Friday, January 29, 2010 1/29/10 - predators, not risktakers

In today's excerpt - great entrepreneurs are
not risk takers:

"In 1969, Ted Turner wanted to buy a
television station. He was thirty years
old. He had inherited a billboard business
from his father, which was doing
well. But he was bored, and television
seemed exciting. ...

"The station in question was WJRJ, Channel
17, in Atlanta. It was an independent station
on the UHF band, the
lonely part of the television spectrum
which viewers needed a special antenna to
find. It was housed in a run-down
cinder-block building near a funeral home,
leading to the joke that it was at deaths door.
The equipment was falling apart. The
staff was incompetent. It had no decent
programming to speak of, and it was losing
more than half a million dollars a year.
Turner's lawyer, Tench Coxe, and his
accountant, Irwin Mazo, were firmly opposed
to the idea. 'We tried to make it
clear that - yes - this thing might work,
but if it doesn't everything will collapse,'
Mazo said, years later. 'Everything you've
got will be gone. ... It wasn't just us,
either. Everybody told him not to do it.'

"Turner didn't listen. He was ... the embodiment
of the entrepreneur as risk-taker. He
bought the station, and so began one of
the great broadcasting empires of the
twentieth century.

"What is sometimes forgotten amid
the mythology, however, is that Turner
the proprietor of any old billboard
company. He had inherited the largest
outdoor-advertising firm in the South,
and billboards, in the nineteen-sixties
and seventies, were enormously lucrative.
They benefited from favorable tax
depreciation rules, they didn't require
much capital investment, and they produced
rivers of cash. WJRJ's losses could
be used to offset the taxes on the profits of
Turner's billboard business. A television
station, furthermore, fit very nicely into
his existing business. Television was about
selling ads, and Turner was very experienced
at ad-selling. WJRJ may have been
a virtual unknown in the Atlanta market,
but Turner had billboards all over the city
that were blank about fifteen per cent of
the time. He could advertise his new station
free. As for programming, Turner
had a fix for that, too. In those days, the
networks offered their local affiliates a full
slate of shows, and whenever an affiliate
wanted to broadcast local programming,
such as sports or news, the national shows
were pre-empted. Turner realized that he
could persuade the networks in New York
to let him have whatever programming their
affiliates weren't running. That's exactly
what happened. ...

"[Biographer Christian] Williams writes that
Turner was 'attracted to the risk' of the
deal, but it seems
just as plausible to say that he was
attracted by the deal's lack of risk. 'We don't
want to put it all on the line, because the
result can't possibly be worth the risk' Mazo
recalls warning Turner. Put it all on the
line? The purchase price for WJRJ was $2.5
million. Similar properties in
that era went for many times that, and Turner
paid with a stock swap engineered
in such a way that he didn't have to
a penny down. Within two years,
the station was breaking even. By 1973 it
was making a million dollars in profit.

"In a recent study, 'From Predators to
Icons,' the French scholars Michel Villette
and Catherine Vuillermot set out to
discover what successful entrepreneurs
have in common. They present case histories
of businessmen who built their own
empires - ranging from Sam Walton, of
Wal-Mart, to Bernard Arnault, of the
luxury-goods conglomerate L.V.M.H. -
and chart what they consider the typical
course of a successful entrepreneur's career.
There is almost always, they conclude, a
moment of great capital accumulation - a
particular transaction that catapults him
into prominence. ... Villette and Vuillermot
go on, 'The
businessman looks for partners to a
transaction who undervalue what they sell to
him or overvalue what they buy from him
in comparison to his own evaluation.' He
moves decisively. He repeats the good
deal over and over again, until the
opportunity closes, and - most crucially - his
focus throughout that sequence is on
hedging his bets and minimizing his
chances of failure. The truly successful
businessman, in Villette and Vuillermot's
telling, is anything but a risk-taker. He is
a predator, and predators seek to incur the
least risk possible while hunting."

Malcolm Gladwell, "The Sure Thing," The New
January 28, 2010, pp. 24-25.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 1/28/10 - kahlil gibran

In today's encore excerpt - Kahlil Gibran
(1883-1931), author of the much-loved book of
poems "The Prophet." Gibran was born to a
poor family of Maronite Christians in
Lebanon, moved with his mother to a ghetto in
Boston in 1895, then lived the remainder of
his life primarily in Boston and New York.
Author of seventeen books, he was never
critically esteemed, and lived primarily
through the generosity of the women in his
life. An alcoholic, he died a recluse from
"cirrhosis of the liver with incipient

"Shakespeare, we are told, is the
best-selling poet of all time. Second is
Lao-tzu. Third is Kahlil Gibran, who owes his
place on that list to one book, 'The
Prophet,' a collection of twenty-six prose
poems, delivered as sermons by a fictional
wise man in a faraway time and place. Since
its publication, in 1923, 'The Prophet' has
sold more than nine million copies in its
American edition alone. ... 'The Prophet'
started fast - it sold out its first printing
in a month - and then it got faster, until,
in the nineteen-sixties, its sales sometimes
reached five thousand copies a week. It was
the Bible of that decade. ...

"What made 'The Prophet' so fantastically
successful? At the opening of the book, we
are told that Almustafa, a holy man, has been
living in exile, in a city called Orphalese,
for twelve years. ... A ship is now coming to
take him back to the island of his birth.
Saddened by his departure, people gather
around and ask him for his final words of
wisdom - on love, on work, on joy and sorrow,
and so forth. He obliges, and his
lucubrations on these matters occupy most of
the book. Almustafa's advice is not bad: love
involves suffering; children should be given
their independence. Who, these days, would
say otherwise? More than the soundness of its
advice, however, the mere fact that 'The
Prophet' was an advice book - or, more
precisely, 'inspirational literature' -
probably insured a substantial readership at
the start. Gibran's closest counterpart today
is the Brazilian sage Paulo Coelho, and his
books have sold nearly a hundred million

"Then, there is the pleasing ambiguity of
Almustafa's counsels. ... If you look
closely, ... you will see that much of the
time he is saying something specific; namely,
that everything is everything else. Freedom
is slavery; waking is dreaming; belief is
doubt; joy is pain; death is life. So,
whatever you're doing, you needn't worry,
because you're also doing the opposite. Such
paradoxes ... now became his favorite
literary device. They appeal not only by
their seeming correction of conventional
wisdom but also by their hypnotic power,
their negation of rational processes. ...

"Furthermore, 'The Prophet' is comforting.
Gibran [said] that the whole meaning of the
book was 'You are far, far greater than you
know - and All is well.' To people in doubt
or in trouble, that is good news. ...
Finally, 'The Prophet' is short - ninety-six
pages in its original edition. ...

"While the literary journals paid some
attention to Gibran early on, they eventually
dropped him. This is no surprise. His leading
traits - idealism, vagueness, sentimentality
- were exactly what the young writers of the
twenties were running away from. ... But, if
the artists of the time were throwing off
idealism and sentiment, ordinary people were
not. They wanted to hear about their souls,
and Sinclair Lewis was not obliging them.
Hence the popularity of 'The Prophet' with
the general public. After its publication,
Gibran received bags of fan mail [and was]
besieged by visitors."

