Friday, February 26, 2010 2/26/10 - all men are created equal

In today's excerpt  the concept of equality
as expressed in the Declaration of
Independence had the purpose of conveying
America's right was the right to be equal with
other nations. But in the decades after
independence, and culminating in Lincoln's
Gettysburg address, Americans began reading
the Declaration's ringing affirmation
that "all men are created equal" in different

"What the Declaration of Independence was
really intended to declare was this plain
fact: that a new people were
preparing to assume their 'separate and equal
among the nations of the world, bid political
adieu to their
British countrymen, and seek the political
recognition to
which 'the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God
them.' ...

"Yet in calling this sovereign people into
existence, the authors of the Declaration and
the Constitution uneasily confronted one
morally embarrassing challenge. In 1776 slavery
was legal in all the new states, but the vast
majority of African and African American
slaves were concentrated in the
plantation states, from Maryland south to the
frontier outpost of Georgia. Were these
hundreds of thousands of slaves
who constituted this exploited labor force
capable of becoming part of this new American
people? In a fiery passage of
the Declaration, Jefferson tried to finesse
this problem by
blaming the British monarchy for imposing the
of slavery on unwilling American colonists.
Congress deleted
this entire passage, not only because many
southern delegates were committed to slavery,
but also because the delegates knew that many
colonists were all too happy to draw
their own prosperity from the sweat of other
brows. Eleven
years later the Federal Convention faced a
similar problem.
How could slaves be counted for purposes of
when they could never be regarded as citizens
in any conceivable sense of the term? To be a
slave was to lack all legal
rights - to be neither citizen nor subject,
but simply an involuntary object of laws
imposed on you and your descendants. The
framers' solution - to call slaves 'other
and count each of them as three-fifths of a
free person for
purposes of allocating representation among
the states - was
a mark of the moral embarrassment that later
led abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison
to denounce the Constitution Of 1787 as 'a
covenant with death.'

"That Constitution, in a sense, nearly died
with the election of Abraham Lincoln to the
presidency in 1860 and the
ensuing secession crisis of 1861. But it was
revived with the
three Reconstruction amendments that freed
the slaves, affirmed a new version of equal
citizenship, and prohibited (at
least in principle) 'race, color, or previous
condition of servitude' from being used to
deny the right to vote. The new
constitutional vision of the 1860s reflected
principles that
many Americans had come to ascribe to the
Declaration of
Independence well after its adoption. The
equality Americans claimed in 1776 was the
right to become a nation like
other nations. But in the decades after
independence, Americans began reading the
Declaration's ringing affirmation
that 'all men are created equal' in different
terms. Now it
challenged the hierarchies of social class
and legal status,
race and gender that the congressional
delegates of 1776
could still take for granted. A vision of
equality among peoples was giving way
to one
of equality within a people. That
was how Lincoln restated the founding
proposition that 'all
men are created equal' in the Gettysburg
Address of 1863 - a
less formal and official document than the
texts reprinted
in this volume, but one that helped to
complete the vision
of peoplehood that Jefferson had first
articulated four score
and seven years earlier."

Jack N. Rakove, The Annotated U.S.
Constitution and Declaration of Independence,
Belknap Harvard, Copyright 2009 by the
President and Fellows of Harvard College, pp.


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Thursday, February 25, 2010 2/25/10 - cuba in africa

In today's excerpt - when Fidel Castro took
over Cuba, he found that he needed allies to
counterbalance the threat of the U.S.
Astonishingly, this quest led the tiny and
poor country of Cuba to places as far afield
as Ethiopia, Yemen, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and
Algeria, adventures which led them to be
perceived as champion of the Third World, but
which each ultimately drained Cuba and ended
in failure:

"Fidel Castro's need for allies accelerated
still further after the crisis of October
1962 when the Soviet premier Khrushchev
withdrew the nuclear missiles he had
installed in Cuba without even consulting
Castro, whose faith in the Soviets was badly

"Latin America seemed to offer hope. ...
During 1962 Cuba sent expeditions to lead or
support guerrilla movements in Latin America.
The most important went to Che s native
Argentina in June 1963. The rebels planned to
establish a foco which Che himself would
join. After nine harrowing months they were
wiped out by the Argentine army. This was a
blow for [Castro's second-in-command Ernesto]
'Che' Guevara. Discouraged by their Latin
experience, the Cubans turned to a continent
ripe for revolution: Africa.

"Cuba s first friend in Africa was Algeria,
whose uprising against the French, which
started in 1954, seemed to offer a parallel
to Cuba s own revolution. ...

"Che [also] found an ideal situation in the
turbulent ex-Belgian Congo (later Zaire, now
the Democratic Republic of Congo). ...
Hundreds of young Congolese went to Cuba for
free schooling and training and, when the
military revolted against [President]
Massamba-Debat, the Cubans saved him. By 1966
the Cuban force had grown to 1,000, serving
primarily as the presidential guard.
Nevertheless, Massamba-Debat succumbed to a
coup in April 1968 and Che s dreams [there]

"The Cubans had better luck in Guinea-Bissau
where revolutionaries under Amilcar Cabral
were the best organized and disciplined in
Portuguese Africa. ...

"After his failure in the Congo, Che had
turned his attention back to Latin America
where Bolivia seemed to offer ideal
conditions for revolution: poverty,
instability, remote mountain terrain and
borders with the most important countries of
Latin America. Che and his small force set
off in October 1966. ... His campaign was a
disaster that culminated in his capture and
execution on October 8th, 1967. Efforts to
stir revolution in Guatemala, Venezuela and
Colombia collapsed soon after.

"Cuba s most ambitious involvement in Africa
came [in] Angola, the richest and most
strategically important of the colonies,
which was to become independent on November
11th, 1975. ... By the end of 1975 the Cuban
sea and airlift had transported more than
25,000 troops to Angola and the Soviets had
finally joined in, providing heavy weapons
and coordinating closely with the Cubans.
They could do so because the US Congress had
prohibited President Ford from any further
intervention in Angola. Castro was deeply and
personally involved in all this. ... The last
Cuban troops withdrew in June 1991 after 15
years in Angola. They left behind some 4,000
dead and suffered another 10,000 wounded.

"During these years Castro was involved in
another part of Africa. In 1977, on his way
to Angola, he had visited Marxist South Yemen
where he tried to mediate the growing tension
between Ethiopia and Somalia over control of
the Ogaden region, which belonged to Ethiopia
but was inhabited by Somalis. ... In January
1978 Raul Castro flew secretly to Ethiopia
and Moscow and worked out plans for a
coordinated operation: 16,000 Cubans were
transported by the Soviets who provided the
heavy weapons. Cuban troops remained in
Ethiopia, though in diminishing numbers,
until 1989. ...

