Tuesday, August 31, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/31/10 - masturbation, musicals, and urinals

In today's excerpt - physicians in the 19th and early 20th centuries warned against masturbation (including nocturnal emissions) which they counseled must be avoided because it could lead to "not only impotence, but blindness, heart trouble, insanity, stupidity, clammy hands, suppurating pustules on the face, acrid belches, a flow of fetid matter from the fundament, tongue coatings, stooped shoulders, flabby muscles, under-eye circles, and a draggy gait." How to prevent?

"On the simple side, there was the Penile Pricking Ring. Invented in the 1850s, this was an adjustable, expandable metal ring slipped onto the penis at bedtime. If the sleeper's penis begins to expand, it forces the ring open wider, exposing metal spikes. ...

"Many of these devices included an option for daytime use, along with a lock-and-key mechanism. For the true target customer was not the penitent masturbator, but the worried parent and, even more so, the insane asylum caretaker. ...

"Happily, parents of K-through-8 masturbators were encouraged to try less drastic preventive measures. Little hands were tied to headboards, and trousers fashioned without pockets. Hobbyhorses were taken away, and climbing ropes removed from school gymnasiums. One of the biggest spoilsports in the antimasturbation crusade was American physician William Robinson. His 1916 Practical Treatise on the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Sexual Impotence and Other Sexual Disorders in Men and Women includes a long chapter on preventing the premature awakening of the sexual instinct in children. 'I strongly urge parents to keep their boys away from sensuous musical comedies and obscene vaudeville acts,' tutted Robinson, ... 'Many of my patients told me that their first masturbatory act took place while witnessing some musical show.' ...

"In Masturbation: The History of a Great Terror, ... a Dr. Crommelinck ... advocated memorizing difficult passages on philosophy or history when overcome by the desire to masturbate.

"Truly it seemed that any activity undertaken - sleeping, thinking, eating spiced food, taking in a matinee of Mame - led the heedless male down the path to self-pollution. A man couldn't even relieve himself without having to worry. Crommelinck urged gentlemen to avoid touching their genitals at all times, lest they inadvertently arouse themselves - even at the urinal. 'Urinate quickly, do not shake your penis, even if means having several drops of urine drip into your pants.'

"Those who could not manage to curb their impulses with philosophical tracts and antimasturbation gadgetry faced a withering assortment of brutal treatments. Robinson casually states that in two or three cases he applied 'a red hotwire' to a child's genitals.

"The bitter irony here is that regularly spilling one's seed serves a valuable biological function. Sex physiologist Roy Levin explained to me that sperm which sit around the factory a week or more start to develop abnormalities."

Author: Mary Roach
Title: Bonk
Publisher: Norton
Date: Copyright 2008 by Mary Roach
Pages: 145-149

Monday, August 30, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/30/10 - freemasonry, americans, and openness

In today's excerpt - Early Americans quickly began to view themselves as exceptional, different and better than Europeans. Part of that exceptionalism was equality, which brought with it openness to strangers. Despite its later reputation for exclusivity, Freemasonry - which was born in the widespread emergence of a middle class, and grew rapidly to fill the human need to belong in a country where high mobility was breaking apart traditional social bonds - was an agent for breaking down class barriers and aiding this new openness. Freemasonry repudiated the monarchical hierarchy of family and favoritism and helped create a new republican order that rested on 'real Worth and personal Merit':

"Intense local attachments were common to peasants and backward peoples, but educated gentlemen were supposed to be at home anywhere in the world. Indeed, to be free of local prejudices and parochial ties was what defined a liberally educated person. One's humanity was measured by one's ability to relate to strangers, and Americans prided themselves on their hospitality and their treatment of strangers, thus further contributing to the developing myth of their exceptionalism. Indeed, as Crevecoeur pointed out, in America the concept of 'stranger' scarcely seemed to exist: ' A traveler in Europe becomes a stranger as soon as he quits his own kingdom; but it is otherwise here. We know, properly speaking, no strangers; this is every person's country; the variety of our soils, situations, climates, governments, and produce hath something which must please everyone.' 'In what part of the globe,' asked Benjamin Rush, 'was the 'great family of mankind' given as a toast before it was given in the republican states of America?'

"The institution that many Americans believed best embodied these cosmopolitan ideals of fraternity was Freemasonry. Not only did Masonry create enduring national icons (like the pyramid and the all-seeing eye of Providence on the Great Seal of the United States), but it brought people together in new ways and helped fulfill the republican dream of reorganizing social relationships. It was a major means by which thousands of Americans could think of themselves as especially enlightened. ... Many of the Revolutionary leaders, including Washington, Franklin, Samuel Adams, James Otis, Richard Henry Lee, and Hamilton, were members of the fraternity.

"Freemasonry was a surrogate religion for enlightened men suspicious
of traditional Christianity. It offered ritual, mystery, and communality without the enthusiasm and sectarian bigotry of organized religion. But Masonry was not only an enlightened institution; with the Revolution, it became a republican one as well. As George Washington said, it was 'a lodge for the virtues.' The Masonic lodges had always been places where men who differed in everyday affairs - politically, socially, even religiously - could 'all meet amicably, and converse sociably together.' There in the lodges, the Masons told themselves, 'we discover no estrangement of behavior, nor alienation of affection.' Masonry had always sought and harmony in a society increasingly diverse and fragmented. ...

"In the decades following the Revolution Masonry exploded in numbers, fed by hosts of new recruits from middling levels of the society. There were twenty-one lodges in Massachusetts by 1779; in the next twenty years fifty new ones were created, reaching out to embrace even small isolated communities on the frontiers of the state. Everywhere the same expansion took place. Masonry transformed the social landscape of the early Republic.

"Masonry began emphasizing its role in spreading republican virtue and civilization. It was, declared some New York Masons in 1795, designed to wipe 'away those narrow and contracted Prejudices which are born in Darkness, and fostered in the Lap of ignorance.' Freemasonry repudiated the monarchical hierarchy of family and favoritism and created a new republican order that rested on 'real Worth and personal Merit' and 'brotherly affection and sincerity.' At the same time, Masonry offered some measure of familiarity and personal relationships to a society that was experiencing greater mobility and increasing numbers of immigrants. It created an 'artificial consanguinity,' declared DeWitt Clinton of New York in 1793, that operated 'with as much force and effect, as the natural relationship of blood.'

"Despite its later reputation for exclusivity, Freemasonry became a way for American males of diverse origins and ranks to be brought together in republican fraternity, including, at least in Boston, free blacks."

Author: Gordon S. Wood
Title: Empire of Liberty
Publisher: Oxford
Date: Copyright 2009 by Oxford University Press, Inc.
Pages: 50-52

Friday, August 27, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/27/10 - the holy city of moscow

In today's excerpt - Moscow, circa 1685, at the time of the completion of the palace at Versailles in France and the inception of the Salem witch trials in America:

"From a distance, Moscow struck one Western traveler as the most 'beautiful city in the world,' an urban feast topped by hundreds of gold-crusted domes and a sea of glistening crosses that surmounted the treetops. Unlike the stone and marble of its European counterparts, Moscow was a city hewn from wood; even the streets themselves were planked with timber, not trampled down or paved with stone. Also unlike anything in the Western world was the somber medieval citadel of Russian power, the Kremlin, which imbued the city with an exotic mystery. ...

"With its massive red walls jutting from the bank of the Moscow River, the Kremlin was not a single building but an entire walled city - Kreml literally means 'fortress' in Russian - ringed by two rivers and a deep moat. Inside this mighty citadel rose gorgeous cathedrals (three), an astonishing number of chapels (sixteen hundred) and hundreds of houses, as well as government offices, law courts, barracks, bakeries, laundries, stables, and a mighty whitewashed-brick bell tower ... And Moscow had a spiritual dimension rivaled only by Jerusalem and the Vatican: It was the 'Third Rome,' the center of Orthodox faith. ...

"The bazaars of Moscow were frequented by Persians, Afghans, Kirghiz, Indians, and Chinese, while traders and artisans peddled an eclectic slice of the Asiatic world: silks, brass and copper goods, tooled leather and bronze, and innumerable objects of hand-carved wood. The city itself was peopled with tattered, itinerant holy men and bearded priests, as well as ruddy peasants in cloth leggings and soldiers in voluminous caftans. ... Russian customs were uncommonly coarse - basic things like cutlery and toothpicks were unheard of; and drunkenness was so rampant that on feast days, travelers were stunned to see naked men, passed out, who had sold their clothing for drink. Dwarfs and fools, increasingly out of fashion in the West, still amused the tsar and his retainers. ...

