Monday, November 15, 2010

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In today's excerpt - by 1890, 80 percent of New York City's population was either foreign-born or of foreign parentage. Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant himself, bought and also-ran New York World newspaper and transformed it into the most widely read and influential paper in the world by using sensational headlines and short sentences to attract his audience:

HOW THE CRAVEN CORNETTI MOUNTED THE SCAFFOLD on May 12. Two weeks later the World''s readers were greeted with BAPTIZED IN BLOOD, on top of a story, complete with a diagram, on how eleven people were
crushed to death in a human stampede when panic broke out in a large
crowd enjoying a Sunday stroll on the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge. In a city where half a dozen newspapers offered dull, similar fare to readers each morning, Pulitzer's dramatic headlines made the World stand out like a racehorse among draft horses.

"If the headline was the lure, the copy was the hook. Pulitzer could write all the catchy headlines he wanted, but it was up to the reporters to win over readers. He pushed his staff to give him simplicity and color. He admonished them to write in a buoyant, colloquial style comprising simple nouns, bright verbs, and short, punchy sentences. If there was a 'Pulitzer formula,' it was a story written so simply that anyone could read it and so colorfully that no one would forget it. The question 'Did you see that in the World?' Pulitzer instructed his staff, should be asked every day and something should be designed to cause this.

"Pulitzer had an uncanny ability to recognize news in what others ignored. He sent out his reporters to mine the urban dramas that other papers confined to their back pages. They returned with stories that could leave no reader unmoved. Typical, for instance, was the World's front-page tale, which ran soon after Pulitzer took over, of the destitute and widowed Margaret Graham. She had been seen by dockworkers as she walked on the edge of a pier in the East River with an infant in her arms and a two-year-old girl clutching her skirt. 'All at once the famished mother clasped the feeble little girl round her waist and, tottering to the brink of the wharf, hurled both her starving young into the river as it whirled by. She stood for a moment on the edge of the stream. The children were too weak and spent to struggle or to cry. Their little helpless heads dotted the brown tide for an instant, then they sank out of sight. The men who looked on stood spellbound.' Graham followed her children into the river but was saved by the onlookers and was taken to jail to face murder charges.

"For Pulitzer a news story was always a story. He pushed his writers to think like Dickens, who wove fiction from the sad tales of urban Victorian London, to create compelling entertainment from the drama of the modern city. To the upper classes, it was sensationalism. To the lower and working classes, it was their life. When they looked at the World, they found stories about their world.

"In the Lower East Side's notorious bars, known as black and tans, or at dinner in their cramped tenements, men and women did not discuss society news, cultural events, or happenings in the investment houses. Rather, the talk was about the baby who fell to his death from a roof-top, the brutal beating that police officers dispensed to an unfortunate waif, or the rising cost of streetcar fares to the upper reaches of Fifth Avenue and the mansions needing servants. The clear, simple prose of the World drew in these readers, many of whom were immigrants struggling to master their first words of English. Writing about the events that mattered in their lives in a way they could understand, Putitzer's World gave these New Yorkers a sense of belonging and a sense of value. In one stroke, he simultaneously elevated the common man and took his spare change to fuel the World's profits. ...

"Pulitzer found readers where other newspaper publishers saw a threat. Immigrants were pouring into New York at a rate never before seen. By the end of the decade, 80 percent of the city's population was either foreign-born or of foreign parentage. Only the World seemed to consider the stories of this human tide as deserving news coverage, The other papers wrote about it; the World wrote for it."

Author: James McGrath Morris
Title: Pulitzer
Publisher: Harper
Date: Copyright 2010 by James McGrath Morris
Pages: 213-214
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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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Friday, November 12, 2010 11/12/10 - the myth of mass panic

In today's excerpt - the myth of the mass panic. In disasters, rather than descending into disorder and a helpless state, people come together and give one another strength:

"The image of the panicked deeply ingrained in the popular imagination. Hardly any self-respecting Hollywood disaster movie would be complete without one scene of people running wildly in all directions and screaming hysterically. Television newscasters perpetuate this stereotype with reports that show shoppers competing for items in what is described as 'panic buying' and traders gesticulating frantically as 'panic' sweeps through the stock market.

"The idea of mass panic shapes how we plan for, and respond to, emergency events. In Pennsylvania, for example, the very term is inscribed in safety regulations known as the state's Fire and Panic Code. Many public officials assume that ordinary people will become highly emotional in an emergency, especially in a crowded situation and that providing information about the true nature of the danger is likely to make individuals panic even more. Emergency management plans and policies often intentionally conceal information: for ex- ample, event marshals may be instructed to inform one another of a fire using code words, to prevent people from overhearing the news - and overreacting.

