracious, and to
ask of him matters concerning Cathay (China)
and the Great Khan, and he responded with so much
kindness that all felt themselves to be in a
certain manner indebted to

"It is easy to understand why Marco attracted
notice. The significance of the inventions
that he brought back from China, or which he
later described in his Travels, cannot be
overstated. At first, Europeans
regarded these technological marvels with
disbelief, but eventually
they adopted them.

"Paper money, virtually unknown in the West
until Marco's return,
revolutionized finance and commerce
throughout the West.

"Coal, another item that had caught Marco's
attention in China,
provided a new and relatively efficient
source of heat to an energy-starved

"Eyeglasses (in the form of ground lenses),
which some accounts say
he brought back with him, became accepted as
a remedy for failing
eyesight. In addition, lenses gave rise to
the telescope - which in turn
revolutionized naval battles, since it
allowed combatants to view ships
at a great distance - and the microscope. Two
hundred years later,
Galileo used the telescope - based on the
same technology - to
revolutionize science and cosmology by
supporting and disseminating the
Copernican theory that Earth and other
planets revolved around the

"Gunpowder, which the Chinese had employed
for at least three
centuries, revolutionized European warfare as
armies exchanged their
lances, swords, and crossbows for cannon,
portable harquebuses, and

"Marco brought back gifts of a more personal
nature as well. The
golden paiza, or passport, given to him by
Kublai Khan had seen him
through years of travel, war, and hardship.
Marco kept it still, and
would to the end of his days. He also brought
back a Mongol servant,
whom he named Peter, a living reminder of the
status he had once
enjoyed in a far-off land.

"In all, it is difficult to imagine the
Renaissance - or, for that matter,
the modern world - without the benefit of
Marco Polo's example of
cultural transmission between East and

Laurence Bergreen, Marco Polo, Knopf,
Copyright 2007 by Laurence Bergreen, pp. 320-321.

Friday, October 16, 2009 10/16/09 - democracy

In today's excerpt - because of the inherent
distrust of pure democracy that existed in
the 1780s, only the members of the House of
Representatives were to be elected directly
by the people in the original U.S.
Constitution; Senators were chosen by their
state's legislature, and the President was
to be chosen by electors. The comments below come
from the notes of the debate of the
Constitutional Convention itself, and show
there was considerable opposition even to
allowing the people vote directly for

"ROGER SHERMAN [of Connecticut]: Election [of
the members of the House of Representatives]
should be by the state legislatures. The
people immediately should have as little to
do as may be about the government.
They lack information and are constantly
liable to be misled. If the state
governments are to be continued, it is
necessary in order to preserve harmony
between the national and state governments,
that the elections to
the former should be made by the latter. The
right of participation in the
national government will be sufficiently
secured to the people by their
election of the state legislatures.

ELBRIDGE GERRY [of Massachusetts]: The evils
we experience flow from the excess of
democracy. The
people do not lack virtue, but are the dupes
of pretended patriots. In
Massachusetts it has been fully confirmed by
experience that they are
daily misled into the most baneful measures
and opinions by the false
reports circulated by designing men. One
principal evil arises from the
want of due provision for those employed in
the administration of government. It would
seem to be a maxim of democracy to starve the

CHARLES PINCKNEY [of South Carolina]: The
people are less fit judges in such a case
than the legislatures, and the legislatures
will be less likely to promote the adoption
of the
new government if they are to be excluded
from all share in it.

WILLIAM PATERSON [of New Jersey]: If the
sovereignty of the states is to be
maintained, the representatives must be drawn
immediately from the states, not from the

JOHN RUTLEDGE [of South Carolina]: Election
by the legislatures would be more refined than an
election immediately by the people, and more
likely to correspond with the
sense of the whole community. If this
Convention had been chosen by
the people in districts, it is not to be
supposed that such proper characters
would have been preferred. The delegates to
[the Continental] Congress
have also been fitter men than would have
been appointed by the people
at large.

JOHN MERCER [of Virginia]: The people cannot
know and judge of
the characters of candidates. The people in
towns can unite their votes in favor of one
and by that means always prevail over the
people of the country, who,
being dispersed, will scatter their votes
among a variety of candidates. ...

PINCKNEY: The first branch should be elected
by the people,
in such mode as the state legislatures shall

GERRY: The people should nominate a certain
number, out of which
the state legislatures should be bound to
choose. Experience has shown
that state legislatures drawn immediately
from the people do not always
possess their confidence. An election by the
people should be so qualified
that men of honor and character might not be
unwilling to be joined
in the appointments. The people could choose
double the requisite number, the legislature
to appoint out of them the authorized number
of each

MERCER: Candidates should
be nominated by the state legislatures and
elected by the people, who should not be left
to make their choice without
any guidance."