"Muscovites were an intensely religious people, and most of the city, rich and poor alike, fell under the church's spell. Few had a hold on the Russian mind or imagination as did the starets - the man of God. but the true master who loomed over this ancient land was ultimately the tsar, the very portrait of absolute monarchy. ... From infancy, Russians were taught to regard him as a godlike creature ('Only God and the tsar know,' went one ancient proverb). ... Russian noblemen did not simply bow, they flattened themselves before the tsar, touching the ground with their foreheads ('we humbly beseech you, we your slaves ...')."

Author: Jay Winik
Title: The Great Upheaval
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date: Copyright 2007 by Jay Winik
Pages: 12-14

Thursday, August 26, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/26/10 - babar the elephant

In today's encore excerpt - the beloved children's book, French author Jean de Brunhoff's "The Story of Babar," published in 1931 in the days of French colonies and the global French Empire:

"[In the book], an elephant, lost in the city, does not trumpet with rage but rides a department-store elevator up and down, until gently discouraged by the elevator boy. A Haussmann-style city rises in the middle of the barbarian jungle. Once seen, Babar the Frenchified elephant is not forgotten. ...

"Every children's story that works at all begins with a simple opposition of good and evil, of straightforward innocence and envious corruption. ...[In this story], Babar's mother, with her little elephant on her back, is murdered, with casual brutality, by a squat white hunter. ... (Maurice Sendak, in a lovely appraisal of Babar, recalls thinking that the act of violence that sets Babar off is not sufficiently analyzed - that the trauma is left unhealed and even untreated.) ...

"Babar, [some] interpreters have insisted, is an allegory of French colonization, as seen by the complacent colonizers: the naked African natives, represented by the 'good' elephants, are brought to the imperial capital, acculturated, and then sent back to their homeland on a civilizing mission. The elephants that have assimilated to the ways of the metropolis dominate those which have not. The true condition of the animals--to be naked, on all fours, in the jungle-is made shameful to them, while to become an imitation human, dressed and upright, is to be given the right to rule. The animals that resist - the rhinoceroses - are defeated. The Europeanized elephants are, as in the colonial mechanism of indirect rule, then made trustees of the system, consuls for the colonial power. To be made French is to be made human and to be made superior. ...

"Yet those who would [so interpret] 'Babar' miss the true subject of the books. The de Brunhoffs' saga is not an unconscious expression of the French colonial imagination; it is a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination. ... The gist of the classic early books of the nineteen-thirties - 'The Story of Babar' and 'Babar the King,' particularly - is explicit and intelligent: the lure of the city, of civilization, of style and order and bourgeois living is real, for elephants as for humans. The costs of those things are real, too, in the perpetual care, the sobriety of effort, they demand. The happy effect that Babar has on us, and our imaginations, comes from this knowledge - from the child's strong sense that, while it is a very good thing to be an elephant, still, the life of an elephant is dangerous, wild, and painful. It is therefore a safer thing to be an elephant in a house near a park. ...

"All children's books take as their subject disorder and order and their proper relation, beginning in order and ending there, but with disorder given its due. ... Disorder is the normal mess of life, what rhinos like. Order is what elephants (that is, Frenchmen) achieve at a cost and with effort. To stray from built order is to confront the man with a gun. ... Fables for children work not by pointing to a moral but by complicating the moral of a point. The child does not dutifully take in the lesson that salvation lies in civilization, but, in good Freudian fashion, takes in the lesson that the pleasures of civilization come with discontent at its constraints: you ride the elevator, dress up in the green suit, and go to live in Celesteville, but an animal you remain - the dangerous humans and rhinoceroses are there to remind you of that - and you delight in being so. There is allure in escaping from the constraints that button you up and hold you; there is also allure in the constraints and the buttons. We would all love to be free, untrammeled elephants, but we long, too, for a green suit."

Author: Adam Gopnik
Title: "Freeing the Elephants"
Publisher: The New Yorker
Date: September 22, 2008
Pges: 46-50

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/25/10 - psychopaths

In today's excerpt - the bizarre world of psychopaths, and the equally bizarre world of psychopathy treatment. Some researchers have estimated that as many as 500,000 psychopaths inhabit the U.S. prison system, and there may be another 250,000 more living freely - perhaps not committing serious crimes, but still taking advantage of those around them. Psychopathy is caused in large part by differences in biology. Images of psychopaths' brains made by Kent A. Kiehl show a pronounced thinning and underdevelopment of the paralimbic tissue, and area which includes the orbitofrontal cortex, the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula:

"Between the two of us [authors], we have interviewed hundreds of prison inmates to assess their mental health. We are trained in spotting psychopaths, but even so, coming face to face with the real article can be electrifying, if also unsettling. One of the most striking peculiarities of psychopaths is that they lack empathy; they are able to shake off as mere tinsel the most universal social obligations. They lie and manipulate yet feel no compunction or regrets - in fact, they don't feel particularly deeply about anything at all. ...

"Psychopaths are curiously oblivious to emotional cues. In 2002 James Blair of the NIMH showed that they are not good at detecting emotions, especially fear, in another person's voice. They also have trouble identifying fearful facial expressions. ...

"Psychopaths often cover up their deficiencies with a ready and engaging charm, so it can take time to realize what you are dealing with. Kent A. Kiehl used to ask inexperienced graduate students to interview a particularly appealing inmate before acquainting themselves with his criminal history. These budding psychologists would emerge quite certain that such a well-spoken, trustworthy person must have been wrongly imprisoned. Until, that is, they read his file - pimping, drug dealing, fraud, robbery, and on and on - and went back to reinterview him, at which point he would say offhandedly, 'Oh, yeah, I didn't want to tell you about all that stuff. That's the old me.' ...

"A man we will call Brad was in prison for a particularly heinous crime. In an interview he described how he had kidnapped a young woman, tied her to a tree, [abused] her for two days, then slit her throat and left her for dead. He told the story, then concluded with an unforgettable non sequitur. 'Do you have a girl?' he asked. 'Because I think it's really important to practice the three C's-caring, communication and compassion. That's the secret to a good relationship. I try to practice the three C's in all my relationships.' He spoke without hesitation, clearly unaware how bizarre this selfhelp platitude sounded after his awful confession....

"Thanks to technology that captures brain activity in real time, experts are no longer limited to examining psychopaths' aberrant behavior. We can investigate what is happening inside them as they think, make decisions and react to the world around them. And what we find is that far from being merely selfish, psychopaths suffer from a serious biological defect. Their brains process information differently from those of other people. It's as if they have a learning disability that impairs emotional development. ...

"Kiehl has launched an ambitious multimillion-dollar project to gather genetic information, brain images and case histories from 1,000 psychopaths and compile it all into a searchable database. ... Between 15 and 35 percent of U.S. prisoners are psychopaths. Psychopaths offend earlier, more frequently and more violently than others, and they are four to eight times more likely to commit new crimes on release. In fact, there is a direct correlation between how high people score on the 40-point screening test for psychopathy and how likely they are to violate parole. Kiehl recently estimated that the expense of prosecuting and incarcerating psychopaths, combined with the costs of the havoc they wreak in others' lives, totals $250 billion to $400 billion a year. No other mental health problem of this size is being so willfully ignored.

"Billions of research dollars have been spent on depression; probably less than a million has been spent to find treatments for psychopathy. ... There is room for optimism: a new treatment for intractable juvenile offenders with psychopathic tendencies has had tremendous success. Michael Caldwell, a psychologist at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison, Wis., uses intensive one-on-one therapy known as decompression aimed at ending the vicious cycle in which punishment for bad behavior inspires more bad behavior, which is in turn punished. Over time, the incarcerated youths in Caldwell's program act out less frequently and become able to participate in standard rehabilitation services. A group of more than 150 youths treated by Caldwell were 50 percent less likely to engage in violent crime afterward than a comparable group who were treated at regular juvenile corrections facilities. The young people in the regular system killed 16 people in the first four years after their release; those in Caldwell's program killed no one."

Authors: Kent A. Kiehl and Joshua W. Buckholtz
Title: "Inside the Mind of a Psychopath"
Publisher: Scientific American Mind
Date: September/October 2010
Pages: 22-29

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/24/10 - second city

In today's excerpt - the 1959 opening in Chicago of Second City theater, which made ensemble comedy magic by combining very high standards with a willingness to let its actors fail, and which became the training ground for such comic and theater luminaries as Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers, John Candy, Chris Farley, Gilda Radner, Alan Arkin, Bonnie Hunt, Bill Murray, Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, Amy Sedaris and many more:

"America was in the midst of a comedy revolution when Bernard Sahlins, Howard Alk, and Paul Sills conspired in 1959 to open a bohemian coffeehouse for recreational smoking, erudite discourse, and satirical theater. Considering the times, it seemed destined for success - or miserable failure. ... In addition to sharing a vision for what would become the Second City, another thing all three had in common was a diploma from the elite University of Chicago. ...

