Friday, October 29, 2010 10/29/10 - life in the royal court

In today's excerpt - the 1700s saw the last gasps of court life for kings with any true overriding authority in Britain and France, and during this period court life evolved to exaggerated extremes. Lords, ladies and the hundreds of court employees that swirled around them were required to be present at court and strive for the attention and favor of the regents. Their status, land, titles, and livelihood were at stake, and the least faux pas could have real and devastating consequences. In this excerpt we see the court of King George I of England at Kensington Palace in the early 1700s. The fawning within these courts finds its echoes in the capitals and large corporations of today:

"The Great Drawing Room, crammed full of courtiers, lay at the heart of the Georgian royal palace. Here the king mingled most evenings with his guests, signaling welcome with a nod and displeasure with a blank stare or, worse, a turned back.

"The winners and the losers of the Georgian age could calculate precisely how high they'd climbed - or how far they'd fallen - by the warmth of their reception at court. High-heeled and elegant shoes crushed the reputations of those who'd dropped out of favor, while those whose status was on the rise stood firmly in possession of their few square inches of space.

"In the eighteenth century, the palace's most elegant assembly room was in fact a bloody battlefield. This was a world of skulduggery, politicking, wigs and beauty spots, where fans whistled open like flick knives. Intrigue hissed through the crowd, and court factions were also known as 'fuctions'. Beneath their powder and perfume, the courtiers stank of sweat, insecurity and glittering ambition.

"The ambitious visitors crowding into the drawing room were usually unaware that they were under constant observation from behind the scenes. The palace servants - overlooked but ever-present - knew of every move made at court. ...

"The Georgian royal household was staggeringly vast and complicated. The highest ranking of its members, the courtiers proper, were the ladies- and gentlemen- in-waiting. These noblemen and women were glad to serve the king and queen in even quite menial ways because of the honor involved.

"Beneath them in status were about 950 other royal servants, organized into a byzantine web of departments ranging from hair-dressing to rat-catching, and extending right down to the four 'necessary women' who cleaned the palace and emptied the 'necessaries' or chamber pots. ...

"While the monarchy was slowly sinking in status throughout the eighteenth century, the glamour of the court still attracted the pretty, the witty, the pushy and the powerful.

"But although Kensington Palace teemed with ambitious and clever people in search of fame and fashion, it was also a lonely place, and courtiers and servants alike often found themselves weary and heart-sore. Success in their world demanded a level head and a cold heart; secrets were never safe, a courtier had to keep up appearances in the face of gambling debts, loss of office or even unwanted pregnancy.

"Thousands longed to be part of the court, but John Hervey [a courtier in the Georgian court], knew all too well that danger lay hidden behind the palace walls. 'I do not know any people in the world,' he wrote to a courtier colleague, 'so much to be pitied as that gay young company with which you and I stand every day in the drawing-room.' "

Author: Lucy Worsley
Title: The Courtiers
Publisher: Walker
Date: Copyright 2010 by Lucy Worsley
Pages: 3-5

Thursday, October 28, 2010 10/28/10 - adultery and romance

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In today's encore excerpt - in the chivalrous twelfth century, relationships and sex, viewed as dutiful and dispassionate under the Church, begin to emerge as rapturous and transcendent. The new age of courtly love sweeps through the courts of Europe and engenders a new genre of songs and poems. Aiding in this transformation are Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) and the troubadors:

"The [new] game of courtly love is an elaborate blueprint for the building of desire, as opposed to the quenching of it. The higher it builds without fulfillment, the more perfect a lover the knight proves himself to be. ...

"Consummated or not, courtly love is by definition adulterous. The knight who jousts on horseback, sword in hand, competes against other knights for a highly desirable lady. But they're not fighting for her hand in marriage, or even for the privilege of courting her. She already has a husband. Initially, at least, they're not even fighting for the privilege of sleeping with her. They're fighting for the privilege of loving her - synonymous with serving her. ...

"In 1154, Henry, Duke of Normandy, captures the English throne as Henry I, making his wife Eleanor [of Aquitaine] a queen for the second time - and [through her] bestowing upon the English court a resident expert on the rules of the game. From there the ideal of love ... will be converted into the middle-class ideal of marriage: the melding of two minds, bodies, and hearts into one. ... Eleanor and her kin would find it next to unimaginable that the heady quality of adultery would one day converge with the dutiful, dispassionate quality of marriage as they experience it.

"Maybe that's what finally enables the convergence: Love enters marriage through the extramarital back door. As [Christian author] C.S. Lewis noted in his study of courtly doctrine, Allegory of Love, 'Any idealization of sexual love, in a society where marriage is purely utilitarian, must begin by an idealization of adultery.' ...

"What troubadors bring about is the reinvention of love. They make its pursuit desirable, even admirable. Previously, epic tales of sexual desire ended in mutually assured destruction for all concerned. ... [Now], to gamble all you have, even your life, on romantic rapture becomes the route to transcendence. The most memorable romantic lovers of courtly literature - Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere, Troilus and Cressida - meet tragic ends, but noble ones. They martyr themselves for the glory of the faith. The new religion of love is a wedge to the future."

Author: Susan Squire
Title: I Don't
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date: Copyright 2008 by Susan Squire
Pages: 151-159
Tags: Love


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Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. 

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010 10/27/10 - spartacus

In today's excerpt - ancient Rome was built on slavery, and slaves constituted as much as forty percent of the population. This slavery could be unspeakably gruesome, whether it was the tens of thousands of slaves that died in the Roman mines in Spain, or those that were condemned to die as gladiators, and so Rome was left to ruthlessly crush innumerable slave rebellions:

"Spartacus, who was born north of Greece, in Thrace, received training in the Roman army as a barbarian 'auxiliary' (ally) before becoming a slave in 73 BCE. It's not clear why he was enslaved after serving Rome. However, his combat skills made him a natural candidate for the gladiator school at Capua, about one hundred miles from Rome.

"Here Spartacus and his fellow slaves learned how to entertain a Roman audience with dramatic hand-to-hand combat. Knowing they were going to their certain deaths, however, about eighty gladiators followed Spartacus into rebellion - using kitchen utensils as weapons. Before long they armed themselves with real weapons, slaughtering Roman soldiers who tried to stop them. Then they escaped to the countryside, where Spartacus incited a general slave uprising, attracting thousands of field workers to his cause. He led the rebel slaves to a mountaintop, where they built a fortified encampment.

"At first the Roman Senate viewed the uprising as a minor threat, but they soon learned better, and dispatched two commanders (praetors) to besiege the mountain and starve the slave army into submission. Spartacus launched a daring counterattack, ordering his soldiers to use vines to rappel down the side of the mountain.

"Of course the Roman Senate couldn't allow the slave rebellion to succeed, as the Roman economy was increasingly based on slavery. So they dispatched a new commander, Crassus, with twelve legions - a huge force - only to have the advance force of two legions annihilated by the slave army.