Joan Acocella, "Prophet Motive: The Kahlil
Gibran phenomenon," The New Yorker,
January 7, 2008, pp. 72-76.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 1/27/10 - the new yorker magazine

In today's excerpt - from questionable beginnings in
1922, a time as fertile for new magazines as the
recent past has been for new websites, The New
Yorker magazine went on to cause the demise of
the more established Vanity Fair, and to
become one of the most influential magazines in the

"In 1922, Harold Ross began had developed a plan
for a new magazine focused on the New York scene, a
magazine to be slanted toward sophisticates and to
carry the legend Not for the little old lady from
Dubuque. He talked about the idea so
unceasingly, holding people tightly by the arm to keep
them from escaping, that he soon came to be
regarded as even more tedious than untidy, which
was saying a lot. His friends also thought the
magazine didn't have a chance in the world,
particularly with Ross as its founder and editor. 'If I
had any thoughts about him then,' [playwright] George
Kaufman told James Thurber long afterward, 'they
were to the effect that he didn't belong in the Army or in
civilian life either. He carried a dummy of the
magazine for two years, everywhere, and I'm afraid he
was rather a bore with it.'

"Kaufman and the others were almost right; the
magazine would probably never have gotten started if
the playwright had not himself, though unintentionally,
done something which brought it about. He invited
Ross to a poker game at his apartment one evening
and seated him next to Raoul Fleischmann, a very
pleasant and very rich young man who was heir to a
baking and yeast fortune. As it turned out,
Fleischmann was fascinated by the odd-looking man
seated next to him, and by the things he was saying.
When the card game was over, he invited Ross to
meet him again and discuss the matter further. And
after a number of additional meetings and
discussions, he agreed to bankroll the new

"The first issue of The New Yorker was dated
February 21, 1925, and appeared on the newsstands
on the 19th. It was terrible. Its stories and articles
were dull, and its cartoons and humor pieces were
unfunny. The early issues were also as sloppy as the
magazine's editor. A poem was run in one issue and
then accidentally run again a few issues later. By
August, the magazine, which had started with a press
run of 15,000 copies, was selling only 2700 copies
per issue, and Frank Crowninshield, editor of the fat
and successful Vanity Fair, looked over an early
New Yorker and said complacently, 'Well, I don't think
we have much to worry about with this thing.'

"The magazine almost ceased to struggle months
before it reached its August low. It was doing so badly
three months after it started that Fleischmann,
watching his money pour away at a rate fast enough to
alarm even a man of his resources, called a luncheon
meeting on May 19 and told the glum group facing him
that he was pulling out. Ross tried to convince him to
hang on, but Fleischmann was adamant, and the
lunch broke up with the magazine under death notice.
It was saved by a chance encounter at a friend's
festivities. Frank Adams's was being remarried that
night, and, at the wedding party, Ross seized hold of
Fleischmann and began to plead with him again to
support the magazine a while longer. In what Thurber
later described as 'that atmosphere of hope,
beginning, and champagne,' Fleischmann finally
agreed, and this time held on until the magazine
became so successful that it began to bring him more
money than his family's yeast and baking. ... In ten
years, it had put Frank Crowninshield and his
Vanity Fair out of business."

Scott Meredith, George Kaufman and His
Friends, Doubleday, Copyright 1974 by Playboy,
pp. 283-289.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 1/26/10 - business people

In today's excerpt - money. With the
Industrial Revolution, money began to replace
family lineage and civic achievement as the
arbiter of social standing - especially in
post-Civil War America. A case in point was
the arrival of the nouveau riche among
Philadelphia's upper crust Rittenhouse

"[Rittenhouse Square resident] Henry Cohen's
son Charles later
recalled that he or any of his classmates
'could stand with a snowball on the corner of
Rittenhouse Square any winter morning and
take his pick of the top hats
of twenty millionaires.' Had any of those
boys thrown that snowball in 1867, he might
have hit the
top hat of Colonel Thomas A. Scott, the
Cohens' next-door neighbor to the west.

"Scott was a self-made man who by 1860 had
worked his way up from railroad station agent
to first vice president of the Pennsylvania
Railroad. ... By 1874 he was the railroad's
president; by the time
of his death in 1881 the Pennsylvania
Railroad was the world's largest corporation
twice over.

"Philadelphia's postwar industrial growth -
much of it generated by the Pennsylvania
Railroad's expansion 'unsettled the whole
social system of the city,'
wrote Alexander McClure, editor of Old
Time Notes and a frequent commentator on
social mores. This shift troubled members of
the city's prewar upper class,
who had mostly defined themselves by their
descent from old families or civic
achievements. Often the words 'ostentatious'
or 'new rich' were whispered disparagingly in
polite company.

"After attending a party in what he allowed
were 'handsome rooms, the
diarist Sidney Fisher noted in his diary on
February 1, 1866, 'The tone of the
party, its general effect, was deficient in
refinement, in dignity, in short it was
rather vulgar. And why not? Business
people are now in society, here as in New

"Until the Civil War, 'our society had been a
close corporation, largely professional,'
lamented Mrs. Frederick Rhinelander Jones,
who bore several old distinguished
Philadelphia names. 'Some people had more
money than others, as they have always
had since the civilised world began, but
riches in themselves were no criterion. ...
We all knew each other, and had many small

"The jeweler J. E. Caldwell, who catered to
Philadelphia society, told his
friends that after the Civil War there was
such extraordinary demand for jewels
that it was hard for him to keep up with
orders. To his great surprise, he found
he no longer knew most of his customers,
since many of them were buying their first
diamonds. ...

"In the post-Civil War years, entertaining
became costly, lavish, and 'gaudy in
awkward decoration.' The new moneyed crowd,
according to Fisher, 'plunged
into the most extravagant display in efforts
not merely to imitate, but to surpass the
hospitality and social distinction of the
cultured families of the city.'
To old Philadelphians, Rittenhouse Square
became synonymous with the newly
rich industrialists who possessed more money
than they knew how to spend

Nancy M. Heinzen, The Perfect Square, Temple,
Copyright 2009 by Nancy M. Heinzen, pp. 61-64.

Monday, January 25, 2010 1/25/10 - prester john

In today's excerpt - in the Middle Ages, the leaders of Europe - popes, bishops, and kings - held a firm belief in the existence of a mysterious Christian king from the Far East named Prester John. This belief gave them comfort in the years after the Muslims captured Jerusalem and gained dominance over the Middle East and the Mediterranean: "For decades Christians in the area had been nurturing a religious fantasy, and ... fantasy was this: A wealthy and powerful christian priest-king from the East had for some time been making his way toward the West. A direct descendant of the Magi, he was known as Prester John, and he was on a mission: to unite the Christians of East and West, to defeat Muslims armies everywhere he found them, and to take back Jerusalem for all time. ...

"The first surviving mention of Prester John dates from 1145. It derives from a Syrian prelate named Hugh, who had traveled to Europe that year to make an appeal for a new Crusade. Christian forces had successfully established themselves in the Holy Land at the turn of the century, but those forces were now quickly losing ground to advancing
Muslim armies, and desperately needed help. Hugh [portrayed Prester John as a potential ally.]...

"The story of Prester John would be told repeatedly in the decades that followed, but it might well have vanished from memory had not a curious letter - one of the great literary hoaxes of all time - begun to circulate in Europe in 1165, purportedly written by Prester John himself ... The letter may have been composed to generate support for a new Crusade or it may simply have been a joke. Whatever it was, it seems to have been accepted as genuine, and in the decades and centuries that followed, it would circulate widely, translated into many different languages - and would exert a lasting influence on the ways in which Europeans imagined the East.

