Friday, April 30, 2010 4/30/10 - ringmann names america

In today's excerpt - in 1507, inspired by the still-fresh discovery of the New World, a small band of German humanist scholars in Saint-Die, Alsace, decided to make a new world map with accompanying commentary to be sold and studied throughout the cities and universities of Europe. They considered the New World to be the "fourth part" of the world, after Europe, Asia, and Africa, and from their distant outpost believed that Columbus had merely discovered islands west of the Canaries, and the true discoverer of this massive new continent was Amerigo Vespucci. So they coined a name for this fourth part of the world and printed it on their map - America:

"[Matthias Ringmann and Martin Waldseemuller and their colleagues] decided to produce a geographical package consisting of three parts: a huge new map of the whole world, dedicated to Maximilian I (the Holy Roman Emperor and thus the symbolic head of the Germanic people), that would sum up ancient and modern geographical learning; a tiny version of that map, printed as a series of globe gores that could be pasted onto a small ball, creating the world's first mass-produced globe; and a sort of users' guide to those two maps, titled Introduction to Cosmography. ... It was a profound moment in the history of cartography - and in the larger history of ideas. ...

"The bulk of the work - the design of the map and the globe, and the writing of theIntroduction to Cosmography - fell to Waldseemuller and Ringmann. Ringmann took the lead in writing the book. Libraries today credit Waldseemuller as the author, but the book actually names no author, and Ringmann's fingerprints appear all over it. ... Ringmann the writer, Waldseemuller the mapmaker. ...

"Why dwell on this question of authorship? Because whoever wrote the Introduction to Cosmography almost certainly coined the name America (which would have been pronounced 'Amer-eeka'). Here, too, the balance tilts in Ringmann's favor. Consider the famous passage in which the author steps forward to explain and justify the use of the name.

" 'These parts have in fact now been more widely explored, and a fourth part has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci (as will be heard in what follows). Since both Asia and Africa received their names from women, I do not see why anyone should rightly prevent this [new part] from being called Amerigen - the land of Amerigo, as it were - or America, after its discoverer, Americus, a man of perceptive character.'

"This sounds a lot like Ringmann, who is known to have spent time mulling over the reasons that concepts and places so often had the names of women. 'Why are all the virtues, the intellectual qualities, and the sciences always symbolized as if they belonged to the feminine sex?' he would write in a 1511 essay on the Muses. 'Where does this custom spring from - a usage common not only to the pagan writers but also to the scholars of the church? It originated from the belief that knowledge is destined to be fertile of good works. ... Even the three parts of the old world received the name of women:' The naming-of-America passage reveals Ringmann's hand in other ways, too. In his poetry and prose Ringmann regularly amused himself by making up words, by punning in different languages, and by investing his writing with hidden meanings for his literary friends to find and savor. The passage is rich in just this sort of wordplay, much of which requires a familiarity with Greek, a language Waldseemuller didn't know.

"The key to the passage, almost always ignored or overlooked, is the curious name Amerigen - a coinage that involves just the kind of multifaceted, multilingual punning that Ringmann frequently indulged in. The word combines Amerigo with gen, a form of the Greek word for 'earth,' creating the meaning that the author goes on to propose - 'the land of Amerigo.' But the word yields other meanings, too. Gen can also mean 'born' in Greek, and the word ameros can mean "new," making it possible to read Amerigen as not only 'land of Amerigo' but also 'born new' - a double entendre that would have delighted Ringmann, and one that very nicely complements the idea of fertility that he associated with female names. The name may also contain a play on meros, a Greek word that can sometimes be translated as 'place.' Here Amerigen becomes A-meri-gen, or 'No-place-land': not a bad way to describe a previously unnamed continent whose geography is still uncertain."

Author: Toby Lester

Title: The Fourth Part of the World

Publisher: Free Press

Date: Copyright 2009 by Toby Lester

Pages: 355-357

Thursday, April 29, 2010 4/29/10 - lobotomies

In today's encore excerpt - lobotomy, a procedure whereby a sharp instrument such as an icepick was inserted through holes that were drilled in the skull or through the eyesocket above the eye and were designed to sever the connections between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain. Though thoroughly discredited by the 1970s, in the late 1930s through the 1950s, lobotomies became an increasingly common treatment in America for mental illness:

"Doctors at the time were using many strange methods to treat patients who were depressed or mentally ill. Psychiatrists used electrotherapy, where they ran varying amounts of electricity through people's brains and bodies. They used hydrotherapy, where they gave their patients baths, douches, wet packs, steam, spritzers, and shots from hoses. ... A German psychiatrist developed something called the 'electric shower.' The patient was fitted into a helmet that gave his brain a 'shower' of electricity. ...

"These doctors weren't just doing experiments in dark basements somewhere, hidden from the American Medical Association, or from the public eye. They were the subjects of articles in magazines and newspapers that applauded their efforts, [including] Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, Science Digest, and Reader's Digest. ...

"In 1935, visiting London, Dr. Walter Freeman witnessed a presentation on chimpanzees whose frontal lobes had been operated on. No one knew why exactly, but the monkeys all became passive and subdued after the operation. Another doctor attending the presentation was a Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz. He returned to Lisbon, and in late 1935 began performing similar frontal lobe experiments on human beings. Moniz called the process 'psychosurgery,' [it later became known as 'lobotomy.']

"Encouraged [by early experiments in this area], Freeman ... conducted many more prefrontal lobotomies. In that early period, Freeman's statistics said that out of his first 623 surgeries, 52 percent of the patients received 'good' results, 32 percent received 'fair' results, and 13 percent received 'poor' results. The remaining 3 percent died, but they weren't included in the 'poor' results category. Freeman would later get closer to the truth when he admitted that his fatality rate was almost 15 percent. ...

"Many of Freeman's patients were so damaged by the surgery that they needed to be taught how to eat and use the bathroom again. Some never recovered. One of Freeman's most famous patients was Rosemary Kennedy, sister of future president John F. Kennedy. Rosemary was born slightly retarded, but she lived an almost normal life until she was twenty-three. Then Freeman went to work on her. He performed a prefrontal lobotomy in 1941. Rosemary wound up in a Wisconsin mental hospital, where she stayed until her death more than sixty years later. ...

"The news coverage was universally positive. ... The New York Times ran a story applauding Freeman's success rate, which their reporter put at 65 percent. Freeman's lobotomy might have gotten popular without the support of the press. America's hospitals were flooded with mental patients. By the late 1940s, there were more than a million mental cases in hospitals or asylums. More than 55 percent of all patients in American hospitals were mental cases. One study reported that the population of mental patients in American hospitals was growing by 80 percent a year.

"There was no real treatment for these people. They were often drugged, shackled, kept in straitjackets, or locked in rubber rooms. Doctors were able to keep them from harming themselves or others, but they had a cure rate of about zero. Besides, keeping them in hospitals was expensive. Freeman offered a solution. His motto was 'Lobotomy gets them home!' Directors of mental institutions heard that loud and clear. One of Freeman's colleagues said that a procedure that would send 10 percent of mental patients home would save the American taxpayer $1 million a day. Freeman claimed a success rate well above 10 percent. Most hospitals and institutions welcomed him and his lobotomy."

Author: Howard Dully and Charles Fleming
Title: My Lobotomy
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Date: Copyright 2007 by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming
Page: 63-69

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 4/28/10 - haiti

In today's excerpt - numerous and repeated earthquakes have been recorded in Haiti from its beginnings as a European colony, yet Haiti, once one of the richest colonies in the New World, long ignored safe building codes:

"The earthquake that struck the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on January 12th killed over 230,000 people according to recent estimates. ... The West Indies in general and the island of Hispaniola in particular - which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic - has, since the early 16th century, been well known as a quake-prone area. Located at the border of the Caribbean and the North American tectonic plates, several fault systems span the island, resulting in frequent earthquakes and a long record of destruction over the past 500 years.

"Europeans, from the beginning of their exploration and colonization of the region, recorded many earthquakes in annals and travel books. As early as 1564, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in the eastern part of Hispaniola destroyed the cities of Concepción de la Vega and Santo Domingo. ... During the 18th century more than 100 earthquakes were recorded, five of which caused significant damage. In 1701, a violent tremor destroyed several houses in Léogâne, 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Earthquakes particularly affected the growth of the capital. The extreme devastation of the quake of 1751 - just two years after Port-au-Prince's foundation - totally destroyed Port-au-Prince. ...