"Spartacus now led the rebels south, to Sicily, where he planned to
rendezvous with pirates he'd hired to take them to safety. But the pirates never showed, and the slaves found themselves trapped on a narrow peninsula. ... Desperate, Spartacus decided he had no choice but to fight the Romans head on. Here the Romans finally defeated the rebel army, showing no mercy as they butchered sixty thousand runaway slaves, including women and children. Sixty-six hundred survivors were crucified along the Appian Way connecting Capua to Rome. However, the body of Spartacus was never found."

Author: Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand
Title: The Mental Floss History of the World
Publisher: Harper
Date: Copyright 2008 by Mental Floss LLC
Pages: 83-84

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 10/26/10 - william penn

In today's excerpt - William Penn's utopian vision enabled him to establish one of the most successful colonies in the New World, but he died deep in debt and a broken man, despite having received a generous charter which made him the world's largest private (non-royal) landowner with over 45,000 square miles of land. He left his estate in such shambles that it took thirteen years to untangle, but his heirs and his personal representative, James Logan, did far better financially after his demise:

"[Late in his life], Penn was arrested for debt [incurred in developing Pennsylvania] and confined from January to October 1708 in debtors' prison. Ultimately, he and [his lender] settled out of court for a payment of £7,600, a sum that Penn borrowed (of course) from nine wealthy Friends, including his father-in-law. Lacking any other asset, the proprietor mortgaged the province to them as security for the loan.

"Early in 1709, Penn, now sixty-four years old, [attempted] the sale of Pennsylvania's government to the crown for £20,000. The province had become, in Penn's view, no more than the cause of 'a Sorrow, that if not Supported by a Superior hand, might have overwhelm'd me long agoe': a place that for its inhabitants had 'prov'd a Land of Freedom & flourishing,' but which for him was 'the cause of Grief Trouble & Poverty.'

"Penn was in the midst of negotiations with the crown in April 1712 when he suffered the first of a series of strokes. The one that finally incapacitated him came in October while he was writing to James Logan, pleading for him to send money and 'deliver me from my present thralldom ... for it is my excessive expenses upon Pennsylvania that sunk me so low, & nothing else, my expenses yearly in England ever fal[I]ing short of my yearly income.' ... He lived on in increasingly frail health for another five years, losing first the ability to write, then the capacity to speak intelligibly, then the ability to walk unaided, and finally the ability to recognize friends and relatives. He died in his sleep on July 30, 1718.

"Although his efforts had given him little but years of frustration and ultimately left him a broken man, William Penn died as the most successful agent of imperial expansion that England had yet produced. In 1700, Philadelphia's customhouse annually yielded revenues to the Exchequer that exceeded £8,000; yet the expenses of provincial administration and Indian diplomacy were still borne almost entirely by [Penn himself]. ...

"[Upon Penn's death his estate,] tangled beyond recognition, was consigned to the Court of Chancery, where it disappeared under a mountain of pleadings and counterpleadings. The case remained unresolved for another seven years. [His second wife] Hannah herself did not live to see the case settled; she died, worn out with grief and worry, in the spring of 1727.

"The chancery decision, rendered in July of that year, assigned the entire proprietorship to the sons of [his second wife] Hannah Penn, but that judgment, in the time-honored way of actions in chancery, did not resolve the issue. It was not until 1731, thirteen years after the death of William Penn and nearly twenty after he had lost the capacity to exercise his proprietary powers competently, that the children (and grandchildren) from the first marriage renounced their claim to the proprietorship in return for a cash payment from the children of the second marriage. Without this out-of-court settlement, another set of suits would in all likelihood have kept the ownership of the province tied up in chancery for at least another decade. ...

"When Richard, John, and Thomas Penn took over the administration of their father's province, Pennsylvania finally became a consistent producer of revenue for the family. James Logan disliked their grasping ways but never failed to facilitate them: whereas the Penn family had realized an average of
£400 annually from land sales between 1701 and 1730, they earned an average of £7,150 a year between 1731 and 1760, an eighteen fold increase. Logan was hardly in a position to despise them for their greed. He had himself done magnificently and had never been excessively scrupulous about how he made his fortune."

Author: Fred Anderson and Andrew Clayton
Title: The Dominion of War
Publisher: Penguin
Date: Copyright 2005 by Fred Anderson and Andrew Clayton
Pages: 83, 95, 102
Tags: America, States

Monday, October 25, 2010 10/25/10 - henry clay

In today's excerpt - wars with Spain, divorce, veteran aid, wolf pelts, gerrymandering, roads, billiard tables, and the location of the state capital. New state representative Henry Clay and his colleagues wrestled with the issues of the day in the Kentucky state legislature during that state's earliest days. Clay, hero to Abraham Lincoln, later served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and was part of the "Great Triumvirate" or "Immortal Trio," along with his colleagues Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun:

"Speeches backed by pluck won (Democratic-Republican) Henry Clay election to the Kentucky House in his first bid for public office, and in November 1803, he took the seat he would hold for the next six years. In his first session, the legislature gathered on the second floor of the stone capitol in Frankfort abuzz with rumors of looming war with Spain.

"The purchase of Louisiana from Napoleonic France had set off celebrations only months before, but soon disturbing reports began circulating that the deal was hardly certain. Spain was insistent that it had ceded Louisiana to Napoleon only on the condition that France not sell it to the United States. Cash-strapped Napoleon, however, sold the province to Thomas Jefferson's administration so quickly that Spain was still in possession of it. Now Spain threatened to block its transfer to the United States. The entire West rose up in arms. Clay arrived in Frankfort that November as Kentucky militiamen were assembling with fight in their eyes, and he was quickly caught up in the war fever. He certainly knew that political laurels would likely result from participating in a campaign against the Spaniards, and he immediately signed on as an aide to the militia's command-in-general, Samuel Hopkins. The militia's preparations had hardly begun, however, before word reached Kentucky that Spain would turn over Louisiana after all. The excitement died down as quickly as it started, disappointing more than a few boys who were spoiling for a fight, especially against Spaniards. Nobody liked Spaniards.

"The distraction of a possible war removed, the legislature began its work in earnest. Most of the session's business was routine. Divorce petitions took up a fair amount of time, because a marriage could be dissolved in Kentucky only after an act of the legislature allowed the suit to be brought in the courts. Voting aid to veterans of the Revolution and Indian wars was a high priority, while placing bounties on wolf pelts answered farmers' complaints about losing livestock to predators. But there was also residual rancor over old disputes with Federalists. ... Clay's first important legislative initiative was a proposal to gerrymander Kentucky Federalists out of presidential politics. Four of Kentucky's six electoral districts would be eliminated to swallow up Federalist enclaves and prevent even a single Federalist elector from being chosen in the 1804 presidential election. ...