"Mathematicians and engineers who model 'crowd dynamics' often rely on similar assumptions describing behaviors such as 'herding,' 'flocking' and, of course, 'panic.' As the late Jonathan Sime (an environmental psychologist formerly at the University of Surrey in England) pointed out, efforts to 'design out disaster' have typically treated people as unthinking or instinctive rather than as rational, social beings. Therefore, more emphasis is placed on the width of doorways than on communication technologies that might help people make informed decisions about their own safety.

"These ideas about crowd behavior permeate the academic world, too. For many years influential psychology textbooks have illustrated mass panic by citing supposed examples such as the Iroquois Theater fire of 1903 in Chicago in which some 600 people perished and the Cocoanut Grove Theater fire of 1942 in Boston in which 492 people died. In the textbook explanations, theatergoers burned to death as a result of their foolish overreaction to danger. But Jerome M. Chertkoff and Russell H. Kushigian of Indiana University, the first social psychologists to analyze the Cocoanut Grove fire in depth, found that the nightclub managers had jeopardized public safety in ways that are shocking today. In a 1999 book on the psychology of emergency egress and ingress, Chertkoff and Kushigian concluded that physical obstructions, not mass panic, were responsible for the loss of life in the infamous fire.

"A more recent example tells a similar story. Kathleen Tierney and her co-workers at the University of Colorado at Boulder investigated accusations of panicking, criminality, brutality and mayhem in the aftermath of Hurricane Ka- trina. They concluded that these tales were 'disaster myths.' What was branded as 'looting' was actually collective survival behavior: people took food for their families and neighbors when store payment systems were not working and rescue services were nowhere in sight. In fact, the population showed a surprising ability to self-organize in the absence of authorities, according to Tierney and her colleagues.

"Such work builds on earlier research by two innovative sociologists in the 1950s. Enrico Quarantelli - who founded the Disaster Research Center at Ohio State University in 1985 and later moved with it to the University of Delaware - examined many instances of emergency evacuations and concluded that people often flee from dangerous events such as fires and bombings, because usually that is the sensible thing to do. A fleeing crowd is not necessarily a panicked, irrational crowd.

"The second pioneering sociologist, Charles Fritz, was influenced by his ex- periences as a soldier in the U.K. during the World War II bombings known as the Blitz. 'The Blitz spirit' has become a cliché for communities pulling together in times of adversity. In the 1950s, as a researcher at the University of Chicago, Fritz made a comprehensive inventory of 144 peacetime disaster studies that confirmed the truth of the cliché. He concluded that rather than descending into disorder and a helpless state, human beings in disasters come together and give one another strength. Our research suggests that if there is such a thing as panic, it probably better describes the fear and helplessness of lone individuals than the responses of a crowd in the midst of an emergency."

Author: John Drury and Stephen D. Reicher
Title: "Crowd Control"
Publisher: Scientific America Mind
Date: November/December 2010
Pages: 60-61

Thursday, November 11, 2010 11/11/10 - andalusia, the caliphate, and tolerance

In today's encore excerpt - in the middle ages, a vast portion of what is now Spain was ruled by Muslims, who were a model of religious tolerance, and who provided Europe with the knowledge and technology that was one of the keys to its resurgence in the Renaissance until they were finally driven from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella. Their territory is in part remembered today as Andalusia - "Al Andalus":

"After the Moorish conquest of Spain in the eighth century, the emir of Al Andalus had been a vassal of the caliphs of Damascus and Baghdad. But this western outpost of Islam was the first of the Muslim provinces to break free of its Oriental masters. When the Mongols destroyed the caliphate in Baghdad in 1258, the independence of Al Andalus was solidified, and the Spanish Moors began to relate more to Europe than the Middle East.

"In arts and agriculture, learning and tolerance, Al Andulus was a beacon of enlightenment to the rest of Europe. In the fertile valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana rivers, as well as the terraced slopes of the Alpujarras, agriculture surpassed anything elsewhere on the continent. Moorish filigree silver- and leatherwork became famous throughout the Mediterranean. In engineering, the skill of the Spanish Moors had no parallel, and the splendor of their architecture was manifest in the glorious mosque of Cordoba, the Giralda and Alcazar of Seville, and the Alhambra of Granada. Its excellence in art and literature, mathematics and science, history and philosophy defined this brilliant civilization.

"Among its finest achievements was its tolerance. Jews and Christians were welcomed, if not as equals, then as full-fledged citizens. They were permitted to practice their faith and their rituals without interference. This tolerance was in keeping with the principles of the Koran, which taught that Jews and Christians were to be respected as 'peoples of the Book' or believers in the word of God. Jews and Christians were assimilated into Islamic culture, and occasionally, Moorish leaders helped to build Christian houses of worship.