"Following this heavy blow, the population of Port-au-Prince was strongly encouraged to rethink building methods. A chronicler wrote that 'the earthquake of 1751, which overthrew three quarters of the houses, suggested the idea of rebuilding only with timber'. However, wooden structures were not without risk either, as fires (such as the one that devastated the city in 1784) represented another danger. The same dilemma over building materials faced the population later that century when it came to rebuild after [the 1770] earthquake:

"The 1770 earthquake was not the last one which Haiti and Port-au-Prince had to endure in earlier centuries. On May 7th, 1842, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed several towns on the north coast of the island and killed several thousand people. Le Cap Haitien, in particular, a town of about 10,000 inhabitants, was transformed in seconds into a pile of ruins. In Port-de-Paix, a tsunami covered the town under 15ft of water. ...

"Even if the 1842 earthquake was the last major one to strike Haiti before this year, tremors occur frequently on the island and are often felt in Port-au-Prince. Throughout the 20th century, several quakes have been recorded: between 1946 and 1953, at least five of a magnitude greater than 7.0 occurred on the northeast coast of the island. The last earthquake to have caused some damage, with a 6.5 magnitude, was in 2003 in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

"In short, earthquakes in Hispaniola are neither a new phenomena nor a forgotten one. As recently as 2008, a team of geologists warned that an earthquake of a magnitude which might reach 7.2 could happen anytime in the Port-au-Prince region."

Author: Jean-Francois Mouhot
Title: "The Tragic Annals of Haiti"
Publisher: History Today
Date: April 2010
Page: 3

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 4/27/10 - boy scouts of america

In today's excerpt - the population explosion in American in the late 1800s had left America the crisis of cities filled with adolescent hoodlums joining gangs involved in everything from prostitution to murder. The country grasped to find antidotes, including mandating attendance of high school, creating a new genre of literature depicting idyllic adolescents, and starting organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America:

"Although the number of adolescents aged fourteen to seventeen in school doubled, the figure was only just over 30 percent of the total cohort by the end of the decade. And the dropout rate remained high in large cities. In his 1914 survey, The High School Age, Irving King noted that in some inner urban areas a massive 88 percent of high-school-age pupils did not graduate, because they did 'not find it possible or perhaps worthwhile to follow out the course.' ... Either from necessity or temperament, many poor youths saw no reason to stay in the school environment and left for the world of temporary, low-paying jobs or delinquency. As far as they were concerned, even a few cents in their pockets conferred status and allowed some control over their own lives.

"At the same time, the high school was in the process of being promoted as an aspirational institution. Its idealized image, promoted by popular fiction such as H. Irving Hancock's 1910 novel The High School Freshmen, was smalltown and middle-class. ... Set in an 'average little American city of some thirty thousand inhabitants,' The High School Freshmen pits Dick Prescott, the straight-up son of a bookshop owner, against the vicious and vengeful Fred Ridley. ... Despite being a lowly freshman of fourteen, Prescott rises through the school through his courage and his proficiency at sports. His reward is to be invited to the senior ball. Featuring fistfights and dark doings ... Dick entreats his mortified enemy, 'Come on Fred, be a different sort of chap. Make up your mind to go through the High School, and through life afterwards, dealing with everybody on the square. Be pleasant and honest - be a high-class fellow - and everything will like you and seek your friendship.'

"These books offered practical solutions to deal with the savagery of eight-to fourteen-year-old boys. These included sports, alert parenting, and vocational education. Physical activity and practical endeavor were also inculcated by [organizations such as] the youth group launched by Ernest Thompson Seton, the American Woodcraft Indians. ... The most successful voluntary institution that sought to productively channel the energies of American youth was the Boy Scouts of America, founded by a Chicago publisher named William D. Boyce in 1910. Although inspired by Seton, Boyce was a better organizer: within a few years, his group had subsumed the American Woodcraft Indians as well as other scouting bodies like the Sons of Daniel Boone aimed at 'boys' between eleven and seventeen.

"In 1911, the BSA published its manual, Handbook for Boys, which included the American Scout Oath: 'On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.' The Scout Law delineated the qualities that it demanded from members: 'A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.' ...

"The organization quickly grew into a national force. ... In 1916, Congress gave the BSA a federal charter, by which time there were more than 250,000 Boy Scouts throughout America."

Author: Jon Savage
Title: Teenage
Publisher: Viking
Date: Copyright 2007 by Jon Savage
Pages: 97-99

Monday, April 26, 2010 4/26/10 - demosthenes

In today's excerpt - Demosthenes (384-322 BC) became one of the most famous orators among the ancient Greeks - in part by learning to give his speeches with a pebble in his mouth and while running and trying to project his voice over the whistling winds and crashing waves of the Athenian seaside:

"A tortuous path had led Demosthenes to the speaker's platform. His boyhood had been lonely. A weakling with a chronic stutter, he made no friends at wrestling practice or hunting parties. His father died when Demosthenes was only seven, and from then on Demosthenes lived at home with his mother and sister. To an outside observer the boy must have appeared starved for companionship. But he had one constant friend, a familiar spirit from the past: Thucydides. The historian had been dead for some three decades, but his stirring voice lived on. Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War fired Demosthenes' imagination with tales of perilous adventures and epic battles. Unrolling his copy, he was transported back to an age when Athens blazed with glory, its navy seemingly indomitable and its leaders larger than life. Demosthenes read the whole book eight times and knew parts of it by heart.

"Demosthenes' father had left him an inheritance worth fourteen talents (a talent was worth very roughly 11,700 troy ounces in silver or $150,000), some of it tied up in a factory that manufactured swords. He therefore expected to be financially independent when he turned eighteen, an event that took place five years after Athens made its final peace with Sparta. But it proved a painful coming of age. The three guardians appointed in his father's will had stolen or squandered most of his inheritance. Of the fourteen talents in money and property left to Demosthenes, only a little over one talent remained. To rub salt in the wound, the embezzlers had concealed their depletion of the estate by enrolling young Demosthenes in the highest bracket for taxes and liturgics. At the age of seventeen he was already listed among the trierarchs [those wealthy enough to be required to fund the military trireme warships] and had made partial payment for the outfitting of a trireme. Two of the guardians were his own cousins, but Demosthenes filed a lawsuit against them, family or no.

"Two years passed before the case came to trial, and during that time
Demosthenes prepared tirelessly for his day in court. Athenian juries expected citizens to speak for themselves, even if professional speechwriters had been hired to compose the speeches. Demosthenes, intensely self-critical, knew that he made a poor impression. He could do nothing about his wretched physique or habitual scowl, but he learned by listening to actors and orators that he could at least train and strengthen his voice. He began to make solitary excursions to a deserted beach and strained to make himself heard through the whistling wind and crashing waves. To overcome his speech impediment, Demosthenes would put a pebble in his mouth and work his tongue around the stone while still trying to pronounce words clearly. Away from the beach, he declaimed speeches while walking or running up steep hillsides, Skinny legs working, narrow chest heaving, his delivery eventually became smooth even as he almost gasped for breath. Demosthenes had inherited a true Athenian's competitive nature, but he turned it not toward wrestling or running but toward public speaking. [His inherited fortune proved unrecoverable but he made a second fortune through his powerful oratory.]"