"Prester John introduced himself imperiously in the letter. 'I, Prester John, who reign supreme;' he announced, 'exceed in riches, virtue, and power all creatures who dwell under heaven.' He ruled over seventy-two vassal kings, he continued, and twelve archbishops; he fed thirty thousand soldiers each day at tables made of gold, amethyst, and emerald; he maintained a great army dedicated to protecting Christians everywhere, and he had dedicated himself to waging perpetual war against the enemies of Christ, ...

"Prester John was both specific and vague when it came to describing where he was from. 'Our magnificence dominates the Three Indias;' wrote, 'and extends to Farther India, where the body of St. Thomas the Apostle rests. It reaches through the desert toward the place of the rising of the sun.' In the early Middle Ages, Europeans knew India as little more than a distant and mysterious part of the world somewhere to the east of the Holy Land, but by the twelfth century
they had begun to divide it into three parts: Nearer India (the northern part of the Indian subcontinent and points east); Farther India (the southern part of India, and the spice producing regions of the Far East); and Middle India (Ethiopia and other African kingdoms). The division may seem odd to us today, but substitute 'East' for 'India' and you get something like our own peculiar way of dividing Asia: the Near East, the Far East, and the Middle East.

"By the early 1200s the myth of Prester John had taken root in Europe and the Holy Land. Jerusalem by now was once again in Muslim hands, and the idea of yet another Crusade, the fifth, was taking shape. One [bishop] wrote in 1217, 'that there are more Christians than Muslims living in Islamic countries. The Christians of the Orient, as far away as the land of Prester John, have many kings, who, when they hear that the Crusade has arrived, will come to its aid.' "

Toby Lester, The Fourth Part of the World, Free Press, Copyright 2009 by Toby Lester, pp. 49-52.

Friday, January 22, 2010 1/22/10 - lo

In today's excerpt - the first internet message, sent in
1969, was "lo." The meaning and efficacy of
messages sent via the internet has been declining
ever since:

"On October 29, 1969, the message 'lo' became the
first ever to travel between two computers connected
via the ARPANET, the computer network that would
become the Internet.The truncated transmission
traveled about 400 miles (643 kilometers) between
the University of California, Los Angeles, and the
Stanford Research Institute.The electronic dispatch
was supposed to be the word "login," but only the first
two letters were successfully sent before the system
crashed. ...

"Created by the U.S. Department of Defense's
Advanced Research Projects Agency, the original
ARPANET was a network of just four computer
terminals installed at universities and research
institutions in California and Utah. With its truncated
missive 40 years ago today, ARPANET became the
world's first operational packet-switching network.

" 'Packet-switching was the original transmission
mechanism [for our network] in 1969 and is still the
underlying technology of the Internet today,' said
Leonard Kleinrock, a UCLA computer engineer who
was involved in ARPANET's creation. In a packet-
switched connection, a message from one computer
is broken down into chunks, or packets, of data and
sent through multiple routes to another computer.
Once all the packets arrive at their destination, they
are pasted back together into the original message.

" 'It's as if a long letter were written on a series of
small postcards, and each postcard was mailed
separately,' Kleinrock said. Packet-switching replaced
a less efficient and less flexible transmission
technology used by early telephone companies called
circuit-switching, which relied on dedicated
connections between two parties. 'When you and I talk
over a circuit-switched connection, that connection is
totally dedicated to our conversation,' Kleinrock
explained. 'Even if we pause to take a coffee break,
the connection is still ours and sits by idly while we
are silent.'

"By contrast, data packets in a packet-switched
transmission have multiple routes open to them and
will hop on to the one with the least amount of traffic.
In this way, no route is idle for long. In the years
following ARPANET's deployment, other packet-
switching networks were created, but they were
internal networks that had only limited access to one
other. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that engineers
developed a way to merge networks to create the
Internet. In 1984 the domain system that
includes .com, .gov, and .edu was established. A
decade after that, the first commercial web browser,
Netscape, became available. "

Ker Than, "The Internet Turns Forty," National
Geographic News, October 29, 2009


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Thursday, January 21, 2010 1/21/10 - a tiny slice of land

In today's encore excerpt - 70% of the
world's population resides on just 7% of the
world's land:

"Today, there are just over 6 billion people
on earth. Six hundred years ago, in 1400,
humankind was just 6 percent of that, or
about 350 million, slightly more than the
current population of the United States. ...
The 350 million people living in 1400 were
not uniformly distributed across the face of
the earth, but rather clustered in a very few
pockets of much higher density. Indeed, of
the 60 million square miles of dry land on
earth, most people lived on just 4.25 million
square miles, or barely 7 percent of the dry
land. The reason, of course, is that that
land was the most suitable for agriculture,
the rest being covered by swamp, steppe,
desert, or ice.

"Moreover, those densely populated regions of
earth corresponded to just fifteen highly
developed civilizations, the most notable
being (from east to west) Japan, Korea,
China, Indonesia, Indonesia, Indochina, the
Islamic West Asia, Europe, Aztec, and Inca.
Astoundingly, nearly all of the 350 million
people alive in 1400 lived in a handful of
civilizations occupying a very small
proportion of the earth's surface. Even more
astoundingly, that still holds true today: 70
percent of the world's six billion people
live on those same 4.25 million square

Robert B. Marks, The Origins of the Modern
World, Rowman and Littlefield, Copyright
2007 by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers,
pp. 23-24.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 1/20/10 - el salvador

In today's excerpt - El Salvador achieved
peace after a decade-long civil war by
providing the combatants, called the FMLN,
with land through an "arms-for-land" program
and integrating them into the political
process as a new political party, rather than
by the essentially impossible task of
eradicating the combatants:

"El Salvador [had] a GDP of about $6
billion in 1991, average income per capita
was around $1,100. ... However,
the country's income and wealth were highly
concentrated. It was often heard
that about 85 percent of the land belonged to
14 families. Despite an agrarian
reform program that started in 1980, in the
early 1990s it was estimated that
there were about 300,000 families of
campesinos (small farmers) who still had
no land. ...

"The roots of El Salvador's decade-long civil
war extended deep into the nineteenth
century. As E. Torres-Rivas has pointed out,
Salvadoran society
systematically generated economic
marginalization, social segregation, and
political repression. Land tenure was as much
a root cause of the conflict
that raged throughout the 1980s as was the
overbearing power of the armed
forces. ...

"After a decade-long war, with over 100,000
estimated dead and serious damage
to human capital and physical infrastructure,
a Peace Agreement between the
government of El Salvador and the Frente
Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion
Nacional (FMLN), signed on January 16, 1992,
in the Chapultepec Castle in
Mexico City, created high expectations. ...
Damage to the country's infrastructure as a
result of the civil war was
estimated at $1.5 billion to $2.0 billion
(more than 30 percent of 1990 GDP). ...

"After the conclusion of the peace
agreements, El Salvador embarked on a
complex war-to-peace transition. ... The land
situation in the conflict zones was very
complex. Production
had been virtually paralyzed during the war
and infrastructure was seriously
damaged. As landowners abandoned or were
forced off their land, landless
peasants had moved in. During the peace
negotiations, the FMLN had insisted
on the legalization of the landholders'
precarious tenure as a reward for their
crucial support to the FMLN's largely
rural-based guerrilla movement. The
landholders were also expected to provide
electoral support for the FMLN's
post-conflict political ambitions. Moreover,
the problem had to be addressed in any case,
regardless of the FMLN position, lest it
remain as a potential
source of instability as landowners tried to
recover their land.