"Clay urged that Kentucky finance internal improvements to boost commerce in all parts of the state, foreshadowing his life's work on the national scene. He demonstrated an ability to bring together seemingly irreconcilable factions through compromise, and he became wedded to the idea that the key to political success was to promote the possible and avoid the unattainable ideal. Often that was accomplished through sleight of hand, sometimes with the simplest solutions. When he chaired a select committee on raising revenue, for example, a bill was proposed to tax billiard tables at $200 each. It was likely that such a measure would not generate much revenue but would instead make owning a billiard table beyond the means of taverns. Clay had the amount reduced to $50 but with an amendment naming the bill 'an act more effectually to suppress the practice of gaming.' Critics groused that he was more interested in saving billiards than promoting morality, but the tables survived, and the treasury profited.

"There were a few missteps. He offended Frankfort's citizens by repeatedly trying to have the state capital moved to Lexington. Frankfort was too small, he said; it lacked the radiating road system for which Lexington served as a hub. All of this was true, but it was impolitic to say so. Clay was never able to muster the two-thirds vote necessary to move the capital, but it was not for want of trying."

Author: David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler
Title: Henry Clay
Publisher: Random House
Date: Copyright 2010 by David Heidler and Jeanne Heidler
Pages: 47-48, 51-52
Tags: Presidents, States, Napoleon

Friday, October 22, 2010 10/22/10 - abraham lincoln

In today's excerpt - twenty-eight year old Abraham Lincoln's speech to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. Titled "The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions," Lincoln's 1838 comments addressed the rampant lynchings that followed the Emancipation Act of 1833, and his belief that America's greatest dangers came not from abroad but from within:

"We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. ... At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

"At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. ...

"I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive minister of justice. ... Accounts of outrages committed by mobs form the everyday news of the times. ...

"When men take it in their heads to day, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn someone, who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them, by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violation of law in every shape, alike with the guilty, fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes on, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded. But all this even, is not the full extent of the evil. By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolute unrestrained. ... Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocratic spirit, which all must admit is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed ... [and] this Government cannot last. ...

"The question recurs, 'how shall we fortify against it?' The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children's liberty. ... In short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the brave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

"The scenes of the revolution are not now or ever will be entirely forgotten; but that like everything else, they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time. ... They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense. Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound morality and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws. ...

"Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' "

Author: Abraham Lincoln
Title: "The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions"
Date: January 1838
Tags: Speeches, Presidents, Lynching

Thursday, October 21, 2010 10/21/10 - bureaucracies

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

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

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

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

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

'Our profits are down because of [a decrease in revenues].'
'People were laid off because there was a surplus of workers.' ...

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

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

'Our company is performing better than it looks.'
'Once productivity increases, so will profits.' ...

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

'I'd love to give you that raise, you know I would. But they're the ones in charge.'
'Okay, gang, bad news, no more cargo shorts allowed. Hey, I love the casual look, but they hate it.' ...

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

Author: D.W. Martin
Title: Officespeak
Publisher: Simon Spotlight
Date: Copyright 2005 by David Martin
Pages: 11-20
Tags: Business, Rhetoric, Humor

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 10/20/10 - flies, elephants, cities, and ideas

In today's excerpt - flies, elephants, cities, and ideas:

"Scientists and animal lovers had long observed that as life gets bigger, it slows down. Flies live for hours or days; elephants live for half-centuries. The hearts of birds and small mammals pump blood much faster than those of giraffes and blue whales. But the relationship between size and speed didn't seem to be a linear one. A horse might be five hundred times heavier than a rabbit, yet its pulse certainly wasn't five hundred times slower than the rabbit's. After a formidable series of measurements in his Davis lab, [Swiss scientist Max] Kleiber discovered that this scaling phenomenon stuck to an unvarying mathematical script called 'negative quarter-power scaling.' If you plotted mass versus metabolism on a logarithmic grid, the result was a perfectly straight line that led from rats and pigeons all the way up to bulls and hippopotami. ...

"The more species Kleiber and his peers analyzed, the clearer the equation became: metabolism scales to mass to the negative quarter power. The math is simple enough: you take the square root of 1,000, which is (approximately) 31, and then take the square root of 31, which is (again, approximately) 5.5. This means that a cow, which is roughly a thousand times heavier than a woodchuck, will, on average, live 5.5 times longer, and have a heart rate that is 5.5 times slower than the woodchuck's. As the science writer George Johnson once observed, one lovely consequence of Kleiber's law is that the number of heartbeats per lifetime tends to be stable from species to species. Bigger animals just take longer to use up their quota. ...

"Several years ago, the theoretical physicist Geoffrey West decided to investigate whether Kleiber's law applied to one of life's largest creations: the superorganisms of human-built cities. Did the 'metabolism' of urban life slow down as cities grew in size? Was there an underlying pattern to the growth and pace of life of metropolitan systems? Working out of the legendary Santa Fe Institute, where he served as president until 2009, West assembled an international team of researchers and advisers to collect data on dozens of cities around the world, measuring everything from crime to household electrical consumption, from new patents to gasoline sales.

"When they finally crunched the numbers, West and his team were delighted to discover that Kleiber's negative quarter-power scaling governed the energy and transportation growth of city living. The number of gasoline stations, gasoline sales, road surface area, the length of electrical cables: all these factors follow the exact same power law that governs the speed with which energy is expended in biological organisms. If an elephant was just a scaled-up mouse, then, from an energy perspective, a city was just a scaled-up elephant.

"But the most fascinating discovery in West's research came from the data that didn't turn out to obey Kleiber's law. West and his team discovered another power law lurking in their immense database of urban statistics. Every datapoint that involved creativity and innovation - patents, R&D budgets, 'supercreative' professions, inventors - also followed a quarter-power law, in a way that was every bit as predictable as Kleiber's law. But there was one fundamental difference: the quarter-power law governing innovation was positive, not negative. A city that was ten times larger than its neighbor wasn't ten times more innovative; it was seventeen times more innovative. A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town was 130 times more innovative.

"Kleiber's law proved that as life gets bigger, it slows down. But West's model demonstrated one crucial way in which human-built cities broke from the patterns of biological life: as cities get bigger, they generate ideas at a faster clip. This is what we call 'superlinear scaling': if creativity scaled with size in a straight, linear fashion, you would of course find more patents and inventions in a larger city, but the number of patents and inventions per capita would be stable. West's power laws suggested something far more provocative: that despite all the noise and crowding and distraction, the average resident of a metropolis with a population of five million people was almost three times more creative than the average resident of a town of a hundred thousand."