Author: John R. Hale
Title: Lords of the Sea
Publisher: Viking
Date: Copyright 2009 by John R. Hale
Pages: 280-281

Friday, April 23, 2010 4/23/10 - symposion

In today's excerpt - during the golden age of Athens (5th century B.C.), if you were among the wealthy and sophisticated and gave a party or symposionfor your friends, sex was likely to be part of the entertainment you provided. And since Athens gained so much of its wealth and power from its seagoing skills, it was natural that you would speak about sex in nautical terms:

"The andronor men's meeting room [of the house] opened directly off the courtyard. Here the master of the house entertained his friends. The andronin a Piraeus house was designed to accommodate seven couches around its square perimeter: two couches on three sides and one sharing the fourth wall with the door, which was placed in the corner. After dinner, when the sun cast a shadow longer than a man was tall, was the time for wine. The symposion or drinking together was the crown of every Athenian feast. To accompany the flow of stories, speculations, and poetry, a fleet of earthenware pots were carried into the banqueting room. All had been fired a distinctive glossy black and red, and all were made in Athens of good Attic clay. Familiar mythical scenes were painted on the vessels. One cup showed Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship, listening to the songs of the Sirens. But there were contemporary scenes, too, celebrating the exploits of the men who would be drinking from these very cups: warriors rowing across the sea to battle; warships cruising in convoy; archers shooting from ships at sea; pirates stealthily attacking unsuspecting freighters. The most beautiful of these ship paintings showed long sleek galleys rowing around the inner surface of a pot. When the vessel was brimming with wine, the ships appeared to be floating on its surface: warships reflected in a sea of wine, reflecting the 'wine-dark sea' of the beloved poet Homer.

"Sometimes the host of the party provided sexual pleasures along with wine, music, and conversation. The men might also seek more straightforward relief, free from civilized frills, at one of the many brothels in the Piraeus. Exercising untrammeled sexual freedom carried few consequences for Athenian citizens. Sexually transmitted diseases were as yet unknown, and few societies in history have granted to free adult males such extremes of sexual license.

"It was perhaps inevitable that Athenian men, who enjoyed thinking, talking, and joking about sex when they were not actually engaged in it, should have at times viewed sex organs and sex acts as extensions of their experiences at sea. A woman's vagina could be described as a kolposor gulf, like the Corinthian and Saronic gulfs, where a happy seafarer could lose himself. As for the penis, a modest man could claim to have a kontosor boat pole, an average man a kopeor oar between his legs, and a braggart a pedalionor steering oar. Inevitably too, the erection poking against an Athenian's tunic was referred to as his 'ram' (ramming was the wartime nautical manuever of hitting the broadside of an enemy ship with the front of yours). Sexual intercourse was likened to ramming encounters between triremes(warships), but the men did not always take the active role. The popular Athenian sexual position in which the woman sat astride her partner gave her a chance to play the nautriaor female rower, and row the man as if he were a boat. A man who mounted another man might claim to be boarding him, using the nautical term for a marine boarding a trireme. Sexual bouts with multiple partners were sometimes dubbed naumachiaior naval battles."

Author: John R. Hale
Title: Lords of the Sea
Publisher: Viking
Date: Copyright 2009 by John R. Hale
Pages: 118-119

Thursday, April 22, 2010 4/22/10 - pinocchio

In today's encore excerpt - the original story of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 as an outgrowth of the efforts to create an "Italian" education and literature for children in the newly united nation of Italy, a nation that had never previously existed as a single political entity and therefore never had its own literature:

"The celebrated and sugary Disney film adaptation (1940), by which most people outside Italy have come to know Pinocchio's story, announces itself as an example of how, if sincerely desired, even the greatest of wishes can come true: a reassuring message. Nothing could be further from the acid spirit of Collodi's Pinocchio....

"[From a talking pine log], Geppetto will fashion a traveling companion who can 'dance and fence, and do flips,' so that together the two can earn a 'crust of bread' and a 'cup of wine.' He's thinking of company and economic advantage. But no sooner has Pinocchio been carved from his living log than he is snatching off Geppetto's wig, revealing the reality of his maker's baldness. Taught to walk, he runs off. When Geppetto catches up and starts to give the puppet a fierce shaking, he is arrested for assault and jailed. The artist has lost control of his creation. Raw vitality with no inhibitions, Pinocchio is freed into a world of hot tempers, vanity, ignorance, and appetite; a violent tussle is never far off. ...

"Having got Geppetto arrested, Pinocchio rushes home, only to experience a shock like the one he earlier gave the carpenter: a voice speaks from nowhere: 'Cree, cree, cree.' It is the Talking Cricket (Disney's Jiminy Cricket) who has 'lived in this room for more than a hundred years.' Revealing himself on the wall, the officious insect proceeds to give Pinocchio some hundred-year-old advice: 'Woe to any little boy who rebels against his parents and turns his back on his father's house!' A surprisingly well-informed Pinocchio is having none of it: he's off, he declares, 'because if I hang around the same thing that happens to all the other kids will happen to me, too: I'll be sent to school, and I'll be expected to study whether I like it or not.' ...

"When the cricket warns that this attitude can only lead to disaster, 'Pinocchio jumped up in a rage, grabbed a wooden mallet from the workbench, and flung it at the Talking Cricket.' Far from crooning his way through the puppet's many adventures with blue top hat, red umbrella, and yellow dancing shoes, the creature dies at once, splattered on the wall. It is typical of Collodi that while the rest of the book will show just how right the cricket was, the author nevertheless seems to take as much delight as any child in having this wearisome pedagogue obliterated with such panache....

"Whether the cricket is dead or alive, traditional wisdom is evidently defunct, a tedious chirp no one has time for. Who then will harness the mad vitality of this improbably artificial, newly created Italian? Rather than the uplifting account of a noble wish come true, Collodi's tale records the thoughtless exuberance of a character whose only talent lies in trading insults and whose inevitable destiny is to be exploited at every turn. The writer's achievement here was to tap into the zany spirit of Tuscan humor to deliver a Pinocchio who swings alarmingly between lies and candor, generous sentiment and cruel mockery, good intentions and zero staying power. ... Pinocchio does indeed capture a perplexing waywardness that one experiences every day in Italy."

Author: Tim Parks
Title: "Knock on Wood"
Publisher: The New York Review of Books
Date: April 30, 2009
Pages: 22

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 4/21/10 - volcanos and global cooling

In today's excerpt - massive volcano eruptions have caused the temperature of the earth to cool significantly by blocking light from the sun:

"The connection between volcanoes and climate is hardly a new idea. ... Benjamin Franklin, wrote what seems to be the first scientific paper on the topic. In 'Meteorological Imaginations and Conjectures,' published in 1784, Franklin posited that recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland had caused a particularly harsh winter and a cool summer with 'constant fog over all Europe, and [a] great part of North America.' In 1815, the gargantuan eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia produced 'The Year Without a Summer,' a worldwide disaster that killed crops, prompted widespread starvation and food riots, and brought snow to New England as late as June.

"As Nathan Myhrvold [of Intellectual Ventures and formerly of Microsoft] puts it: 'All really big-ass volcanoes have some climate effects.'

"Volcanoes erupt all the time, all over the world, but truly 'big-ass' ones are rare. If they weren't - well, we probably wouldn't be around to worry about global warming. The anthropologist Stanley Ambrose has argued that a supervolcanic explosion at Lake Toba on Sumatra, roughly seventy thousand years ago, blocked the sun so badly that it triggered an ice age that nearly wiped out Homo sapiens. What distinguishes a big-ass volcano isn't just how much stuff it ejaculates, but where the ejaculate goes. The typical volcano sends sulfur dioxide into the troposphere, the atmospheric layer closest to the earth's surface. This is similar to what a coal-burning power plant does with its sulfur emissions. In both cases, the gas stays in the sky only a week or so before falling back to the ground as acid rain, generally within a few hundred miles of its origin.

"But a big volcano shoots sulfur dioxide far higher, into the stratosphere. That's the layer that begins at about seven miles above the earth's surface, or six miles at the poles. Above that threshold altitude, there is a drastic change in a variety of atmospheric phenomena. The sulfur dioxide, rather than quickly returning to the earth's surface, absorbs stratospheric water vapor and forms an aerosol cloud that circulates rapidly, blanketing most of the globe. In the stratosphere, sulfur dioxide can linger for a year or more, and will thereby affect the global climate.

"That's what happened in 1991 when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. Pinatubo made Mount St. Helens look like a hiccup; it put more sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere than any volcano since Krakatoa, more than a century earlier. In the period between those two eruptions, the state of science had progressed considerably. A worldwide cadre of scientists was on watch at Pinatubo, equipped with modern technology to capture every measurable piece of data. The atmospheric aftereffects of Pinatubo were undeniable: a decrease in ozone, more diffuse sunlight, and, yes, a sustained drop in global temperature."