"In 1248, work began on the colossal Alhambra in Granada. With its thirteen towers and fortified walls above the ravine of the Darro River, the river of gold, the red palace took shape over the next hundred years. The extraordinary rooms of its interior - the Courtyard of the Lions, the Hall of the Two Sisters, the Court of the Myrtles - were finished at the end of the long process under the reign of Yusef I in the mid-fourteenth century. With their arabesque moldings and gold ornament and vegetal carvings, these rooms became the wonder of the world. Most stunning of all was the Courtyard of the Lions, whose Oriental feel was more reminiscent of Japan than the Middle East and whose vision was to replicate the Garden of Paradise."

Author: James Reston, Jr.
Title: The Dogs of God
Publisher: Anchor
Date: Copyright 2005 by James Reston
Pages: 7-8

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 11/10/10 - teenage love

In today's excerpt - in the now classic epistolary novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a high school freshman named Charlie gets advice from two upper classmen, Patrick and Sam, regarding girls in general and his new girlfriend Mary Elizabeth in particular. This book had the distinction of being third on the American Library Association's list of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009, for reasons including the book's treatment of drugs, homosexuality, sex, and suicide:

Patrick then explained some things to me, so I would know how to be around girls ...

"Charlie, has anyone told you how it works?"

"I don't think so."

"Well, there are rules you follow here not because you want to, but because you have to. You get it?"

"I guess so."

"Okay. You take girls, for example. They're copying their moms and magazines and everything to know how to act around guys. ... I mean it's not like in the movies where girls like assholes or anything like that. It's not that easy. They just like somebody that can give them a purpose."

"A purpose?"

"Right. You know? Girls like guys to be a challenge. It gives them some mold to fit in how they act. Like a mom. What would a mom do if she couldn't fuss over you and make you clean your room? And what would you do without her fussing and making you do it? Everyone needs a mom. And a mom knows this. And it gives her a sense of purpose. You get it?"

"Yeah," I said even though I didn't. But I got it enough to say "Yeah" and not be lying, though.

"The thing is some girls think they can actually change guys. And what's funny is that if they actually did change them, they'd get bored. They'd have no challenge left."

[Later a female friend of Charlie's, Sam, gives him advice on his first date - which happens to be with a girl named Mary Elizabeth.]

Sam told me how to treat a girl on a date, which was very interesting. She said that with a girl like Mary Elizabeth, you shouldn't tell her she looks pretty. You should tell her how nice her outfit is because her outfit is her choice whereas her face isn't. She also said that with some girls, you should do things like open car doors and buy flowers, but with Mary Elizabeth (especially since it's the Sadie Hawkins' dance), I shouldn't do that. So, I asked her what I should do, and she said that I should ask a lot of questions and not mind when Mary Elizabeth doesn't stop talking. I said that it didn't sound very democratic, but Sam said she does it all the time with boys.

Sam did say that sex things were tricky with Mary Elizabeth since she's had boyfriends before and is a lot more experienced than I am. She said that the best thing to do when you don't know what to do during anything sexual is pay attention to how that person is kissing you and kiss them back the same way. She says that is very sensitive, which I certainly want to be.

[But after a few dates, things are not going very smoothly with Mary Elizabeth.]

Mary Elizabeth has been acting completely different. She's nice all the time, but it doesn't feel right. I don't know how to describe it. It's like we'll be having a cigarette outside with Sam and Patrick at the end of the day, and we'll all be talking about something until it's time to go home. Then, when I get home, Mary Elizabeth will call me right away and ask me, "What's up?" And I don't know what to say because the only thing new in my life is my walk home, which isn't a lot. But I describe the walk anyway. And then she starts talking, and she doesn't stop for a long time. She's been doing this all week. That and picking lint off my clothes.

At one point two days ago, she was talking about books, and she included a lot of books I had read, And when I told her that I had read them, she asked me very long questions that were really just her ideas with a question mark put at the end. The only thing I could say was either "yes" or "no." There was honestly no room to say anything else. After that, she started talking about her plans for college, which I had heard before, so I put down the phone, went to
the bathroom, and when I came back, she was still talking. I know that was the wrong thing to do, but I thought if I didn't take a break, I would do something even worse. Like yell or hang up the phone.