Jane Butzner (Jacobs), Constitutional
Chaff, Copyright 1941 by Columbia
University Press, pp. 8-9.

Thursday, October 15, 2009 10/15/09 - before pearl harbor

In today's encore excerpt - Japan, the
leading power
in Asia in the 1930s, knew from the
experience of World War I that it needed oil
in order to remain a military power. Japan
had the same imperial expansionist desires
that European nations had long held, and had
recently invaded both China and Korea. But it
had virtually no oil. Japan's bombing of
Pearl Harbor was flanking maneuver for its
primary objective - the oil of the Dutch East

"By the late 1930s, Japan produced only about
7 percent of the oil it consumed. The rest
was imported--80 percent from the United
States, and another 10 percent from the Dutch
East Indies. ... The [Japanese] Navy had its
sights set on the Dutch East Indies, Malaya,
Indochina, and a number of smaller islands in
the Pacific, particularly the prime and
absolutely essential resource - oil.

"Here was the deadly paradox for Japan. It
wanted to reduce its reliance on the United
States, especially for most of its oil, much
of which went to fuel its fleet and air
force. Japan feared that such dependence
would cripple it in a war. But Tokyo's vision
of security and the steps it took to gain oil
autonomy [through a takeover of East Indies
oil] created exactly the conditions that
would point to war with the United States.

"On July 24, 1941, ... a dozen Japanese troop
transports were on their way south to effect
the occupation of southern Indochina, [a
steppingstone to the East Indies]. On the
evening of July 25, the U.S. government
responded ordering all Japanese financial
assets in the United States to be frozen
[and] ... a virtually total oil embargo was
the result. ...

"Tokyo had worked itself into a corner.
Japan's petroleum reserves would, without
replenishment, last no more than two years.
... Foreign minister Teijiro Toyoda wrote on
July 31, 1941, 'Our Empire to save its very
life must take measures to secure the raw
materials of the South Seas.' ... [Diplomatic
negotiations ensued but on] November 27 the
United States had completely given up on
negotiations with Japan. ...

"The bombs began to fall on the American
fleet in Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m., Hawaiian
time. ... Senior American officials had fully
expected a Japanese attack, and imminently.
But they expected it to be in Southeast Asia.

"Pearl Harbor was not the main Japanese
target. Hawaii was but one piece of a
massive, far-flung military onslaught. In the
same hours as the attack on the U.S. Pacific
Fleet, the Japanese were bombing and
blockading Hong Kong, bombing Singapore,
bombing the Philippines, bombarding the
islands of Wake and Guam, taking over
Thailand, invading Malaya on the way to
Singapore - and preparing to invade the East
Indies. The operation against Pearl Harbor
was meant to protect the flank - to safeguard
the Japanese invasion of the Indies and the
rest of Southeast Asia. ... The primary
target of this huge campaign remained the oil
fields of the East Indies."

Daniel Yergin, The Prize, Free Press,
Copyright 1991, 1992 by Daniel Yergin, pp.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 10/14/09 - atari, pong, and apple

In today's excerpt - Atari, Pong, and

"The more than $6 billion Americans now spend
on video games every
year started with the first quarter dropped
into Computer Space in 1971. That
game - a small computer hooked up to a
black-and-white TV, housed in a
futuristic-looking plastic case - was the
creation of Nolan Bushnell, a young
engineer from Utah. Bushnell went on to found
Atari, whose products, from
Pong to Football to the Atari 2600, brought
video games into every arcade and
millions of homes. And while Computer Space
was based on the already-classic computer
spaceship battle game called Spacewar, it was
Bushnell's genius
to see the potential games had beyond the
computer lab. ...

"He was a tournament chess player, and a fan
of the Chinese
board game Go. (Atari is a Japanese word
announced when a Go player has
almost captured an opponent.) He also learned
about business when he was
young. After his father died, Bushnell took
over the family's concrete business. He was
just 15.

"Bushnell discovered computer games in the
early 1960s while studying
electrical engineering at the University of
Utah. The school's computer had a
copy of Spacewar, the seminal game created at
MIT by Steve Russell. ... Bushnell was
hooked, and he would
sneak into the computer lab late at night to
play. ... But Spacewar ran on huge, expensive

"By 1971, Bushnell had moved to Silicon
Valley and had begun to work on [a commercial
version of the] game. The biggest technical
challenge was the display. The computers
that ran Spacewar used what were essentially
adapted radar screens, each of which cost
about $30,000 - so Bushnell made
circuits that would display graphics on an
ordinary black-and-white television set.

"Bushnell began designing other games and he
hired a staff
of engineers. In 1972, Bally, a company that
made pinball and
slot machines, contracted him to make a video
driving game.
He gave the task to one of his new hires, Al
Alcorn. But Alcorn
didn't yet the tricks of making a video game,
so Bushnell
gave him a smaller task: to make a game with
a ball bouncing
back and forth on the screen. 'I
defined this very simple game for Alcorn as a
learning project,'
he explains. 'I thought it was going to be a
throwaway. It took
him less than a week to get it partially
running. And the thing
was just incredibly fun.'