"The objective of the 'arms-for-land' program
- which was of central importance to the
maintenance of the ceasefire - was to provide
demobilizing combatants with the means for
reintegration into the productive economy by
providing credit to potential beneficiaries
to purchase land. The agreement
also contemplated supplementary short-term
programs (agricultural training, distribution
of agricultural tools, basic household goods,
and academic
instruction) and
medium-term programs (credit for production
housing, and technical assistance). ...

"The country moved a long way in this
transition. Although successive
Salvadoran presidents have continued to be
elected from the [incumbent] Allanza
Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), in the
March 2000 elections, the FMLN won
31 of 84 seats in the unicameral legislative
assembly. This was a remarkable
achievement for the FMLN, barely eight years
after becoming a political party,
allowing it to block bills requiring a
two-thirds majority. This moved the
country further ahead in the political
transition. In the municipal elections of
1997, the opposition had won about 80 percent
of the largest cities, including
the capital. ...

"In an evaluation of the 1992-2004 period,
the Inter-American Development
Bank (IADB 2005) concluded that Salvadoran
society had made a successful
transition to peacetime and has gained
considerable ground in terms of stability,
economic modernization, and poverty

Graciana del Castillo, Rebuilding War-Torn
States, Oxford, Copyright 2008 by
Graciana del Castillo, pp. 103-119.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 1/19/10 - shoot a policeman

In today's excerpt - the blues were born in
the harshest economic and social
circumstances. And so the earliest blues
songs dealt with the harshest
themes. The very first blues song to be
recorded was "Crazy Blues" in 1920:

"In 1920, "Crazy Blues," the first blues
recording by a black
singer, was released. The song was composed
by Perry Bradford,
a black songwriter, bandleader, and promoter
with a background
in vaudeville who had moved from Alabama to
New York, the
capital of America's entertainment,
music-publishing, and
recording industries. Bradford persuaded Okeh
Records, one of
the smaller companies, that there was a
market for blues in the
black community. He would supply the song and
the singer,
Mamie Smith - a Cincinnati-born vaudeville
veteran who performed a wide range of
material that included blues - and would
organize the Jazz Hounds to back her up.
'Crazy Blues' was
structured like a popular tune with an
introduction and multiple
strains, but one of them was in the
twelve-bar form; the lyrics
dealt with heartbreak, desertion, and
revenge, culminating with
the singer's vow to get high on dope and
shoot a policeman. The
record became a smash, and Bradford would
later claim it sold
more than a million copies. Whatever its
actual sales figures, it
made other record companies take notice and
begin to sign blues
singers from the ranks of female vaudeville
stars. The larger
Columbia Records even released a rival
recording of 'Crazy
Blues' sung by Mary Stafford. When Columbia's
lawyer asked
Bradford to waive his publisher's royalties
in return for making his song famous.
Bradford wrote back that he didn't 'waive'
anything but the American flag. ...

"One of the first great folk-blues performers
to be recorded came

from Texas. Singer, guitarist, and composer
Blind Lemon

Jefferson recorded nearly a hundred blues
songs between 1926 and
1929. Jefferson had a strong voice that
easily traversed his two-octave
range; he attacked his guitar with long
staccato runs of notes,
almost constantly improvising and varying his
performances. He
sang about railroads, liquor, jails,
violence, extreme poverty, and
wild women, displaying a gift for startling
themes and novel
imagery that seemed to belie his blindness.
Growing up in rural
poverty in Wortham, Texas, Jefferson
performed for tips on the
streets of Dallas; by the height of his
recording career, he was
around the South in a chauffeured sedan,
having become a
household name in much of black America.
Jefferson's success
opened the door for many other blues
singer/guitarists to record
in the late 1920s and on through the 1930s,
and he set an almost

unapproachable standard that raised the level
of performance
throughout the genre. Among the many
guitarists he influenced
was Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), who
performed several of
Jefferson's songs throughout his career.
Jefferson's playing would
also amaze and inspire such solo performers
as Lightnin' Hopkins,
who would adapt a somewhat simplified version
of Jefferson's
guitar style to the electric guitar in the
1940s, and T-Bone Walker,
would add more complex, jazzy harmonies to
Jefferson's foundation, applying it to the
electric guitar as a lead instrument in a
blues band. As a youth, Walker had been
Jefferson's 'lead boy' in Dallas, and from
the 1940s onward, Walker directly or
indirectly influenced almost every lead
guitarist in a blues band."

Robert Santelli, Holly George-Warren, Jim
Brown, editors, American Roots Music, Abrams,
Copyright 2001 by Ginger Group Productions,
Inc., and Rolling Stone Press, pp. 42-45.

Monday, January 18, 2010 1/18/10 - birthdates

In today's excerpt - the effect of birthdate
on athletic performance:

"If you visit the locker room of a
world-class soccer
team early in the calendar year, you are more
likely to interrupt a
birthday celebration than if you arrive later
in the year. A recent tally of
the British national youth leagues, for
instance, shows that fully half of
the players were born between January and
March, with the other half
spread out over the nine remaining months.
On a similar German
team, 52 elite players were born between
January and March, with just
4 players born between October and December.

"Why such a severe birthdate bulge?
Most elite athletes begin playing their
sports when they are quite
young. Since youth sports are organized by
age, the leagues naturally
impose a cutoff birthdate. The youth soccer
leagues in Europe, like
many such leagues, use December 31 as the
cutoff date.

"Imagine now that you coach in a league for
seven-year-old boys and are assessing two
players. The first one (his name is Jan) was
born on
January 1, while the second one (his name is
Tomas) was born 364
days later, on December 31. So even though
they are both technically
seven-year-olds, Jan is a year older than
Tomas - which, at this tender
age, confers substantial advantages. Jan is
likely to be bigger, faster,
and more mature than Tomas.

"So while you may be seeing maturity rather
than raw ability, it
doesn't much matter if your goal is to pick
the best players for your
team. It probably isn't in a coach's interest
to play the scrawny younger
kid who, if he only had another year of
development, might be a star.

"And thus the cycle begins. Year after year,
the bigger boys like Jan
are selected, encouraged, and given feedback
and playing time, while
boys like Tomas eventually fall away. This
'relative-age effect,' as it has
come to be known, is so strong in many sports
that its advantages last
all the way through to the professional

"K. Anders Ericsson, an enthusiastic,
bearded, and burly Swede, is the
ringleader of a merry band of relative-age
scholars scattered across the
globe. He is now a professor of psychology at
Florida State University,
where he uses empirical research to learn
what share of talent is 'natural'
and how the rest of it is acquired. His
conclusion: the trait we commonly
call 'raw talent' is vastly overrated. 'A
lot of people believe there are
some inherent limits they were born with,' he
says. 'But there is surprisingly little hard
evidence that anyone could attain any kind of
exceptional performance without spending a
lot of time perfecting it.' Or, put
another way, expert performers - whether in
soccer or piano playing,
surgery or computer programming - are nearly
always made, not born."

Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner,
Superfreakonomics, William Morrow,
Copyright 2009 by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen
J. Dubner, pp. 59-61.