Author: Stephen Chbosky
Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Publisher: MTV Books/Pocket Books
Date: Copyright 1999 by Stephen Chbosky
Pages: 22-23, 112-113, 128-129

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 11/9/10 - chinggis khan

In today's excerpt - when declining temperatures created a climate crisis in Mongolia, it started Chinggis (Ghengis) Khan and his heirs on campaigns of conquests that ultimately grew to include most of China, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe - the largest contiguous land-based empire in history:

"In the late twelfth century [the Mongolian steppe] region was facing a subsistence crisis because a drop in the mean annual temperature had reduced the supply of grass for grazing animals. The man who saved the situation by gaining access to the bounty of the agricultural world for them was Chinggis (Ghengis, c.1162-1227).

"A brilliant and utterly ruthless military genius, Chinggis proudly asserted that there was no greater joy than massacring one's enemies, seizing their horses and cattle, and ravishing their women. His career as a military leader began when he avenged the death of his father, a tribal chieftain who had been murdered when Chinggis was still a boy. As he subdued the Tartars, Kereyid, Naiman, Merkid, and other Mongol and Turkic tribes, Chinggis built up an army of loyal followers. In 1206 the most prominent Mongol nobles gathered at an assembly to name him their overlord, or great khan.

"He then fully militarized Mongol society ignoring traditional tribal affiliations to form an army based on a decimal hierarchy, 1,000 horsemen in the basic unit. A new military nobility was thus created of commanders loyal to Chinggis. They could pass their posts to their sons, but the great khan could remove any commander at will. Chinggis also created an elite bodyguard of 10,000 sons and brothers of commanders, which served directly under him. To reduce internal disorder, he issued simple but draconian laws; the penalty for robbery and adultery, for instance, was death. He ordered the Uighur script to be adopted for writing Mongol, seeing the utility of written records even though he was illiterate himself.

"His organization in place, Chinggis initiated one of world history's most astonishing campaigns of conquest. He began by subjugating nearby states. First he would send envoys to demand submission and threaten destruction. Those who submitted without fighting were treated as allies and left in power, but those who put up a fight faced the prospect of total destruction. City-dwellers in particular evoked his wrath and were often slaughtered en masse or used as human shields in the next battle. In the Mongol armies' first sweep across the north China plain in 1212-13, they left ninety-odd cities in rubble. When they sacked the Jurchen's northern capital at Beijing in 1215, it burned for more than a month.

"Chinggis's battle-hardened troops were capable of enduring great privation and crossing vast distances at amazing speed. In 1219 he led 200,000 troops into Central Asia, where the following year they sacked Bukara and Samarkand. Before his death in 1227, Chinggis ... ruled from the Pacific Ocean on the east to the Caspian Sea on the west.

"Chinggis's death created a crisis due to the Mongol tradition of succession by election rather than descent. In the end the empire was divided into four sections, each to be governed by one of the lines of his descendants. Ogodei, Chinggis's third son, got control of Mongolia. In 1234 he crushed the Jin and became ruler of north China. By 1236 he had taken all but four of the fifty-eight districts in Sichuan, previously held by the Song, and had ordered the total slaughter of the one million plus residents of the city of Chengdu, a city the Mongols had taken easily with little fighting. Even where people were not slaughtered, they were frequently seized as booty along with their grain stores and livestock. Ogodei's troops also participated in the western campaigns begun in 1237. Representatives of all four lines ... campaigned into Europe in 1237, taking Moscow and Kiev in 1238 and striking into Poland and Hungary in 1241 and 1242. Although they looted cities in central Europe on these campaigns, the Mongols soon retreated to Russia, which they dominated for over a century."

Author: Patricia Buckley Ebrey
Title: China
Publisher: Cambridge
Date: Copyright 1996 by Cambridge University Press
Pages: 169-171

Monday, November 08, 2010 11/8/10 - newborns

In today's excerpt - the invention, and reinvention, of incubators for newborns:

"Sometime in the late 1870s, a Parisian obstetrician named Stephane Tarnier took a day off from his work at Maternite de Paris, the lying-in hospital for the city's poor women, and paid a visit to the nearby Paris Zoo. Wandering past the elephants and reptiles and classical gardens of the zoo's home inside the Jardin des Plantes, Tarnier stumbled across an exhibit of chicken incubators.

Seeing the hatchlings totter about in the incubator's warm enclosure triggered an association in his head, and before long he had hired Odile Martin, the zoo's poultry raiser, to construct a device that would perform a similar function for human newborns. By modern standards, infant mortality was staggeringly high in the late nineteenth century, even in a city as sophisticated as Paris. One in five babies died before learning to crawl, and the odds were far worse for premature babies born with low birth weights. Tarnier knew that temperature regulation was critical for keeping these infants alive, and he knew that the French medical establishment had a deep-seated obsession with statistics. And so as soon as his newborn incubator had been installed at Maternite, the fragile infants warmed by hot water bottles below the wooden boxes, Tarnier embarked on a quick study of five hundred babies. The results shocked the Parisian medical establishment: while 66 percent of low-weight babies died within weeks of birth, only 38 percent died if they were housed in Tarnier's incubating box. You could effectively halve the mortality rate for premature babies simply by treating them like hatchlings in a zoo. ...