"Bushnell took a copy of Alcorn's game, named
Pong after
one of its noises, to Bally's headquarters in
Chicago, hoping that
they would buy it instead of the driving
game. At the same time,
Alcorn built a case for their other copy of
Pong, complete with a
13-inch TV set and a slot for quarters. There
was one sentence of
instructions on the cabinet: 'Avoid Missing
Ball for High Score.'
Alcorn set Pong up at a bar in Sunnyvale,

"In Chicago, Bally's turned Pong down. Back
in California,
the reaction was different. People lined up
to feed quarters into
Pong, and played it nonstop. The next day,
the machine suddenly stopped working; Alcorn
went to see what was wrong and
discovered that the machine was too full of
quarters - they'd
spilled out of their container and shorted
the game out. Pong,
released by Atari rather than Bally's, became
a hit and ushered
in the first golden age of video games. Rich
from Pong's success, the company designed
dozens of successful games ... like Atari
Football, the
driving games Night Driver and Sprint, and,
in 1978, the best-selling Asteroids.

"Bushnell also helped usher in a new era in
Silicon Valley. Although the area had
long been a center for the electronics
industry, most of the companies there were
large and corporate. Atari was different.
Bushnell always wore jeans, and he encouraged
his engineers
and technicians to do the same. His
management style was not
very rigid or hierarchical; as long as
someone got his or her job
done, almost anything went. These principles
were proved in
1976, when Bushnell hired a young technician
named Steve
Jobs. The long-haired Jobs would often work
barefoot, talked of
going to India, and was abrasive to some of
the other engineers.
Bushnell gave Jobs the task of designing a
game he had thought
of, a new variation on Pong called Breakout.
Jobs worked the
night shift, and with lots of technical help
from his friend Steve
Wozniak, built Breakout on a very short
schedule. The two
would continue their collaboration that year
by building and
marketing the Apple computer."

David E. Brown, Inventing Modern
America, MIT Press, Copyright 2002 by the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pp.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 10/13/09 - jamestown and china

In today's excerpt - England's motivation in
establishing colonies such as Jamestown was
commercial, in large part to find a river
route through North America to the Pacific
Ocean and China. Englishmen invested vast
sums in Jamestown and other colonies in
search of huge payoffs from trade with the

"[Sir Thomas] Smythe was leading the effort
to reorganize the struggling Jamestown
venture under a new royal charter.
Smythe would serve as the treasurer (the de
facto governor) of this 'second'
Virginia Company when it was chartered in May
1609. The Virginia venture
would send out an unprecedented nine-vessel
relief flotilla to Jamestown that
summer, and it evidently was consuming the
lion's share of available capital [in
London]. ...

"With more than six hundred active investors,
the [Virginia] company's objectives were so
multifold that there were heated
disagreements on priorities: Establish a
profitable plantation? Find a passage through
the continent
to the Orient? Secure cargoes of medicinal
herbs? Seek out rumored mineral riches,
especially gold? ...

"As strange as it might seem
to us today, the idea of reaching China by
cutting through the heart of
North America was a powerfully persuasive
idea [at that] time, which
owed its currency to arguments made in a
little book that had recently been
a bestseller. It was a publishing phenomenon
... called A Briefe and True Relation of the
Discoverie of the North Part of Virginia, ...
and the author was John Brereton.

"The volume was inflated with content meant to
lure investors to the cause of exploration
and colonization. ... A
key component was a treatise by Edward Hayes
on colonization and exploration. ... Inspired
by the river systems of Europe and western
Asia, Hayes proposed that there must be also
great rivers in North America draining not
only eastward, into the Atlantic, but also
westward, into the Pacific, within
the temperate zone. The midcontinental gap
between the headwaters of
these as yet undiscovered rivers he imagined
to be perhaps one hundred
leagues, or three hundred miles. Goods could
be transported overland between them by
horses, mules, or 'beasts of that country apt
to labour' such
as elk or buffalo, or 'by the aid of many
Savages accustomed to burdens;
who shall stead us greatly in these

"Hayes argued that a route to the Orient
could be found through the continent of
North America, instead of above it. ... He
also believed that colonization was a
precursor to making a passage search. ... His
passage-making premise was at the core of
English designs on eastern North America.
Both the Jamestown and Kennebec
colonies of the original Virginia Company
were sited with the idea of exploiting a
river course that met Hayes's
transcontinental criteria, and much
of the initial energy at Jamestown was
devoted to investigating such a route,
initially on the river James.