"There are no happy endings to this story.
Castro s role as champion of the Third World
never recovered from his support of the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Ten
years later, Cuba s General Ochoa, hero of
the Angolan and Ethiopian campaigns, was
accused of embezzlement and executed after a
Soviet-style show trial; his real offence was
criticizing Castro s incessant interference
in military operations.
Guinea-Bissau, where the Cubans had been
successful, suffered coups, civil wars and
assassinations that left it one of the
poorest countries in the world. Che s friend
Laurent Kabila took over Zaire in 1997 only
to be assassinated four years later. By then,
an exceptionally violent civil war consumed
the country; it still simmers in the eastern
parts that Che had hoped to liberate.
Ethiopia s Mengistu turned out to be a bloody
tyrant and was thrown out in 1991; the
succeeding regime fought a war with Eritrea
in 1999-2000. Finally, Angola: after the
Cubans withdrew, the regime sloughed off the
thin skin of Marxism and called relatively
free elections [but then] became a one-party
state, a kleptocracy ranked as one of the
most corrupt places on earth, where the elite
flourished while the mass of the population
remained mired in poverty."

Clive Foss, "Cuba's African Adventure,"
History Today, Volume: 60 Issue: 3,
pp. 10-16

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 2/24/10 - the new century

In today's encore excerpt - as the
twentieth century unfolded, Virginia Woolf,
F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and other
artists reacted to the unprecedented and
accelerating pace of change by repudiating
the past and grasping for something new:

"The heroic daring of [the new] century lay
in its conviction of absolute, unprecedented
novelty. This is what the exhilarating notion
of modernity meant: canceling all the
accumulated wisdom of our forebears. ...
Valiantly eager for the future, the Bauhaus
instructor Oskar Schlemmer decreed in 1929
that 'One should act as if the world had just
been created.'

"A new-born universe called for fresh
tenants. Virginia Woolf accordingly reported,
as if she were pinpointing an actual,
verifiable event, that 'on or about December
1910 human character changed.' Rites of
passage made this enigmatic transformation
visible. How do human beings usually announce
an altered identity? By changing the way they
wear their hair. Men who wanted to be
ruthlessly modern shaved their skulls, like
the Russian revolutionary poet Vladimir
Mayakovsky or Johannes Itten, an instructor
at the Bauhaus in Weimar. In the hirsute
nineteenth century, sages - aspiring to the
shagginess of Old Testament prophets - grew
beards. For the glowering,
bullet-headed Mayakovsky, the cranium was a
projectile, made more aerodynamic by being
rid of hair. For Itten, shaving announced his
priestly dedication to the new world which
the designers at the Bauhaus intended to
build. ...

"Women had their own equivalent to those
drastic masculine acts of self-mutilation. In
1920 F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a story,
'Bernice Bobs Her Hair,' about a timid
provincial girl for whom bobbing is a
transition between two periods of life and
two historical epochs. The new style ejects
her from Madonna-like girlhood, when she was
protectively cocooned in tresses, and
announces her sexual maturity. Bernice
fearfully acknowledges the revolutionary
antecedents of the process. Driving downtown
to the mens' barber-shop where the operation
will be performed, she suffers 'all the
sensations of Marie Antoinette bound for the
guillotine in a tumbril;' the barber with his
shears is an executioner. The French
revolutionaries sliced off the heads of
bewigged aristocrats in order to destroy an
old world. Bernice, however, has her own hair
chopped to fit her for membership of a new
society: bobbing conferred erotic allure on
girls who were previously dismissed as
wallflowers. ...

"James Joyce's Ulysses in 1922 testified to
the change in human character announced by
Virginia Woolf. Bodies now did things which,
at least according to literature, they had
never done before. A man ponders his own
bowel movement, relishing its sweet smell.
Later in the day he surreptitiously
masturbates in a public place and takes part
in a pissing contest, proud of the arc his
urine describes. A woman has a noisily
affirmative orgasm, or perhaps more than one.
The same people did not think in paragraphs
or logical, completed sentences, like
characters in
nineteenth-century novels. Their mental life
proceeded in associative jerks and spasms;
they mixed up shopping lists with sexual
fantasies, often forgot verbs and (in the
woman's case) scandalously abandoned all
punctuation. The modern mind was not a quiet,
tidy cubicle for cogitation. It thronged with
as many random happenings as a city street;
it contained scraps and fragments, dots and
dashes, like the incoherent blizzard of marks
on a modern canvas which could only be called
an 'impression' because it represented
nothing recognizable."

Peter Conrad, Modern Times, Modern
Places, Knopf, Copyright 1998 by Peter
Conrad, pp. 14-15.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 2/23/10 - tidbits on florence

In today's excerpt - tidbits on the city of
Florence at the flowering of the Renaissance,
the 1400s, the time of Cosimo de'Medici,
Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Leonardo da
Vinci and countless other guiding
lights - tidbits on homosexuals, prostitutes,
witches and public spectacle:

"[After the Florentines' military defeat at
Lucca] a familiar scapegoat was used to
explain the Florentines' ineptness in battle:
homosexuality. For years, clergymen such as
the Franciscan firebrand Bernardino
of Siena had been raging from the pulpit that
the crime of sodomy was
destroying the city. So famous was Florence
for homosexual activity that
during the fourteenth century the German
slang for 'sodomite' was
Florenzer. In 1432, the government
took steps to curtail this perceived root
of its troubles on the battlefield by
establishing an agency to identify and
prosecute homosexuals, the Ufficiali di
Notte, 'Office of the Night' (a
name made even more colorful by the fact that
notte was slang for
'bugger'). A less official method of
detecting homosexuals was for mothers to
rattle their sons' coin
bags: if the coins exclaimed, 'fire, fire,
fire,' the money was said to be the gift of a

"This vice squad worked in tandem with the
Orwellian-sounding Ufficiali dell'Onesta,
'Office of Decency,' which was charged
with licensing and administering the
municipal brothels that had been
created in the area around the Mercato
Vecchio. The specific aim of these
public brothels was to wean Florentine men
from the 'greater evil' of
sodomy. Prostitutes became a common sight in
Florence, not least because
the law required them to wear distinctive
garb: gloves, high-heeled shoes,
and a bell on the head. ...

"Held ... in Florence s communal prison, the
Stinche ... were more serious
Criminals - heretics, sorcerers, witches, and
murderers - for whom unpleasant fates
awaited: decapitation, amputation,
or burning at the stake. Executions took
place outside the walls, in the
Prato della Giustizia, 'Field of Justice.'
These were popular public
spectacles - so popular, in fact, that
criminals often had to be imported
from other cities to satisfy the public's
demand for macabre drama."

Ross King, Brunelleschi's Dome,
Penguin, Copyright 2000 by Ross King, pp.
126-127, 132-133.

Monday, February 22, 2010 2/22/10 - the brain's dark matter

In today's excerpt - the mind 'at rest' is
often more
active, and at the least almost as active, as
the mind
when it is engaged in a task:

"Many neuroscientists have long assumed that
of the neural activity inside your head when
at rest
matches your subdued, somnolent mood. In this
the activity in the resting brain represents
more than random noise, akin to the snowy
pattern on
the television screen when a station is not
broadcasting. But recent analysis produced by
neuroimaging technologies has revealed something
quite remarkable: a great deal of meaningful
activity is
occurring in the brain when a person is
sitting back
and doing nothing at all.