Friday, January 15, 2010 1/15/10 - genghis khan

In today's excerpt - the Mongols amassed the
largest contiguous land-based empire in
history, larger than both the Roman and the
Muslim Empires at their height, and exceeded in
size only by the British Empire, which was
however not contiguous:

"The Mongols originally were a tribe from the
region of Lake Baikal, to
the north of Mongolia in modern-day Russia,
but by the [the 13th century] they had become
a multiethnic federation of nomadic tribes
ruled from the high Mongolian plateau: a
region of bitterly cold winters,
searingly hot summers, and vast open expanses
of desolate terrain. The
tribes had been united at the end of the
twelfth century by a leader originally known
as Temujin, who in 1206 was declared their
undisputed leader.
Temujin then proceeded to launch an
astonishing series of military
campaigns that, by the time of his death in
1227, put him in control of the largest
contiguous land-based empire in history, one
that extended from China
in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west,
and from Siberia in the north to
northwest India in the south, Temujin and the
Mongols considered their
campaigns of conquest to have been ordained
by the supreme sky god,
Tenggeri, and the whole world, they believed,
was a Mongol empire-in-the-making. 'Through
the power of God,' Great Khan Guyuk would
to the West in 1246, 'all empires from
sunrise to sunset have been given to
us, and we own them.' Those who refused to
submit to Mongol rule were
rebels against the divine plan, and
punishment for this refusal was often the
outright slaughter of whole cities and

"The conquests led by Temujin were legendary,
and to celebrate them the
Mongols posthumously bestowed on him the
title Fierce Ruler, or Chingis
Khan. Today, thanks to an imperfect Arabic
transliteration of that name, he
is widely known as Genghis Khan.

"Chingis Khan recognized that his people,
resilient horsemen accustomed to lives of
hardship, deprivation, and perpetual motion,
were natural
warriors. They traveled with huge numbers of
spare horses, and by using
them in rotation managed to travel up to a
hundred miles a day - a distance
far greater than any other army of the time
could travel. As nomads, they
knew how to live off the land and the peoples
they conquered, but during
times of privation and hard travel they could
sustain themselves by drinking the blood of
their own horses - and, if necessary, by
eating them. Such
practices, coupled with the ferocity the
Mongols displayed in battle, fed
rumors in Europe of the Mongols as cannibals
and savages. 'The men are
inhuman and of the nature of beasts,' [an
English monk] reported, 'rather to be
called monsters than men, thirsting after and
drinking blood, and tearing
and devouring the flesh of dogs and human

"The Mongols' savagery was calculated. They
wanted their reputation to
precede them. Often, on the eve of an
invasion, they would send advance
word of their mission of conquest to their
adversaries and would demand
submission without a fight. Inevitably, many
opponents would acquiesce,
having already heard terrifying rumors about
what would happen to them
if they did not - and as a result, when the
promised invasion actually did
take Place, the Mongols' ranks would already
be swollen with captives.
Some would be forced to fight as foot
soldiers on the front ranks. Others
would be enlisted as guides, interpreters,
engineers, and spies."

Toby Lester, The Fourth Part of the
World, Free Press, Copyright 2009 by Toby
Lester, pp. 47-48.

Thursday, January 14, 2010 1/14/10 - buddhism in afghanistan

In today's encore excerpt - from modest
beginnings in India in the sixth century BCE,
Buddhism spread through Asia and along with it
arose a vast chain of Buddhist monasteries that by the
seventh century CE provided commercial and
diplomatic links throughout the Asian world. This
network of monasteries extended from Persia (Iran)
and Afghanistan through the steppe country to India,
China, Korea and Japan, and then south to Java
(Indonesia). Some monasteries housed more than
10,000 monks. Yet within a century, most Indian kings
were patronizing Hindu gods and temples, and
Buddhism began to disappear from the country of its
origin, though it continued to flourish

"In Buddhism, the individual monk was responsible
for his own progress toward enlightenment. It was up
to him to seek knowledge, study, and find the correct
path. In [the sixth century CE], the institutional structure
for this search was the chain of monasteries across
much of China. ...

"Buddhism spread steadily within India and out from
India along both land and maritime trade routes. By
the first centuries of the Common Era, Buddhism was
the predominant religion in the sprawling Kushan
Empire that stretched from Central Asia through
Pakistan and Afghanistan to the plains of India.
Monasteries were an important part of every oasis
town on the caravan routes from Afghanistan to China.
Some monasteries were built in isolated places to
accommodate caravans whose traders, in turn,
donated money for their upkeep. Along water routes,
Buddhism spread from India to Sri Lanka, into
Southeast Asia, and eventually reached coastal
China. ...

"Buddhist monasteries provided practical benefits for
both a king and his subjects. The chain of
monasteries was an infrastructure that promoted
trade. Wherever Buddhism flourished, traders were
prominent patrons of shrines and monasteries. One
incarnation of the Buddha, the compassionate
Avalokiteshvara, became a kind of patron saint of
traders and travelers. In a world of disease and death,
monasteries were also repositories of medical
knowledge. ...

"Everywhere Buddhism flourished it was supported by
royal and noble patronage, supplemented by pious
women and traders. Across the chain of Buddhist
institutions moved teachers, ritual objects, texts,
medicines, ideas, and trade. Curiosity and hospitality
were hallmarks of the system. Although specific
practices might differ, all Buddhist travelers, whether
monk or layman, found similar settings and symbols
in Buddhist monasteries and rest houses."

Stewart Gordon, When Asia Was the World, Da
Capo, Copyright 2008 by Stewart Gordon, pp. 4-17.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 1/13/10 - dorothy parker

In today's excerpt - the vicious wit of
Dorothy Parker, who was the most-quoted of
the literary stars who frequented the
Algonquin roundtable:

"Mrs. Parker was born Dorothy Rothschild in
West End, New Jersey,
on August 22, 1893. She was educated at Miss
Dana's School in
Morristown, New Jersey, and the Sacred Heart
Convent in New
York, and her first publishing job came in
1916 when Vogue, to which
she had submitted some poems, offered to hire
her as a picture-caption
writer at $10 a week. Two years later, she
moved to Vanity Fair,
where her co-editors were the men to whom she
occasionally referred
as 'the two Bobs,' Sherwood and Benchley.

"She was fired in 1920 by
Vanity Fair when three theatrical producers
protested that her
reviews were too tough. ... Sherwood and
Benchley resigned immediately, feeling that the
magazine should not have yielded to the
pressure. Sherwood went on
to Life, and Mrs. Parker and Benchley rented
and shared an office
for a while, trying to survive as free-lance
writers. The office was so
tiny that Mrs. Parker said afterward, 'If
we'd had to sit a few inches
closer together, we'd have been guilty of
adultery.' (The well-known story that they
grew lonely and tried to lure company by
having the word MEN painted on their office
door is, unfortunately,

"The dark-haired, pretty writer was
well-known for lines like, 'If all the girls
at Smith and Bennington were
laid end to end, I wouldn't be surprised,'
and, 'One more drink and
I'd have been under the host.' [Her writing
career was aided greatly by columnist
Franklin Pierce Adams, whom she later
claimed] 'raised her from a couplet.'...

"Dorothy Parker was a cute girl but hardly
lovable; her forte was criticism which really
stung. It was Dorothy
Parker who, commenting on an early and
uninspired performance
by Katharine Hepburn in a Broadway play,
The Lake, said that
the actress 'ran the gamut of emotions from A
to B'; it was also
Dorothy Parker who, feeling dislike for
Countess Margot Asquith
because the Countess had written a book which
seemed too narcissistic, took care of her by
commenting, 'The romance between
Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live
as one of the great
love affairs of literature,' and adding that
the book was 'in four
volumes, suitable for throwing.' She also
dealt with a drama called
The House Beautiful by calling it 'the
play lousy,' and, during the period in which
she reviewed books under the pseudonym of
Constant Reader, disposed of a book by A. A.
Milne, whose cuteness
and whimsy she abhorred, by writing,
'Tonstant Weader fwowwed up.' "

Scott Meredith, George S. Kaufman and His
Friends, Doubleday, Copyright 1974 by
Playboy, pp. 139, 152-3, 33.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 1/12/10 - happy couples

In today's excerpt - happy couples. It turns out that
how couples handle good news
may matter even more to their relationship than
their ability to support each other under difficult

"Numerous studies show that intimate relationships,
such as marriages, are the single most important
source of life satisfaction. Although most couples
enter these relationships with the best of intentions,
many break up or stay together but languish. Yet
some do stay happily married and thrive. What is their

"A few clues emerge from the latest research in
the nascent field of positive psychology. Founded in
1998 by psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman of the
University of Pennsylvania, this discipline includes
research into positive emotions, human strengths
and what is meaningful in life. In the past few years
positive psychology researchers have discovered
that thriving couples accentuate the positive in life
more than those who stay together unhappily or
split do. They not only cope well during hardship
but also celebrate the happy moments and work to
build more bright points into their lives.