" 'When it shall please God to send you on
the coast of Virginia,' the first
flotilla of the London wing of the Virginia
Company was instructed by its
backers in 1606, 'you shall do your best
endeavour to find out a safe port
in the entrance of some navigable river,
making choice of such a one as runneth
farthest into the land.' And if they
discovered several suitable rivers,
among which one had two main branches, 'if
the difference be not great,
make choice of that which bendeth most toward
the Northwest for that way
you shall soonest find the other sea.'

"This 'other sea' was the South Sea, the East
India Sea, the 'Back' Sea:
the Pacific Ocean."

Douglas Hunter, Half Moon, Bloomsbury,
Copyright 2009 by Douglas Hunter, pp. 24, 50,
71,73, 76.

Monday, October 12, 2009 10/12/09 - columbus and america

In today's encore excerpt - the brand
new country of America struggles with its
name, and, in need of a non-British hero
after the scourge of King George III and the
Revolutionary War, resurrects the
mostly-forgotten Christopher Columbus:

"Considerable thought was given in early
Congresses to the possibility of renaming the
country. From the start, many people
recognized that United States of America was
unsatisfactory. For one thing, it allowed no
convenient adjectival form. A citizen would
have to be either a United Statesian or some
other such clumsy locution, or an American,
thereby arrogating to ourselves a title that
belonged equally to the inhabitants of some
three dozen other nations on two continents.
Several alternatives were actively considered
- Columbia, Appalachia, Alleghania, Freedonia
or Fredonia (whose denizens would be called
Freeds or Fredes) - but none mustered
sufficient support to displace the existing

"United States of Columbia was a somewhat
unexpected suggestion, since for most of the
previous 250 years Christopher Columbus had
been virtually forgotten in America. His
Spanish associations had made him somewhat
suspect to the British, who preferred to see
the glory of North American discovery go to
John Cabot. Not until after the Revolutionary
War, when Americans began casting around for
heroes unconnected with the British Monarchy,
was the name Columbus resurrected, generally
in the more elegant Latinized form Columbia,
and his memory generously imbued with the
spirit of grit and independent fortitude that
wasn't altogether merited.

"The semi-deification of Columbus began with
a few references in epic poems, and soon
communities and institutions were falling all
over themselves to create new names in his
honor. In 1784, King's College in New York
became Columbia College, and two years later,
South Carolina chose Columbia as the name for
its capital. In 1791, an American captain on
a ship named Columbia claimed a vast tract of
the Northwest for the young country and
dubbed it Columbia. (It later became the
states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho,
though the original name lives on north of
the border in British Columbia.) Journals,
clubs, and institutes ... were named for the
great explorer. The song 'Hail Columbia'
dates from 1798.

"After this encouraging start, Columbus's
life was given a kick into the higher realms
of myth by Washington Irving's ambitious, if
resplendently inaccurate, History of the
Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,
which came out in 1828 and was a phenomenal
best-seller in America, Europe, and Latin
America throughout the nineteenth

Bill Bryson, Made in America,
Perennial, 1995, 59-61.

Friday, October 09, 2009 10/9/09 - french and english revolutions

In today's excerpt - England's Glorious Revolution of
1688, in which the Catholic King James II was
overthrown by the English people and replaced with
the Protestants William and Mary in roles more
constrained by constitution and Parliament. European
historians most often portray 1789's French
Revolution as the bloody beginning of the turbulent
period which largely wiped away monarchies from the
continent. But England's Glorious Revolution, though
quickly reinterpreted by its historians as bloodless,
was as violent as France in 1789. (Historians also
note that America's Revolutionary War and Civil War
both had a number of combatants who opposed each
other that were descendants of families that first
opposed each other in England in 1688):

"England's Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 holds a
special place in our understanding of the modern
world and the revolutions that shaped it. For the better
part of three centuries scholars and commentators
identified it as a defining moment in England's
exceptional history. Political philosophers have
associated it with the origins of liberalism.
Sociologists have contrasted it with the French,
Russian and Chinese revolutions. Historians have
pointed to the Glorious Revolution as confirming the
unusual nature of the English state, the balanced
ancient constitution which limited the excesses both
of monarchical authority and popular liberty. ... All of
these interpretations derive their power from a deeply
held and widely repeated narrative of the revolution.

"Unfortunately, this narrative is wrong. ...

"Though we have come to view the Glorious
Revolution as bloodless, aristocratic and consensual,
the actual event was none of these things. The
revolution of 1688-89 was, of course, less bloody than
the terrible upheavals of the 20th century, but the
English endured a scale of violence against property
and persons similar to that of the French Revolution at
the end of the 18th century. Statistics that highlight the
violence of revolutionary France, such as those cited
by the historian Jack Goldstone, for example,
inevitably include the Napoleonic Wars.

statistics from the Nine Years War (1689-1697; also
called King William's War) and the wars in Scotland
and Ireland, all direct consequences of the revolution
of 1688-89, the percentages of dead and wounded
are comparable to the French case. Englishmen and
women throughout the country threatened one
another, destroyed one another's property, killed and
maimed one another throughout the revolutionary
period. Englishmen and women, from London to
Newcastle, from Plymouth to Norwich, experienced
violence and threats of violence, or lived in terrifying
fear of violence. This was not a tame event.