"It turns out that when your mind is at rest
- when you
are daydreaming quietly in a chair, say, [or]
asleep in a
bed or anesthetized for surgery - dispersed
areas are chattering away to one another. And
energy consumed by this ever active messaging,
known as the brain's default mode, is about
20 times
that used by the brain when it responds
consciously to
an outside stimulus. Indeed, most things we do
consciously, be it sitting down to eat dinner
or making
a speech, mark a departure from the baseline
of the brain default mode. ...

"Further analyses indicated that performing a
particular task increases the brain's energy
consumption by less than 5 percent of the
baseline activity. A large fraction of the
activity - from 60 to 80 percent of all
energy used by the
brain - occurs in circuits unrelated to any
event. With a nod to our astronomer
colleagues, our
group came to call this intrinsic activity
the brain's dark
energy, a reference to the unseen energy that
represents the mass of most of the
universe. ...

"In the mid-1990s we noticed quite by
accident that,
surprisingly, certain brain regions
experienced a
decreased level of activity from the baseline
state when subjects carried out some task. These
areas - in particular, a section of the
medial parietal
cortex (a region near the middle of the brain
with remembering personal events in one's life,
among other things) - registered this drop
when other
areas were engaged in carrying out a defined
such as reading aloud. Befuddled, we labeled the
area showing the most depression MMPA, for
mystery parietal area.'

"A series of experiments then confirmed that
the brain
is far from idling when not engaged in a
activity. In fact, the MMPA as well as most
other areas
remains constantly active until the brain
focuses on
some novel task, at which time some areas of
intrinsic activity decrease. At first, our
studies met with
some skepticism. In 1998 we even had a paper on
such findings rejected because one referee
suggested that the reported decrease in
activity was
an error in our data. The circuits, the reviewer
asserted, were actually being switched on at
rest and
switched off during the task. Other researchers,
however, reproduced our results for both the
parietal cortex - and the medial prefrontal
(involved with imagining what other people are
thinking as well as aspects of our emotional
Both areas are now considered major hubs of the
brain's default mode network."

Marcus E. Raichle, "The Brain's Dark Energy,"
Scientific American, March 2010, pp.

Friday, February 19, 2010 2/19/10 - cigarettes

In today s excerpt the Roaring 1920s brought a
boom in cigarette smoking. U.S. cigarette production
doubled during the decade as people hungered for
sophistication, and as Prohibition, which had
unintentionally increased alcohol consumption,
increased cigarette smoking along with it:

"New issues of securities of industrial companies
would increase from 690 [in 1924] to nearly 2,000 in
1929. Brokers' loans to investors and share
ownership would quadruple by 1929. The number of
Americans who paid tax on income of a million dollars
a year also would quadruple.

"The new optimism about the future led to a boom in
consumer spending. Radio sales doubled in 1923,
then tripled in 1924. On average, nearly every family
had a car, and drivers were branching out from black
Model Ts to an assortment of new makes in colors
ranging from 'Florentine cream' to 'Versailles violet.'
Average people bought items they hadn't imagined
spending money on just a few years earlier: from
Listerine mouthwash and crossword puzzle books to
vacuum cleaners and meat slicers to new golf clubs
and even property in Florida.

"Prosperity changed the culture. Suddenly there were
traffic lights, filling stations, and new concrete
highways with chicken dinner restaurants and tourist
rest stops. Giant broadcast radio stations with
nationwide hookups brought Graham McNamee's
play-by-play or the Happiness Boys or reports on the
Scopes Monkey Trial into more than one out of three
homes. More Americans followed politics now,
including the presidential nominating convention,
which was covered live from Madison Square
Garden. ...

"Along with America's new wealth came a hunger for
sophistication. College applications spiked, as did
international travel. The most popular nonfiction books
included Outline of Science, The Story of
Philosophy, Why We Behave Like Human Beings,
and Emily Post's Book of Etiquette (the top
seller). The now-literary-minded masses read an
astonishing rush of new novels during this period: F.
Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Ernest
Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Herman
Hesse's Siddhartha, Franz Kafka's The
Trial, and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.
Newly minted intellectuals tried to parse James
Joyce's Ulysses or T S. Eliot's The Waste
Land. New fans of the arts listened to George
Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and saw plays
by Eugene O'Neill, who won three Pulitzer Prizes
during the 1920s.

"One sure way for both men and women to appear
sophisticated was to smoke cigarettes. Advertisers
depicted pretty girls, cigarettes in hand, imploring men
to blow smoke their way. Tobacco manufacturers
announced that 'now women may enjoy a
companionable smoke with their husbands and
brothers.' Women had earned the vote and entered
the work force, now millions of women of all ages
exercised their right to take up smoking. Blue tobacco
smoke wafted through theater lobbies, where Greta
Garbo's most important silent movies - Flesh and
the Devil, The Temptress, The Torrent, and
Love - appeared in 1926 and 1927, just as
talking movies debuted. Sports fans smoked as they
watched Babe Ruth, also a smoker, hit sixty home
runs in 1927 for the New York Yankees; his
teammates, known as 'Murderers' Row,' easily
smoked their way through the World Series that year.
Prohibition also fueled smoking, just as it increased
illegal alcohol consumption. The more people drank,
the more they craved a smoke. ...

"During the decade prior to 1929, U.S. cigarette
production doubled."

Frank Partnoy, The Match King, Public Affairs,
Copyright 2009 by Frank Partnoy, pp. 91-93.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 2/18/10 - business education

In today's encore excerpt - writing in
the late
1990s, Quinn Spitzer and Ron Evans contrast the
business leaders of the immediate post-World
War II
period to more contemporary businesses leaders
raised on a steady diet of business
management books, MBAs and consultants:

"During the 1990s virtually an entire
generation of top
executives left their businesses, retired, or
away. Many of these executives had achieved
legendary status - [David] Packard at
[Akio] Morita at Sony, [Sir John Harvey-]
Jones at ICI,
[Sam] Walton at Wal-Mart, and [Jan] Carlzon
at SAS, to
name a few. These leaders shared some notable
characteristics that differentiate them from
successors. They lived through the Great
which crippled the world's economy in the
1930s; they
experienced the horrors of World War II; they
their business apprenticeships in the postwar
rebuilding period of the late 1940s and early
But what may differentiate them most from their
counterparts of today is the issue of
management.This 'old guard' was the last of a
of executives who developed their management
almost entirely in the workplace. They were
businesses while management 'science' - if it
can be
called that - was still in its infancy.

"In 1948 ... the Harvard Business Review had
a robust
circulation of fifteen thousand. That number had
reached nearly two hundred fifty thousand by
the mid
1990s. The Harvard Business School itself and
few other graduate business schools in
existence in
1948 awarded 3,357 MBAs - a far cry from the
MBAs awarded forty-five years later. Even
the best known of consulting companies, was a
relatively small firm with annual revenues of
under $2
million, compared with 1994 revenues of more
$1.2 billion. Management guru Peter Drucker
was a
youngster of thirty-nine. Seven-year-old Tom
was probably 'in search of' a new bike.

"The executives of [the immediate post-war]
were not uneducated - in fact, many were
well educated - but they did not learn their
approach to
business from a business school, a management
expert, a celebrated management book, or an
consultant. Options such as these were not
available. These executives learned their
skills in the industrial jungle. ...