"It turns out that how couples handle good news
may matter even more to their relationship than
their ability to support each other under difficult
circumstances. Happy pairs also individually
a higher ratio of upbeat emotions to negative
ones than people in unsuccessful liasions do. Certain
tactics can boost this ratio and thus help to
strengthen connections with others. Another
ingredient for relationship success: cultivating
Learning to become devoted to your significant
other in a healthy way can lead to a more satisfying

"Until recently, studies largely centered on how
romantic partners respond to each other's misfortunes
and on how couples manage negative emotions
such as jealousy and anger - an approach in
line with psychology's traditional focus on alleviating
deficits. One key to successful bonds, the studies
indicated, is believing that your partner will be
there for you when things go wrong. Then, in 2004,
psychologist Shelly L. Gable, currently at the University
of California, Santa Barbara, and her colleagues
found that romantic couples share positive
events with each other surprisingly often, leading
the scientists to surmise that a partner's behavior
also matters when things are going well.

"In a study published in 2006 Gable and her coworkers
videotaped dating men and women in the
laboratory while the subjects took turns discussing
a positive and negative event. After each conversation,
members of each pair rated how 'responded
to' - how understood, validated and cared for -
they felt by their partner. Meanwhile observers rated
the responses on how active-constructive (engaged
and supportive ) they were - as indicated by
intense listening, positive comments and questions,
and the like. Low ratings reflected a more passive,
generic response such as 'That's nice, honey.'
the couples evaluated their commitment to
and satisfaction with the relationship.

"The researchers found that when a partner proffered
a supportive response to cheerful statements,
the 'responded to' ratings were higher than they
were after a sympathetic response to negative news,
suggesting that how partners reply to good news
may be a stronger determinant of relationship health
than their reaction to unfortunate incidents. The
reason for this finding, Gable surmises, may be that
fixing a problem or dealing with a disappointment -
though important for a relationship - may not make
a couple feel joy, the currency of a happy

Suzann Pileggi, "The Happy Couple," Scientific
American Mind, Jan/Feb 2010, pp. 34-36.

Monday, January 11, 2010 1/11/10 - hanukkah

In today's excerpt - Alexander the Great had
conquered Jerusalem, but had allowed the Jews
to continue their religion. However, when
Alexander died, and his kingdom was divided
among his generals, the kingdom that
inherited Jerusalem in this division, called
the Seleucid kingdom, reversed his policy and
attempted to eradicate Judaism:

"[After Alexander], fashionable Greek influence
became pervasive among the Jews. A gymnasium
in the Greek
style was built in Jerusalem near the temple,
and faithful Jews
began to see their traditions and customs
eroding, sometimes
quite drastically. An example of the former
would be the
behavior of Antiochus IV, king of the
Seleucids, who thought
to eradicate Judaism. Pigs were to be
sacrificed in the temple
to Greek gods. Daniel had warned about this
ruler, calling his
actions the abomination of desolation. ...
The decision of Antiochus to make war on
faithful Jews
was a spark: 'On his return from the conquest
of Egypt, in
the year [169 BC], Antiochus marched with a
strong force
against Israel and Jerusalem. In his
arrogance he entered the
temple and carried off the golden altar, the
lamp-stand with all
its equipment .. and took them all with him
when he left for
his own country' (I Macc. 1:20-24 NEB). Not
content with
insulting their religion, the king then
declared that the Jews
must abandon it. ...

"The penalty for resisting his decree was death.

"The revolt was led by a priestly family, the
beginning with Mattathias. He killed a Jew
who was about to
offer a compromised sacrifice, and then he
killed the officer presiding over the affair.
He and his sons took to the hills and began
to wage a campaign against the Gentiles.
After Mattathias died,
the guerrilla campaign was taken over by his
son Judas Maccabeus.
He fought so ably that he liberated Jerusalem
and cleansed and
rededicated the temple, profaned as it had
been by Antiochus.

"They celebrated the rededication of the
altar for eight
days; there was great rejoicing as they brought
burnt-offerings and sacrificed
peace-offerings and
thank-offerings. ...There was great
merry-making among the
people, and the disgrace brought on them by the
Gentiles was removed. Then Judas, his
brothers, and the
whole congregation of Israel decreed that the
rededication of the altar should be observed
with joy and gladness at the same season each
year, for eight days. (I Macc.
4:56-59 NEB)

"This was the basis for celebrating Hanukkah,
the Feast of Lights.
Although it is not one of the feasts required
by the law of Moses (as with Purim,
established in the book of Esther), the
celebration has taken deep root."

Douglas Wilson, Five Cities That Ruled the
World, Thomas Nelson, Copyright 2009 by
Douglas Wilson, pp. 17-19.

Friday, January 08, 2010 1/8/10 - alcohol

In today's excerpt - binge drinking, bars,
liquor licenses, new forms of intoxication,
and attempts at prohibition go back hundreds
(if not thousands) of years. In London in
1628, there were 130 churches and over 3000

"In Britain, concerns over drunkenness go
back a long way. The first Licensing Act,
passed in 1552, required alehouse-keepers to
acquire a license from local justices on the
grounds that 'intolerable hurts and troubles'
arose from drunkenness in 'common alehouses'.
The following year rules were introduced
strictly limiting the number of wine taverns
that could open in any one town. This
legislative distinction between common
alehouses and more exclusive wine taverns
reflected a long-standing social
stratification of drinks in Britain. Lack of
native viticulture made imported wine an
elite drink, while ale, and later beer (made
with hops, which were only widely used from
the 15th century), were associated with more
popular drinking cultures. ...

"For the poet and courtly aspirant George
Gascoigne, drunkenness was not an indigenous
trait but the result of recent contact with
heavy drinking north Europeans. Furthermore,
its spread demonstrated how fashion could
become entrenched as tradition if not swiftly
checked. ...

"Not everyone blamed Continental trends. In
his pamphlet Anatomy of Abuses,
published in 1583, the Puritan Phillip
Stubbes cited the legacy of
pre- Reformation festive culture, especially
the 'church-ales' which had played an
important role in late-medieval local
economies. From this perspective, drunkenness
was linked to the corrupting practices of a
Catholic past rather than to the new-fangled
fashions of Britain's Continental neighbors.

"In 1628 one Richard Rawlidge complained that
whereas in London there were less than 130
churches, there were 'above thirty hundred
alehouses'. ...