"Little did they know that the result of their labors would become an instant hit. Sahlins, who'd produced plays in 1956 at the handsome and historic Studebaker Theatre on South Michigan Avenue, initially invested six thousand dollars, and the new organization's defiant handle was reportedly conjured by Alk in ironic response to a snotty 1952 New Yorker magazine feature-turned-book by A. J. Liebling (Chicago: The Second City). ... While tough times ahead would continue to cause concern, the beginning was more auspicious than anyone had imagined. From night one, even as the budget carpet was still being installed, there were crowds in the lobby and lines out the door to witness the birth of a sensation. ...

SHELDON PATINKIN, former manager and director and current artistic consultant:

There was more of a willingness to fail then, because we all knew that was
the only way you were going to find the good stuff. That's true of Chicago
theater. You can fail in Chicago and still get work.

ALAN ARKIN, cast member:

First and most important, Second City gave me a place to go; it gave me a
place to function. That was the main thing. And the second most important thing, which was very, very close to the first, was that it gave us a place
to fail. Which doesn't exist in this civilization anymore. There is no place to
fail anymore. And failing at something is crucial. You don't learn from any-
thing unless you fail. And we were not only allowed to fail, but almost en-
couraged to take chances every night onstage. We knew that twenty, thirty,
sometimes forty percent of what we were doing wasn't going to work, and
Sills never said anything about it, Bernie never said anything about it, and
the audience didn't mind. They knew that two things would fail and the
next thing would be glorious.

BOB DISHY, cast member:

[Director Paul Sills] felt a moral responsibility to the choices that you make in an improv. Now, of course, that's not on a day-to-day basis. He was also pragmatic, and he knew he had to do shows. But he was pained, physically pained, by what he considered cheap laughs. I mean, they would drive him up the wall. He'd come backstage and yell, "Stop it! What are you doing?!" Because he had these high standards, which was great. I found it so enlightening.

BONNIE HUNT, cast member:

It definitely humbles you, because there are times when you go out there
and you fail and you've got to brush yourself off and start all over again. It's
kind of like being a Cubs fan. I think what I learned at Second City was that
it was okay to take risks, to fall flat on my face and get back up and learn
about myself. And I definitely learned to embrace the honesty of my own

TINA FEY, cast member:

Being in that company, in some ways you lose your fear of failure. Because
there are always nights in that set when you're developing a show where
everything tanks, or where you're just bombing, and you come out the
other side of it, and you survive it. And that's such a great thing to get rid
of - that fear of failure.

BILL MURRAY, cast member:

It's given many great performers their start, but more importantly, it's
killed thousands of barely talented people and it's put them to death, and
they're now doing the jobs they're built for. It's because they couldn't meet
the rugged standards."

Author: Mike Thomas
Title: Second City Unscripted
Publisher: Villard
Date: Copyright 2009 by Mike Thomas
Pages: 3-5, 11-12, 16, xi

Monday, August 23, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/23/10 - water

In today's excerpt - only the tiniest fraction of all the earth's water is available to us as fresh liquid water, and control of rivers, more than oceans or lakes, has been the key to the advance of civilization:

"Despite Earth's superabundance of total water, nature endowed to mankind a surprisingly minuscule amount of accessible fresh liquid water that is indispensable to planetary life and human civilization. Only 2.5 percent of Earth's water is fresh. But two-thirds of that is locked away from man's use in ice caps and glaciers. All but a few drops of the remaining one-third is also inaccessible, or prohibitively expensive to extract, because it lies in rocky, underground aquifers - in effect, isolated underground lakes - many a half mile or more deep inside Earth's bowels. Such aquifers hold up to an estimated 100 times more liquid freshwater than exists on the surface. In all, less than three-tenths of 1 percent of total freshwater is in liquid form on the surface. The remainder is in permafrost and soil moisture, in the body of plants and animals, and in the air as vapor.

"One of the most striking facts about the world's freshwater is that the most widely accessed source by societies throughout history-rivers and streams-hold just six-thousandths of 1 percent of the total. Some societies have been built around the edges of lakes, which cumulatively hold some 40 times more than rivers. Yet lake water has been a far less useful direct resource to large civilizations because its accessible perimeters are so much smaller than riversides. Moreover, many are located in inhospitable frozen regions or mountain highlands, and three-fourths are concentrated in just three lake systems: Siberia's remote, deep Lake Baikal, North America's Great Lakes, and East Africa's mountainous rift lakes, chiefly Tanganyika and Nyasa. ...

"The minuscule, less than 1 percent total stock of accessible freshwater, however, is not the actual amount available to mankind since rivers, lakes, and shallow groundwater are constantly being replenished through Earth's desalinating water cycle of evaporation and precipitation - at any given moment in time, four-hundredths of 1 percent of Earth's water is in the process of being recycled through the atmosphere. Most of the evaporated water comes from the oceans and falls back into them as rain or snow. But a small, net positive amount of desalted, cleansed ocean water precipitates over land to renew its freshwater ecosystems before running off to the sea. Of that amount, civilizations since the dawn of history have had practical access only to a fraction, since two-thirds was rapidly lost in floods, evaporation, and directly in soil absorption, while a lot of the rest ran off in regions like the tropics or frozen lands too remote from large populations to be captured and utilized. Indeed, the dispersion of available freshwater on Earth is strikingly uneven. Globally, one-third of all streamflow occurs in Brazil, Russia, Canada, and the United States, with a combined one-tenth of the world's population. Semiarid lands with one-third of world population, by contrast, get just 8 percent of renewable supply. Due to the extreme difficulty of managing such a heavy liquid -weighing 8.34 pounds per gallon, or over 20 percent more than oil - societies' fates throughout history have rested heavily on their capacity to increase supply and command over their local water resources. ...

"Almost everywhere civilization has taken root, man-made deforestation, water diversion, and irrigation schemes have produced greater desiccation, soil erosion, and the ruination of Earth's natural fertility to sustain plant life.

"How societies respond to the challenges presented by the changing hydraulic conditions of its environment using the technological and organizational tools of its times is, quite simply, one of the central motive forces of history. ... Throughout history, wherever water resources have been increased and made most manageable, navigable, and potable, societies have generally been robust and long enduring. ... In every age, whoever gained control of the world's main sea-lanes or the watersheds of great rivers commanded the gateways of imperial power."

Author: Steven Solomon
Title: Water
Publisher: Harper
Date: Copyright 2010 by Steven Solomon
Pages: 12-16

Friday, August 20, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/20/10 - ancient floods

In today's excerpt - ancient floods:

"Most cultures ... have stories about a 'great flood' sent by angry gods to destroy mankind in the distant past. In Western civilization the most well known example is the story of Noah in the Bible. When God got fed up with mankind's disobedience and wickedness, he chose Noah and his family to perform a special mission: to build a huge boat (an ark) to hold breeding pairs of every animal to repopulate the world after the deluge.

"In the Sumerian version, the god Enki warns the king of Shuruppak, Ziusudra, that the gods have decided to destroy the world with a flood. Enki tells Ziusudra to build a large boat, where the king rides out the week-long flood. He prays to the gods, makes sacrifices, and is finally given immortality. According to Sumerian histories, the first Sumerian dynasty was founded by King Etana of Kish after this flood.

"Aboard ship take thou the seed of all living things.
That ship thou shall build;
Her dimensions shall be to measure.
-Sumerian flood myth

"According to the ancient Greeks, the mythical demigod Prometheus warned his son, Deucalion, that a great flood was coming, and instructed him to build a giant waterproof chest to hold himself and his wife, Pyrrha. The rest of humanity was drowned, but Deucalion and Pyrrha rode out the nine days of rain and flooding in their chest. As the flood subsided, they washed up on Mount Othrys, in northern Greece. Zeus told Deucalion and his wife to throw stones over their shoulders, which became men and women to repopulate
the world.

"Finally, Hindu mythology tells of a priest named Manu, who served one of India's first kings. Washing his hands in a river one day, Manu saved a tiny fish, who begged him for help. The grateful fish warned Manu that a giant flood was coming, so Manu built a ship on which he brought the 'seeds of life' to plant again after the flood. The fish - actually a disguise for the chief god, Vishnu - then towed the vessel to a mountaintop sticking up above the water. Sound familiar?

"Though it's impossible to know if these stories refer to the same actual event, a couple of historical events are plausible candidates. [One potential] explanation is the huge rise in sea levels that occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, beginning about twelve thousand years ago (10,000 BCE). The melting of the polar ice caps raised sea levels almost four hundred feet around the world - which must have made quite an impression."