"The forty-year-old executive of the 1990s,
by contrast,
probably holds one of the tens of thousands
of MBAs
awarded each year. His formal management
education is supplemented by dozens of business
periodicals and hundreds of management books.
however, a situation seems resistant to even
mass of management wisdom, there are several
hundred consulting firms and more than a hundred
thousand consultants ready to provide additional
management skill and knowledge. In 1993
businesses around the world spent $17 billion
consultants' recommendations, and AT&T alone
lavished $347.1 million on outside expertise.

"That does not necessarily mean that the
executives of the past were superior to those
of the
present. ... Still, we suspect that if those
[managers] of
years gone by found themselves at the helm of
any of
today's extraordinarily complex and competitive
business enterprises, they would steer a
straight and
successful course."

Quinn Spitzer and Ron Evans, Heads You Win!,
Fireside, Simon and Schuster, Copyright
1997 by
Kepner-Tregoe, Inc., pp. 15-17.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 2/17/10 - the printing press

In today s excerpt without the invention of
the printing press, Columbus would not have
discovered America:

"Johannes Gutenberg produced his first Bible
in Mainz, Germany, in
1454 or 1455, and word soon spread beyond
Germany about the potential
of the printing press. Leon Battista Alberti,
for example, wrote admiringly
of 'the German inventor who has recently made
it possible, by making certain imprints of
letters, for three men to make more than two
hundred copies of a given original text in
one hundred days.' By the early 1460s printing
presses had begun to spread to many of
Europe's important cities, although
not everybody understood what they were. In
1465 the secretary of the
Vatican Library still felt it necessary to
describe the advantages of the new
invention to Pope Paul II. 'Every poor
scholar can purchase for himself
a library for a small sum,' he explained.
'Those volumes that heretofore
could scarce be bought for a hundred crowns
may now be procured for less
than twenty, very well-printed and free from
those faults with which manuscripts used to
abound, for such is the art of our printers
and letter makers
that no ancient or modern discovery is
comparable to it.'

"Columbus belonged to the first lay
generation to benefit from the spread
of printing, and he made the most of the
opportunity that this offered him.
After arriving in Spain he acquired a number
of newly printed books,
almost all of which concerned geography, and
for the rest of his life he kept
them at his side as trusted companions. He
didn't just read his books; he
engaged them in conversation, scribbling
notes to himself in the margins,
calling out statements he agreed with,
testily objecting to others. Several of
his books survive, and together they provide
invaluable information about
how Columbus tried to build his case in Spain
- and, later, after he had
finally crossed the ocean, how he struggled
to make sense of what it was that
he had found on the other side.

"One of Columbus's favorite books, published
in 1477, was the Historia
rerum ubique gestarum, or History of
Matters Conducted Everywhere - one
of the earliest of all printed guides to
geography. Written in the aftermath
of the Council of Florence by the Italian
humanist Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who
would go on to reign as Pope Pius II from
1458 to 1464, the
work surveyed traditional medieval ideas
about the world, and updated
them with references to Ptolemy, Strabo, and
even Niccolo Conti. Its quintessentially
humanist aim, Piccolomini wrote, was
matching modern with
ancient geography. The book consists of two
parts, one devoted to Asia, the
other to Europe. Columbus, naturally, read
the former with great avidity,
making a total of 861 different notes in the

Toby Lester, The Fourth Part of the
World, Free Press, Copyright 2009 by Toby
Lester, pp. 249-250.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 2/16/10 - bombing wall street

In today's excerpt - a bombing on September
16, 1920 in the financial district of New
York City killed 38 and seriously injured
143. The primary victims were employees of
J.P. Morgan Bank, adding to the fears of the
firm s head, Jack Morgan, son of the
legendary J.P. Morgan. The crime was never
solved, though most suspicions surrounded the
Italian anarchists prominent during that era:

"In 1920, just a few seconds after the
Trinity Church bell tolled noon on a pleasant
Thursday in September, a massive shrapnel bomb
shook the corner of Wall and Broad Streets in
New York. The blast set fire
to awnings twelve stories above, sprayed
hundreds of slugs into the facade of
the Morgan building, and killed thirty
employees instantly. The cloud of
greenish smoke that rose from the explosion
darkened the area for several
minutes. When the dust cleared, George
Whitney, one of the six Morgan partners,
walked outside and found that a fragment of
window sash weight had
pinned a woman's head and hat against the
bank's scarred north facade. He
reported, 'I'll always remember that. It hit
her so hard that it just took her
head off and it stuck right on the wall.'

"At the Stock Exchange, sixty paces around
the corner, brokers rushed to
the center of the trading floor to avoid
falling glass, and trading was suspended
within one minute, as William H. Remick,
president of the Exchange,
mounted the rostrum and rang the gong.
Trading on the Curb Market also
halted immediately; the downtown area became
a mob scene. The boys with
the telephones attached to their heads
weren't just swinging down from
windows - now they were jumping. Brokers
scattered, and federal troops
rushed from Governors Island to Wall Street.

"When the bomb hit, Jack Morgan was away
vacationing at his Scottish
shooting lodge. Jack already had been
paranoid, even before this attack on his
bank's headquarters. Just before the war, a
mysterious German man had
attempted to assassinate him, and he had
almost succeeded. Although Jack
had recovered from the gunshot wounds, he
still suffered from the emotional
blow. He was obsessed with his personal
safety and gripped by fear that he
had become a terrorist target. He had hired a
group of former Marines as
bodyguards, and scampered into hiding
whenever he heard reports of an
escape from a prison or mental asylum.

"Now, after the shrapnel bomb, Jack descended
into full-blown panic. When
justice Department authorities investigated
the blast and pursued dozens of
suspects, but could not pin the crime on
anyone, Jack concluded that he
must have been the target. If he hadn't been
off hunting in Scotland, he would
have been killed. Who was after him? Would
they ever stop?

"He posted thirty private detectives to watch
his brownstone on Madison
Avenue. He also began to view competition
from other banks as more than
merely business rivalry. He spun elaborate
conspiracy theories involving the
Bolsheviks and German-Jewish financiers. Jack
and his friends were on one
side of Wall Street; on the other side were
the enemy bankers - Kuhn Loeb,
Lehman, and Goldman Sachs - many of whom were
Jewish. Jack Morgan
neither trusted nor liked Jews. When Harvard
president A. Lawrence Lowell
sought to fill a board vacancy, Jack, who was
an overseer of Harvard and a
devoted alumnus, warned that 'the nominee
should by no means be a Jew ... the Jew is
always a Jew first and an American second.'

"Unlike Jack, investors ultimately shrugged
off the bomb. The new Federal
Reserve Bank reduced interest rates and added
money to the financial system
after the attack. The new Treasury Secretary,
Andrew Mellon, brought confidence with a
proposal for lower taxes. Investors came to
see that neither war
nor terrorists could defeat American

Frank Partnoy, The Match King, Public
Affairs, Copyright 2009 by Frank Partnoy, pp.