"Modern incubators, supplemented with high-oxygen therapy and other advances, became standard equipment in all American hospitals after the end of World War II, triggering a spectacular 75 percent decline in infant mortality rates between 1950 and 1998. ...

"In the developing world, however, the infant mortality story remains bleak. Whereas infant deaths are below ten per thousand births throughout Europe and the United States, over a hundred infants die per thousand in countries like Liberia and Ethiopia, many of them premature babies that would have survived with access to incubators. But modern incubators are complex, expensive things. A standard incubator in an American hospital might cost more than $40,000. But the expense is arguably the smaller hurdle to overcome. Complex equipment breaks, and when it breaks you need the technical expertise to fix it, and you need replacement parts. In the year that followed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Indonesian city of Meulaboh received eight incubators from a range of international relief organizations. By late 2008, when an MIT professor named Timothy Prestero visited the hospital, all eight were out of order, the victims of power surges and tropical humidity, along with the hospital staff's inability to read the English repair manual. ...

"Prestero and his team decided to build an incubator out of parts that were already abundant in the developing world. The idea had originated with a Boston doctor named Jonathan Rosen, who had observed that even the smaller towns of the developing world seemed to be able to keep automobiles in working order. The towns might have lacked air conditioning and laptops and cable television, but they managed to keep their Toyota 4Runners on the road. So Rosen approached Prestero with an idea: What if you made an incubator out of automobile parts?

"Three years after Rosen suggested the idea, the team introduced a prototype device called the NeoNurture. From the outside, it looked like a streamlined modern incubator, but its guts were automotive. Sealed-beam headlights supplied the crucial warmth; dashboard fans provided filtered air circulation; door chimes sounded alarms. You could power the device via an adapted cigarette lighter, or a standard-issue motorcycle battery. Building the NeoNurture out of car parts was doubly efficient, because it tapped both the local supply of parts themselves and the local knowledge of automobile repair. These were both abundant resources in the developing world context, as Rosen liked to say. You didn't have to be a trained medical technician to fix the NeoNurture; you didn't even have to read the manual. You just needed to know how to replace a broken headlight."

Author: Steve Johnson
Title: Where Good Ideas Come From
Publisher: Riverhead
Date: Copyright 2010 by Steven Johnson
Pages: 25-28

Friday, November 05, 2010 11/5/10 - election day

In today's excerpt--Election Day, 1968. The Democrat Lyndon Johnson had won the presidency in 1964 in a historic landslide, but only four years later the Republican Richard Nixon eked out a victory over Hubert Humphrey. What accounted for the shift? A lot, most notably civil rights legislation, race riots, and the specter of busing that had given rise to Southern demagogues such as George Wallace. Nixon had won in part by subtly and deftly adopting some of the Southern message:

"The stroke of midnight: Hubert Humphrey was ahead by a point in the popular vote, with four of ten returns counted. In Nixon's familiar old suite at the Waldorf, ... [Nixon was] scribbling on yellow pads, working the phones, puzzling out the nation's precincts, the labyrinth that he knew better than any other man alive, as the nation's will slowly, agonizingly revealed itself.

"He knew it by 3:15 a.m.

"The networks weren't sure until well into the 9 a.m. hour.

"Humphrey didn't concede until eleven thirty. In fact, the victory wouldn't be certified for weeks. ...

"[Nixon won] with something no other Republican presidential candidate, with minor exceptions, had ever had before: electoral votes from the South. Wallace took Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana. But Nixon got Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina--and Strom Thurmond's South Carolina.

"George Wallace sent a congratulatory telegram. Nixon never acknowledged it. It spoke to the agony of victory. For it was barely a victory. 301 electoral votes for Nixon and 191 for Humphrey, 46 for George Wallace--and, in the popular vote, 43.42 percent, 42.72 percent, and 13.53 percent. Nixon had received only five or so points more than Barry Goldwater's humiliating share in 1964. With George Wallace claiming that symbolically the victory belonged as much to him as to Nixon: 'Mr. Nixon said the same thing we said,' he declared. If he hadn't, was Wallace's point, Nixon wouldn't have won. And indeed, a few thousand more votes for Wallace in North Carolina and Tennessee, a shift of 1 percent of the vote in New Jersey or Ohio from Nixon to Humphrey, and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives, because Nixon wouldn't have won an electoral college majority."