Author: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Title: Superfreakonomics
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: Copyright 2009 by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Pages: 189-190

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 4/20/10 - ulysses grant

In today's excerpt - corruption in the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, who appointed forty-two of his relatives and countless ex-soldiers to government jobs:

"The public's respect and adoration for Ulysses S. Grant - a good-hearted, self-made man who seemed to personify the young American dream - had propelled him to two terms as President, and he was angling this centennial year for a third. The unpretentious General was a folk hero, almost a legend - the man who, especially after Lincoln's death, had saved the Union.

"But by this time, seven years into his administration, an embarrassment of scandals had soured the public on Grant's presidency. Soon after his second inauguration, a steady stream of corruption involving Grant's relatives, friends, and appointees had turned into an unprecedented deluge. By the spring of 1876, it seemed that every day brought a new revelation of high-level dishonesty. For example, on March 30, the New York Times ran five lead stories on its front page; four of them involved cases of national fraud. ...

"Unfortunately for Grant, when a few honest men and the watchdog press
began to investigate, his administration - or at least his appointees at its highest levels - seemed to be an integral part of many of the worst offenses. On the surface, Grant appeared to have triumphed over his humble beginnings. But his distrust of those better educated and more refined than he caused him to surround himself with men of similar background, primarily ex-soldiers who had fought their way up as he had, without the aid of higher education or the luxury of higher culture. Indeed, upon ascending to the
presidency, Grant rewarded many of his closest associates - men who had served him well during the recent conflict - and an inordinate number of relatives (forty-two) with government positions. Many of these men were easily influenced, and some of them possessed principles that were less than finely honed.

"Abel Corbin, the President's brother-in-law (one of three who caused Grant trouble and embarrassment), was a perfect example. He had given the unscrupulous financiers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk inside information, with which they conspired to corner the gold market in the summer of 1869. ...

"Another swindle, known as the Sanford Contracts, involved tax fraud and featured the Secretary of the Treasury - whom the President fired and then immediately appointed to a judgeship on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. ...

"During the war, Grant had looked the other way while corruption occurred in the areas of supply and procurement, and he had stocked his headquarters with men of questionable morals. One of his greatest assets, his loyalty, was also his greatest weakness. He discouraged, politicked against, and fired reformers who dared help prosecute his friends, and in at least one case, the Whiskey Ring, the President even perjured himself in a deposition made before the Chief justice of the United States to keep [Orville] Babcock out of jail. (Grant's testimony was probably the principal reason his aide was found innocent.) In the face of mounting evidence of improprieties, Grant continued to support and defend these intimates to the bitter end and beyond - an admirable code of conduct for a friend, but deplorable in a President, whose higher duty is to the integrity of the nation.

"Hot on the heels of the most damaging revelations of the Whiskey Ring, a conspiracy of hundreds of public officials and distillers who diverted millions of dollars in unpaid liquor taxes to their own pockets, came the first details of another high-level government scam - ... widespread corruption in the War Department's management of Indian affairs."

Author: James Donovan
Title: A Terrible Glory
Publisher: Back Bay
Date: Copyright 2008 by James Donovan
Pages: 101-104

Monday, April 19, 2010 4/19/10 - the wizard of oz

In today's excerpt - L. Frank Baum wrote a new American fairy tale, based on the awe and wonder he felt at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, but filled with pervasive fear:

"The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition [was] the huge fair held on the outskirts of Chicago to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of America's discovery. ... With 50,000 exhibitors from fifty countries, the size and scope of the Chicago Expo was unprecedented. Between the beginning of May and the end of October 1893, the site was visited by one-quarter of the then total population of the United States. As no other event had done before, it offered a complete, snapshot of a continent at its moment of self-definition. With its sparkling white Beaux-Arts architecture and massive scale, the 633-acre Jackson Park site was a staged illusion that had the power to transform reality through sheer force of will. For some ... it had the quality of a hallucination. ...

"After the 1893 Expo, America would not only be defined by the incredible
fertility of its commercial and technological prowess, but also by its ability to
create tangible dreams out of thin air.(emphasis added)...

"Among the 27 million Expo visitors was a thirty-seven-year-old traveling salesman, L. Frank Baum. By 1893, he had already been through several careers as a pIaywright, a store owner, and a newspaper editor. ... At the same time, a young illustrator named W. W. Denslow was busy capturing the wonder of the Expo: 'It is literally stunning, the immensity of the thing,' he wrote in his diary.

"As the decade wore on, Baum found a new vocation as an author: after the publication of Mother Goose in Prosein 1897, he decided to write a new kind of children's story that would also attempt to capture America at a crux moment in its history. In November 1899, the team [of Baum and Denslow, who were] behind the year's most successful children's book, Father Goose, presented their next project to publisher George M. Hill: The Emerald City. Published the next August as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book featured
twenty-four color plates and over one hundred illustrations within an arresting green and red cover. It sold out its first printing within two weeks and became the bestselling children's book of the 1900 Christmas season.

"Oz was designed as a break with tradition. Baum wrote in his introduction,
'The modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident. Having this thought in mind, the story of 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz'was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modern fairy-tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained, and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.' This was an American story, full of 'exciting adventures,' 'unexpected difficulties,' and 'marvelous escapes.' ...

"Immediately enthralling to children, The Wonderful Wizard of Ozalso appealed to adults as a world of psychological depth. Published within months of Sigmund Freud's The interpretation of Dreams, Baum's narrative was bookended by powerful evocations of flying and falling: an archetypal dream state within which, according to Freud, 'the pleasurable feelings attached to these experiences are transformed into anxiety.' Despite Baum's avowed intent to leave out the musty nightmares of European folktales, Oz was full of trickery, dismemberment, and pervasive fear."

Author: Jon Savage
Title: Teenage
Publisher: Viking
Date: Copyright 2007 by Jon Savage
Pages: 50-53

Friday, April 16, 2010 4/16/10 - greek democracy fails

In today's excerpt - in the aftermath of the failure of Athenian democracy, Greece came to be ruled again by kings, and when the greatest of these kings, Alexander the Great, accompanied by his childhood friend Ptolemy, extended his conquests to Egypt, he took the titles of the Pharaohs and along with it their concept of deifying the king:

By Homer's day Egypt was well known to the Greek world. Egypt came to be seen not only as a source for riches but for all knowledge, as early Greek intellectuals such as Thales were said to have learned their ideas from Egyptian sources. By the Classical period there was a steady stream of
Greek visitors to the country, of which Herodotos was the most famous. ...

So it is perhaps no surprise that Alexander the Great, accompanied by two of Cleopatra's ancestors, would [conquer] Egypt. But perhaps more significant for the future was Alexander's assumption of the religious titles and honors of the Egyptian king (and pharaoh). ... Association with Egyptian cult and royalty also gave Alexander access to the concept of deification of the ruler, something alien to the Greek world. Greek leaders had long been bestowed with quasi-divine honors in recognition of their services, but Alexander, a unique personality, became essentially a god. This concept of divine monarchy would continue into Cleopatra's day and affect the self-image of the Roman emperors.

Another significant accomplishment of Alexander's [was] laying out a new city, to be named Alexandria, one of many such foundations that he would make. He designated the grid for the city himself and located its major building sites, and Alexandria was formally founded on 7 April 331 B.C. Recording the events was his close companion, [childhood friend] and Cleopatra's ancestor, Ptolemy I.

Eight years later, at the end of 323 B.C., Ptolemy was back in Egypt. Alexander had died at Babylon in the summer, leaving no provisions for governance of his realm, and the 40-year-long struggle of his successors was under way. In the assignment of territory after Alexander's death, Ptolemy had received Egypt as his satrapy - the Persian administrative model was still in use-but soon he began to act as if he were an independent ruler. Shortly thereafter he engineered the major coup of his career, bringing the body of Alexander to Egypt and eventually enshrining it in a monumental tomb at Alexandria, creating a royal burial precinct that would be part of the palace compound. As
the successor to Alexander, Ptolemy could acquire his divine attributes for himself, both those connected to the personality of his predecessor and those obtained through ancient Egyptian ruler cult. Ptolemy thus had a status that none of the other successors could ever claim, and this passed to his descendants. By 305 B.C. he was calling himself king and in the following year was crowned as Egyptian pharoah.