Author: Steve Johnson
Title: Where Good Ideas Come From
Publisher: Riverhead
Date: Copyright 2010 by Steven Johnson
Pages: 8-11
Tags: Animals, Innovation, Science, Cities

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 10/19/10 - mark twain, his mother, and slaves

In today's excerpt - Samuel Clemens attempted to write his autobiography over several decades but never finished, and instructed that the draft not be made available for 100 years. In just-released manuscripts, Clemens wrote of his early schoolboy friendships with black slaves, including characters that appeared later in his most famous fictional works:

"All the negroes were friends of ours, and with those of our own age we were in effect comrades. I say in effect, using the phrase as a modification. We were comrades, and yet not comrades; color and condition interposed a subtle line which both parties were conscious of, and which rendered complete fusion impossible. We had a faithful and affectionate good friend, ally and adviser in 'Uncle Dan'l,' a middle-aged slave whose head was the best one in the
negro-quarter, whose sympathies were wide and warm, and whose heart was honest and simple and knew no guile. He has served me well, these many, many years. I have not seen him for more than half a century, and yet spiritually I have had his welcome company a good part of that time, and have staged him in books under his own name and as 'Jim,' and carted him all around - to Hannibal, down the Mississippi on a raft, and even across the Desert of Sahara in a balloon - and he has endured it all with the patience and friendliness and loyalty which were his birthright. It was on the farm that I got my strong liking for his race and my appreciation of certain of its fine qualities. This feeling and this estimate have stood the test of sixty years and more and have suffered no impairment. The black face is as welcome to me now as
it was then.

"In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind - and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing. In Hannibal we seldom saw a slave misused; on the farm, never.

"There was, however, one small incident of my boyhood days which touched this matter, and it must have meant a good deal to me or it would not have stayed in my memory, clear and sharp, vivid and shadowless, all these slow-drifting years. We had a little slave boy whom we had hired from some one, there in Hannibal. He was from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and had been brought away from his family and his friends, half way across the American continent, and sold. He was a cheery spirit, innocent and gentle, and the noisiest creature that ever was, perhaps. All day long he was singing, whistling, yelling, whooping, laughing - it was maddening, devastating, unendurable. At last, one day, I lost all my temper, and went raging to my mother, and said Sandy had been singing for an hour without a single break, and I couldn't stand it, and wouldn't she please shut him up. The tears came into her eyes, and her lip trembled, and she said something like this -

" 'Poor thing, when he sings, it shows that he is not remembering, and that comforts me; but when he is still, I am afraid he is thinking, and I cannot bear it. He will never see his mother again; if he can sing, I must not hinder it, but be thankful for it. If you were older, you would understand me; then that friendless child's noise would make you glad.'

"It was a simple speech, and made up of small words, but it went home, and Sandy's noise was not a trouble to me any more. She never used large words, but she had a natural gift for making small ones do effective work. She lived to reach the neighborhood of ninety years, and was capable with her tongue to the last - especially when a meanness or an injustice roused her spirit. She has come handy to me several times in my books, where she figures as Tom
Sawyer's 'Aunt Polly.' I fitted her out with a dialect, and tried to think up other improvements for her, but did not find any. I used Sandy once, also; it was in 'Tom Sawyer;' I tried to get him to whitewash the fence, but it did not work. I do not remember what name I called him by in the book."

Author: Samuel Clemens
Title: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1
Publisher: University of California Press
Date: Copyright 2010, 2001 by the Mark Twain Foundation
Pages: 211-212
Tags: Slavery, Authors

Monday, October 18, 2010 10/18/10 - rutherford b. hayes

In today's excerpt - the deadlocked presidential election of 1876, during the nation's centennial, pitted New York Democrat Samuel Tilden against Ohio Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. At stake was enough autonomy for Southern states to disenfranchise blacks - and massive voting fraud in states like South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana gave Tilden the electoral edge. President Grant armed Washington against rumored attacks, and the crisis was not resolved until March of 1877 in a deal that gave Hayes the presidency in trade for the tacit authority these Southern states sought:

"As the new year of 1877 dawned, the nation appeared hopelessly deadlocked.
Officially Tilden had 184 electoral votes and Hayes 165, leaving 20 votes up for
grab. Hayes needed them all; Tilden required only a single vote to be president. The framers of the Constitution had not considered such a situation, simply stating that the electoral votes should be 'directed to the President of the Senate,' typically the vice president of the United States, who 'shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates and the votes shall then be counted.' But who decided which votes to open and read if there were two [different sets of votes] - or, as with Florida, three sets? ...

"Congress struggled to find a solution, remaining in continuous session into March. In January, each house appointed a committee to investigate the election. The House committee, dominated by Democrats, discovered that
corruption in the three questionable states meant that all three should go to
Tilden; the Senate committee, dominated by Republicans, concluded that fraud
and voter suppression in the three states meant that all should go to Hayes. This was not helpful. The House judiciary Committee then suggested the appointment of a joint special commission, which, after some very careful negotiation, led to a commission of five House members, five senators, and five Supreme Court justices. Originally the five justices were to be drawn from a hat, but Tilden killed that plan with the bon mot, 'I may lose the Presidency, but I will not raffle for it.' While Tilden and many other political leaders doubted the constitutionality of the commission, a consensus emerged that there were so many recipes for disaster that some resolution was required as quickly as possible, no matter how tenuous the legality of the process. Hayes and Tilden reluctantly accepted the commission in order to avoid a civil war. When one of Tilden's advisers suggested publicly opposing the commission, Tilden shot back, 'What is left but war?'

"Tilden's fears found validation in the increasing calls for violence circulating
through the country. It was a time of rumors, disturbing and bizarre - and occasionally true - as well as loud demands for violence. Reportedly, President Grant was planning a coup, while Confederate general Joseph Shelby supposedly announced in St. Louis that he would lead an army on Washington to put Tilden in the White House. Hearing this latter story, Confederate hero Colonel John S. Mosby, the 'Gray Ghost,' went to the White House and offered Grant his services to help ensure Hayes's inauguration. ...

"Troubled by the professed willingness of his fellow Americans to take up arms
so soon after their devastating Civil War, President Grant prepared to defend the capital. Grant could call on only 25,000 unpaid troops, most of them in the
West, and had to tread lightly. He could not afford to alienate the Democrats,
but they gave every indication of deliberately weakening the ability of the federal government to protect its democratic institutions. Grant adroitly maneuvered his available units to send a message of resolve while not appearing aggressive, ordering artillery companies placed on all the entrances to Washington, D.C., the streets of which, as the New York Herald reported, 'presented a martial appearance.' Grant ordered the man-of-war Wyoming to anchor in the Potomac River by the Navy Yard, where its guns could cover both the Anacostia Bridge from Maryland and the Long Bridge from Virginia. Meanwhile, a company of Marines took up position on the Chain Bridge. General Sherman told the press, 'We must protect the public property, . . . particularly the arsenals.' There was no way Sherman was going to let white Southerners get their hands on federal arms without a fight, and his clever placement of a few units helped to forestall possible coups in Columbia and New Orleans." ...

"Members of Congress began bringing pistols to the Capitol, and in Colum-
bus, Ohio, a bullet was shot through a window of the Hayes home while the
family was at dinner."