Monday, February 15, 2010 2/15/10 - rome

In today's excerpt - by 1400 A.D., Rome's
population had declined from over a million
people at the height of the Empire, to a mere
20,000 people - and Christian tourists
shunned Roman artifacts in favor of such
relics as the finger bone of St. Thomas:

"In the early 1400s the Eternal City must
have been,
in most respects, a wretchedly uninspiring
sight, a parent that the
Florentines may well have wished to disown. A
million people had
dwelled in Rome during the height of the
Empire, but now the city's
population was less than that of Florence.
The Black Death of 1348 had
reduced numbers to 20,000, from which, over
the next fifty years, they
rose only slightly. Rome had shrunk into a
tiny area inside its ancient
walls, retreating from the seven hills to
huddle among a few streets on the
bank of the Tiber across from St. Peter's,
whose walls were in danger of
collapse. Foxes and beggars roamed the filthy
streets. Livestock grazed in
the Forum, now known as il Campo
Vaccino, 'the Field of Cows.'

monuments had suffered even worse fates. The
Temple of Jupiter was a
dunghill, and both the Theater of Pompey and
the Mausoleum of Augustus
had become quarries from which the ancient
masonry was scavenged,
some of it for buildings as far away as
Westminster Abbey. Many ancient
statues lay in shards, half buried, while
others had been burned in kilns to
make quicklime or else fertilizer for the
feeble crops. Still others were
mangers for asses and oxen. The funerary
monument of Agrippina the Elder,
the mother of Caligula, had been turned into
a measure for grain and salt.

"Rome was a dangerous and unappealing place.
There were earthquakes,
fevers, and endless wars, the latest of
which, the War of the Eight Saints,
witnessed English mercenaries laying waste to
the city. There was no trade
or industry apart from the pilgrims who
arrived from all over Europe,
clutching copies of Mirabilia urbis
romae (The wonders of Rome), which
told them which relics to see during their
stay. This guidebook directed
them to such holy sights as the finger bone
of St. Thomas in Santa Croce
in Gerusalemme, the arm of St. Anne and the
head of the Samaritan
woman converted by Christ in San Paolo fuori
le Mura, or the crib of the
infant Savior in Santa Maria Maggiore. There
was a hucksterish
atmosphere to the city: pardoners sold
indulgences from stalls in the street,
and churches advertised confessions that were
supposedly good for a
remission of infernal torture for a grand
total of 8,000 years.

"The Mirabilia urbis romae did not
direct the attention of the pilgrims to
the Roman remains that surrounded them. To
such pious Christians these
ancient ruins were so much heathen idolatry.
Worse, they were stained
with the blood of Christian martyrs. The
Baths of Diocletian, for example,
were built with the forced labor of early
Christians, many of whom
had died during the construction. Antique
images that had survived
a millennium of earthquakes, erosion, and
neglect were therefore
deliberately trampled underfoot, spat on, or
thrown to the ground and
smashed to pieces."

Ross King, Brunelleschi"s Dome,
Penguin, Copyright 2000 by Ross King, pp. 22-23.

Friday, February 12, 2010 2/12/10 - more on brains

In today s excerpt - human brains have almost
all of their 100 billion neurons in place at
birth, with some 250,000 being born every
minute during gestation, and these brains are
almost identical to all other human brains,
since even a slight variation can be lethal:

The trajectory by which a fusion of human
sperm and
ovum results, over nine months gestation, in
some 3-4 kilos of baby,
fully equipped with internal organs, limbs,
and a brain with most of its
100 billion neurons in place, is relatively
easy to describe, even
when it is hard to explain.

All humans are alike in very
many respects, all are different in some. (No
two individuals, not even
monozygotic twins, are entirely identical,
even at birth.) Yet chemically,
anatomically and physiologically there is
astonishingly little obvious variation to be
found between brains, even from people from
widely different
populations. Barring gross developmental
damage, the same structures
and substances repeat in every human brain,
from the chemistry of their
neurotransmitters to the wrinkles on the
surface of the cerebral cortex.
Humans differ substantially in size and
shape, and so do our brains, but
when a correction is made for body size, then
our brains are closely
matched in mass and structure, though men's
brains are slightly heavier
on average than are women's. So similar are
they though, that imagers
using PET (positron emission tomography) and
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) have been
able to develop algorithms by which they can
transform and project the image derived from
any individual into a 'standard' brain.
Brains are so finely tuned to function, so
limited by
constraints, that anything more than
relatively minor variation is simply

Of no body organ is the developmental
sequence more simultaneously dramatic and
enigmatic than the brain. How to explain the
complexity and apparent precision with which
individual neurons are
born, migrate to their appropriate final
sites, and make the connections
which ensure that the newborn on its arrival
into the outside world has
a nervous system so fully organized that the
baby can already see, hear,
feel, voice her needs, and move her limbs?
The fact that this is possible
implies that the baby at birth must have most
of her complement of
neurons already in place - if not the entire
100 billion, then getting on
for that number. If we assume a steady birth
of cells over the whole
nine months - although of course in reality
growth is much more
uneven, with periodic growth spurts and lags
- it would mean some
250,000 nerve cells being born every minute
of every day over the period.
As if this figure is not extraordinary
enough, such is the density of
connections between these neurons that we
must imagine up to 30,000
synapses a second being made over the period
for every square
centimeter of newborn cortical surface. And
to this rapid rate of production must be
added that of the glia, packing the white
matter below the
cortex and surrounding the neurons within it
- though admittedly they
do not reach their full complement by birth
but continue to be generated throughout

Steven Rose, The Future of the Brain, Oxford,
Copyright 2005 by Steven Rose, pp. 57-63.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 2/11/10 - new brain cells

In today's encore excerpt - the brain can grow
new neurons, but these disappear unless cognitively

"Fresh neurons arise in the brain every day. ... Recent
work, albeit mostly in rats, indicates that learning
enhances the survival of new neurons in the adult
brain, and the more engaging and challenging the
problem, the greater the number of neurons that stick
around. These neurons are then presumably
available to aid in situations that tax the mind. It
seems, then, that a mental workout can buff up the
brain, much as physical exercise builds up the
body. ...

"In the 1990s scientists rocked the field of
neurobiology with the startling news that the mature
mammalian brain is capable of sprouting new
neurons. Biologists had long believed that this talent
for neurogenesis was reserved for young, developing
minds and was lost with age. But in the early part of
the decade Elizabeth Gould, then at the Rockefeller
University, demonstrated that new cells arise in the
adult brain - particularly in a region called the
hippocampus, which is involved in learning and
memory. ...

"Studies indicate that in rats, between 5,000 and
10,000 new neurons arise in the hippocampus every
day. (Although the human hippocampus also
welcomes new neurons, we do not know how many.)
The cells are not generated like clockwork, however.
Instead their production can be influenced by a
number of different environmental factors. For
example, alcohol consumption has been shown to
retard the generation of new brain cells. And their birth
rate can be enhanced by exercise. Rats and mice that
log time on a running wheel can kick out twice as
many new cells as mice that lead a more sedentary
life. ...