Monarchy, which had lost favor in the Greek world in the sixth century B.C, had been rejuvenated through the personality of Alexander. The failure of the Classical city-states to create stable governments had discredited the more broadly based systems such as democracy, and from at least the time of Plato political theorists had seen monarchy, of a proper sort, as the best form of government. Alexander's personal charisma had restored faith in monarchy - assisted, perhaps, by his association with the outstanding political theorist of his era, Aristotle - and after Alexander's death many of the successors adopted the title of 'king.'

Author: Duane W. Roller
Title: Cleopatra
Publisher: Oxford
Date: Copyright 2010 by Oxford University Press
Pages: 29-31

Thursday, April 15, 2010 4/15/10 - income tax

In today's encore excerpt - faced with the unprecedented cost of the Civil War, the U.S. implements an income tax:

"With steady news of the Union's defeats in 1861, public confidence fell sharply. ... Adding to [Abraham] Lincoln's concerns, the Treasury secretary [Salmon Chase] reported that he had underestimated the cost of the war for 1861-62. Rather than $318 million, Chase now put the figure at $532 million. And only $55 million in taxes was expected. ...

"The Union army's defeat at Bull Run in July 1861 cooled the desire of banks to lend to the government. Chase and congressional Republicans decided they must raise taxes aggressively to produce more revenues to reassure investors. They first considered a property tax, a method last used in the War of 1812 ... [but] the suggestion evoked a sharp reaction from populist and agrarian interests ... [and] intense congressional opposition led to a search for a tax that would be considered fairer by rural constituencies. Legislators were aware of the various features of the British income tax, which had first been proposed by William Pitt the Younger in 1798 to pay for weapons and supplies in preparation for the Napoleonic Wars with France. Implemented in 1799, the tax featured graduated payment rates, with the lowest set below 1 percent and the highest at 10 percent. ...

"The idea of a federal income tax was widely regarded as radical and nearly inconceivable. Those suspicious of any increase in federal financial power considered it another attempt by the federal government to undermine the power of the states. Wealthy Americans deplored it as an unjust and
heavy-handed federal intrusion. ... [However,] in need of revenues and anxious to offset grumblings that low-income farmers and workers were bearing the brunt of the war's cost due to high tariffs, the [Congress] passed legislation levying ... a 'flat' 3 percent on incomes above $800 signed into law by President Lincoln on August 5, 1861. Most Americans made far less than $800 - the average annual income that year was $150 - so the vast majority did not have to pay the tax. ... Interest on mortgages was made deductible ... Congress attempted to increase tax fairness further, as well as obtain additional revenues, by including in the bill an inheritance tax - the first in U.S. history - on estates in excess of $1,000. ...

"To improve tax collection, Congress adopted another practice from Britain called 'collection of revenues at the source.' ... It required federal agencies to withhold taxes from the pay of civilian and military employees and railroad and financial institutions to withhold taxes before distributing dividend and interest payments to investors."

Robert D. Hormats, The Price of Liberty, Times Books, Copyright 2007 by Robert D. Hormats, pp. 63-69.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 4/14/10 - two heartbreaks

In today's excerpt - many children were captured by the Native Americans in the mid-1800s, and though heartbroken, most were treated well. Most were returned as adults, where they faced the second heartbreak of again losing friends and a way of life they loved:

"Eventually, most of the captured children were sent back to their families, often against their will. Usually, a federal Indian agent, working together with a friendly Indian chief, arranged their release. But the redeemed captives found it much harder to readjust to their own people's ways than it had been to adapt to Indian society. Jeff Smith put it best: 'Everything seemed mighty tame after I got back home.'

"As adults, many of the former child captives lived in limbo between their original and adoptive cultures. A number of common characteristics set them apart. They were often reserved and did not talk much. ... A journalist who interviewed Jeff Smith noted, 'It took a three year acquaintance with him to induce him to say anything.' Adolph Korn's stepsister recalled: 'Always restless, he would sometimes take up his gun, leave home and be gone for days in the woods. When he came back he said little about where he had been.'

"When [Herman] Lehmann's mother made him attend school after he returned home, he threatened to tear down all the lattice in the schoolhouse so he could see out. His teacher wrote, 'As one in prison, he pined for the companionship of his lndian friends, and their manner of life.' Most of the former boy captives eventually became cowboys and worked the great cattle drives of the 1870s and 1880s. 'We couldn't content ourselves to stay indoors, and naturally went to working cattle,' explained Jeff Smith. Like the plains Indians, they could not settle in one place. Bianca Babb's grandson recalled: 'Grandmother had the Indian travel fever in her, because she was always buying a new house and moving. She said a person gets tired of looking at the same old thing all the time.' ...

"The former captives held fast to many of their Indian customs and teachings. One man reminisced that whenever Jeff Smith came to visit, he always slept outside under a big tree: 'Sometimes, if it was raining or real cold, he would come indoors, but even then, he would steep on the hard floor with only his blanket. He didn't like to sit at the table to eat, choosing instead to sit 'Indian style,' eating in the corner or outdoors.'

"They were tougher than the average person and had no use for luxuries. Lehmann's hands were so hardened that he could grab a coal out of a fire and use it to light a cigarette, When Jeff Smith talked about his trail-driving days, he pointed out: 'As far as I was concerned, the usual occurrences that sometimes upset the other boys in the outfit had no weight with me. I had gone through so many worse things that they were scarcely noticeable.' ...

"A number of former captives could not hold a regular job and were never very successful financially. They resented any type of work that tied them down, such as farming or routine manual labor. The former boy captives thought those sorts of jobs were undignified. Some were too generous for their own good, giving away everything they had to anyone they liked, The Indians had taught them that wealth should be shared and enjoyed in the present, not hoarded or put away for the future."

Scott Zesch, "Strangers in Two Worlds," American History, June 2007, pp. 63-64.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 4/13/10 - ultrarunners

In today's excerpt - some members of an emerging class of very long distance runners known as ultrarunners have begun to advocate running barefoot or in thin-soled shoes:

"Running shoes may be the most destructive force to ever hit the human foot. ... Consider these words by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University: 'A lot of foot and knee injuries that are currently plaguing us are actually caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate, give us knee problems. Until 1972, when the modem athletic shoe was invented by Nike, people
ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet, and had much lower incidence of knee injuries.' ...

"We've shielded our feet from their natural position by providing more and more support," [Stanford track head coach Vin] Lananna insisted. That's why he made sure his runners always did part of their workouts in bare feet on the
track's infield. ... 'I think you try to do all these corrective things with shoes and you overcompensate. You fix things that don't need fixing. If you strengthen the foot by going barefoot, I think you reduce the risk of Achilles and knee and plantar fascia problems.'

" 'Risk' isn't quite the right term; it's more like 'dead certainty.' Every year, anywhere from 65 to 80 percent of all runners suffer an injury. That's nearly every runner, every single year. No matter who you are, no matter how much you run, your odds of getting hurt are the same. It doesn't matter if you're male or female, fast or slow, pudgy or ripped as a racehorse, your feet are still in the danger zone. Maybe you'll beat the odds if you stretch like a swami? Nope. In a 1993 study of Dutch athletes published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, one group of runners was taught how to warm up and stretch while a second group received no 'injury prevention' coaching. Their injury rates? Identical. Stretching came out even worse in a follow-up study performed the following year at the University of Hawaii; it found that runners who stretched were 33 percent more likely to get hurt. ...

"In fact, there's no evidence that running shoes are any help at all in injury prevention. ... Runners wearing top-of-the-line shoes are 123 percent more likely to get injured than runners in cheap shoes, according to a study led
by Bernard Marti, M.D., a preventative-medicine specialist at Switzerland's University of Bern. ...

" 'The deconditioned musculature of the foot is the greatest issue leading to injury, and we've allowed our feet to become badly deconditioned over the past twenty-five years,' [the Irish physical therapist] Dr. Gerard Hartmann said. ... 'Putting your feet in shoes is similar to putting them in a plaster cast,' Dr. Hartmann said. 'If I put your leg in plaster, we'll find forty to sixty percent atrophy of the musculature within six weeks. Something similar happens to your feet when they're encased in shoes.' When shoes are doing the work, tendons stiffen and muscles shrivel. Feet live for a fight and thrive under pressure; let them laze around, as [miler] Alan Webb discovered, and they'll collapse. Work them out, and they'll arc up like a rainbow. ...