Author: Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur
Title: The Mental Floss History of the World
Publisher: Harper
Date: Copyright 2008 by Mental Floss LLC
Pages: 21-22

Thursday, August 19, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/19/10 - robin williams

In today's encore excerpt - the comedian Robin Williams gets his start:

"Robin Williams was an acting student in the early 1970s at New York's prestigious Juilliard School, where his classmates were Christopher Reeve and William Hurt. As producer George Schlatter recalls, 'He didn't graduate because they asked him to leave after his junior year. They said, 'No, Robin, there's just nothing more we can teach you. So you should go out and work.' ' Williams himself remembers the conversation with the school's founder, the esteemed director and actor John Houseman, a bit differently: 'Mr. Williams, the theater needs you. I'm going off to sell Volvos.' ...

"Robin Williams was born in Chicago in 1952 and was raised in a well-to-do suburb outside of Detroit, Michigan, where his father was a busy senior executive with the Ford Motor Company. Neglected by his family, Williams grew up in a thirty-room mansion, where he had the entire third floor to himself. To entertain himself, he created an array of imaginary playmates. ...

"When Williams turned sixteen, his father took early retirement and moved the family to Marin County, just north of San Francisco. 'It was mellow times,' he recalled. 'That's where I found out about drugs and happiness. I saw the best brains of my time turned to mud.' Williams returned there after leaving Juilliard and soon ventured to Los Angeles, where he did the stand-up rounds. Budd Friedman recalls, 'I put him on every time he'd walk in and people would say, 'Why are you putting him on? He ain't got no act.' Trust me, he's got an act. And Robin became a favorite so quickly.' George Schlatter [observed], 'He came out in overalls, with a straw hat on, barefoot - it was Jonny Winters squared, you know? And he had a pole, and he put it out over the audience, and he says, 'I'm fishing for assholes.' The moment you saw him, you said, 'This is gonna be an important force. Not just a talent, but an important force in show business.' ' Williams made his featured debut [on the short-lived revival of Laugh-In] in late 1977; his first line was 'Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I'm here to talk to you about the very serious problem of schizophrenia - No, he isn't! - SHUT UP, LET HIM SPEAK!' ...

"Over at the soundstages at ABC, there was a hit number one sitcom called Happy Days. Producer Garry Marshall, on a whim suggested by his seven-year-old son, decided to drop an alien from space down on Fonzie and his friends. Finding the right actor would be crucial, and Marshall called on his sister, Ronnie, who was his casting director. Marshall recalled: 'Get me Jonathan Winters, get me John Byner, get me one of those crazy guys - Don Knotts, I'll take.' 'No, we got a guy, Robin Williams,' my sister Ronnie said. 'What he's done, Robin Williams?' 'He stands on a street corner and he does funny things and mimes and he passes the hat. That's his credit.' This is who I'm gonna see over the people I want to see? 'Yes, you gotta see him.' And I said, 'But why?' And I remember my sister said very clearly, 'You should see him - it's an awful full hat.'

"Williams's debut as Mork from Ork whipped the studio audience into pandemonium; in the days of sitcom spin-offs, a vehicle was not far behind. Mork and Mindy was hastily arranged for the following fall. ...

"On the first day of shooting, Marshall had to contend with the fact that his star was out of orbit: He was all set to go, I said, 'All right, Robin, we have three cameramen.' Three cameras for Mork and Mindy, and the average age of the cameramen is seventy-nine, eighty. And so I said, 'Okay, Robin, ready, action.' And he ran around, he did a very funny thing, he ad-libbed a little, he said the lines, he was all over the place, and I yell, 'Cut! Great!' And to Sam, my oldest cameraman, I said, 'Did you get that, Sam?' And Sam said, 'Never came by here.' I said, 'You gotta move the camera, Sam. The man's a genius.' And Sam said, 'If he's such a genius, he could hit that mark right over there and he'll be on camera.' So we hired a fourth camera, just to follow Robin."

Author: Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon
Title: Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America
Publisher: Twelve, Hachette Book Group
Date: Copyright 2008 by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon
Pages: Kindle Loc. 5003-44.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/18/10 - battlefield graveyards

In today's excerpt - with the millions of deaths in World War I, the British and French governments decided to bury dead soldiers in mass graves at the battlefield instead of returning them home. This left tens of millions of grieving relatives with no sense of closure and an overwhelming desire for one last moment with those that had died:

"Spiritualist societies, already popular before the war, doubled in number. The relaying of comforting messages of reassurance from loved ones reaching out to their families from beyond the grave were seized on in particular by the middle and upper classes who could afford the expensive connections to the spirit world. 'Mysticism' became a household word in salons of grand houses. But as in the Ancient Greek kingdom of death, the Hades of Homer's poetry, the spirits had no substance and a reaching out to their elusive nothingness simply increased the hopelessness of the mourner. ...

"If tangible evidence of the presence of the dead was difficult to find, reminders of their existence became important. One young woman would sprinkle Ajax, a man's hairwash, on to her pillow each night. Another dressed a tailor's dummy in the full uniform of her dead Grenadier Guards husband and slept with it every night beside her bed. The clothes carried his smell and for a brief waking moment she could imagine her husband had returned. The widowed Lady Ailesbury would only allow herself to be kissed on the left cheek, the other remaining 'sacred to the memory of my dear Lord Ailesbury'....

"There were other ways to raise oneself from the stupor induced by the ending of the war. Long before the war was over an urgent need had developed to establish the precise manner and exact place of death of those lost on the battlefields of France. Many wished to see these alien, other-worldly sights before they were covered over. Personal columns ran advertisements offering photographs of individual war graves in France and Flanders costing thirty shillings for three prints. Enterprising companies accepted commissions for placing flowers and wreaths on graves. The French Government announced that widows, children and parents of French soldiers who had given their life for their country would be offered a day's free excursion to visit the graves of those they loved. Pilgrimage trains left Paris each morning for Albert, Arras and Rheims.

"In England newspapers carried advertisements for guided tours to the battlefields much as pre-war tourists had been enticed by special deals to seaside towns. Prices for package trips to the 'Devastated Areas' included hotels and cars and even an officer guide, if so desired, promoting an eerie holiday atmosphere. Visitors were recommended to bring their own food and to ensure they were dressed for the cold, while ammunition boxes that lay discarded everywhere conveniently suggested themselves as picnic tables, upended and laid with sandwiches, in the middle of this silent wasteland. ...

"There were almost daily casualties among the visitors from unexploded bombs as if the ghostly enemy was taking revenge from beneath the soil. ... While unexploded shells made it a dangerous place to be, unburied
bodies made it a distressing place to visit even for the ghoulish. ...

"Women searching for a trace of comfort in the devastated landscape were seen plunging their bare hands into the earth and rummaging in the soil looking for any little token of evidence, however macabre. Raymond Asquith had described the sight of 'limbs and bowels resting in hedges'. But flesh had rotted over the months and another visitor, William Ewart's sister, who had lost her husband, failed to find him in the mud at Bapaume. However, the experience of looking at the precise landscape, the very trees and mounds of
mud that her husband had seen in his last moments, brought her an unexpected and welcome relief. William Ewart reported that his sister left that place transfigured and that she 'went laughing into the world again ... nor has the dancing light ever left her gay blue eyes. Her ear responds, she laughs, she lives.' "

Author: Juliet Nicolson
Title: The Great Silence
Publisher: Grove
Date: Copyright 2009 by Juliet Nicolson
Pages: 96-101

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/17/10 - the indignity of death

In today's excerpt - the work of morticians and the indignity of death. We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget:

"An eye cap is a simple ten-cent piece of plastic. It is slightly larger than a contact lens, less flexible, and considerably less comfortable. The plastic is repeatedly lanced through, so that small, sharp spurs stick up from its surface. The eyelid will come down over an eye cap, but, once closed, will not easily open back up. Eye caps were invented by a mortician to help dead people keep their eyes shut. ...

"Presiding at the embalming table today are Theo Martinez and Nicole D'Ambrogio. ... Before the embalming begins, the exterior of the corpse is cleaned and groomed. Nicole swabs the mouth and eyes with disinfectant, then rinses both with a jet of water. Though I know the man to be dead, I expect to see him flinch when the cotton swab hits his eye, to cough and sputter when the water hits the back of his throat. His stillness, his deadness, is surreal. The students move purposefully. Nicole is looking in the man's mouth. Her hand rests sweetly on his chest. Concerned, she calls Theo over to look. They talk quietly and then he turns to me. 'There's material sitting in the mouth,' he says. ... 'What happened is that whatever was in the stomach found its way into the mouth.' Gases created by bacterial decay build up and put pressure on the stomach, squeezing its contents back up the esophagus and into the mouth. The situation appears not to bother Theo and Nicole, though purge is a relatively infrequent visitor to the embalming room. Theo explains that he is going to use an aspirator [to remove it]. ...

"Next Theo coats the face with what I assume to be some sort of disinfecting lotion, which looks a lot like shaving cream. The reason that it looks a lot like shaving cream, it turns out, is that it is. Theo slides a new blade into a razor. 'When you shave a decedent, it's really different. ... The skin isn't able to heal, so you have to be really careful about nicks. One shave per razor, and then you throw it away.' ...