"Exercise and other actions may help produce extra
brain cells. But those new recruits do not necessarily
stick around. Many if not most of them disappear
within just a few weeks of arising. Of course, most
cells in the body do not survive indefinitely. So the fact
that these cells die is, in itself, not shocking. But their
quick demise is a bit of a puzzler. Why would the brain
go through the trouble of producing new cells only to
have them disappear rapidly?

"From our work in rats, the answer seems to be: they
are made 'just in case.' If the animals are cognitively
challenged, the cells will linger. If not, they will fade

Tracey J. Shors, "Saving New Brain Cells,"
Scientific American, March 2009, pp. 47-48.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 2/10/10 - kitty genovese

In today's excerpt - the 1964 murder of Kitty
Genovese by Winston Moseley:

"The Kitty Genovese murder became infamous
because of an article
published on the front page of The New York
Times. It began like this:

" 'For more than half an hour, 38
respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens
watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three
separate attacks in Kew Gardens. ... Not one
person telephoned
the police during the assault, one witness
called after the woman
was dead.' ...

"The incident so deeply shook the nation that
over the next twenty
years, it inspired more academic research on
bystander apathy than
the Holocaust.

"To mark the thirtieth anniversary, President
Bill Clinton visited
New York City and spoke about the crime: 'It
sent a chilling message
about what had happened at that time in a
society, suggesting that we
were each of us not simply in danger but
fundamentally alone.'

"More than thirty-five years later, the
horror lived on in The Tipping
Point, Malcolm Gladwell's groundbreaking
book about social behavior,
as an example of the 'bystander effect,'
whereby the presence of multiple witnesses at
a tragedy can actually inhibit intervention.

"Today, more than forty years later, the
Kitty Genovese saga appears in all ten of the
top-selling undergraduate textbooks for social
psychology. One text describes the witnesses
remaining 'at their windows in fascination
for the 30 minutes it took her assailant to
his grisly deed, during which he returned for
three separate attacks.' ...

"But was it true? ... Who, then, were 'the
thirty-eight witnesses'?

"That number, also supplied by the police,
was apparently a whopping overstatement. 'We
only found half a dozen that saw what was
going on, that we could use,' one of the
prosecutors later recalled. This
included one neighbor who, according to De
May, may have witnessed
part of the second attack, but was apparently
so drunk that he was reluctant to phone the

"But still: even if the murder was not a
bloody and prolonged spectacle that took
place in full view of dozens of neighbors,
why didn't
anyone call the police for help? Even that
part of the legend may be false. ...

"[Winston Moseley was captured a few days
later while robbing the home of a family
named Bannister.] A neighbor approached and
asked what he was doing. Moseley said
he was helping the Bannisters move. The
neighbor went back in his
house and phoned another neighbor to ask if
the Bannisters were really

" 'Absolutely not,' said the second neighbor.
He called the police
while the first neighbor went back outside
and loosened the distributor cap on Moseley's
When Moseley returned to his car and found it
wouldn't start, he
fled on foot but was soon chased down by a
policeman. Under interrogation, he freely
admitted to killing Kitty Genovese a few
nights earlier.

"Which means that a man who became infamous
because he murdered a woman whose neighbors
failed to intervene was ultimately captured
because of ... a neighbor's intervention."

Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner,
Superfreakonomics, William Morrow,
Copyright 2009 by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen
J. Dubner, pp. 98-99, 127-131.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 2/9/10 - prohibition

In today's excerpt - after World War I, a
national prohibition against alcoholic
beverages was enacted in both the United
States and Canada. This prohibition, however,
led to a dramatic increase in alcohol
consumption and the rise of large-scale
criminal organizations to support it. Why was
it that prohibition was enacted?:

"How [Prohibition] came about can be boiled down
to about five causes:

1) The First World War.

2) The new authority of women.

3) A half-century of campaigning by church
leaders, politicians, evangelists and
women's groups.

4) The existing moral climate of the time.

5) Rural paranoia about urban intrusion.

"Most blame the First World War, which had a
tremendous influence upon the eventual
passage of legislation that took away a person's
freedom to drink. During the war, both the U.S.
and Canada, as already stated, enacted laws that
set the groundwork for full bans on liquor and
beer. It was believed that money should be
diverted from liquor to 'war fitness.' ...
The moral climate in the U.S. brought on by
the war permitted the easy passage of the
Volstead Act (Prohibition). ...

"Another wartime condition that aided
Prohibitionists in both the U.S. and Canada
was the
new authority of women. Before and during the
war, women found voice in numbers. They
banded together in [temperance] groups. Women
had also acquired far more responsibility
during this time, as they were forced to
fend for themselves during the war, to find
work and feed their families while their
husbands were fighting in the trenches
overseas. ... More importantly, during this
period women
won the right to vote in elections.

"The half-century of campaigning by groups
like the Anti-Saloon League (U.S.)
contributed perhaps
more than any other factor in generating
support for Prohibition. By the early 1900s
in the
U.S., the great temperance leaders ordered
their forces to use any means necessary to shut
down the saloons - even hatchets if necessary.
The Bible and hatchet-carrying Carry Nation
and her male counterpart, the iron-fisted Dr.
Howard Russell, were the most popular of the
U.S. temperance leaders. ...

"This Prohibitionary craze may seem
unfathomable out of context but, on closer
the period up until 1920 was dominated by
prohibitions - on clothing, behavior and
even food. In Ontario, especially, the
straight-laced Protestant ethic dictated an
exclusive code of conduct. It was strictly
forbidden in 1919, for example, to purchase a
an ice cream cone, a newspaper or anything
vaguely frivolous on a Sunday. And playing
sports of any kind was absolutely banned on
the Lord's Day. In Michigan, as an extreme
example, it was considered a crime for women
to wear high-heeled shoes. In such a world a
ban on intoxicating beverages did not seem so
out of place.

"In addition to all of these factors, the
farmer was regarded as the silent partner of the
Prohibition movement. The Prohibitionists
relied upon the farmer to cast his ballot against
the evils of drunkenness and sloth, which he
viewed from the safety of his front veranda
in he remote and serene countryside as
something distinctly urban. The Farmer's
Sun told farmers what they already knew -
that their
rural sanctuary could only be ensured if they
voted to bring cities and towns under the
umbrella of Prohibition."

Marty Gervais, The Rumrunners,
Biblioasis, Copyright 1980, 2009 by Marty
Gervais, pp. 14-18.

Friday, February 05, 2010 2/5/10 - scottish refugees

In today's excerpt the deadly persecution of the Scots by the English in the 17th and 18th centuries led to a migration of over 600,000 Scots to America during that period. Many historians believe that the bloody conflicts between the Anglican English and the Presbyterian Scots during that period spilled over into the American Revolution, where Scottish Americans played a large part, and the American Civil War, where Scottish southerners figured prominently:

There had been many conflicts between the English and the Scots over the years, but the most significant war between England and Scotland actually began with the Declaration of Independence issued in Philadelphia in 1776. In order to understand Patrick Henry, you have to understand Braveheart and vice versa. The rebellion of '45 under Bonnie Prince Charlie [against the House of Hanover] ended in 1746 - a mere thirty years before hostilities between the Scots-like Americans and the House of Hanover resumed. ...