"[The change began in 1962 when Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman created] the most cushioned running shoe ever created - the Cortez. ... Bowerman's deftest move was advocating a new style of running that was only possible in his new style of shoe. The Cortez allowed people to run in a way no human safely could before: by landing on their bony heels. Before the invention of a cushioned shoe, runners through the ages had identical form: Jesse Owens, Roger Bannister, Frank Shorter, and even Emil Zatopek all ran with backs straight, knees bent, feet scratching back under their hips. They had no
choice: the only shock absorption came from the compression of their legs and their thick pad of midfoot fat. ...

"But Bowerman had an idea: maybe you could grab a little extra distance if you stepped ahead of your center of gravity. Stick a chunk of rubber under the heel, he mused, and you could straighten your leg, land on your heel, and lengthen your stride. ... He believed a 'heel-to-toe' stride would be 'the least tiring over long distances.' If you've got the shoe for it."

Christopher McDougall, Born to Run, Knopf, Copyright 2009 by Christopher McDougall, pp. 169-181.

Monday, April 12, 2010 4/12/10 - george armstrong custer

In today's excerpt - General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), whose brilliance as a young Union cavalry commander in the American Civil War was forever overshadowed by his disastrous command as an Indian fighter and his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn:

"Since its founding in 1802, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point had seen its share of lollygaggers. Armstrong Custer would put them all to shame.

"The education a young man received at the Point was as good as or better than that received at most of the young country's universities. The Corps of Engineers ran the school, and it turned out top engineers - essential to an expanding nation. But the academy's primary goal was to build military officers out of the rough materials provided. To that end, discipline and drill reigned, and even slight transgressions of the countless rules and codes earned cadets
demerits. These demerits, or 'skins,' were closely tabulated. If a cadet earned two hundred a year, he would probably be expelled. Custer, whose curly golden hair earned him the nickname 'Fanny,' quickly began compiling skins at a record rate. Most of them were for seemingly insignificant infractions, such as tardiness, an untidy uniform, inattention, or boyish conduct. Others were the result of mischief making, and several southern boys in his circle (most of his close acquaintances were from the South) were his coconspirators. ...

"Though the cause of much annoyance to his instructors, Custer soon became one of the most popular cadets ever to attend the academy. His sunny disposition and love of a good laugh proved magnetic, and though some judged him an unlikely soldier, 'we all loved him,' said one classmate. Custer ignored rules and schoolwork and reveled in after-dark adventures, some to Benny Havens's tavern in a small town a mile away. He became a genius at managing his demerits; when he approached the limit, he would straighten up
until term's end. He would also walk endless extra-duty guard tours to remove some minor breaches from his record. Still, by the time he graduated in 1861, he possessed more skins than anyone else in his class. When thirty-three cadets were declared academically deficient in January 1861, they were allowed to take a reexamination; only Custer was reinstated. Though Custer gained a reputation for cleverness, it was only for his inventive pranks; his grades were almost never better than average and frequently worse. (One day in Spanish class, he asked the instructor to translate 'class is dismissed' into Spanish. When the teacher complied, Custer led his classmates out of the room.) But he read voraciously - mostly martial romances, Sir Walter Scott's
Waverleynovels, and James Fenimore Cooper's LeatherstockingTales - and began a lifelong habit of unceasing correspondence with friends and family that reflected his steady improvement as a writer. (He particularly enjoyed writing poetry to girlfriends back home, for he had acquired a healthy fondness for the fairer sex, judging from the fact that he was treated for gonorrhea in August 1859 after returning to the Point from a two-month furlough.) ...

"Despite his mediocre grades, some of the learning stuck with him, and Armstrong was aware of its importance. To his older sister he wrote, 'I would not leave this place for any amount of money, for I would rather have a good education and no money than a fortune and be ignorant.' Overall, however, he scraped by, noting later, 'My career as a cadet had but little to commend it to the study of those who came after me, unless as an example to be carefully
avoided.' He seemed content with his class rank, and almost proud of it. He told one classmate that there were only two positions in a class worth noting, and since he was not interested in the 'head,' he had aspired to the 'foot.'

"Armstrong's strongest attribute was a valuable one: more than anything else, he excelled at making friends. Upon arriving in 1859, one plebe remembered hearing the crowd around him shout, 'Here comes Custer!' and turning to see the object of everyone's attention - a slim fellow with a gangly walk. 'He was beyond a doubt the most popular man in his class,' remembered one friend at the Point. One of his roommates called him 'one of the best-hearted and cleverest men that I ever knew,' but added, 'The great difficulty is that he is too clever for his own good.' ...

"Final examinations put George Armstrong Custer at the bottom of his class. He earned his worst grades in cavalry tactics."

James Donovan, A Terrible Glory, Back Bay, Copyright 2008 by James Donovan, pp. 41-44.

Friday, April 09, 2010 4/9/10 - cleopatra

In today's excerpt - although the Cleopatra of lore was portrayed primarily as a seductress, the real Cleopatra was a skilled naval commander, a published medical authority, and an expert royal administrator who was met with adulation throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and was perhaps even seen by some as a messianic figure, the hope for a future eastern Mediterranean free of Roman domination:

"Few personalities from classical antiquity are more familiar yet more poorly grasped than Cleopatra VII (69-30 B.C.), queen of Egypt. Cleopatra VII was an accomplished diplomat, naval commander, administrator, linguist, and author, who skillfully managed her kingdom in the face of a deteriorating political situation and increasing Roman involvement. That she ultimately lost does not diminish her abilities. ...

"Like all women, she suffers from male-dominated historiography in both ancient and modern times and was often seen merely as an appendage of the men in her life or was stereotyped into typical chauvinistic female roles such as seductress or sorceress, one whose primary accomplishment was ruining the men that she was involved with. In this view, she was nothing more than the 'Egyptian mate' of Antonius and played little role in the policy decisions of her own world. ...

"Yet she was the only woman in all classical antiquity to rule independently - not merely as a successor to a dead husband - and she desperately tried to salvage and keep alive a dying kingdom in the face of overwhelming Roman pressure. Descended from at least two companions of Alexander the Great, she had more stature than the Romans whom she opposed. Depicted evermore as the greatest of seductresses, who drove men to their doom, she had only two known relationships in 18 years, hardly a sign of promiscuity. Furthermore, these connections - to the two most important Romans of the period - demonstrated that her choice of partners was a carefully crafted state policy, the only way that she could ensure the procreation of successors who would be worthy of the distinguished history of her dynasty. ...

"Because there are no certain portraits of Cleopatra except the two dimensional shorthand on her coinage, little can be said about her physical appearance. The coins show a prominent nose (a family trait) and chin, with an intensity of gaze and hair inevitably drawn back into a bun. That she was short is explicitly stated in one source and perhaps implied in the famous bedsack tale. A notice by Plutarch is often misquoted to imply that she was not particularly beautiful, but what was actually written is that the force
of her personality far outweighed any physical attractiveness. Sources
agree that her charm was outstanding and her presence remarkable. ...

"[She was caught in a power struggle between Octavian (Augustus Caesar) and Antonius (Mark Antony)], and when protracted negotiations between Octavian and the couple failed to resolve anything, Octavian invoked the military option, invading Egypt. Cleopatra, finding Antonius dispensable and hoping that she or her kingdom might survive without him, tricked him into suicide, but when she found that she herself was being saved to be exhibited in Octavian's triumph in Rome, she also killed herself. In August Of 30 B.C.
the Ptolemaic kingdom came to an end.

"Some of the most familiar episodes of her career simply did not happen. She did not approach Caesar wrapped in a carpet, she was not a seductress, she did not use her charm to persuade the men in her life to lose their judgment, and she did not die by the bite of an asp."

Duane W. Roller, Cleopatra, Oxford, Copyright 2010 by Oxford University Press, pp. 1-7.

Thursday, April 08, 2010 4/8/10 - columbine

In today's encore excerpt - the media and the Columbine massacre, the mass killing at Columbine High School that stands as the preeminent example of this horrifying trend. In the hours after the April 20, 1999 massacre, the press began reporting rumors as fact - that the killers were "targeting" jocks, were victims of bullying, were Goths, and belonged to a gang called the Trench Coat Mafia. The myths they promulgated in those first few hours were all incorrect, yet persist broadly as explanations in the popular mind even to this day:

"The Trench Coat Mafia [explanation] was mythologized because it was colorful, memorable, and fit the existing myth of the school shooter as outcast loner. All the Columbine myths worked that way. And they all sprang to life incredibly fast--most of the notorious myths took root [in the few hours] before the killers' bodies were found.

