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Re: Today's selection
« Reply #210 on: September 22, 2017, 07:36:20 AM »
Today's selection -- from Rome: The Biography of a City by Christopher Hibbert. Pope Julius II heard of Michelangelo's genius and recruited him for a number of projects, including painting the ceiling of one of the Vatican's chapels. It was a project that Michelangelo resisted, but it would "change the course of Western art and is regarded as one of the major artistic accomplishments of human civilization":

"[Michelangelo received a commission from Pope Julius II to work on the sculptures for his tomb that] led to great intimacy between them, although in time the favors Michelangelo was shown ... stirred up much envy among his fellow craftsmen.

"The easy intimacy between the Pope and Michelangelo did not last long, however. The sculptor did not like being watched at work, normally choosing to have his studio locked; nor did he like being asked questions about his probable rate of progress. Touchy and irritable, he began to resent what he took to be his patron's bossy interference, and was then offended by the casually offhand manner in which his request for interviews and money were refused by the papal officials. After one such rebuff, Michelangelo lost his temper, told his servants to sell all the contents of his studio and rode out of the city to Florence. He was eventually persuaded to return to the Pope's service, but not to work on the tomb as he had hoped. First of all, though he protested it was 'not his kind of art', he was required to make a monumental bronze statue of Julius fourteen feet high, which was to be erected on the facade of the Church of S. Petronio in Bologna and, after a revolution some years later, was melted down for a cannon by the Pope's enemy, the Duke of Ferrara. He was then asked to undertake a task for which he felt even more ill qualified, the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 'He tried in every possible way to shake the burden off his shoulders,' [historian Giorgio] Vasari said. 'But the more he refused, the more determined he made the Pope, who was a willful man by nature ... Finally, being the hot-tempered man he was, he was all ready to fly into a rage. However, seeing His Holiness was so persevering Michelangelo resigned himself to doing what he was asked.' He was given an advance payment of 500 ducats and began work on 10 May 1508.

"Immediately he regretted that he had given way. There was trouble over the scaffolding which [architect Donato] Bramante constructed for him: initially it hung down from the ceiling on ropes but Michelangelo wanted it supported by props from the floor. There was trouble with his assistants whom he had sent for from Florence and whom he considered so incompetent that he scraped off everything they had done and decided to paint the whole area, all ten thousand square feet of it, himself. He locked the chapel door, refusing admittance to his fellow-artists and to everyone else, thus provoking another quarrel with the Pope who was himself told to go away. And then there was trouble with a salty mould which, when the north wind blew, appeared on many areas of the ceiling and so discouraged Michelangelo that he despaired of the whole undertaking and was reluctant to go on until Giuliano da Sangallo showed him how to deal with it.

"The labour was physically as well as emotionally exhausting. He had to paint standing, looking upwards for such long periods that his neck became stiff and swollen; he could not straighten it when he climbed down from the scaffold and had to read letters holding them up with his head bent backwards. In hot weather it was stiflingly hot and the plaster dust irritated his skin; in all weathers the paint dripped down upon his face, his hair and his beard. 'The place is wrong, and no painter I,' he lamented in a sonnet he wrote describing his exhausting work. 'My painting all the day doth drop a rich mosaic on my face.' 'I live in great toil and weariness of body,' he wrote to his brother. 'I have no friends ... and don't want any, and haven't the time to eat what I need.'

"He was plagued by his patron who insisted upon being let into the chapel to see what he was paying for. The Pope kept asking when it would be finished, as he clambered up the scaffold with his stick, impatient to have the chapel opened before he died. 'How much longer will it take?'

"'When it satisfies me as an artist,' Michelangelo replied on one occasion, eliciting from Julius the angry reply, 'And we want you to satisfy us, and finish it soon.'

"Later Michelangelo refused to commit himself further than to say he would finish it when he could. 'When I can! When I can!' the Pope,
infuriated, shouted back at him. 'What do you mean? When I can. I'll soon make you finish it!' He hit him with his stick, then threatened to hurl him off the scaffold if he did not get on more quickly. After these outbursts came apologies. The Pope's chamberlain would call at Michelangelo's house with presents of money, with excuses and apologies, 'explaining that such treatment was meant as a favour and a mark of affection'.