Author: Rick Perlstein
Title: Nixonland
Publisher: Scribner
Date: Copyright 2008 by Rick Perlstein
Pages: 353-354

Thursday, November 04, 2010 11/4/10 - cognitive misers

In today's encore excerpt - the human brain is a "cognitive miser"- it can employ several approaches to solving a given problem, but almost always chooses the one that requires the least computational power:

"We tend to be cognitive misers. When approaching a problem, we can choose from any of several cognitive mechanisms. Some mechanisms have great computational power, letting us solve many problems with great accuracy, but they are slow, require much concentration and can interfere with other cognitive tasks. Others are comparatively low in computational power, but they are fast, require little concentration and do not interfere with other ongoing cognition. Humans are cognitive misers because our basic tendency is to default to the processing mechanisms that require less computational effort, even if they are less accurate. Are you a cognitive miser? Consider the following problem, taken from the work of Hector Levesque, a computer scientist at the University of Toronto. Try to answer it yourself before reading the solution.

Problem: Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

A) Yes
B) No
C) Cannot be determined

"More than 80 percent of people choose C. But the correct answer is A. Here is how to think it through logically: Anne is the only person whose marital status is unknown. You need to consider both possibilities, either married or unmarried, to determine whether you have enough information to draw a conclusion. If Anne is married, the answer is A: she would be the married person who is looking at an unmarried person (George). If Anne is not married, the answer is still A: in this case, Jack is the married person, and he is looking at Anne, the unmarried person. This thought process is called fully disjunctive reasoning - reasoning that considers all possibilities. The fact that the problem does not reveal whether Anne is or is not married suggests to people that they do not have enough information, and they make the easiest inference (C) without thinking through all the possibilities. Most people can carry out fully disjunctive reasoning when they are explicitly told that it is necessary (as when there is no option like 'cannot be determined' available). But most do not automatically do so, and the tendency to do so is only weakly correlated with intelligence.

"Here is another test of cognitive miserliness, as described by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Shane Frederick.

"A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

"Many people give the first response that comes to mind - 10 cents. But if they thought a little harder, they would realize that this cannot be right: the bat would then have to cost $1.10, for a total of $1.20. IQ is no guarantee against this error. Kahneman and Frederick found that large numbers of highly select university students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton and Harvard were cognitive misers, just like the rest of us, when given this and similar problems."

Author: Keith E. Stanovich
Title: "Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking That IQ Tests Miss"
Publisher: Scientific American
Date: November/December 2009
Pages: 35-36

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 11/3/10 - american english

In today's excerpt - American culture in the late 1700s and early 1800s was more homogeneous than in European countries. In England, France and Germany, villagers on one part of the country could not understand the dialect of those in another part (a condition that was still true in China in the early 1900s), and the upper class spoke differently from them all. Americans, however, all spoke a mutually understandable dialect, and also had fewer religious customs, which created a more uniform culture, with all the attendant advantages in commerce and governance:

"Americans thought that they were less superstitious and more rational than the peoples of Europe. They had actually carried out religious reforms that European liberals could only dream about. Early Americans were convinced that their Revolution, in the words of the New York constitution of 1777, had been designed to end the 'spiritual oppression and intolerance wherewith the bigotry and ambition of weak and wicked priests' had 'scourged mankind.' Not only had Americans achieved true religious liberty, not just the toleration that the English made so much of, but their blending of the various European religions and nationalities had made their society much more homogeneous than those of the Old World.

"The European migrants had been unable to bring all of their various regional and local cultures with them, and re-creating and sustaining many of the peculiar customs, craft holidays, and primitive practices of the Old World proved difficult. Consequently, morris dances, charivaries, skimmingtons, and other folk practices were much less common in America than in Britain or Europe. The New England Puritans, moreover, had banned many of these popular festivals and customs, including Christmas, and elsewhere the mixing and settling of different peoples had worn most of them away. ... Since enlightened elites everywhere in the Western world regarded these plebeian customs and holidays as remnants of superstition and barbarism, their relative absence in America was seen as an additional sign of the New World's precocious enlightenment.

"America had a common language, unlike the European nations, none of which was linguistically homogeneous. In 1789 the majority of Frenchmen did not speak French but were divided by a variety of provincial patois. Englishmen from Yorkshire were incomprehensible to those from Cornwall and vice versa. By contrast, Americans could understand one another from Maine to Georgia. It was very obvious why this should be
so, said John Witherspoon, president of Princeton. Since Americans were 'much more unsettled, and move frequently from place to place, they are not as liable to local peculiarities, either in accent or phraseology.' With the Revolution some Americans wished to carry this uniformity further. They wanted their language 'purged of its barbaric dross' and made 'as pure, simple, and systematic as our politics.' It was bound to happen in any case. Republics, said John Adams, had always attained a greater 'purity, copiousness, and perfection of language than other forms of government.'