After the ... rule of Cromwell, Charles II persecuted the Scots viciously during the killing times. William III brought some relief in 1688, but after his death, more restrictions were placed on them. In response an enormous stream of Scots and Scots-Irish migrated to the colonies, and all of them held a very dim view of the English. And when an enormous stream of Scots began sailing to America, the word enormous should not be overlooked:

After the year 1714, their ships began to cross the sea from Ulster in a long unbroken line. For more than sixty years they continued to come. It was the most extensive movement ever made from Europe to America before the modern days of steamships. Often as many as 12,000 came in a single year. ... In the two years, 1773 and 1774, more than 30,000 came. A body of about 600,000 Scots was thus brought from Ulster and from Scotland to the American colonies, making about one-fourth of our population at the time of the Revolution.

The impact of these immigrants on the development of the South was immense. The War for Independence and the War Between the States must be understood as containing an important element of the ongoing conflict between Celtic peoples and the English - up to and including St. Andrew's cross on the Confederate battle flag and the rebel yell. And these immigrants were overwhelmingly Presbyterian. When war broke out between England and America, Peter Oliver, a Tory writing in 1781, rebuked the black regiment, the dissenting clergy, for fomenting the Revolution. He was referring to the black robes worn by Presbyterian ministers. When the Americans took up the fight with London, it was not a new war, but the continuation of an old one. ...

At Yorktown, Washington's colonels with one exception were Presbyterian elders. More than half the soldiers in the Continental Army were Presbyterians, and most of the rest were other kinds of Calvinists. The British army specially targeted Presbyterian churches because they knew that they were in the thick of it, and the black regiment was effective in supporting the war. One name for the war in England was the Presbyterian revolt. One of the biggest controversies in the colonies before the war was whether the king was going to appoint an Anglican archbishop over all the colonies. The rallying cry in the American Revolution was No King but Jesus. ...

One Hessian officer, writing home during the war, said, Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.

Douglas Wilson, 5 Cities that Ruled the World, Thomas Nelson, Copyright 2009 by Thomas Wilson, pp. 144-146. 2/4/10 - fred astaire and ginger rogers

In today's encore excerpt - the legendary duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and the art of acting. Do great actors feel more emotion than the rest of us? Or less?:

"However much American moviegoers loved them together, however earnestly each tried to put the best face on things, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, without despising each other, probably did not all that much like each other either. Although their social class origins were not so very different, he had climbed higher in the world than she, and she may have felt that he, with his socialite wife, his Anglophiliac manner and style, looked down on her. She was over-, he under-, stated. She was pure show biz, which is to say gaudy, in a way that he, though in show business all his life, somehow avoided being.

"Neither much liked the notion of being subsumed as part of a team: Astaire had already done that with his sister [Adele]; Rogers thought of herself as much more than a mere dancer (she did, after all, go on to win an Oscar for her role in Kitty Foyle), and doubtless sensed that, good as the two of them were together, Fred Astaire somehow outshone her. Astaire even wrote to Leland Hayward, his agent, after the success of The Gay Divorcee, that he wished never again to be part of a fixed team in his movie career, and especially not with Ginger Rogers. ...

"Astaire even had a contract drawn up with a clause that Ginger Rogers could not appear in more than three of the five movies he had signed on to do for RKO. In fact, they eventually did ten movies together. ...

"The relative longevity of their partnership is explained by their popularity as a team, which translated into heavy profits. The success of the early Astaire-Rogers movies--The Gay Divorcee, Roberta, Top Hat, Swing Time--was said to have been the single reason behind the financial rescue of RKO Studios. As a team they were long at or near the top of various popularity polls for movie stars. Astaire drew a salary of $100,000 for the earlier of his movies with Ginger Rogers and had a share in the gross, which made him a rich man. Money and fame are not bad reasons to bury tensions or even hide complicated feelings. Still, can actors completely fake charm of the kind that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers combined to exude in the marvelous movies they made together?

"My guess is that they can fake it, and that Astaire and Rogers did so supremely well. It's called being a pro. Many are the theories of acting - Stanislavsky's, the Actors Studio's, to name only the more modern - but an older theory of acting, one devised by Denis Diderot, the Enlightenment writer and editor of the great French Encyclopedie, holds that the truly superior actor, far from feeling more than the rest of us, far from being able to delve into the well of his deep feeling when it is required by his art, the truly superior actor actually feels nothing. In his Paradox of the Actor, Diderot writes: 'It is extreme sensibility which makes a mediocre actor; mediocre sensibility which makes the multitude of bad actors; and a total lack of sensibility which produces sublime actors.' The feeling man or woman, in other words, is likely to be the less successful artist. Feeling gets in the way; it isn't finally what the art of acting is primarily about."

Joseph Epstein, Fred Astaire, Yale, Copyright 2008 by Joseph Epstein, pp. 94-97.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010 2/3/10 - the crusaders and the altantic slave trade

In today's excerpt - Portugal's Prince Henry
the Navigator is now praised as the one whose
vision and sailing innovations made possible
the great Atlantic explorers that rounded the
Cape of Good Hope and discovered America -
and the one who made his efforts because his
status as a noble required him to "carry out
very great deeds." The truth is less
inspiring - he and his successors sent forth
sailors down the coast of Africa to bring a
trading fortune to the king, thus launching
the very first of what became the
Atlantic/West African slave trade. Worse,
this enormously profitable slave trade was
justified as an essential part of new Great
Crusade against the Moors, 'the infidel' and
the 'sect of Mahomet' (Muhammad). And the
heartbreaking misery of slaves was justified
because their souls were to be saved as they
were converted to Christianity:

"Prince Henry wanted to make a name for
himself as a Crusader doing
battle with the Moors, and by sending his men
against the Africans of the
Sarahan coast, and by describing his battles
with them to the rest of Europe
as a succession of triumphant conquests
against the Moors, he could do just
that. [A 1441 voyage he commissioned]
represents a landmark event in history: the
moment when the official Portuguese slave
trade in Africa can be said to have begun.

"Later that year, after the first small cargo
of African slaves had arrived in
Portugal (ten of them, probably Berbers),
Henry recognized that his sailors had opened
the door to something big. ...

"As Portuguese sailors began bringing slaves
back to Europe, Henry realized that he stood
to make great profits by eliminating the Arab
and Genoese middlemen who had for so long
dominated the North African slave
trade with Europe. [His hagiographer] Azurara
claimed that Henry also had a loftier goal in
mind as he began to oversee the capture and
enslavement of more and more
Africans: 'salvation for the lost souls of
the heathen.' Henry was doing his
captives a favor. 'For though their bodies
were now brought into some subjection,'
Azurara explained, 'that was a small matter
in comparison of their
souls, which would now possess true freedom
for evermore.' " ...

"Skeptics in Portugal who had previously
complained about the
great expense of Henry's African ventures
developed a sudden change of
heart when they noticed 'the houses of others
full to overflowing of male
and female slaves'; overcome with envy,
Azurara wrote, they had to 'turn
their blame into public praise.' ...