" 'Now we're going to set the features,' says Theo. He lifts one of the man's eyelids and packs tufts of cotton underneath to fill out the lid the way the man's eyeballs once did. ... On top of the cotton go a pair of eye caps. 'People would find it disturbing to find the eyes open,' explains Theo, and then he slides down the lids. ...

" 'Did you already go in the nose?' Nicole is holding aloft tiny chrome scissors. Theo says no. She goes in, first to trim the hair, then with the disinfectant. 'It gives the decedent some dignity,' she says, plunging wadded cotton into and out of his left nostril.

"The last feature to be posed is the mouth, which will hang open if not held shut. Theo is narrating for Nicole, who is using a curved needle and heavy-duty string to suture the jaws together. 'The goal is to reenter through the same hole and come in behind the teeth,' says Theo. 'Now she's coming out one of the nostrils, across the septum, and then she's going to reenter the mouth. There are a variety of ways of closing the mouth' he adds, and then he begins talking about something called a needle injector. ...

"Drops of sweat bead the inside surface of Nicole's splash shield. We've been here more than an hour. It's almost over. Theo asks, 'Will we be suturing the anus?' He turns to me. 'Otherwise leakage can wick into the funeral clothing and it's an awful mess.' I don't mind Theo's matter-of-factness. Life contains these things: leakage and wickage and discharge, pus and snot and slime and gleet. We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget."

Author: Mary Roach
Title: Stiff
Publisher: Norton
Date: Copyright 2003 by Mary Roach
Pages: 72-84

Monday, August 16, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/16/10 - not guilty by reason of insanity

In today's excerpt - not guilty by reason of insanity, first introduced in Britain in 1843 - and the perils of attempting to define insanity. This became manifest especially in the desperate poverty and social disruption of early Victorian England:

"Many illegitimate babies were killed by poor and desperate women in Victorian England: in 1860, child murders were reported in the newspapers almost daily. Usually the victims were newborns, and the assailants were their mothers. In the spring of 1860, Sarah Gough, a housekeeper and cook at Upper Seymour Street, a mile or so from Upper Harley Street, killed her illegitimate child, parcelled it up and sent it by train from Paddington to a convent near Windsor. She was easily traced: in the package was a paper bearing the name of her employer.

"Juries showed compassion to women such as Sarah Gough, preferring to find them deranged than depraved. They were helped in this by new legal and medical ideas. In the law courts the 'McNaghten rule' had since 1843 allowed 'temporary insanity' to be used as a defense. (In January 1843 a Scottish
woodturner, Daniel McNaghten, had fatally shot Sir Robert Peel's secretary, mistaking him for the Prime Minister.) Alienists detailed the kinds of madness to which the apparently and usually sane could fall victim: a woman might suffer from puerperal mania just before or after giving birth; any woman might be overcome by hysteria, and anyone might be struck by monomania, a form of madness that left the intellect intact - the sufferer could be emotionally deranged yet show cold cunning. By these criteria, any unusually violent crime could be understood as evidence of insanity.
The Times put the dilemma neatly in an editorial of 1853:

Nothing can be more slightly defined than the line of demarcation between sanity and insanity ... Make the definition too narrow, it becomes meaningless; make it too wide, and the whole human race becomes involved in the dragnet. In strictness we are all mad when we give way to passion, to prejudice, to vice, to vanity; but if all the passionate, prejudiced and vain people were to be locked up as lunatics, who is to keep the key to the asylum?"

Author: Kate Summerscale
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
Publisher: Walker
Date: Copyright 2008 by Kate Summerscale
Page: 136

Friday, August 13, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/13/10 - the heartbreaks of cynthia ann parker

In today's excerpt - the heartbreaks of Cynthia Ann Parker. In 1836, when she was nine years old, she was captured in a murderous raid by Comanches on her frontier family. The story, and the resulting search for her, became famous throughout the country. However, she then became the wife of a Comanche chief of that tribe, bore two sons and a daughter, and seemed a content wife and proud mother. She was finally "rescued" by the U.S. Army twenty-four years later in a battle that saw her husband killed, her two young sons run away to save their lives, and both she and her young daughter taken into captivity:

"There was the virtually universal belief among Texans at the time that Sul Ross, the hero of the battle and the future Texas governor, had saved the poor, unfortunate Cynthia Ann Parker from an ugly fate. That belief would color the histories for a long, long time.

"We will never know how Cynthia Ann Parker felt in the weeks and months after her capture by Sul Ross. There are so few comparable events in American history. But it was painfully apparent from the earliest days that the real tragedy in her life was not her first captivity but her second. White men never quite grasped this. The event that destroyed her life was not the raid at Parker's Fort in 1836 but her miraculous and much-celebrated 'rescue' at Mule Creek in 1860. The latter killed her husband, separated her forever from her beloved sons, and deposited her in a culture where she was more a true captive than she had ever been with the Comanches. ...

"Texans could not get enough of her. There were many newspaper accounts of her return, all of which were uniformly obsessed with the idea that a pretty little nine-year-old white girl from a devout Baptist family had been transformed into a pagan savage who had mated with a redskin and borne his children and forgotten her mother tongue. And all the stories assumed that everything she had done had been forced upon her. That she had suffered grievous mistreatment, had been whipped and beaten and had led a lonely and desperate existence. People simply did not believe that a Christian white woman had gone along with it voluntarily. One paper, the Clarksville Northern Standard, observed later that 'her body and arms bear the marks of having been cruelly treated.' Yet there is nothing to suggest that she was cruelly treated after the first few days of her captivity, as her cousin Rachel Plummer had described them. She was the ward of a chief, later his wife. The scars may have resulted from the practice among Comanche women of cutting themselves in mourning, often on the arms and breasts. ...

"[Once she had been 'rescued'], it is not clear exactly what [her relatives] thought they were going to accomplish with Cynthia Ann and her daughter. Perhaps they saw themselves as her deliverer, imagining the day when Cynthia Ann, grateful and weeping, would embrace Jesus and forsake her savage ways. Nothing of the sort happened. Cynthia Ann's repatriation was in fact a disaster. She was not only unrepentant. She was actively, and incessantly hostile to her captors. She tried repeatedly to escape with her daughter, sometimes making it far into the woods and requiring a search party to find her. She was so intent on leaving that [her relatives] had to lock her in the house when they were away. ...

"She would sit for hours and hours on the wide porch of [her uncle] Isaac's house weeping and nursing her daughter Prairie Flower. She refused to stop her pagan devotions. One of her relatives described her ritual of worship:

" 'She went out to a smooth place on the ground, cleaned it off very nicely and
made a circle and a cross. On the cross she built a fire, burned some tobacco,
and then cut a place on her breast and let the blood drop onto the fire.' ...

"Cynthia Ann kept trying to escape, walking off down the road with her daughter in her arms whenever she was left alone. (She said she was 'going home, just going home.') She often slashed her arms and breasts with a knife, drawing blood. This was probably an act of mourning for the death of her husband. Or it could have been a simple expression of misery. [She once added] 'I want to go back to my two boys.' "

Author: S.C. Gwynne
Title: Empire of the Summer Moon
Publisher: Scribner
Date: Copyright 2010 by S.C. Gwynne
Pages: 181, 183, 184, 188, 190

Thursday, August 12, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/12/10 - dopamine

In today's encore excerpt - dopamine, pleasure, and too much pleasure:

"The importance of dopamine was discovered by accident. In 1954, James Olds and Peter Milner, two neuroscientists at McGill University, decided to implant an electrode deep into the center of a rat's brain. The precise placement of the electrode was largely happenstance; at the time, the geography of the mind remained a mystery. But Olds and Milner got lucky. They inserted the needle right next to the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), a part of the brain that generates pleasurable feelings. Whenever you eat a piece of chocolate cake, or listen to a favorite pop song, or watch your favorite team win the World Series, it is your NAcc that helps you feel so happy.

"But Olds and Milner quickly discovered that too much pleasure can be fatal. They placed the electrodes in several rodents' brains and then ran a small current into each wire, making the NAccs continually excited. The scientists noticed that the rodents lost interest in everything. They stopped eating and drinking. All courtship behavior ceased. The rats would just huddle in the corners of their cages, transfixed by their bliss. Within days, all of the animals had perished. They died of thirst.