"Nor was it a staid negotiation conducted by elites.
Men and women of all social categories took to the
streets, marched in arms on England's byways and
highways and donated huge amounts of
money - some in very small quantities - to support
the revolutionary cause. When the members of the
House of Lords tried calmly to settle the succession
issue after James II had fled the country, an angry
crowd numbering in the tens of thousands cut short
the nobles' deliberations and forced their hands. ...
The English throughout the 1680s, 1690s and
thereafter were politically and ideologically divided.
There was no moment of English cohesion against
an un-English king. There was no period in the late
17th century in which the sensible people of England
collaborated to rid themselves of an irrational
monarch. The revolution of 1688-89 was, like all other
revolutions, violent, popular and divisive."

Steven Pincus, "1688: A Fight for the Future,"
History Today, October 2009, pp. 11-16.

Thursday, October 08, 2009 10/8/09 - german beer and prohibition

In today's enjoy excerpt - at the founding of our
country, Americans drank more alcohol than at any
time before or since, five gallons of pure alcohol per
person per year as opposed to two gallons today.
Currently, America is a nation of relatively moderate
drinkers, ranking around 20th among the world's
countries. Along the way, American anti-German
hysteria during World War I helped usher in thirteen
years of Prohibition:

"American prohibitionists believed the demon rum
and its church, the saloon, were the world's prime
sources of evil. 'When the saloon goes,' said Ernest
Cherrington, a leader of the Anti-Saloon League, 'the
devil will be ready to quit.' The American temperance
movement is as old as America itself, but it became a
political force in the mid-1800s, fueled in part by a
bias against immigrants, including Irish and Italian
Catholics, who were stereotyped as shiftless
alcoholics. After the Civil War, it spawned two powerful
groups - the Prohibition Party and [hatching-toting
Carry Nation's] Women's Christian Temperance
Union, whose slogan was 'For God, Home and Native

"But is wasn't the antics of Carry Nation that won the
fight for prohibition, it was the political savvy of the
Anti-Saloon League. ... Founded in 1895, the league
pioneered many of the techniques now used by
modern advocacy groups. Working through local
churches - generally rural Methodist or Baptist
churches - it raised money, endorsed candidates and
successfully lobbied for laws banning liquor in many
towns and counties. In 1905 the league demonstrated
its growing power by defeating Ohio Governor Myron
Herrick, who had thwarted the league's legislative
agenda--an upset that terrified wet politicians.

"In 1913 the league kicked off its drive for a
constitutional amendment prohibiting liquor with a
march on Washington and a massive letter-writing
campaign that flooded Congress with mail. The
amendment failed in 1914, but gained strength during
World War I, when the league exploited America's
anti-German hysteria by deliberately associating beer
with German-American brewers. 'Kaiserism abroad
and booze at home must go,' declared the league's
general counsel and wily Washington lobbyist, Wayne

"It worked. Congress passed the amendment in
1918. ... When the new law went into effect on January
17, 1920, evangelist Billy Sunday held a funeral for
John Barleycorn in Norfolk, Va. 'The slums will soon
be a memory,' he predicted. 'We will turn our prisons
into factories and our jails into storehouses and
corncribs. ... Hell will be forever for rent.'

"Alas, it didn't work out that way. Prohibitions not only
failed to eradicate slums and prisons, it even failed to
curtail drinking, a pastime that now took on the allure
of a forbidden thrill. ... In 1935, two years after
Prohibition's repeal, two middle-class alcoholics, Bill
Wilson and Bob Smith, founded an organization -
Alcoholics Anonymous - that proved far
more effective than Prohibition in combating

Peter Carlson, "Uneasy About Alcohol," American
History, December 2008, p. 37.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009 10/7/09 - raising money

In today's excerpt - in 1942, in spite of
over twenty
years of success on Broadway, primarily in
songwriting partnership with Larry Hart,
Richard Rodgers and his sponsor the Theater
Guild found themselves struggling and
groveling to raise the $83,000 ($1,000,000 in
today's dollars) needed for his new play
Oklahoma, in part because of his new
and lesser known songwriting partner, Oscar
Hammerstein. Oklahoma, of course, went
on to be one of the greatest financial
successes in Broadway history, and Rodgers
and Hammerstein went on to be its most
successful songwriting team, with a long
string of triumphs including South
Pacific, The Sound of Music, and

"Oscar Hammerstein's first choice of title
for the musical, Oklahoma, was
discarded lest backers assume the show was
about 'Okies' in the Depression. Cherokee
Strip, an alternative suggestion was
likewise abandoned for fear people would
think it was a burlesque show. So, although
no one really liked it, the safer Away We
Go! - borrowed from square
dancing lingo - became the working title.