Author: Michael A. Bellesiles
Title: 1877
Publisher: The New Press
Date: Copyright 2010 by Michael A. Bellesiles
Pages: 38-41
Tags: Presidency, Elections

Friday, October 15, 2010 10/15/10 - start-ups

In today's excerpt - the extraordinary entrepreneurial culture of Israel:

"[Israel boasts] the highest density of start-ups in the world (a total of 3,850 start-ups, one for every 1,844 Israelis), [and] more Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ exchange than all companies from the entire European continent. ...

"In 2008, per capita venture capital investments in Israel were 2.5 times greater than in the United States, more than 30 times greater than in Europe, 80 times greater than in China, and 350 times greater than in India. Comparing absolute numbers, Israel - a country of just 7.1 million people - attracted close to $2 billion in venture capital, as much as flowed to the United Kingdom's 61 million citizens or to the 145 million people living in Germany and France combined. And Israel is the only country to experience a meaningful increase in venture capital from 2007 to 2008 [in the face of a global financial crisis.]

"After the United States, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country in the world, including India, China, Korea, Singapore, and Ireland. And Israel is the world leader in the percentage of the economy that is spent on research and development. Israel's economy has also grown faster than the average for the developed economies of the world in most years since 1995.

"Even the wars Israel has repeatedly fought have not slowed the country down. During the six years following 2000, Israel was hit not just by the bursting of the global tech bubble but by the most intense period of terrorist attacks in its history and by the second Lebanon war. Yet Israel's share of the global venture capital market did not drop - it doubled, from 15 percent to 31 percent. And the Tel Aviv stock exchange was higher on the last day of the Lebanon war than on the first, as it was after the three-week military operation in the Gaza Strip in 2009.

"The Israeli economic story becomes even more curious when one considers the nation's dire state just a little over a half century ago.

"[The importance of start-ups and venture capital in any country is hard to overstate.] According to the pioneering work of Nobel Prize winner Robert Solow, technological innovation is the ultimate source of productivity and growth. It' s the only proven way for economies to consistently get ahead - especially innovation born by start-up companies. Recent Census Bureau data show that most of the net employment gains in the United States between 1980 and 2005 came from firms younger than five years old. Without start-ups, the average annual net employment growth rate would actually have been negative."

Author: Dan Senor and Saul Singer
Title: Start-Up Nation
Publisher: Twelve/Hachette
Date: Copyright 2009 by Dan Senor and Saul Singer
Pages: 11-19
Tags: Israel, Business, Venture Capital, Start-ups, Jobs

Thursday, October 14, 2010 10/14/10 - oklahoma!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Frederick Nolan
Title: The Sound of Their Music
Publisher: Applause
Date: Copyright 2002 by Frederick Nolan
Pages: 13-16
Tags: Broadway, Persistence

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 10/13/10 - suicide bombers

In today's excerpt - the cause of suicide terrorism:

"Suicide terrorism is rising around the world, but there is great confusion as to why. Since many such attacks - including, of course, those of September 11, 2001 - have been perpetrated by Muslim terrorists professing religious motives, it might seem obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause. This presumption has fueled the belief that future 9/11's can be avoided only by a wholesale transformation of Muslim societies, a core reason for broad public support in the United States for the recent conquest of Iraq.

"However, the presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is misleading and may be encouraging domestic and foreign policies likely to worsen America's situation and to harm many Muslims needlessly.

"I have compiled a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 through 2003 - 315 attacks in all. It includes every attack in which at least one terrorist killed himself or herself while attempting to kill others; it excludes attacks authorized by a national government, for example by North Korea against the South. This database is the first complete universe of suicide terrorist attacks worldwide. I have amassed and independently verified all the relevant information that could be found in English and other languages (for example, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, and Tamil) in print and on-line. The information is drawn from suicide terrorist groups themselves, from the main organizations that collect such data in target countries, and from news media around the world. More than a 'list of lists,' this database probably represents the most comprehensive and reliable survey of suicide terrorist attacks that is now available.

"The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions. In fact, the leading instigators of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents, more suicide attacks than Hamas.

"Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective.

"Three general patterns in the data support my conclusions. First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of organized campaigns, not as isolated or random incidents. Of the 315 separate attacks in the period I studied, 301 could have their roots traced to large, coherent political or military campaigns.

"Second, democratic states are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists. The United States, France, India, Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Turkey have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decades, and each country has been a democracy at the time of the incidents.

"Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective. From Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign have been terrorist groups trying to establish or maintain political self-determination by compelling a democratic power to withdraw from the territories they claim. Even al-Qaeda fits this pattern: although Saudi Arabia is not under American military occupation per se, a principal objective of Osama bin Laden is the expulsion of American troops from the Persian Gulf and the reduction of Washington's power and influence in the region."

Author: Robert A. Pape
Title: Dying to Win
Publisher: Random House
Date: Copyright 2005 by Robert A. Pape
Pages: 3-4
Tags: Suicide, Terrorism, Middle East

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 10/12/10 - the new south

In today's excerpt - our American narrative says that in 1865 the slaves of the south were free. But in 1877, and in the decades that followed, the lot of blacks had scarcely improved. Enforced servitude, intimidation and murder were routinely carried out and condoned, and federal troops were scantily available to travel south and enforce the new laws of the land. A former slave named Henry Adams kept a list:

"Henry Adams kept a list. It was a long list, and one that kept growing. Every
time whites committed a violent act against blacks in his northern Louisiana
parish of Clairborne, Adams would add a new entry. There was number 323,
Manuel Gregory, who was hanged for 'talking to a white girl,' and number 333,
Abe Young, who boasted that he was going to vote Republican, for which crime he was 'shot by white men.' Number 453, Jack Shanbress, was whipped and then shot 'because he was president of a Republican club.' Ben Gardner, number 454, was 'badly beaten by white men' for refusing to work another year on 'Mr. Gamble's plantation.' Eliza Smith, number 486, was 'badly whipped by Frank Hall' for 'not being able to work while sick,' while a black man known only as Jack, number 599, was 'hung dead, by white men,' for having 'sauced a white man' - talking back after having received instructions. By the time Henry Adams presented his list to a committee of the United States Senate in 1878, there were 683 violent incidents.

"When the committee asked Adams what they could do to help, he responded
that only federal troops proved effective in curbing violence. The white terrorists, called 'bulldozers' in Louisiana, had no reason to fear local law enforcement, which they dominated. When federal troops came into his parish during the 1876 election, the bulldozers 'stopped killing our people as much as they had been; the White Leagues stopped raging about with their guns so much.' But only the governor could request federal assistance, and that office had fallen into the hands of the terrorists themselves.