"We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and no Trench Coat Mafia. Most of those elements existed at Columbine - which is what gave them such currency. They just had nothing to do with the murders. The lesser myths are equally unsupported: no connection to Marilyn Manson, Hitler's birthday, minorities, or Christians. Few people knowledgeable about the case believe those myths anymore. Not reporters, investigators, families of the victims, or their legal teams. And yet most of the public takes them for granted. Why? ...

"In a school of two thousand, most of the student body didn't even know the boys. Nor had many seen gunfire directly. Initially, most students told reporters they had no idea who attacked them. That changed fast. Most of the two thousand got themselves to a television or kept a constant cell phone vigil with viewers. It took only a few TV mentions for the trench coat connection to take hold. It sounded so obvious. Of course! Trench coats, Trench Coat Mafia! ...

"Repetition was the problem. Only a handful of students mentioned the Trench Coat Mafia (TCM) during the first five hours of CNN coverage - virtually all fed from local news stations. But reporters homed in on the idea. ... Kids 'knew' the TCM was involved because witnesses and news anchors had said so on TV. They confirmed it with friends watching similar reports. ... Pretty soon, most of the students had multiple independent confirmations. They believed they knew the TCM was behind the attack as a fact. From 1:00 to 8:00 p.m., the number of students in Clement Park citing the group went from almost none to nearly all. They weren't making it up, they were [simply] repeating it back....

"The writers assumed kids were informing the media. It was the other way around. Most of the myths were in place by nightfall. By then, it was a given that the killers had been targeting jocks. The target myth was the most insidious, because it went straight to motive. The public believes Columbine was an act of retribution: a desperate reprisal for unspeakable jock-abuse. Like the other myths, it began with a kernel of truth.

"Bullying and racism? Those were known threats. Explaining it away was reassuring. By evening, the target theory was dominating most broadcasts; nearly all the major papers featured it. ... Reuters attributed the theory to 'many witnesses' and USA Today to 'students.' ... If students said targeting, that was surely it. Police detectives ... were baffled by this media consensus."

Dave Cullen, Columbine, Hachette Book Group, Copyright 2009 by Dave Cullen, pp. 149-152.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010 4/7/10 - the boston tea party

In today's excerpt - the tax on tea that led to the infamous Boston Tea Party was not an onerous burden on American colonists - but did have profound symbolic significance:

"Land taxes and poll taxes assessed by their own colonial assemblies, as well as long-standing import duties on sugar, molasses and wine, were a much greater burden [to colonists than the tea tax]. The tea tax was a relic of the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which also placed import duties on paint, paper, lead and glass. Parliament responded to widespread colonial protests and boycotts of the taxed items by repealing the Townshend taxes in 1770, except for the tea duty, which North kept to assert 'the right of taxing Americans.' At three pence per pound, the tax on tea was barely felt by American consumers, who also had access to the smuggled competition.

"Still, the tea tax maintained symbolic significance, and the boycott of tea involved complex overlays. Common folk might enjoy a sip or two of tea, but participating in the elaborate British ritual of teatime - with an array of fancy crockery and silver utensils - was prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of Americans. Calls for a continued boycott of tea dovetailed nicely with lower-class resentments. Tea was an easy target, a symbol both of Parliament's arrogance and a crumbling social hierarchy.

"Moreover, tea consumption was deemed suspect, even sinful, by a large segment of the American public.'That bainfull weed,' as Abigail Adams called it, was an artificial stimulant, what we would call today a recreational drug. Promoters of virtue, who had long been expounding the evils of tea, suddenly became patriots. One concerned writer, in a Virginia newspaper, claimed that ever since tea had been introduced into Western society, 'our race is dwindled and become puny, weak, and disordered to such a degree, that were it to prevail a century more we should be reduced to mere pigmies.'

"Pointing to his medical expertise, Boston's Dr. Thomas Young declared authoritatively that tea was not just a 'pernicious drug,' as some assumed, but a 'slow poison, and has the corrosive effect upon those who handle it. I have left it off since it became political poison, and have since gained in firmness of constitution. My substitute is camomile flowers.'

"Resistance leaders also launched a new wave of negative propaganda that played to anti-foreign sentiments: Tea from the East India Company was packed tightly in chests by the stomping of barefoot Chinese and was infested with Chinese fleas. In turn, a vast number of colonists vowed to protect American business from foreign competition, even if that business was smuggling. Beware of products from China, buy America, wage war on drugs, down with corporations - all these messages, as well as their better-known cousin, no taxation without representation - amplified the response to Parliament's Tea Act of 1773."

Ray Raphael, "Tea Party Myths," American History, June 2010, p. 63.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010 4/6/10 - drug gangs

In today's excerpt - drug gangs in Mexico, whose drug wars have made parts of it among the most dangerous places on Earth today. Here we find the Zetas, who have made their base of operations the Barrancas - the forbidding terrain in and around Mexico's Copper Canyon:

"Because the Barrancas are impossible to police, they've become a base for two rival drug cartels, Los Zetas and the New Bloods. Both were manned by ex-Army Special Forces and were absolutely ruthless; the Zetas were notorious for plunging uncooperative cops into burning barrels of diesel fuel and feeding captured rivals to the gang's mascot - a Bengal tiger. After the victims stopped screaming, their scorched and tiger-gnawed heads were carefully harvested as marketing tools; the cartels liked to mark their territory by, in one case, impaling the heads of two police officers outside a government building with a sign in Spanish reading LEARN SOME RESPECT. Later that same month, five heads were rolled onto the dance floor of a crowded nightclub. Even way out here on the fringes of the Barrancas, some six bodies were turning up a week....

"If Mexico's drug gangs hated anything as much as cops, it was singers and reporters. Not singers in any slang sense of snitches or stool pigeons; they hated real, guitar-strumming, love-song-singing crooners. Fifteen singers were executed by drug gangs in just eighteen months, including the beautiful Zayda Pefia, the twenty-eight-year-old lead singer of Zayda y Los Culpables, who was gunned down after a concert; she survived, but the hit team tracked her to the hospital and blasted her to death [in 2007] while she was recovering from surgery. The young heartthrob Valentin Elizalde was killed [in 2006] by a barrage of bullets from an AK-47 just across the border from McAllen, Texas, and Sergio Gomez was killed [in 2007] shortly after he was nominated for a Grammy; his genitals were torched, then he was strangled to death and dumped in the street. What doomed them, as far as anyone could tell, was their fame, good looks, and talent; the singers challenged the drug lords' sense of their own importance, and so were marked for death.

"The bizarre fatwa on balladeers was emotional and unpredictable, but the contract on reporters was all business. News articles about the cartels got picked up by American papers, which embarrassed American politicians, which put pressure on the Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down. Infuriated, the Zetas threw hand grenades into newsrooms, and even sent killers across the U.S. border to hunt down meddlesome journalists. After thirty reporters were killed in six years, the editor of the Villahermosa newspaper found the severed head of a low-level drug soldier outside his office [in 2008] with a note reading, 'You're next.' The death toll had gotten so bad, Mexico would eventually rank second only to Iraq in the number of killed or kidnapped reporters."

Christopher McDougall, Born to Run, Knopf, Copyright 2009 by Christopher McDougall, pp. 21-22

Monday, April 05, 2010 4/5/10 - crazy horse

In today's excerpt - Crazy Horse (1840-1877), the bold war chief who defeated George Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and who one writer would call 'the strange man of the Oglalas.' It was an appropriate description, for Crazy Horse went his own way:

"This warrior-mystic was born in the late fall of 1840 near Bear Butte, outside modern-day Sturgis, South Dakota, on the northern edge of the Black Hills. His father, also named Crazy Horse, was an Oglala holy man; his mother, Rattle Blanket Woman, a Minneconjou. His actual birth name was Light Hair, for his fine, sandy brown locks. His light hair, combined with his light complexion and sharp features, caused more than one settler to mistake him for a white child. An uncle died when the boy was about four, and his mother, grief-stricken, committed suicide. More than most Lakotas, Crazy Horse's life would be colored by the loss of those close to him.