"At first, the Guild's lack of funds did not
worry the composers; they had a half-century
of experience between them, a string of great
successes behind them. The money
would come. But no matter how industriously
[director Terry] Helburn tried, the major
producers would
not touch the show with a ten-foot pole, and
it was not difficult to see why. Apart from
Rodgers, none of the principals involved had
much to commend them to investors.
Hammerstein hadn't written anything
successful for a decade. ... Choreographer
Agnes de
Mille, a niece of the film director Cecil B.
de Mille, had choreographed only two shows
in the past half-decade, neither successful.
Nothing there to attract the money men.

"Feeling that established stars might
encourage investment, Terry Helburn had
suggested Shirley Temple for the role of
Laurey and Groucho Marx for the part of the
leering peddler, Ali Hakim. Rodgers and
Hammerstein held out for
singers and actors who would be right for the
parts, regardless whether their names had
box-office appeal. Innovative, perhaps, and
courageous, certainly, but not the stuff to
attract an $83,000 investment. Do another
show with Larry Hart, Rodgers was urged.
Give us another [hit], but not, for God's
sake, a musical
about two cowboys competing to take a
farmer's daughter to a box social.

"These reactions forced Rodgers and
Hammerstein into what must have been one of the
most humiliating experiences of their lives.
With half a century of hits behind them, a
formidable record of writing successfully for
both stage and screen, they were reduced to
working the 'penthouse circuit' cap in hand,
trying to raise money for the show. It was no
as Hammerstein recalled. 'It was hard to
finance, all right. We didn't have any stars, and
those who were putting up money for plays
felt you had to have stars. Dick and I would
go from penthouse to penthouse giving
auditions. Terry Helburn would narrate the story.
Dick would play and I would sing 'Pore Jud Is
Dead,' We weren't hugely successful.' ...

"Even when they augmented their
penthouse performances with the singers, the
process of raising money remained totally
unreliable and painfully slow. Often, they
would provide an evening of music and story
for the beautiful people in their glittering
palaces - and raise not a penny. ...

"Through producer Max Gordon, the Guild
approached the forceful, leather-tongued
Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, and
got him to attend an audition at Steinway
Hall. Cohn loved what he saw and promised
to put up the money. For a few days, everyone
thought their troubles
were over, but then Columbia Pictures' board
of directors disagreed with Cohn. The offer
was withdrawn, although Cohn did invest
$15,000 of his own money. Seeing the
hard-headed Cohn put that kind of money into
the show persuaded Max Gordon also to

"Agnes de Mille related how the last of the
money was raised. Terry Helburn went to
see S. N. Behrman, a playwright who had won
great acclaim with plays produced by the
Guild. 'Sam,' she said, 'you've got to take
$20,000 of this, because the Guild has done
so much for you.' And he said, 'But, Terry,
that's blackmail.' 'Yes,' she said. 'It is.'

Frederick Nolan, The Sound of Their
Music, Applause, Copyright 2002 by
Frederick Nolan, pp. 13-16.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009 10/6/09 - how to break a terrorist

In today's excerpt - the interrogators (or 'gators in
Army parlance) whose work led to locating and killing
Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq,
demonstrated once again in 2006 that the quickest
way to get most captives talking is to be nice to

"There's a joke interrogators like to tell: 'What's the
difference between a 'gator and a used car
salesman?' Answer: 'A 'gator has to abide by the
Geneva Conventions.'

"We 'gators don't hawk Chevys; we sell hope to
prisoners and find targets for shooters. Today, my
group of 'gators arrives in Iraq at a time when our
country is searching for a better way to conduct sales.

"After 9/11, military interrogators focused on two
techniques: fear and control. The Army trained
their 'gators to confront and dominate prisoners. This
led down the disastrous path to the Abu Ghraib
scandal. At Guantánamo Bay, the early interrogators
not only abused the detainees, they tried to belittle
their religious beliefs. I'd heard stories from a friend
who had been there that some of the 'gators even
tried to convert prisoners to Christianity.

"These approaches rarely yielded results. When the
media got wind of what those 'gators were doing, our
disgrace was detailed on every news broadcast and
front page from New York to Islamabad.

"Things are about to change. Traveling inside the
bowels of an air force C-130 transport, my group is
among the first to bring a new approach to
interrogating detainees. Respect, rapport, hope,
cunning, and deception are our tools. The old
ones - fear and control - are as obsolete as the buggy
whip. Unfortunately, not everyone embraces
change. ...