"Henry Adams had been a slave for twenty-two years and knew well the anger
of Louisiana's whites. But when he joined the United States Army, he met whites worthy of his respect, and in 1869 at Fort Jackson he began attending a school for black soldiers run by a white woman named Mrs. Bentine. Adams learned to read and write, and felt a new world opening before him, one that promised greater equality and opportunity. The following year he voted for the first time and perceived the potential of democracy, becoming a leader in his community and a successful businessman. As an organizer for the Republican Party, he found a number of whites with whom he could work and whom he esteemed for their honesty and courage, but the majority of whites belonged to the Democratic Party and sought to silence those with whom they disagreed.

Reconstruction gave the former slaves hope for the future, but it aroused the rage of the defeated Confederates who despised the new order. ... Those who did not share a conviction in the inherent right of white men to rule totally were to be silenced and the South would speak with a single voice. These
whites, so often the same people who had supported slavery and secession in the past, did not hesitate to use violence to attain their ends - thus Adams's list.

"Joe Johnson was another name on that list, but also Adams's friend. He had
been elected constable in East Feliciana Parish on the Republican ticket in November 1876. When Adams went to visit his friend in the first days of 1877, he found a grieving widow standing by the smoldering ruin of Johnson's house. She told him how more than fifty white men had come to their house and killed her husband 'because he refused to resign his office as constable.' They set fire to the house with Johnson inside, leaving him for dead. But Johnson crawled from the house into a pool of water, even though 'all the skin was burnt off of him.' The terrorists saw Johnson and shot him several times, though he lingered on for several days before dying. Adams had to admit to Johnson's widow that there was little chance for justice, 'as I knew that white men had been killing our race so long, and they had not been stopped yet.' Standing with her children, Mrs. Johnson wept, 'O, Lord God of Hosts, help us to get out of this country and get somewhere where we can live.' "

Author: Michael A. Bellesiles
Title: 1877
Publisher: The New Press
Date: Copyright 2010 by Michael A. Bellesiles
Pages: 21-22
Tags: Slavery, Hate, Civil War

Monday, October 11, 2010 10/11/10 - pulitzer and death

In today's excerpt - Joseph Pulitzer, a penniless Hungarian immigrant, came to America alone at seventeen and became one of America's wealthiest citizens through the newspaper empire he founded. Through it all, he was driven and haunted by death:

"Despite having secured a place in the upper echelons of Pest (the city in Hungary across the Danube from Buda) Jewish society, the succession of deaths continued to haunt the Pulitzer [family]. Before leaving [the Hungarian village of] Mako, they had lost two of their children. In Pest, five more died. Because they were living in a prosperous urban setting where infant death had become rarer, the loss of these children was harder to bear than before. The deaths in Pest included their eldest son, who succumbed to tuberculosis, ending their plans for him to take over the family business. Death's grip on the family did not end here. On July 16, 1858, [Joseph's father] Fulop died. Only forty-seven years old and at the peak of his business success, he also had contracted tuberculosis.

"Four years older than Albert, [his only surviving brother,] Joseph understood more fully the extent of the calamity. He had been nine when his older brother died, ten when his younger brothers and sister died, eleven when his father died, and thirteen at the death of his last sister. Albert, in contrast, was not yet
nine when the last sibling died. Under the best of circumstances, Joseph would have felt guilty for having survived. But in his case, he responded in other ways as well. The deaths led to an obsession with his health that would remain with him until the end of his life. Every ailment, no matter how small, was accompanied by an underlying fear that he was dying. Further, he developed a phobia of funerals. Even when his closest friends died, Joseph would refuse to attend their burials, and, pointedly, he would not attend the funeral of either his mother or his only surviving brother.

"As an additional cruelty, his father's death created a financial nightmare. In his will, Fulop instructed that his estate be divided among his surviving children, with his wife as ward of the shares. But Fulop's prolonged illness had depleted his savings. By the time the executor sent ten florins to the Jewish hospital and to a poorhouse, about the price of an eimer (pail) of wine, there was almost nothing left.

" 'Thus was my mother,' said Albert, 'left to provide for her boys and one daughter, alone and unfriended.' Since she had no business experience, it was only a matter of time before the enterprise went bankrupt. Within six months their property was seized by authorities for failure to pay taxes. The family limped along. Elize did her best to earn an income and to keep paying for the education of her children. 'What efforts she put forth to give us a thorough education,' said Albert. 'How she deprived herself of all that she held most dear to her comfort and well being! '

"Financial relief appeared in the form of a marriage proposal. Max Frey, a merchant from the southeastern Hungarian town of Detta, won Elize's consent but not that of Joseph or Albert. ... In Joseph's case Frey's entrance into the family, or what little was left of the family, increased his sense of loss and solitariness. Years later, writing an intimate, confessional letter, he conveyed the toll from the deaths and the remarriage. He described himself as 'a poor
orphan who never even enjoyed as much of a luxury as a father.' "

Author: James McGrath Morris
Title: Pulitzer
Publisher: Harper
Date: Copyright 2010 by James McGrath Morris
Pages: 15-17
Tags: Death, Business, Family

Friday, October 08, 2010 10/8/10 - buddha's teachings

In today's excerpt - the teachings of Siddhatta Gotama (Siddhartha Gautama), the Buddha (circa 500 BCE), did not include such items as an explanation of the origin of the universe, because he was only concerned with those teachings that helped relieve suffering:

"The Buddha had no time for doctrines or creeds; he had no theology to impart, no theory about the root cause of dukkha (suffering), no tales of an Original Sin, and no definition of the Ultimate Reality. He saw no point in
such speculations. Buddhism is disconcerting to those who equate faith with belief in certain inspired religious opinions. A person's theology was a matter of total indifference to the Buddha. To accept a doctrine on somebody else's authority was, in his eyes, an 'unskillful' state, which could not lead to
enlightenment, because it was an abdication of personal responsibility. He saw no virtue in submitting to an official creed. 'Faith' meant trust that Nibbana (nirvana) existed and a determination to prove it to oneself. The Buddha always insisted that his disciples test everything he taught them against their
own experience and take nothing on hearsay. A religious idea could all too easily become a mental idol, one more thing to cling to, when the purpose of the dhamma (dharma, religious teachings or truths) was to help people to let go.

" 'Letting go' is one of the keynotes of the Buddha's teaching. The enlightened person did not grab or hold on to even the most authoritative instructions. Everything was transient and nothing lasted. Until his disciples recognized this in every fiber of their being, they would never reach Nibbana. Even his own
teachings must be jettisoned, once they had done their job. He once compared them to a raft, telling the story of a traveler who had come to a great expanse of water and desperately needed to get across. There was no bridge, no ferry, so he built a raft and rowed himself across the river. But then, the Buddha would ask his audience, what should the traveler do with the raft? Should he decide that because it had been so helpful to him, he should load it onto his back and lug it around with him wherever he went? Or should he simply moor it and continue his journey? The answer was obvious. 'In just the same way, bhikkhus (monks), my teachings are like a raft, to be used to cross the river and not to be held on to,' the Buddha concluded. 'If you understand their raft-like nature correctly, you will even give up good teachings, not to mention bad ones! '

"His Dhamma was wholly pragmatic. Its task was not to issue infallible definitions or to satisfy a disciple's intellectual curiosity about metaphysical questions. Its sole purpose was to enable people to get across the river of pain to the 'further shore.' His job was to relieve suffering and help his disciples
attain the peace of Nibbana. Anything that did not serve that end was of no importance whatsoever.