"At last, after nearly four years' work, the scaffolding was removed. But the artist was still not satisfied; there were touches that he wanted to add, backgrounds and draperies he wanted to enliven with ultramarine, details to enrich with gold. But the Pope would wait no longer. Even before the dust had settled after the dismantling of the scaffolding, he rushed into the chapel to look at the astonishing achievement of more than three hundred figures, many of them painted three and even four times life-size. On the morning of 31 October 1512 he celebrated Mass inside the chapel and afterwards, in Vasari's words, the whole of Rome 'came running to see what Michelangelo had done; and certainly it was such as to make everyone speechless with astonishment'."

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Rome: The Biography of a City
Author: Christopher Hibbert
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Christopher Hibbert 1985
Pages: 144-146

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Re: Today's selection
« Reply #211 on: September 24, 2017, 07:34:33 AM »
Today's selection -- from  Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese.
Child labor in the coal mines:

"Some [coal-powered] factories began to operate round the clock, which at least had the effect of shortening overall hours from fourteen- or sixteen-hour shifts down to two twelve-hour shifts. The marvel of what these workers were doing -- working all night by light that had traveled to earth millions of years earlier and had been stored in darkness ever since -- probably wouldn't have impressed them, even if they had known about it. This is partic­ularly true because many of the factory workers were mere chil­dren. With coal power to substitute for adult muscle, and machinery to substitute for adult skill, factory owners found that children were not only adequate for many jobs but cheaper and far easier to discipline.

"The booming coal industry was a leader in the brutal treat­ment of children, and the steam engine just seems to have increased the ways children could be exploited. Although engines made it possible for the mines to press deeper, ventila­tion problems were increased. The common solution was the use of 'traps,' a system of doors in the mines that would keep air currents flowing fast enough to prevent the accumulation of deadly gases. The task of operating these doors was given to the smallest of children working under the most nightmarish condi­tions, and if these young workers didn't perform properly, the safety of the mine was at risk.

"A parliamentary commission that in the 1840s finally began paying attention to the scandal of child labor was astonished that there were not more mine accidents given that 'in all the coal mines, in all the districts of the United Kingdom, the care of these trap doors is entrusted to children of from five to seven or eight years of age, who for the most part sit, excepting at the moments when persons pass through these doors, for twelve hours consecutively in solitude, silence and darkness.'

"One eight-year-old girl described her day to the commission this way: 'I have to trap without a light, and I'm scared. I go at four and sometimes half-past three in the morning and come out [in the evening] at five and half-past. I never go to sleep. Sometimes I sing when I've light, but not in the dark: I dare not sing then.'

"The growing demand for coal prompted operators to expand their mines by following narrower coal seams, but because the new tunnels were often too low for horses or adults to pass through, children were used to haul the coal. The com­mission described the children's plight this way: 'Chained, belted, harnessed like dogs in a go-cart, black, saturated with wet, and more than half naked -- crawling upon their hands and feet, and dragging their heavy loads behind them -- they present an appearance indescribably disgusting and unnatural.' The cruel treatment of children in the mines may have made it easier to tolerate their comparatively milder but more widespread exploitation in the coal-fueled factories."

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Coal: A Human History
Author: Barbara Freese
Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2003 by Barbara Freese
Pages 76-78
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Re: Today's selection
« Reply #212 on: September 28, 2017, 07:19:03 AM »
Today's encore selection -- from Evolving Ourselves by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans. Inserting human glial stem cells into the brains of newborn mice enables them to learn faster. Electromagnets placed on the skulls of monkeys enhance their cognitive performance. We may soon be entering a new age in which human brains can be radically modified:

"One of the many horrific consequences of a severed spinal cord is loss of bladder control. In 2013, a Cleveland team reattached severed mouse spinal cords through nerve micrografts. The procedure was so successful that not only did the animals recover some respiratory functions but even the ability to control areas much farther down their bodies, including their bladders. Such an operation makes it conceivable that a full mouse-head transplant might someday be successful. And if it was successful, we might begin to be able to test various hypotheses: If a mouse had learned in detail how to ask for food or navigate a maze, would the mouse's head take that knowledge to a new body?

"No one has attempted a whole human brain transplant, nor should they. Nascent technologies and knowledge make the procedure far too risky and speculative, and the chances of success are minute, not to mention the ethical challenges of identifying and qualifying a donor. But as science progresses, if one became able to transplant a human brain or portions of a brain, then one could begin to answer some fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness, memory, and personality. ...