"It took several decades of painstaking research, but neuroscientists eventually discovered that the rats had been suffering from an excess of dopamine. The stimulation of the NAcc triggered a massive release of the neurotransmitter, which overwhelmed the rodents with ecstasy. In humans, addictive drugs work the same way: a crack addict who has just gotten a fix is no different than a rat in an electrical rapture. The brains of both creatures have been blinded by pleasure. This, then, became the dopaminergic cliche; it was the chemical explanation for sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

"But happiness isn't the only feeling that dopamine produces. Scientists now know that this neurotransmitter helps to regulate all of our emotions, from the first stirrings of love to the most visceral forms of disgust. It is the common neural currency of the mind, the molecule that helps us decide among alternatives. By looking at how dopamine works inside the brain, we can see why feelings are capable of providing deep insights. While Plato disparaged emotions as irrational and untrustworthy - the wild horses of the soul - they actually reflect an enormous amount of invisible analysis."

Author: Jonah Lehrer
Title: How We Decide
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date: Copyright 2009 by Jonah Lehrer
Pages: Kindle Loc. 463-538.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/11/10 - war, loneliness, and sex

In today's excerpt - the carnage of World War I, and the prostitutes that emerged as a moment of relief from that carnage. World War I, the Great War, had no precedent in its bloodshed - the mere boys who marched to war as soldiers from Britain and elsewhere were witness to twenty-three million casualties:

"The [British] Government's morale-boosting propaganda had contributed in large part to the ignorance at home of the true state of affairs [in the war] abroad. Positive stories written by journalists who feared if they told the truth were designed to put the best possible slant on the news. Soldiers who longed to describe the dreadful reality of warfare had their letters censored. ...

"How were soldiers to find a way to describe to their isolated, sometimes disbelieving families what happened out there? ... Loneliness was constant. Men missed women. ...

"Just behind the battle lines only a mile or two from the front, girls waited to 'comfort' men, irrespective of whether they were German, British or French, waiting for them in abandoned chateaux, village houses, hay barns, caravans, farm buildings and the upper floors of inns. Different coloured lanterns indicated the rank of clientele allowed entry. Blue denoted a place reserved for officers, the light sometimes swinging from a pole that stood next to a sign declaring 'No Admittance for Dogs and Soldiers'. Common soldiers were directed towards the red light establishments. Sometimes the queues outside these places could number a hundred men or more, with three worn-out French women waiting inside. The price per slot varied from two and a half to ten francs or two to eight shillings, although a bartering system involving bread and sausages was also prevalent. One innocent young officer, hearing his turn called, made his way to room number six where in the bitter-sweet, dirt-smelling near darkness he could see the outline of a female figure who, turning towards him, hiked up her black nightdress to her waist and fell backwards on the edge of the bed. He realised that the highly anticipated delights of seduction were already over. She was ready.

"These women estimated that operating a strict schedule of ten minutes per man, they could service an entire battalion every seven days, a production rate that most were usually able to sustain for only three weeks before retiring exhausted, and invariably unwell, but proud of their staying power. This experience had been, for many of the prospectively syphilitic young men, their introduction to the 'joy' of physical love. Even the virginal Prince of Wales went in 1916 with some fellow officers to watch naked girls performing erotic poses in a brothel in Calais, concluding from his own 'first insight into such things' that it was a 'perfectly filthy and revolting sight'. ...

"The threat of venereal disease sometimes led soldiers to seek sexual relief with each other. The Field Almanac issued to Lieutenant Skelton cautioned men not to 'ease themselves promiscuously', although the detailed instructions on the necessity for cleanliness of the body at all times were impossible to implement in the filthy conditions of the camps. George V, hearing of the extent of homosexual activity in the army some two decades after the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde, had been heard to mutter: 'I thought men like that shot themselves.' There was also a belief that homosexuality might be infectious and Scotland Yard kept a register of known homosexuals. Recovery from prosecution was at best rare and in reality unknown. Two hundred and seventy soldiers and twenty officers were court-martialled for 'acts of gross indecency with another male person according to the Guidance notes in the Manual of Military Law'."

Author: Juliet Nicolson
Title: The Great Silence
Publisher: Grove
Date: Copyright 2009 by Juliet Nicolson
Pages: 19-25

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/10/10 - new orleans, mexico, and texas

In today's excerpt - in the early to mid-1800s, it was not clear whether the United States or Mexico would emerge as the dominant power in North America. The U.S. had a sliver of land on the east coast and a vulnerable, export-dependent economy. Control of New Orleans was key to a new economic foundation:

"Until the Mexican-American War, it was not clear whether the dominant power in North America would have its capital in Washington or Mexico City. Mexico was the older society with a substantially larger military. The United States, having been founded east of the Appalachian Mountains, had been a weak and vulnerable country. At its founding, it lacked strategic depth and adequate north-south transportation routes. The ability of one colony to support another in the event of war was limited. More important, the United States had the most vulnerable of economies: It was heavily dependent on maritime exports and lacked a navy able to protect its sea-lanes against more powerful European powers like England and Spain. The War of 1812 showed the deep weakness of the United States. By contrast, Mexico had greater strategic depth and less dependence on exports.

"The American solution to this strategic weakness was to expand the United States west of the Appalachians, first into the Northwest Territory ceded to the United States by the United Kingdom and then into the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson ordered bought from France. These two territories gave the United States both strategic depth and a new economic foundation. The regions could support agriculture that produced more than the farmers could consume. Using the Ohio-Missouri-Mississippi river system, products could be shipped south to New Orleans. New Orleans was the farthest point south to which flat-bottomed barges from the north could go, and the farthest inland that oceangoing ships could travel. New Orleans became the single most strategic point in North America. Whoever controlled it controlled the agricultural system developing between the Appalachians and the Rockies. During the War of 1812, the British tried to seize New Orleans, but forces led by Andrew Jackson defeated them in a battle fought after the war itself was completed.

"Jackson understood the importance of New Orleans to the United States. He also understood that the main threat to New Orleans came from Mexico. The U.S.-Mexican border then stood on the Sabine River, which divides today's Texas from Louisiana. It was about 200 miles from that border to New Orleans and, at its narrowest point, a little more than 100 miles from the Sabine to the Mississippi.

"Mexico therefore represented a fundamental threat to the United States. In response, Jackson authorized a covert operation under Sam Houston to foment an uprising among American settlers in the Mexican department of Texas with the aim of pushing Mexico farther west. With its larger army, a Mexican thrust to the Mississippi was not impossible - nor something the Mexicans would necessarily avoid, as the rising United States threatened Mexican national security.

"Mexico's strategic problem was the geography south of the Rio Grande (known in Mexico as the Rio Bravo). This territory consisted of desert and mountains. Settling this area with large populations was impossible. Moving through it was difficult. As a result, Texas was very lightly settled with Mexicans, prompting Mexico initially to encourage Americans to settle there (in part, as a buffer against the Comanches, ed.) Once a rising was fomented among the Americans, it took time and enormous effort to send a Mexican army into Texas. When it arrived, it was weary from the journey and short of supplies. The insurgents were defeated at the Alamo and Goliad, but as the Mexicans pushed their line east toward the Mississippi, they were defeated at San Jacinto, near present-day Houston.

"The creation of an independent Texas served American interests, relieving the threat to New Orleans and weakening Mexico. The final blow was delivered under President James K. Polk during the Mexican-American War, which (after the Gadsden Purchase) resulted in the modern U.S.-Mexican border. That war severely weakened both the Mexican army and Mexico City, which spent roughly the rest of the century stabilizing Mexico's original political order."

Author: George Friedman
Title: "Arizona, Borderlands and U.S.-Mexican Relations"
Publisher: Stratfor Global Intelligence
Date: August 3, 2010

Monday, August 09, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/9/10 - why sex?

In today's excerpt - is sex really necessary? After all, if the evolutionary goal of each individual is to get as many genes into the next generation as possible, wouldn't it have been simpler and easier for the early organisms to have just replicated or made clones? The likeliest explanation is that the genetic shuffling and resulting variation that occurs from sex-based reproduction keeps enough diversity in the species to minimize risk from bacteria, viruses and other parasites. And since we're on the subject, after sex, why does the male stay involved? From the stand point of biology, males have more or less nothing to do after copulation:

"Approximately two billion years ago a pair of single-celled organisms made a terrible mistake-they had sex. We're still living with the consequences. Sexual reproduction is the preferred method for an overwhelming portion of the planet's species, and yet from the standpoint of evolution it leaves much to be desired. Finding and wooing a prospective mate takes time and energy that could be better spent directly on one's offspring. And having sex is not necessarily the best way for a species to attain Darwinian fitness. If the evolutionary goal of each individual is to get as many genes into the next generation as possible, it would be simpler and easier to just make a clone.

"The truth is, nobody really knows why people - and other animals, plants and fungi - prefer sex to, say, budding. Stephen C. Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University, says scientists now actively discuss more than 40 different theories on why sex is so popular. Each has its shortcomings, but the current front-runner seems to be the Red Queen hypothesis. It gets its name from a race in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Just as Alice has to keep running to stay in the same place, organisms have to keep changing their genetic makeup to stay one step ahead of parasites. Sexual reproduction allows them to shuffle their genetic deck with each generation. That's not to say that sex is forever. When it comes to reproduction, evolution is a two-way street. When resources and mates are scarce, almost all types of animals have been known to revert to reproducing asexually. ...