"Hence there were no abstruse theories about the creation of the universe or the existence of a Supreme Being. These matters might be interesting but they would not give a disciple enlightenment or release from dukkha. One day, while living in a grove of simsapa trees in Kosambi, the Buddha plucked a few
leaves and pointed out to his disciples that there were many more still growing in the wood. So too he had only given them a few teachings and withheld many others. Why? 'Because, my disciples, they will not help you, they are not useful in the quest for holiness, they do not lead to peace and to the direct
knowledge of Nibbana.' He told one monk, who kept pestering him about philosophy, that he was like a wounded man who refused to have treatment until he learned the name of the person who had shot him and what village he came from: he would die before he got this useless information. In just the
same way, those who refused to live according to the Buddhist method until they knew about the creation of the world or the nature of the Absolute would die in misery before they got an answer to these unknowable questions. What difference did it make if the world was eternal or created in time? Grief, suffering and misery would still exist. The Buddha was concerned simply with the cessation of pain. 'I am preaching a cure for these unhappy conditions here and now,' the Buddha told the philosophically inclined bhikkhu, 'so always remember what I have not explained to you and the reason why I have refused to explain it.' "

Author: Karen Armstrong
Title: Buddha
Publisher: Penguin
Date: Copyright 2001 by Karen Armstrong
Pages: 100-103
Tags: Religion

Thursday, October 07, 2010 10/7/10 - marco polo and the renaissance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Laurence Bergreen
Title: Marco Polo
Publisher: Knopf
Date: Copyright 2007 by Laurence Bergreen
Pages: 320-321

Wednesday, October 06, 2010 10/6/10 - whales

In today's excerpt - in the late 1800s, the newly well-to-do middle classes of England and America developed an insatiable fascination with the exotic, including a chance for an up-close view of living whales. But they didn't know how to keep those whales alive, including the P.T. Barnum whale that was roasted to death:

"In 1861, Phineas T. Barnum had imported a pair of belugas to his American Museum on Broadway. Fished out of the waters off Labrador and brought south in hermetically sealed boxes lined with seaweed, the whales were twenty-three and eighteen feet long respectively. Their basement tank measured fifty-eight by twenty-five feet, but it was barely seven feet deep, and was filled with fresh water. ...

"This fascination with the whale ... was an expression of Victorian fashion, a characteristic marriage of ingenious science and human curiosity. In England, live whales were delivered to aquaria in Manchester and Blackpool (although one porpoise show was closed, for fear the flagrant activities of its performers
should offend genteel dispositions), and in September 1877 a beluga whale arrived in Westminster, in the centre of the world's greatest city. The nine-foot, six-inch specimen had also been caught - along with ten others - off Labrador, where it had stranded at high tide and was netted by Zack Coup and his men.
From there it began its long journey to London.

"Taken in a narrow box by sloop to Montreal, the whale was put on a train to New York - a trip that took two weeks. The animal spent seven months at Coney Island's Summer Aquarium where 'he contracted his habit of swimming in a circle', before being taken out of its tank and put on a North German Lloyd
steamship, the Oder, bound for Southampton (England). During the voyage, it was kept on deck in a rough wooden box lined with seaweed, and was wetted with salt water every three minutes. Despite such intensive care, the whale had already begun to live off its own blubber.

"At Southampton the beluga was transferred to the South-Western Railway, traveling on an open truck to Waterloo Station and to its final home, an iron tank forty-four feet long, twenty feet wide, and six feet deep, at the Royal Aquarium, a grand gothic structure recently built opposite the Houses of Parliament. The whale waited as the tank took two hours to fill. 'He had been
lying still in the box breathing once every 23 seconds. He flapped feebly with his tail when he felt them moving the box. He fell out of it sidelong into the water and went down to the bottom like lead.' The animal was allowed three hours of privacy before the public, 'in great numbers,' were admitted to view it from a specially built grandstand. ...

"In what appeared to be delirious behaviour, the whale - which was in fact a female - swam up and down the tank rapidly, hitting its head on the wall. Then, 'having somewhat recovered, it again swam several times round the tank, again came into collision with the end of the tank, turned over, and died.'...

"A necropsy performed by eminent naturalists and physicians ... discovered that far from starving, the whale had a full stomach - but also highly congested lungs. The fact that the animal had been kept on open deck on its way over the Atlantic, and, rather than keeping it alive, the regular dousing it
had received had resulted in rapid evaporation between soakings, causing it to catch cold. ...

"Back in New York, Barnum's whales met with their predicted fate. Victims of equally inappropriate conditions, like fairground fish brought home in plastic bags, they too had died within days - only to be replaced by successive specimens until a fire destroyed the museum in 1865. Futile attempts were made to rescue the last beluga, until a compassionate fireman smashed the tank with a hook, 'So the whale merely roasted to death instead of undergoing the distress of being poached.' "

Author: Philip Hoare
Title: The Whale
Publisher: Ecco, Harper Collins
Date: Copyright 2010 by Philip Hoare
Pages: 12-15

Tuesday, October 05, 2010 10/5/10 - pulitzer

In today's excerpt - Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), the son of Hungarian Jews, and his New York World newspaper brought in the age of mass communications. His circulation battle with his upstart competitor William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) is often credited with precipitating the Spanish-America War:

"[Even in his twilight years, as he traveled the globe, Joseph] Pulitzer never relaxed his grip on the World, his influential New York newspaper that had ushered in the modern era of mass communications. An almost unbroken stream of telegrams, all written in code, flowed from ports and distant destinations to New York, directing every part of the paper's operation. The messages even included such details as the typeface used in an advertisement and the vacation schedule of editors. Managers shipped back reams of financial data, editorial reports, and espionage-style accounts of one another's work. Although he had set foot in his skyscraper headquarters on Park Row only three times, whenever anyone talked about the newspaper it was always 'Pulitzer's World.'

"And it was talked about. Since Pulitzer took over the moribund newspaper in 1883 and introduced his brand of journalism to New York, the World had grown at meteoric speed, becoming, at one point, the largest circulating newspaper on the globe. Six acres of spruce trees were felled a day to keep up with its demand for paper, and almost every day enough lead was melted into type to set an entire Bible into print.

"Variously credited with having elected presidents, governors, and mayors; sending politicians to jail; and dictating the public agenda, the World was a potent instrument of change. As a young man in a hurry Pulitzer had unabashedly used the paper as a handmaiden of reform, to raise social consciousness and promote a progressive - almost radical - political agenda. The changes he had called for, like the outlandish ideas of taxing inheritances, income, and corporations, had become widely accepted.