"When Crazy Horse was a boy, he went by the name of Curly, and he was known for his shy personality. Like all young Lakota males, he was regaled with stories and songs that celebrated the cult of the warrior and progressed from paternal instruction and childhood games that emphasized war skills to buffalo hunts and war parties, during which older boys assisted seasoned fighters with relatively safe duties such as tending the packhorses and equipment. ...

"As a young man, Curly was introverted and somewhat antisocial, to the point that others in his tribe considered him peculiar. Almost all Lakotas danced and sang socially, but Curly never would. 'He never spoke in council,' said a longtime friend, He Dog. 'He was a very quiet man except when there was fighting.' He took to the life of a warrior naturally. When he came of age and displayed conspicuous bravery in a fight with an enemy tribe, his father passed on his own name, Crazy Horse, to his son and took the name Worm for himself.

"When fully grown, Crazy Horse was five feet seven inches tall, slight, and wiry. He had a narrow face, a straight nose, and 'black eyes that hardly ever looked straight at a man,' according to a close friend. When the wife of a white scout encountered him in 1877, she thought him 'a very handsome young man,' despite a noticeable scar on his left cheek.

"Throughout the late 1850s and early 1860s, in dozens of raids and fights against enemy tribes such as the Crows and the Shoshones in and around the Powder River country, Crazy Horse proved his worth as a warrior. His reputation was so secure that sometimes he would drop back and allow others to count coup; once he did this for his younger brother, Little Hawk. He always led his men from the front, and unlike most Lakotas, he dismounted to fire his rifle. He used good judgment and planned soundly.

"In battle he eschewed ostentatious dress. Instead, he wore a simple eagle feather upside down on the back of his head, a cotton shirt and breechcloth, and moccasins. His waist-length hair was braided down both sides. With one finger, he would draw a zigzag streak of red earth down the center of his face. As a good-luck talisman, he wore a small white stone in a bag under his left arm. Whether due to this amulet or not, Crazy Horse was rarely injured, though nine horses were shot out from under him in battle. Only once was he badly wounded, in the leg, and that was before he began carrying the stone."

James Donovan, A Terrible Glory, Back Bay, Copyright 2008 by James Donovan, pp. 25-27.

Friday, April 02, 2010 4/2/10 - manifest destiny

In today's excerpt - President James K. Polk was determined to wrest the territories of New Mexico and California from Mexico because of (partially justified) fears that the British had designs on California's ports and the tremendous economic opportunities they afforded. So in 1846 Polk provoked a war with Mexico as a pretext, most historians believe, to take them:

"Perhaps to dignify the nakedness of Polk's land lust, the American citizenry had got itself whipped into an idealistic frenzy, believing with an almost religious assurance that its republican form of government and its constitutional freedoms should extend to the benighted reaches of the continent then held by Mexico, which, with its feudal customs and Popish superstitions, stood squarely in the way of Progress. To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor. ...

"Whether U.S. expansionism was morally right or wrong, most Americans seemed to believe that it was inevitable - and that there was little point in resisting the tide of history. America and its ideals and institutions were spreading outward, westward, onward. The country could scarcely contain itself. The spirit of expansionism was everywhere in the air, like some beneficent germ. As the [army] volunteers of Missouri marched [to Sante Fe], they were embarked on a mission of high romance - west to the Pacific, south to the Halls of Montezuma!

"A few years earlier a young New York editor named John O'Sullivan had coined the self-justifying phrase that captured the righteous new tilt of the country. Writing in the New York Morning News, O'Sullivan argued that it was the fate of the United States, necessary and quite inexorable, to sweep westward and settle North America from sea to sea, 'to overspread and possess the whole continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.' In order to advance 'the great experiment of liberty,' the American republic must absorb new lands. It was, O'Sullivan suggested, her 'manifest destiny.'

"At universities across the country, the youth had become smitten with the notion of American exceptionalism, and students began to show their patriotic fervor in a fashionable campus craze called the Young America Movement, which, among other things, unequivocally advocated westward expansion. Even the country's literary elite seemed to buy into Manifest Destiny. Herman Melville declared that 'America can hardly be said to have any western bound but the ocean that washes Asia.' Walt Whitman thought that Mexico must be
taught a 'vigorous lesson;' ... now it was time for 'Democracy, with its manly
heart and its lion strength to spurn the ligatures wherewith drivellers would bind it.' Like Polk, Whitman had his eyes on New Mexico and California, asking, 'How long a time will elapse before they shine as two new stars in our mighty firmament?' ...

"Most officials back in Washington seriously doubted whether the poor [New Mexican] desert province was, in and of itself, worth taking. Expansionists like President Polk, however, believed that the main value of this tract was its contiguity to other, more valuable places: For how could America meaningfully own California without all the country that lay between it and the existing United States? What was the point of having Pacific ports, and the hoped-for trade with China and the rest of the Orient, without also having the intervening lands? Manifest Destiny did not countenance geographical gaps and untidy
voids - it was an all-or-nothing concept tied to the free flow of an envisioned commerce.

"The tantalizing dream already dancing in the heads of tycoons and politicians back east was a transcontinental railway that would connect New York and Washington to Southern California. In his extensive notes, Lieutenant Emory, a perspicacious West Pointer, ... saw a day when 'immense quantities of merchandise will pass into what may become the rich and populous States of Sonora, Durango, and Southern California.' "

Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder, Anchor, Copyright 2006 by Hampton Sides, pp. 56-59.

Thursday, April 01, 2010 4/1/10 - mariners and hippocrates

In today's excerpts - Greek mariners during the golden age of Athens (mid-5th century B.C.) travelled the length and breadth of the Mediterranean in triremes, galleys with three banks of oars, one above the other. Often those rowers would return needing medical help, and were treated by the disciples of Hippocrates:

"Some unlucky Athenian seafarers [returned home seeking] a doctor. Rowing and maritime service involved certain occupational hazards. Among the doctors who treated such conditions were disciples of a revolutionary medical practitioner named Hippocrates. He was born on the small island of Cos in the eastern Aegean, a member of the Athenian alliance, but his teachings had spread far and wide. Hippocrates created a school of medicine patterned after the schools of philosophy. His disciples and successors swore the sacred 'Hippocratic' oath (I will apply dietic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice, ...), but they based their scientific work not on piety but on observation of symptoms, experimentation with different treatments, and careful recording of case histories.

"The journals kept by Hippocrates and his followers provide glimpses of the dangers that beset Greek mariners of their time. 'On Salamis, the man who fell on the anchor received a wound in the belly. He had great pain. He drank a drug but there was no evacuation below, nor did he vomit.' It was not merely blistered hands and sore rumps that afflicted the rowers of the navy. Despite the fleecy rowing pads that aided their legwork, Greek oarsmen suffered a particular occupational malady from the hard service on the wooden thwarts: fistula of the anus.

"If the rower put off treatment, the fistula might penetrate the wall of the rectum. Now the matter was serious. Once the physician had taken the measure of the problem, the fistula was treated over a period of days with linen plugs and suppositories made of powdered horn. Other medicines included root of hartwort pounded fine, water mixed with honey (a good antibacterial agent), burnt flower of copper, fuller's earth, and alum. The rectum of the miserable rower was anointed continually with myrrh until the fistula healed over. Without a doctor's care, his prospects were bleak: 'Any patients that are left untreated die.'

"Hippocrates' disciples brought the same orderly, intellectual approach to medicine that was revolutionizing many other fields at that time, from history to urban planning. They studied the patterns of winds, rain, and stars as assiduously as any mariner, for it was a tenet of their belief that the weather and the seasons had a powerful influence on health and sickness. In eastern Greek cities the arts and sciences had withered under Persian rule. Now the liberal outlook of the Athenians was bringing about a scientific renaissance. Ease of travel throughout the maritime empire helped the rapid spread of new ideas and techniques."

John R. Hale, Lords of the Sea, Viking, Copyright 2009 by John R. Hale, pp. 114-115.

For those expecting an April Fool's Day contribution from our dear friend Paolo S. Frils, we must tell you that today's excerpt is entirely legitimate!