"When I went home [from my first tour Iraq] in June,
2003, I thought the war was over - mission
accomplished - but it had just changed form. We've
arrived in Iraq near the war's third anniversary. The
army, severely stretched between two wars and short
of personnel, has reached out to the other services for

"We're all special agents and experienced criminal
investigators for the air force. One of us is a civilian
agent and the rest of us are military. I'm the only
officer. Ever since the Abu Ghraib fiasco, the army has
struggled in searching for new ways to extract
information from detainees. We offer an alternative
approach. In the weeks to come, we'll try to prove our
new techniques work, but if we cross the wrong
people, we'll be sent home."

Matthew Alexander and John R. Bruning, How to
Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used
Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man
in Iraq, Free Press, Copyright 2008 by Matthew
Alexander, pp. 5-6, 10-11.

Monday, October 05, 2009 10/5/09 - the dow jones averages

In today's excerpt - the Dow Jones Industrial Average, first published in 1896 at a time when railroads and even the emerging utility market overshadowed the importance of 'industrial' companies on the New York Stock Exchange:

"Recipes for predicting stock prices were in urgent demand on Wall Street throughout [in the late 1800s]. By far the most famous was the Dow Theory, developed by Charles Dow, co-founder of Dow, Jones & Co. in 1882 and the first editor of the company's flagship publication, The Wall Street Journal, launched in 1889. ...

"Dow, [his old newspaper friend] Eddie Jones, and a friend named Charles Milford Bergstrasser soon decided to go into the news-distributing business themselves. Deciding that Bergstrasser's name was less than euphonious, they called their new company Dow, Jones & Co. (the comma did not disappear for almost fifty years). They opened for business in November 1882 at 15 Wall Street, down wooden stairs to a small, unpainted room next to a soda-water establishment. ...

"Underlying the Dow Theory is the assumption that trends in stock prices, once under way, will tend to persist until the market itself sends out a signal that these trends are about to lose their momentum and go into reverse. ...

"Even people who have never heard of the Dow Theory are familiar with the Dow Jones Averages, Charles Dow's most lasting contribution to finance. This was the first attempt to create some sort of aggregate indicator of stock-market trends. ...

"The first Dow Jones Average appeared in their Afternoon News Letter on July 3, 1884. It consisted of the closing prices of eleven companies: nine railroads and two industrials. Dow's idea was to provide an overall measure of the performance of active companies. ...

"In 1882, Dow predicted that 'The industrial market is destined to be the great speculative market of the United States.' He recognized that his list of companies would change as time passed. After twelve years of constant revision of the composition of the Dow Jones Average, he published the first strictly industrial list on May 26, 1896.

"Of twelve industrials included in that list, only one still appears in the Industrial Average: General Electric. The other eleven were American Cotton Oil, American Sugar, American Tobacco, Chicago Gas, Distilling and Cattle Feeding, Laclede Gas, National Lead, North American, Tennessee Coal & Iron, US Leather preferred, and US Rubber. Later listings included such diverse items as Victor Talking Machine, Famous Players Lasky, and Baldwin Locomotive.

"The twelve stocks in the first industrial list included all the industrial companies then traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The other companies listed consisted of fifty-three railroads and six utilities. Shares of banks and insurance companies then traded over-the-counter rather than on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

"The term 'industrial' is really a misnomer, because not all of the companies listed as industrials were industrial companies. They were simply all the companies that were neither railroads nor utilities. Dow Jones published separate averages for the railroads and the utilities.

"The sparseness of industrials relative to rails in the list is evidence of the boldness of Dow's foresight about the industrial market, as well as an indication of the importance of railroads to the American economy in the late nineteenth century. It reflects something else as well: Most industrial companies did not need as much capital as the rails, which required huge financing for their rolling stock and right-of-way. "

Peter L. Bernstein, Capital Ideas, Wiley, Copyright 2005 by Peter L. Bernstein, pp. 23-28.

Friday, October 02, 2009 10/2/09 - Pirates and Anarchy

In today's excerpt - pirates and anarchy:

"From countless films and books we all know that, historically, pirates were criminally insane, traitorous thieves, torturers and terrorists. Anarchy was the rule, and the rule of law was nonexistent.

"Not so, dissents George Mason University economist Peter T. Leeson in his myth-busting book, The Invisible Hook (Princeton University Press, 2009), which shows how the unseen hand of economic exchange produces social cohesion even among pirates. Piratical mythology can't be true, in fact, because no community of people could possibly be successful at anything for any length of time if their society were utterly anarchistic. Thus, Leeson says, pirate life was 'orderly and honest' and had to be to meet buccaneers' economic goal of turning a profit. 'To cooperate for mutual gain - indeed, to advance their criminal organization at all - pirates needed to prevent their outlaw society from degenerating into bedlam. 'There is honor among thieves,' as Adam Smith noted in The Theory of Moral Sentiments: 'Society cannot subsist among those who are at all times ready to hurt and injure one another. ... If there is any society among robbers and murderers, they must at least ... abstain from robbing and murdering one another.'