"'The World should be more powerful than the President,' Pulitzer once said. ...

"The [explosion of the USS Maine], coming at a time of rising tension between Spain and America, became incendiary kindling in the hands of battling newspaper editors in New York. William Randolph Hearst, a young upstart imitator from California armed with an immense family fortune, had done the unthinkable. In 1898 his paper, the New York Journal, was closing in on the World's dominance of Park Row. Fighting down to the last possible reader, each seeking to outdo the other in its eagerness to lead the nation into war,
the two journalistic behemoths fueled an outburst of jingoistic fever. And when the war came, they continued their cutthroat competition by marshaling armies of reporters, illustrators, and photographers to cover every detail of its promised glory.

"The no-holds-barred attitude of the World and Journalput the newspapers into a spiraling descent of sensationalism, outright fabrications, and profligate spending. If left unchecked, it threatened to bankrupt both their credibility and their businesses. ... In the end, the two survived this short but intense circulation war. But their rivalry became almost as famous as the Spanish-American War itself. Pulitzer was indissolubly linked with Hearst as a purveyor of vile Yellow Journalism. In fact, some critics suspected that Pulitzer's current
plans to endow a journalism school at Columbia University and create a national prize for journalists were thinly veiled attempts to cleanse his
legacy before his approaching death."

Author: James McGrath Morris
Title: Pulitzer
Publisher: Harper
Date: Copyright 2009 by James McGrath Morris
Pages: 2-4

Monday, October 04, 2010 10/4/10 - violence

delanceyplace header
In today's excerpt - violence is a recurring problem in America. Five years after
their initial injury, twenty percent of those who have had a
gunshot or stab wound will be dead:
"According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young black men have a higher rate of both fatal and nonfatal violence than any other group. National statistics show that homicide is the leading cause of death for African American men between the ages Of 15 and 34. In 2006, 2,946 black males between the ages Of 15 and 24 were victims of homicide. This means that the homicide rate for black males aged 15 to 24 was 92 in 100,000. For white males in the same age range, the homicide rate was 4.7 in 100,000. In other words, the homicide death rate was more than 19 times higher for young black men than young white men.
"Homicide numbers across the nation have decreased over the past decade, but a closer look at these homicide statistics shows disturbing trends. Daniel Webster and his colleagues at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have found that although overall homicide rates have appeared stable since 1999, the homicide rate among African American men between the ages of 25 and 44 has increased substantially. It is no wonder, then, that as these homicides are reported in the news, flashed across television screens, and recapitulated in films, we would come to associate young black men with homicide.
"But homicide represents only the tip of the iceberg with regard to violence. Nonfatal injuries are far more common than fatal injuries. The CDC estimates that for every homicide, there are more than 94 nonfatal violent incidents. Even with the increasing lethality of the guns available, the ratio of firearm-related injuries from nonfatal physical assaults to firearm-related homicides was four to one. In other words, for every person who gets shot and dies, another four get shot and survive.
"While it is true that a person is more likely to die of a gunshot wound than from injuries delivered by other kinds of weapons, many young people are stabbed or assaulted.  The ratios of nonfatal to fatal injuries for other types of violence show the same pattern. For those who are stabbed or cut, 64 people
survive for each person who dies. For physical assaults, 3,243 people survive for each person who dies. In nonfatal injury, just as in homicide, black males are disproportionately affected. In data from the year 2000, the overall violent assault rate for black males was 4.6 times higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white males. Countless others suffer trauma or near-trauma that never comes to the attention of the health care system, like being shot at or being grazed by a bullet or beaten up but not badly enough to seek medical care.
"Studies also show that violence is a recurrent problem. Up to 45 percent of people who have had a penetrating injury - a gunshot or stab wound - will have another similar injury within five years. More disturbing is the finding that five years after their initial injury, 20 percent of these individuals are dead."
Author: John A. Rich, M.D., M.P.H.
Title: Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Publisher: Johns Hopkins
Date: Copyright 2009 by Johns Hopkins University Press
Pages: ix-xi

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Friday, October 01, 2010 10/1/10 - the presidency

In today's excerpt - the U.S. presidency. Our founding fathers hotly debated the extent of the powers of the president when crafting America's constitution. In the end though, the powers of the president were placed in the constitution after the powers of congress, and the president was given powers that were in no small measure subordinate to the powers of Congress. These more modest powers were even reflected in the choice of the more modest title of "president" for the position:

"On Friday, June 1, 1787, the Philadelphia Convention turned to the seventh resolution of the Virginia Plan introduced three days earlier, 'that a national Executive be instituted, to be chosen by the National Legislature.' With George Washington, the delegates' unanimous choice for convention president, looking on, James Wilson of Pennsylvania made a bold suggestion. He moved 'that the
Executive consist of a single person.' After South Carolina's Charles Pinckney seconded the motion, 'a considerable pause' ensued.

"What sort of officer would this be? An elected monarch, as several of the delegates feared?' Or something far less imposing?

"The title the delegates settled on for the chief executive was humble enough. As commonly used in the 18th century, the term indicated the presiding officer of a legislature, with an emphasis on the 'presiding' function, 'almost to the exclusion of any executive powers,' a position 'usually [held by] men whose talents and reputations matched their office.'

"In fact, some found the very modesty of the title irritating. Even 'fire companies and a cricket club' could have a 'president,' Vice President John Adams complained shortly after taking his place as presiding officer of the new Senate. On April 23, 1789, three days after arriving in New York - then the seat of the national government - Adams delivered an extensive speech to the Senate insisting that the president and vice president needed honorific titles to lend an air of dignity and majesty to government. At Adams' behest, the Senate appointed a committee to confer with the House of Representatives on what titles would be appropriate. The House wanted nothing to do with the idea. James Madison, then serving as a representative from Virginia, scorned Adams' effort. 'The more simple, the more republican we are in our manners,' Madison told his colleagues, 'the more national dignity we shall acquire.' When the joint committee recommended against 'annex[ing] any style or title to [those] expressed in the Constitution,' the House unanimously adopted the committee's report.

"Yet, Adams wouldn't take no for an answer. At his urging, the Senate appointed a new Title Committee, which on May 9 proposed that the president be addressed as 'His Highness, the President of the United States, and Protector of their Liberties.' When the Senate moved to postpone consideration of the report, Adams launched into a 'forty minute ... harangue' on the 'absolute necessity' of titles.

"In this debate, Adams had a formidable opponent, Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania, a man possibly more Jeffersonian than Jefferson, a partisan republican before factions had properly formed. In Maclay's private journal, which remains one of our best records of the proceedings of the first Senate, he condemned the 'base,' 'silly,' and 'Idolatrous' attempt to append quasi-monarchical titles to the nation's new constitutional officers."

Author: Gene Healy
Title: The Cult of the Presidency
Publisher: Cato
Date: Copyright 2008 by the Cato Institute
Pages: 15-16