"Americans expected the development of an American English that would be different from the English of the former mother country, a language that would reflect the peculiar character of the American people. Noah Webster, who would eventually become famous for his American dictionary, thought that language had divided the English people from one another. The court and the upper ranks of the aristocracy set the standards of usage and thus put themselves at odds with the language spoken by the rest of the country. By contrast, America's standard was fixed by the general practice of the nation, and therefore Americans had 'the fairest opportunity of establishing a national language, and of giving it uniformity and perspicuity, in North America, that ever presented itself to mankind.' Indeed, Webster was convinced that Americans already 'speak the most pure English now known in the world.' Within a century and a half, he predicted, North America would be peopled with a hundred millions of people, 'all speaking the same language.' Nowhere else in the world would such large numbers of people 'be able to associate and converse together like children of the same family.'

"Others had even more grandiose visions for the spread of America's language. John Adams was among those who suggested that American English would eventually become 'the next universal language.' In 1789 even a French official agreed; in a moment of giddiness he actually predicted that American English was destined to replace diplomatic French as the language of the world. Americans, he said, 'tempered by misfortune,' were 'more human, more generous, more tolerant, all qualities that make one want to share the opinions, adopt the customs, and speak language of such a people.' "

Author: Gordon S. Wood
Title: Empire of Liberty
Publisher: Oxford
Date: Copyright 2009 by Oxford University Press, Inc.
Pages: 47-49

Tuesday, November 02, 2010 11/2/10 - social darwinism

In today's excerpt - social Darwinism. The greatest U.S. economic crisis prior to the Great Depression itself was "the Panic of 1873," a depression that lasted from 1873-1879. It brought unprecedented unemployment to the country, and unloosed a nationwide hysteria known as "the Tramp Scare." Thousands unemployed "tramps" crossed the country looking for work that wasn't to be found. Instead of reacting with aid and compassion, cities and states passed harsh "anti-Tramp" laws and labeled the unemployed as morally inferior. Conveniently, Charles Darwin's brand new theory of evolution was available could be freely adapted to the social world to provide justification for this scorn:

"Impressed with what they took to be the hard, scientific fact of natural selection, many prominent American intellectuals, politicians, and businessmen followed [leading intellectual] Herbert Spencer in wanting to extend Charles Darwin's insights on nature to society. To those who enjoyed the benefits of American prosperity, unrestrained capitalism appeared a law of nature, and one that should be obeyed by all and not altered, as to do so would undermine social progress. Daniel S. Gregory's popular Christian Ethics argued that 'The Moral Governor has placed the power of acquisitiveness in man for a good and noble purpose,' so that interfering with greed was actually a sin. Not surprisingly, the rich and their acolytes crafted an ideology from this perception that equated wealth with morality and poverty with a defective character. No one gave voice to this belief system better than the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous - and highly paid - minister in America: 'The general truth will stand, that no man in this land suffers from poverty unless it be more than his fault - unless it be his sin.'

"Though it had its origins in England with Spencer's writings, social Darwinism became an obsession among educated Americans in the late 1870s. While scholars place the first use of the phrase 'social Darwinism' in Europe in 1879, it is telling that the phrase actually first appears in the public press in the United States in 1877 - and then in the context of the tramp menace. The Nation converted to social Darwinism in 1877, its editor, E.L. Godkin, declaring that nothing of value 'is not the result of successful strife.' Those who are successful in life deserve their wealth, while trying to lift up the weak undermines this natural struggle and thus social progress. ...

"So popular had evolutionary theory become in 1877 that The Congregationalist complained that too many 'preachers seem to think it their duty to give their congregations dilutions of John Tyndall and Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer,' the leading promoters of Darwin's work. They noted with concern that Harvard students are now expected to read Spencer. Later in the year, Harvard's professor John McCrary, who held the chair in geology, resigned in opposition to this cult of Herbert Spencer. But his was a lonely voice, as readings of Spencer became common at high school exercises throughout the country, even in Milwaukee. Despite their rejection of evolution, most Protestant ministers and intellectuals were entranced by social Darwinism. The Reverend William A. Halliday used Darwin to point out that progress is certain, but that not everyone advances together; 'the survival of the fittest is nothing the unfit can cheer about.' ...