"Pirate societies, in fact, provide evidence for Smith's theory that economies are the result of bottom-up spontaneous self-organized order that naturally arises from social interactions, as opposed to top-down bureaucratic design. Just as historians have demonstrated that the 'Wild West' of 19th-century America was a relatively ordered society in which ranchers, farmers and miners concocted their own rules and institutions for conflict resolution way before the long arm of federal law reached them, Leeson shows how pirate communities democratically elected their captains and constructed constitutions. Those documents commonly outlined rules about drinking, smoking, gambling, sex (no boys or women allowed onboard), use of fire and candles, fighting and disorderly conduct, desertion and shirking one's duties during battle. ... Enforcement was key. Just as civil courts required witnesses to swear on the Bible, pirate crews had to consent to the captain's codes before sailing. In the words of one observer: 'All swore to 'em, upon a Hatchet for want of a Bible. Whenever any enter on board of these Ships voluntarily, they are obliged to sign all their Articles of Agreement ... to prevent Disputes and Ranglings afterwards.' Thus, the pirate code 'emerged from piratical interactions and information sharing, not from a pirate king who centrally designed and imposed a common code on all current and future sea bandits.'

"From where, then, did the myth of piratical lawlessness and anarchy arise? From the pirates themselves, who helped to perpetrate the myth to minimize losses and maximize profits. Consider the Jolly Roger flag that displayed the skull and crossbones. Leeson says it was a signal to merchant ships that they were about to be boarded by a marauding horde of heartless heathens; the nonviolent surrender of all booty was therefore perceived as preferable to fighting back. Of course, to maintain that reputation, pirates occasionally had to engage in violence, reports of which they provided to newspaper editors, who duly published them in gory and exaggerated detail. But as 18th century English pirate Captain Sam Bellamy explained, 'I scorn to do any one a Mischief, when it is not for my Advantage.' Leeson concludes, 'By signaling pirates' identity to potential targets, the Jolly Roger prevented bloody battle that would needlessly injure or kill not only pirates, but also innocent merchant seamen.'

"This economic analysis also explains why Somali pirates typically receive ransom payoffs instead of violent resistance from shipping crews and their owners. It is in everyone's economic interest to negotiate the transactions as quickly and peacefully as possible. Markets operating in a lawless society are more like black markets than free markets, and because the Somali government has lost control of its society, Somali pirates are essentially free to take the law into their own hands. Until Somalia establishes a rule of law and a lawful free market for its citizens, lawless black market piracy will remain profitable. Until then, an-arrgh-chy will reign."

Michael Schermer, "Captain Hook Meets Adam Smith," Scientific American, October 2009, p. 34

Thursday, October 01, 2009 10/1/09 - The Earth is Round

In today's encore excerpt - the ancient Greeks determined the Earth was a sphere and calculated its diameter over 1700 years before Columbus sailed to America:

"The Greeks had noticed that on occasion, Earth blocks the sunlight from hitting the Moon, causing what is called a lunar eclipse. By observing the shadow of Earth cast upon the Moon during a lunar eclipse, they could see that Earth was also a round body, a sphere, just like the Moon and the Sun.

"Eratosthenes, a Greek scholar and the chief of the famous ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt, around 240 BCE, knew that in a town far to the south, Syene, there was a deep water well. On the summer solstice, the longest day of the year - June 21 - the full image of the Sun could be seen reflecting, for a brief moment, in the water of the deep well in Syene precisely at noon. Therefore, the Sun at noon must be passing exactly overhead in Syene. He noticed, however, that on this same day, the Sun did not pass directly overhead in his hometown of Alexandria, which was 800 km (500 mi) due north of Syene. Instead, it missed the zenith, the point directly overhead in the sky, by about seven degrees. Eratosthenes concluded that the zenith direction was different by seven degrees in Alexandria from that in Syene. Using some elementary geometry, he could determine the diameter of Earth and found it to be 12,800 km (8,000 mi).

"Earth's true diameter, as we know it today, depends slightly upon where you measure it, since Earth is oblate, that is, wider through the equator than through the poles, and it also has mountains, tides, and so on, that require us to quote only an 'average value.' The average diameter of Earth through the equator is about 12,760 km (7,929 mi), and through the polar axis, about 12,720 km (7,904 mi). This means that Eratosthenes derived the correct result for Earth's diameter to an astounding precision of better that 1 percent, assuming Earth was a sphere."

Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill, Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe, Prometheus, Copyright 2004 by Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill, pp. 18-19