"Until the late 17th century the social
stratification of alcohol tended to be
expressed in relation to courtly wine, urban
beer and bucolic ale. The liberalization of
the gin trade following the accession of
William III [in the early 18th century] threw
an entirely new substance into this mix.
Partly designed to promote a domestic
alternative to French brandy, deregulation
contributed to a staggering rise in
consumption and triggered impassioned debates
on the role of the state in regulating this
new and dangerous commodity. In 1736 it also
produced a disastrous attempt at gin
prohibition, which was repealed seven years

James Nicholls, "Drink: The British
Disease?," History Today, January
2010, Volume: 60 Issue: 1, pp. 10-17.

Thursday, January 07, 2010 1/7/10 - white slaves in early america

In today's encore excerpt - early
British colonizers of America in the 1600s
and 1700s needed laborers for their new

"They needed a compliant, subservient,
preferably free labour force and since the
indigenous peoples of America were difficult
to enslave they turned to their own homeland
to provide. They imported Britons deemed to
be 'surplus' people - the rootless, the
unemployed, the criminal and the dissident -
and held them in the Americas in various
forms of bondage for anything from three
years to life. ... In the early decades, half
of them died in bondage.

"Among the first to be sent were children.
Some were dispatched by impoverished parents
seeking a better life for them. But others
were forcibly deported. In 1618, the
authorities in London began to sweep up
hundreds of troublesome urchins from the
slums and, ignoring protests from the
children and their families, shipped them to
Virginia. ... It was presented as an act of
charity: the 'starving children' were to be
given a new start as apprentices in America.
In fact, they were sold to planters to work
in the fields and half of them were dead
within a year. Shipments of children
continued from England and then from Ireland
for decades. Many of these migrants were
little more than toddlers. In 1661, the wife
of a man who imported four 'Irish boys' into
Maryland as servants wondered why her husband
had not brought 'some cradles to have rocked
them in' as they were 'so little.'

"A second group of forced migrants from the
mother country were those, such as vagrants
and petty criminals, whom England's rulers
wished to be rid of. The legal ground was
prepared for their relocation by a highwayman
turned Lord Chief Justice ,who argued for
England's jails to be emptied in America.
Thanks to men like him, 50,000 to 70,000
convicts (or maybe more) were transported to
Virginia, Maryland, Barbados and England's
other American possessions before 1776.

"A third group were the Irish. ... Under
Oliver Cromwell's ethnic-cleansing policy in
Ireland, unknown numbers of Catholic men,
women and children were forcibly transported
to the colonies. And it did not end with
Cromwell; for at least another hundred years,
forced transportation continued as a fact of
life in Ireland. ...

"The other unwilling participants in the
colonial labour force were the kidnapped.
Astounding numbers are reported to have been
snatched from the streets and countryside by
gangs of kidnappers or 'spirits' working to
satisfy the colonial hunger for labour. Based
at every sizeable port in the British Isles,
spirits conned or coerced the unwary onto
ships bound for America. ... According to a
contemporary who campaigned against the black
slave trade, kidnappers were snatching an
average of around 10,000 whites a
year - doubtless an exaggeration but one that
indicates a problem serious enough to create
its own grip on the popular mind.' "

Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, White
Cargo, New York University Press,
Copyright 2007 by Don Jordan and Michael
Walsh, pp. 12-14.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010 1/6/10 - unselfishness

In today's excerpt - the world champion 1989
Detroit Pistons (along with their predecessor
champions the Boston Celtics and the Los
Angeles Lakers) demonstrated yet again that
talent alone was almost never enough to bring
a championship - that unselfishness was
almost always an indispensable ingredient
too. To make the 1989 season work, the
Pistons traded a highly talented but selfish
player for a less talented player who was
willing to be unselfish:

"After coming so close to the NBA
Championship for two straight postseasons,
the chemistry for the '89 Detroit Pistons was
off for reasons that had nothing to do with
talent. Chuck Daly needed to give Dennis
Rodman more playing time, only the Teacher
(Adrian Dantley's nickname, in an ironic
twist) wasn't willing to accommodate him. And
that was a problem. Rodman could play any
style and defend every type of player; he
gave the Pistons a uniquely special
flexibility, much like John Havlicek's
ability to play guard or forward drove Bill
Russell's last few championship Boston
Celtics teams. There was also a precedent in
place from when Piston players John Salley
and Joe Dumars came into their own in
previous seasons; [Piston starters] Isiah
Thomas and Vinnie Johnson gave up minutes for
Dumars, and Rick Mahorn gave up minutes for
Salley. But when Rodman started stealing
crunch-time minutes from Dantley, the Teacher
started sulking and even complained to a
local writer.

"You couldn't call it a betrayal, but Dantley
had undermined an altruistic dynamic -
constructed carefully over the past four
seasons, almost like a stack of Jenga blocks
- that hinged on players forfeiting numbers
for the overall good of the team. The Pistons
couldn't risk having Dantley knock that Jenga
stack down. They quickly swapped him for the
enigmatic Mark Aguirre, an unconventional
low-post scorer who caused similar mismatch
problems but wouldn't start trouble because
Isiah (a childhood chum from Chicago) would
never allow it. Maybe Dantley was a better
player than Aguirre, but Aguirre was a better
fit for the 1989 Pistons. If they didn't make
that deal, they wouldn't have won the
championship. It was a people trade, not a
basketball trade.

"And that's what [players] learned while
following those championship Lakers and
Celtics teams around: it wasn't about

"Those teams were loaded with talented
players, yes, but that's not the only reason
they won. They won because they liked each
other, knew their roles, ignored statistics,
and valued winning over everything else. They
won because their best players sacrificed to
make everyone else happy. They won as long as
everyone remained on the same page. By that
same token, they lost if any of those three
factors weren't in place. The '75 [San
Francisco/Golden State] Warriors
self-combusted a year later because of Rick
Barry's grating personality and two young
stars (Jamal Wilkes and Gus Williams) needing
better numbers to boost their free agent
stock. The '77 Blazers fell apart because of
Bill Walton's feet, but also because Lionel
Hollins and Maurice Lucas brooded about being
underpaid. The '79 Sonics fell apart when
their talented backcourt (Dennis Johnson and
Gus Williams) became embroiled in a petty
battle over salaries and crunch-time shots.
... Year after year, at least one contender
fell short for reasons that had little or
nothing to do with basketball. And year after
year, the championship team prevailed because
it got along and everyone committed
themselves to their roles. That's what
Detroit needed to do, and that's why Dantley
had to go."

Bill Simmons, The Book of Basketball,
Ballantine, Copyright 2009 by Bill Simmons,
pp. 39-41.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010 1/5/10 - george s. kaufman

In today's excerpt - the notorious wit of
George S. Kaufman (1889-1961), one of
America's most prolific and esteemed
humorists and playwrights, whose work
included such plays as You Can't Take It
With You and Of Thee I Sing:

"Unlike Dorothy Parker, who seems to have been
credited with every witticism uttered by
every woman in the United
States between 1920 and 1970 but actually
said only a few of them,
George S. Kaufman was the genuine author of
virtually all the
funny, sardonic, and wise comments and bon
mots attributed to him. ...

"It was Kaufman, for example, who deflated
Raymond Massey when
the actor had scored a huge success playing
Abraham Lincoln and
began to grow more and more Lincolnesque in
his manner, speech,
and clothing off the stage. 'Massey,' Kaufman
said, 'won't be
satisfied until somebody assassinates him.'
It was Kaufman who
deflated Charles Laughton when Laughton,
commenting on his own
performance as Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the
Bounty, said pompously that he was probably
so effective in the role because he came
from a long line of seafaring men. 'I
presume,' Kaufman said, remembering
Laughton's equally excellent performance as
'that you also come from a long line of
hunchbacks.' And it was also
Kaufman who took care of an actor with the
unfortunate name of
Guido Nadzo by commenting, 'Guido Nadzo is
nadzo guido.'