"[Yale professor] William Graham Sumner found in Spencer scientific justification for his extreme version of laissez-faire. Sumner could thus claim it was a fact, 'fixed in the order of the universe,' that government intervention threatened to disrupt the workings of natural selection - from the eight-hour day to public education, protective tariffs to the post office, they all thwarted progress. Appearing before the House of Representatives, Sumner was asked, 'Professor, don't you believe in any government aid to industries?' To which he emphatically replied, 'No! It's root, hog, or die.' ... Meanwhile, Henry Ward Beecher turned to Spencer to argue that economic success is evidence of the working of both God's will and natural selection. Given that double authority, no one should attempt to ameliorate economic inequality. Science proved God's will in making certain that 'the poor will be with you always.' "

Author: Michael A. Bellesiles
Title: 1877
Publisher: The New Press
Date: Copyright 2010 by Michael A. Bellesiles
Pages: 127-129

Monday, November 01, 2010 11/1/10 - land and war

In today's excerpt - we all know the causes of the American Revolutionary War and the American Civil War, they are enshrined in our national consciousness: the Revolutionary War was fought to end taxation without representation, and the Civil War was fought to end slavery (or, if you have Southerner sympathies, it was fought over the issue of states' rights). These reasons, though true in part, may be insufficient to fully capture the causes of these wars. The colonists had lower tax rates than their English brethren, more independence on many matters, and an equally high standard of living. Parliament removed taxes from the colonists quickly after it imposed them, and left a token tax in place as a face-saving maneuver. And in the 1850s, the abolitionist movement was a tiny fraction of the U.S. population.

Historians Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton point out that those two wars both started roughly twelve years after the acquisition of control over vast news areas of land, and thus put in play huge potential shifts in the balance of power within the newly controlling governments. The Revolutionary War started shortly after the British and their colonists wrested control the remainder of the continent east of the Mississippi away from the French in the French and Indian War. The Civil War started shortly after the U.S. wrested half of Mexico's territory away from it in the Mexican American War, and thus gained effective control of the continent west of the Mississippi:

"Unlike the three previous wars between Britain and France, the vast conflict known in Europe as the Seven Years' War (1756-63; its North American phase, 1754-60, is sometimes called the French and Indian War) ended in a decisive victory, as a result of which the North American empire of France ceased to exist and Spain (France's ally in the final year of the war) was compelled to surrender its imperial claims east of the Mississippi River. This left Britain (in theory at least) the proprietor of the eastern half of North America. ...

"The victorious British ... so alienated their colonists by attempted reforms that just a dozen years after the Peace of Paris that ended the Seven Years War, the thirteen North American colonies took up arms against the empire. In their efforts to mount resistance to a sovereign king in Parliament in the decade before war broke out, colonial leaders used arguments that stressed what had usually been called the rights of Englishmen, stressing the centrality of political freedom and the protection of property and other rights. Because the colonists were a chronically divided lot, however, the leaders of the resistance movement took care to couch their explanations and appeals in universalistic language: as defenses of natural rights, not merely the liberties of Englishmen.

"The War for American Independence (1775-83) shattered the British empire and made those universalized ideas the foundation of American political identity. It took another dozen years after the end of the war in 1783, however, to produce the complex of agreements and understandings we call
the Revolutionary Settlement. ...

Great Britain and the United States ceased to compete militarily after 1815, leaving Mexico, which declared its independence from Spain in 1821, as the last remaining obstacle to the dominion of the United States in North America. ... The Mexican leaders' fears of revolution and racial war, along with the rich geographic diversity of their nation, inhibited the emergence of an American-style revolutionary settlement and created a fertile field for caudillos, violence, and local rebellions. One of the latter, on the remote northeastern fringe of Mexico, created the Republic of Texas in 1836. A decade later, the United States annexed Texas, provoking a war with Mexico in 1846. Within two years American soldiers overwhelmed Mexican resistance, seized the national capital, and forced a peace, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), that deprived Mexico of fully half its territory.

"As in the aftermath of the Seven Years' War, the accession of vast amounts of territory created a furious debate that shredded the political fabric of the victorious empire. Then it had taken twelve years for the imperial community to collapse in civil war; it now took thirteen. Adding the lands from the Rockies to the Pacific coast to what Americans thought of as the empire of liberty made the question of slavery's expansion into the conquests inescapable. The Revolutionary Settlement broke down as Northern and Southern Americans came to see each other as potential tyrants intent on subjugation. Thus in April 1861, Southerners and Northerners went to war to make the American empire safe for their own, mutually exclusive, notions of liberty, convinced that no alternative remained but an appeal to the god of battles."

Author: Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton
Title: The Dominion of War
Publisher: Penguin
Date: Copyright 2005 by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton
Pages: xvi-xix