"The easy pickings along the Saharan coast
[soon] disappeared. Africans living along the
Saharan coast knew to flee inland at the
sight of Portuguese ships. Slavers and profit
seekers sponsored by Henry therefore had
to press farther and farther south in search
of unsuspecting victims, and the
result was inevitable. In 1444, a Portuguese
squire named Diniz Diaz put out to sea and,
according to Azurara, 'he never lowered sail
till he had passed
the land of the Moors [now Morocco] and
arrived in the land of the blacks [the
modern-day countries of west Africa].'

"But it wasn't just merchants and sailors who
had noticed Portugal's
African discoveries. For decades the
Portuguese had worked hard - and successfully
- to convince the Church that
their raiding trips along the West African
coast were part of an organized
Crusading campaign against the Moors. Prince
Henry was instrumental
in this effort, and indeed nobody in
Portugal had better credentials for the
job. From 1419 until the end of his life, in
1460, he led Portugal's branch of
the Order of Christ (a successor organization
to the Templars), and in that
capacity he wrote to the Church in Rome
repeatedly with reports of his
valiant efforts to wrest West Africa away
from the infidel.

"The news from Portugal pleased the Church.
During the first half of
the fifteenth century, a succession of popes
issued a series of official decrees,
or bulls, giving religious sanction to the
Portuguese conquest of all African
territories not already in Christian hands."

Toby Lester, The Fourth Part of the
World, Free Press, Copyright 2009 by Toby
Lester, pp. 184-196.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010 2/2/10 - uncritical investors and dumb ideas

In today's excerpt - George Soros, one of the
world's wealthiest and most successful
investors, made his early fortune by betting
on the stock market's irrationality in a
world that had long believed in a rational
and efficient market. Investors fell in love
with conglomerates such as LTV Corporation in
the 1960s, and that love translated into
unwarranted high valuations for these
companies and soaring stock prices. For
Soros, that was a golden opportunity:

"Soros's practical experience as a broker and
research analyst convinced him that the
normal market state was, in fact, disequilibrium.
As an investor, however,
he finds it more useful than an assumption of
market rationality,
because it is a better pointer to profit
opportunities. [One] of his
early investment successes [was] crucial to
the evolution of his

"[It] was related to the conglomerate
movement in the second half of the 1960s. The
flurry of company takeovers, Soros
saw, merely exploited investors' tendency to
rate companies by
trends in earnings per share (EPS). Start
with modestly sized Company A, and engineer a
debt-financed acquisition of B, a much
larger, stodgy company with stagnant
revenues, a modest EPS,
and a low market price. Merge B into A, and
retire B's stock, and
the resulting combined A/B will have a much
higher debt load,
but a much smaller stock base. So long as B's
earnings more than
cover the new debt service, the combined A/B
will show a huge
Jump in per-share revenues and earnings.
Uncritical investors then
push up A/B's stock price, which helps
finance new acquisitions.
Jim Ling was one of the early exploiters of
the strategy, parlaying
a modest Dallas electronics company into a
sprawling giant (LTV) with
dozens of companies, spanning everything from
steel to avionics,
meatpacking, and golf balls.

"Business schools justified the scam by
theorizing that conglomerates deserved higher
share prices because their diversified business
mix would deliver smoother and steadier
earnings. It was the kind
of dumb idea that underscores the disconnect
between business
schools and real business. If shareholders
want earnings diversification, of course,
they can quickly and easily diversify stock
portfolios in the market. Big conglomerates,
in fact, probably warrant
lower stock prices. They're hard to manage,
are often run by financial operators, and
usually carry outsized debt loads.

"Soros understood that the conglomerate game
made no sense,
but he also recognized its strong following
among market professionals. 'I respect the
herd,' he told me, not because it's right, but
because 'it's like the ocean.' Even the
stupidest idea may warrant
investment, in other words, if it has a grip
on the market's imagination. So Soros
invested heavily in conglomerates, riding up the
stock curve until he sensed it was nearing a
top. Then he took his
winnings and switched to the short side,
enjoying a second huge
payday on the way down."

Charles R. Morris, The Sages, Public
Affairs, Copyright 2009 by Charles R. Morris,
pp. 10-11.


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Monday, February 01, 2010 2/1/10 - larry bird

In today's excerpt - Larry Bird, one of the
greatest basketball players in NBA history,
was so demoralized by his own poverty as a
college freshman at Indiana University that
he abandoned school and took jobs collecting
garbage and unplugging sewers:

" 'For the most part, everything was cool,"
Larry Bird said [describing his first days at
college]. 'I just didn't
have any money. At night, if the guys wanted
to go get something to eat, I had no money to
do it. I couldn't buy a pair of pants or a shirt.
[My friend] Jimmy Wisman was pretty nice. He
let me wear whatever I wanted of his.
But it started to get to me, just never
having any money."

Two weeks into school, Bird started to
rethink his strategy. Maybe
he should withdraw from Indiana University,
get a job, then try again when he had
some financial security. He didn't share his
concerns with any of his
new friends on campus or his parents back
home. The few times he
called, [his mother] Georgia could sense he
was homesick, but she encouraged
him to study hard and stick with it. Bird's
interaction with [Coach Bob] Knight
was minimal, particularly since the team's
workouts had not yet officially begun. He
occasionally bumped into Knight at the gym, but
the coach was an intimidating figure, and
Bird was not one to initiate a conversation.

Bird might have made it if not for the night
he broke his toe
during a pickup game on the outdoor courts
after another player
landed on his foot. The injury was painful
and left Bird limping all over campus. He
got up 40 minutes earlier in the morning so
he'd make it to his first
class on time, but was consistently late
getting to the next one.

" 'I'm sitting there saying to myself, 'I'm
hurt, I can't work, I'm going to be in
trouble for being late to class, I don't have
any money,
and they won't let me play in any of the
games,' ' Bird said. 'Time to
go home.'

After 24 days on campus, Bird packed up his
duffel bag, closed
his dormitory room door, and hitchhiked back
to [his hometown of] French Lick. He
did not tell anyone of his plans - not even
the coach who had recruited him.

When Larry walked into his house, his
mother, who had just finished her waitress
shift, was washing dishes at the sink.

" 'What are you doing home?' asked Georgia

" 'I'm done. I'm not going back.' her son
answered. 'I'm going to

Georgia Bird's voice cracked. She was a
strong, proud woman,
but this news crushed her. 'I thought you
were going to be the first
one to graduate college.' she said. 'This was
a great opportunity for
you. Don't you understand? I'm so
disappointed.' ...

Bird's mother said nothing more. She did not
speak to Larry for
nearly a month and a half. Bird moved in with
his grandmother
Lizzie Kerns and avoided Georgia completely.
By then his parents
were divorced, and while [his father] Joe
Bird was not happy with his son's decision
either, he advised him, 'If you are leaving
school to work,
then you better get on that job - now.'

He took a job working for the town of French
Lick cutting trees,
painting street signs, sweeping the roads,
collecting garbage, and
unplugging the sewers. He later worked for a
company delivering
mobile homes.

Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson with
Jackie McMullin, When the Game Was
Ours, Copyright 2009 by Magic Johnson
Enterprises and Larry Bird, pp. 13-15.