"Kaufman's comments were aimed with deadly
accuracy, but he
wanted them to make their point and nothing
more, and he became
upset and contrite if damage resulted and
seemed to be growing
permanent. When, for example, his line about
Nadzo achieved
such widespread currency that the actor began
to find it difficult
to get work, Kaufman went from friend to
friend until he found
a job for him, and he continued to get him
jobs until Nadzo himself
decided that Kaufman had been right in the
first place and left the

"Actors were a favorite target of Kaufman's,
partially because
they caused him constant agonies by
forgetting, rewording, playing
badly, or otherwise failing to do justice to
the brilliant lines he
wrote for them. The Marx Brothers, for whom
he wrote two plays,
Animal Crackers and The
Cocoanuts, and a movie, A Night at the
Opera, were particularly painful to him
because of their practice of
changing lines at every performance and even
trying to throw each
other off balance by suddenly speaking lines
which weren't in the
play at all, stealing these from other plays
or making them up on the
spot. Once, in despair, Kaufman walked up
onto the stage in the
middle of a rehearsal of Animal Crackers.
'Excuse me for interrupting,' he said, 'but I
thought for a minute I actually heard a line
I wrote.' ...

"He used humor all the time to bring his
associates and others
back into line when he felt they were
straying too far, employing
every device from notices on backstage
bulletin boards - '11 a.m.
rehearsal tomorrow morning,' he once noted on
a call board, 'to
remove all improvements inserted in the play
since the last rehearsal'
- to telegrams. Once he dropped in to view
his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Of Thee I
Sing - it was the first musical in
history ever to
win the prize - after it had been running for
many months, and was
depressed to observe that William Gaxton, who
played the principal
role of John P. Wintergreen, had grown bored
and was speaking his
lines routinely and mechanically. Kaufman
left the theatre, went to a
nearby Western Union Office, and sent Gaxton
he needed no telegram to cool down an actor
who kept blowing
his lines and blaming the script. 'It doesn't
flow,' the actor said.
'It flows, all right,' Kaufman said. 'You
don't.' "

Scott Meredith, George S. Kaufman and his
Friends, Doubleday, Copyright 1974 by
Playboy, pp. 1-4.

Monday, January 04, 2010 1/4/10 - population surprises

In today's excerpt - the combined populations
of Europe,
the United States, and Canada (often referred
to simply as "The West") has declined from 33
percent of the world's population in 1913 to
just 17 percent in 2003, as these countries'
fertility rates have declined and many
European countries now have shrinking

"At the beginning of the eighteenth century,
approximately 20 percent
of the world's inhabitants lived in Europe
(including Russia). Then,
with the Industrial Revolution, Europe's
population boomed, and
streams of European emigrants set off for the
Americas. By the eve
of World War I, Europe's population had more
than quadrupled. In
1913, Europe had more people than China, and
the proportion of the
world's population living in Europe and the
former European colonies
of North America had risen to over 33

"But this trend reversed after World War I,
as basic health care and
sanitation began to spread to poorer
countries. In Asia, Africa, and Latin
America, people began to live longer, and
birthrates remained high or fell only slowly.
By 2003, the combined populations of Europe,
the United States, and Canada accounted for
just 17 percent of the
global population. In 2050, this figure is
expected to be just 12 percent -
far less than it was in 1700. (These
projections, moreover, might
even understate the reality because they
reflect the 'medium growth'
projection of the UN forecasts, which assumes
that the fertility
rates of developing countries will decline
while those of developed
countries will increase. In fact, many
developed countries show no
evidence of increasing fertility rates.)

"According to the economic
historian Angus Maddison, Europe, the United
States, and Canada
together produced about 32 percent of the
world's GDP at the beginning
of the nineteenth century. By 1950, that
proportion had increased to
a remarkable 68 percent of the world's total
output (adjusted to reflect
purchasing power parity). This trend, too, is
headed for a sharp reversal. The proportion of
global GDP produced by Europe, the United
States, and Canada fell
from 68 percent in 1950 to 47 percent in 2003
and will decline even
more steeply in the future. ...

"The year 2010 will likely be the first time
in history that a majority of the world's people
live in cities rather than in the
countryside. Whereas less than 30 percent of
the world's population was urban in 1950,
according to UN
projections, more than 70 percent will be by
2050. Lower-income countries in Asia and
Africa are urbanizing especially
rapidly, as agriculture becomes less labor
intensive and as employment
opportunities shift to the industrial and
service sectors. Already, most
of the world's urban agglomerations - Mumbai
(population 20.l million), Mexico City (19.5
million), New Delhi (17 million), Shanghai
(15.8 million), Calcutta (15.6 million),
Karachi (13.1 million), Cairo
(12.5 million), Manila (11.7 million), Lagos
(10.6 million), Jakarta (9.7 million) - are
found in low-income countries. Many of these
have multiple cities with over one million
residents each: Pakistan has
eight, Mexico 12, and China more than

Jack A. Goldstone, "The New Population Bomb,"
Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2010, pp.
32-33, 38.

Friday, January 01, 2010 1/1/10 - simply love her

12/28/09 to 1/1/10: The
Week of

And for the final encore entry in our week of
love, and to ring in the new year - one of our favorite
excerpts from the dazzlingly talented Alan Jay Lerner,
partner and co-writer with Frederick Loewe of
Camelot, My Fair Lady, Gigi and other plays. Here he
explains the painfully poignant lyrics of the Camelot
song "How To Handle a Woman," sung by King Arthur
at a point when he is tragically both lost and losing
Guinevere to Lancelot:

"By the middle of the first act, Guinevere has met
Lancelot and has begun behaving in a manner that is
to Arthur both perplexing and maddening. Alone on
stage, he musically soliloquizes his confusion and out
of desperation resolves it for himself in an
uncomplicated reaffirmation of love in a song
called 'How to Handle a Woman.' I had had that idea
for two or three years, but I cannot claim sole
inspiration for it. My silent partner was Erich Maria
Remarque [author of All Quiet on the Western

"He had just married an old friend of mine, Paulette
Goddard, all woman, magnificently distributed, as
feminine as she is female. One night when we were
having dinner, I said to Erich (not seriously): 'How do
you get along with this wild woman?' He
replied: 'Beautifully. There is never an
argument.' 'Never an argument?' I asked
incredulously. 'Never,' he replied. 'We will have an
appointment one evening, and she charges into the
room crying, 'Why aren't you ready? You always keep
me waiting. Why do you ...?!' I look at her with
astonishment and say, 'Paulette! Who did your hair?
It's absolutely ravishing.' She says, 'Really? Do you
really like it?' 'Like it?' I reply. 'You're a vision. Let me
see the back.' By the time she has made a pirouette
her fury is forgotten. Another time she turns on me in
rage about something, and before a sentence is out of
her mouth I stare at her and say breathlessly, 'My God!
You're incredible. You get younger every day.' She
says, 'Really, darling?' 'Tonight,' I say, 'you look
eighteen years old.' And that is the end of her rage.' I
was as amused as I was admiring and I said to
him: 'Erich, one day I will have to write a song about
that.' The song was 'How to Handle a Woman' which

The way to handle a woman is to love her,

Simply love her; merely love her,

Love her, love her."

Alan Jay Lerner, The Street Where I Live, Da
Capo Press, 1978, pp. 193-4.