"What persuaded the male hominid to stick around after mating? From the standpoint of biology, males have nothing to do after copulation. 'It's literally wham-bam thank-you-ma'am,' says Kermyt G. Anderson, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma-Norman and co-author of Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior. What made the first father stick around afterward? He was needed. At some point in the six million years since the human lineage split from chimpanzees, babies got to be too expensive, in terms of care, for a single mother to raise. A chimp can feed itself at age four, but humans come out of the womb essentially premature and remain dependent on their parents for many years longer. Hunters in Amazonian tribes cannot survive on their own until age 18, according to anthropologist Hillard Kaplan of the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque. Their skills peak in their 30s - not unlike income profiles of modern men and women.

"Oddly enough, bird families also tend to have stay-at-home dads. In more than 90 percent of bird species, both parents share the care of their young. This arrangement probably began, at least for most birds, when males started staying around the nests to protect helpless babies from predators. 'A flightless bird sitting on a nest is a very vulnerable creature,' explains evolutionary biologist Richard O. Prum of Yale University. Some birds, though, might have inherited their particular form of fatherhood from dinosaurs. Male theropods, a close relative of birds, seem to have done all the nest building, just as male ostriches do today. That doesn't mean everything was on the up and up. A female ostrich will lay an egg in the nest of her mate, but usually a different male fertilizes it. 'There's a loose relationship,' Prum says, 'between paternal care and paternity.' "

Author: Brendan Borrell
Title: "Origins"
Publisher: Scientific American
Date: August 2010
Pages: 47-49

Friday, August 06, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/6/10 - children and lying

In today's excerpt - a controversial suggestion regarding children and lying:

"Researchers have found that the ability to tell fibs at the age of two is a sign of a fast developing brain and means they are more likely to have successful lives. They found that the more plausible the lie, the more quick witted they will be in later years and the better their ability to think on their feet. It also means that they have developed 'executive function' - the ability to invent a convincing lie by keeping the truth at the back of their mind.

" 'Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib,' said Dr Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University who carried out the research. 'Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks. They may make bankers in later life.' Lying involves multiple brain processes, such as integrating sources of information and manipulating the data to their advantage. It is linked to the development of brain regions that allow 'executive functioning' and use higher order thinking and reasoning.

"Dr Lee and his team tested 1,200 children aged two to 16 years old. A majority of the volunteers told lies but it is the children with better cognitive abilities who can tell the best lies. At the age of two, 20 per cent of children will lie. This rises to 50 per cent by three and almost 90 per cent at four. The most deceitful age, they discovered, was 12, when almost every child tells lies. The tendency starts to fall away by the age of 16, when it is 70 per cent. As adulthood approaches, young people learn instead to use the less harmful 'white lies' that everyone tells to avoid hurting people's feelings.

"Researchers say there is no link between telling fibs in childhood and any tendency to cheat in exams or to become a fraudster later in life. Nor does strict parenting or a religious upbringing have any impact. Dr Lee said that catching your children lying was not a bad thing but should be exploited as a 'teachable moment'. 'You shouldn't smack or scream at your child but you should talk about the importance of honesty and the negativity of lying,' he told the Sunday Times. 'After the age of eight the opportunities are going to be very rare.'

"The research team invited younger children - one at a time - to sit in a room with hidden cameras. A soft toy was placed behind them. When the researcher briefly left the room, the children were told not to look. In nine out of ten cases cameras caught them peeking. But when asked if they had looked, they almost always said no. They tripped themselves up when asked what they thought the toy might be. One little girl asked to place her hand underneath a blanket that was over the toy before she answered the question. After feeling the toy but not seeing it, she said: 'It feels purple so it must be Barney.' Dr Lee, who caught his son Nathan, three, looking at the toy, said: 'We even had cameras trained on their knees because we thought their legs would fidget if they were telling a lie, but it isn't true.'

"Older children were set a test paper but were told they must not look at the answers printed on the back. Some of the questions were easy, such as who lives in the White House. But the children who looked at the back gave the printed answer 'Presidius Akeman' to the bogus question 'Who discovered Tunisia?' When asked how they knew this, some said they learned it in a history class."

Author: Richard Alleyne
Title: "Lying children will grow up to be successful citizens"
Publication: Telegraph.co.uk
Date: August 3, 2010
Pages: Home Section, Science

Thursday, August 05, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/5/10 - detroit and motown

In today's encore excerpt - Detroit and Motown:

"Motown would become the first successful black-owned record company and eventually the nation's largest black-owned enterprise of any sort.

"Without Detroit, there could have been no Motown. The company was an outgrowth of the car industry, specifically of the black immigration spurred by the industry's swift rise and seemingly endless demand for labor. Industrial migration swelled the black population of most northern cities, but none more quickly than Detroit. Between 1910 and 1930, the number of African Americans nearly tripled in Philadelphia and New York, and quintupled in Chicago. But in Detroit it went up by more than twenty times, from just under 6,000 to over 120,000.

"The main draw was Henry Ford's factory, which, in 1914, put out the word that it was paying assembly-line workers five dollars a day. In response, blacks moved from the South to Detroit at the rate of 1,000 per month; by 1922, the figure rose to 3,500 per month. If Ford's lines were full, a strong worker could find a job at some other factory. By 1925, there were three thousand major manufacturing plants in Detroit; thirty-seven of them were building cars. At the start of World War II, Detroit became the arsenal of America's military machine, and the demand for workers soared further. A half million more migrated to Detroit in the wars first two years.

"There was little assimilation of the black families that poured into Detroit in the early waves of this migration; most of them were crammed into dilapidated tenements on the city's south side. During the even larger influx brought on by World War II, things got ugly. Most of these new migrants were black, as before, but there were also many Polish immigrants and white Appalachians, all competing for the same jobs. A quarter of the city's 185 war plants refused to hire blacks. Many car factories, even after all these years, would not mix black and white workers on the same assembly line. In 1943, the NAACP and the United Auto Workers staged an 'equal opportunity' rally, with over ten thousand black men attending. When, as a result, three black workers were promoted to skilled slots at a Packard plant, twenty-six thousand white workers walked out.

"That summer, race riots erupted. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to send in six thousand federal troops to quell the violence, which left thirty-four people dead (twenty-five of them black), hundreds injured, and $2 million worth of property damage. The city planners responded with the Detroit Plan, which demolished hundreds of buildings and displaced thousands of black families, inspiring the observation that 'urban renewal' was a euphemism for 'Negro removal.'

"Amid this de facto segregation, the African Americans in Detroit created their own culture and institutions - and, because of the decent-paying jobs at Ford and other factories, they had enough money to sustain the effort."

Author: Fred Kaplan
Title: 1959
Publisher: Wiley
Date: Copyright 2009 by Fred Kaplan
Pages: 213-215

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/4/10 - the destruction of smyrna

In today's excerpt - the 1922 destruction of Smyrna, a beautiful city located on the Aegean coast of what is now Turkey with twice the Greek population of Athens itself. In a century of global ethnic cleansing, the razing of Smyrna was on a scale that the world had never before seen - and was a harbinger of much that came after. Perhaps the most cosmopolitan and ethnically tolerant city in the world in the early twentieth century, it fell victim to the nascent Turkish nationalist movement after misguided foreign policy moves - some say the blunders of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George - inflamed the centuries-old enmity between Turkey and Greece. Essentially all of its 700,000 inhabitants were killed, captured or fled as refugees before the Turkish National Army:

"The city [of Smyrna] was one in which fig-laden camels nudged their way past the latest Newton Bennett motor car; in which the strange new vogue of the cinema was embraced as early as 1908. There were seventeen companies dealing exclusively in imported Parisian luxuries. And if [a person] cared to read a daily newspaper, he had quite a choice: eleven Greek, seven Turkish, five Armenian, four French and five Hebrew, not to mention the ones shipped in from every capital city in Europe. ...

"Amidst the grandeur there was intense human activity. Hawkers and street traders peddled their wares along the mile-long quayside. Water sellers jangled their brass bowls; hodjas - Muslim holy men - mumbled prayers in the hope of earning a copper or two. And impecunious legal clerks. often Italian, would proffer language lessons at knock-down prices. 'You saw all sorts . . .' recalled the French journalist, Gaston Deschamps. 'Swiss hoteliers, German traders, Austrian tailors, English mill owners, Dutch fig merchants, Italian brokers, Hungarian bureaucrats, Armenian agents and Greek bankers.'

"The waterfront was lined with lively bars, brasseries and shaded cafe gardens, each of which tempted the palate with a series of enticing scents. The odour of roasted cinnamon would herald an Armenian patisserie; apple smoke spilled forth from hookahs in the Turkish cafes. Coffee and olives, crushed mint and armagnac: each smell was distinctive and revealed the presence of more than three dozen culinary traditions. Caucasian pastries, boeuf a la mode, Greek game pies and Yorkshire pudding could all be found in the quayside restaurants of Smyrna. ...

"What happened over the two weeks [following September 9, 1922] must surely rank as one of the most compelling human dramas of the twentieth century. Innocent civilians - men, women and children from scores of different nationalities - were caught in a humanitarian disaster on a scale that the world had never before seen. The entire population of the city became the victim of a reckless foreign policy that had gone hopelessly, disastrously wrong. ...

"The total death toll is hard to compute with any certainty. According to Edward Hale Bierstadt - executive of the United States Emergency Committee - approximately 100,000 people were killed and another 160,000 deported into the interior. 'It is a picture too large and too fearful to be painted,' he wrote in his 1924 study of the disaster, The Great Betrayal, although he did his best, interviewing numerous eyewitnesses and collecting their testimonies. Other estimates were more conservative, claiming that 190,000 souls were unaccounted for by the end of September. It is unclear how many of these had been killed and how many deported, although Greek sources suggest that at least 100,000 Christians were marched into the interior of the country. Most of these were never seen again. ...

"The exodus from Asia Minor was on a [massive] scale and it was to continue for many months. To [rescue worker] Esther Lovejoy's eyes, it was 'the greatest migration in the history of mankind.' The migration was eventually enshrined in law in 1923, when [Turkish leader] Mustafa Kemal put his signature to the Treaty of Lausanne. All of Turkey's remaining 1.2 million Orthodox Christians were to be uprooted from their ancestral homes and moved to Greece. And the 400,000 Muslims living in Greece were to be removed from their houses and transported to Turkey. It was ethnic cleansing without parallel."

Author: Giles Milton
Title: Paradise Lost
Publisher: Sceptre
Date: Copyright 2008 by Giles Milton
Pages: 6-8, 372, 382

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/3/10 - london police

In today's excerpt - the first modern police force. With the Industrial Revolution came the beginnings of immense social and economic changes and the large scale movement of the population to the towns. The parish constable and "watch" systems that had previously been in place failed completely and the impotence of the law-enforcement machinery was a serious menace. Conditions became intolerable and led to the formation of the "New Police." Jack Whicher, who later became a famed detective, was among the first of these new policemen:

"On 18 September,1837, Jack Whicher became a police constable. The Metropolitan Police, the first such force in the country, was eight years old. London had got so big, so fluid, so mysterious to itself that in 1829 its inhabitants had, reluctantly, accepted the need for a disciplined body of men to patrol the streets. The 3,500 policemen were known as 'bobbles' and 'peelers' (after their founder, Sir Robert Peel), as 'coppers' (they caught, or copped, villains), as 'crushers' (they crushed liberty), as 'Jenny Darbies' (from gendarmes), and as pigs (a term of abuse since the sixteenth century).

"Whicher was issued with dark-blue trousers and a dark-blue long-tailed coat, its bright metal buttons imprinted with a crown and the word POLICE. ... Whicher shared a dormitory with about sixteen other men in the Hunter Place station house, in Hunter Street, just south of King's Cross. All single men were expected to lodge in the station house, and to be in their quarters by midnight....

"In the daytime, a constable covered a seven-and-a-half-mile beat at two-and-a-half miles an hour for two four-hour stints: from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., say, and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. He familiarised himself with every house on his beat, and strove to clear the roads of beggars, tramps, costermongers, drunks and prostitutes. He was subject to spot checks by a sergeant or an inspector, and the rules were strict: no leaning or sitting while on the beat, no swearing, no consorting with servant girls. The police were instructed to treat everyone with respect - the drivers of hansom cabs, for instance, were not to be referred to as 'cabbies' - and to avoid the use of force. These standards were to be observed off-duty, too. If found drunk at any time, a constable was issued with a warning, and if the offence was repeated he was dismissed from the force. In the early 1830s four out of five dismissals, of a total of three thousand, were for drunkenness. ...

"The circuit was much shorter at night - two miles - and Whicher was expected to pass each point on his beat every hour. Though this shift could be miserable in winter, it had its perks: tips for waking up market traders or labourers before dawn, and sometimes a 'toothful' of beer or brandy from each publican on the route. ...

"[Whicher's district] teemed with tricksters, and the police had to be expert in identifying them. A new vocabulary evolved to catalogue the various deceits. The police watched out for 'magsmen' (conmen, such as card sharps) who 'gammoned' (fooled) 'flats' (dupes) with the help of 'buttoners' or 'bonnets'(accomplices who drew people in by seeming to win money from the magsmen). A 'screever' (drafter of documents) might sell a 'fakement' to a vagrant 'on the blob' (telling hard-luck stories) - in 1837, fifty Londoners were arrested for producing such documents and eighty-six for bearing them. To 'work the kinchin lay),' was to trick children out of their cash or clothing. To 'work the shallow' was to excite compassion by begging half-naked. To 'shake lurk' was to beg in the guise of a shipwrecked sailor. In November 1837 a magistrate noted that some thieves in the Holborn area were acting as decoys, feigning drunkenness in order to distract police constables while their friends burgled houses."

Author: Kate Summerscale
Title: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
Publisher: Walker
Date: Copyright 2008 by Kate Summerscale
Pages: 45-49

Monday, August 02, 2010

delanceyplace.com 8/2/10 - new amsterdam

In today's excerpt - Anglo-centric American historians have typically featured Jamestown (founded in 1607) and Plymouth (founded in 1620) to tell the founding story of America, at the expense of the Dutch colony centered in Manhattan (founded in 1614 as Fort Amsterdam and the designated New Amsterdam), which was more economically and culturally dominant in the earliest years of American history, and which is arguably more representative of America today:

"We are used to thinking of American beginnings as involving thirteen English colonies - to thinking of American history as an English root onto which, over time, the cultures of many other nations were grafted to create a new species of society that has become a multiethnic model for progressive societies around the world. But that isn't true. To talk of the thirteen original English colonies is to ignore another European colony, the one centered on Manhattan, which predated New York and whose history was all but erased when the English took it over (in 1664).

"The settlement in question occupied the area between the newly forming
English territories of Virginia and New England. It extended roughly from
present-day Albany, New York, in the north to Delaware Bay in the south,
comprising all or parts of what became New York, New Jersey, Connecticut,
Pennsylvania, and Delaware. It was founded by the Dutch, who called it New Netherland, but half of its residents were from elsewhere. Its capital was a tiny collection of rough buildings perched on the edge of a limitless wilderness, but its muddy lanes and waterfront were prowled by a Babel of peoples - Norwegians, Germans, Italians, Jews, Africans (slaves and free), Walloons, Bohemians, Munsees, Montauks, Mohawks, and many others - all living on the rim of empire, struggling to find a way of being together, searching for a balance between chaos and order, liberty and oppression. Pirates, prostitutes, smugglers, and business sharks held sway in it. It was Manhattan, in other words, right from the start: a place unlike any other, either in the North American colonies or anywhere else.

"Because of its geography, its population, and the fact that it was under the
control of the Dutch (even then its parent city, Amsterdam, was the most liberal in Europe), this island city would become the first multiethnic, upwardly mobile society on America's shores, a prototype of the kind of society that would be duplicated throughout the country and around the world. ... If what made America great was its ingenious openness to different cultures, then the small triangle of land at the southern tip of Manhattan Island is the New World birthplace of that idea, the spot where it first took shape. Many people - whether they live in the heartland or on Fifth Avenue - like to think of New York City as so wild and extreme in its cultural fusion that it's an anomaly in the United States, almost a foreign entity. This book offers an alternative view: that beneath the level of myth and politics and high ideals, down where real people live and interact, Manhattan is where America began.

"The original European colony centered on Manhattan came to an end when England took it over in 1664, renaming it New York after James, the Duke of York, brother of King Charles II, and folding it into its other American colonies. As far as the earliest American historians were concerned, that date marked the true beginning of the history of the region. The Dutch-led colony was almost immediately considered inconsequential. When the time came to memorialize national origins, the English Pilgrims and Puritans of New England provided a better model. The Pilgrims' story was simpler, less messy, and had fewer pirates and prostitutes to explain away. It was easy enough to overlook the fact that the Puritans' flight to American shores to escape religious persecution led them, once established, to institute a brutally intolerant regime, a grim theocratic monoculture about as far removed as one can imagine from what the country was to become."

Author: Russell Shorto
Title: The Island at the Center of the World
Publisher: Doubleday
Date: Copyright 2004 by Russell Shorto
Pages: 2-3