"While we wait for full-brain transplants, there is still a lot of data flow; even mini transplants can make a huge difference. Because ethical constraints limit the kinds of experiments we can perform on humans, scientists get ever more creative at blurring the lines and distinctions between animals and humans. The most basic of human cells, stem cells, which program all functions in our bodies, are being inserted into species far and wide. As we blur species lines, as we 'humanize' parts of animals, we begin to see blind mice that grow human corneas. And because some of the organs and biological structures in pigs are so close to those of humans, there are more and more efforts to modify these animals' immune systems, humanize some of their organs, and transplant them directly into humans.

"In an attempt to find cures for various neurological diseases, more and more human brain cells are entering animal bodies, which often results in significant and noticeable upgrades. Alzheimer's researchers found that transplanted human stem cells led to mice with improved spatial learning and memory. When one inserts human glial stem cells into the brains of newborn mice, the new cells grow and eventually overwhelm many of the original mouse brain cells. Soon you get mice that can learn much faster, retain memories longer, and whose brains transfer certain information three times as fast as normal mice. (Of note is that this latter procedure is transplant of glial cells, the cells that preserve, feed, and protect neurons. It is not yet a neuronal transplant, so while it is unlikely this kind of transplant would transfer memories, it does seem to significantly enhance cognition.)
"If we can transplant human cells into animals' brains and significantly improve their cognition, it is also reasonable to think that one could transplant and develop enhancements to the average human brain; recent stem-cell transplants into Parkinson's patients' brains show some promise, albeit inconsistently. Whose brain cells we get, at what stage, through what procedures, may end up making quite a difference. (They may also give rise to a slew of ethical and access issues; would you want a transplant from an average brain or a genius brain?) As we continue to seek cures for various neurological diseases, we are likely to find more and more examples of interventions that significantly alter and enhance various brain functions. And this will give us more choices in how to enhance, evolve, and build up the most human of our organs.

"Meanwhile, we are continually attempting to 'upgrade' our brains through electronic inputs, both internal and external. Sophisticated electromagnets placed on the skulls of monkeys can direct them to pick out any one of 5,000 random objects 10 to 20 percent more accurately than non enhanced monkeys. Early tests on seven human epilepsy patients, through already-implanted electrodes, showed improved navigation through virtual mazes. Soon the 'handicapped' became better at this task than 'neurotypicals,' Human deep-brain stimulation will likely enter early clinical trials in 2015, to try to boost memory in
Alzheimer's sufferers. But if techniques like this really work -- a big 'if' -- then they could be broadly deployed to enhance the memory of the species. ...

"Drugs provide yet another path to enhance/modify human cognition. While we regularly approach a Starbucks vaguely hoping a triple shot of caffeine will upgrade our mental capacity, the effects of tea, energy drinks, and other caffeinated boosts are temporary. Modafinil may be different. A pill originally designed to help you sleep better, this drug may have the side effect of memory upgrades that last for significant periods. As we understand the biochemistry of the brain better, we will likely find more and more ways to boost, refine, and improve cognition, once again unnaturally altering the species.

"And then there is the external cognition option. Back at the MIT Boyden lab, they are busily building tiny computer chips, embedded with thousands of needles 1/1000th of an inch wide, which allow measuring, and perhaps altering, activity inside individual neurons."
Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth
Authors: Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans
Publisher: Penguin Group
Copyright 2015 by Juan Enriquez and Steven Gullans
Pages: 185-187

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Re: Today's selection
« Reply #213 on: October 03, 2017, 07:28:40 AM »
Today's selection -- from I'm Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder. Young David Letterman:

"In May 1975, twenty-eight-year-old David Letterman and his wife, Michelle, left Indiana and drove to Los Angeles in tandem, he in his 1973 half-ton Chevy pickup, 'Old Red,' and she in their 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass. The pair had met and married when they were students at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where he majored in radio and televi­sion. After college, David became a minor celebrity in his hometown of Indianapolis as the host of a 2:00 a.m. movie show and a substitute weekend weatherman on WLWI- TV. It was there that he pioneered the concept of irony in weathercasting, making up fictitious weather phenomena and spicing up the daily temperature readings with wry comments like, 'Muncie, 42 ... Anderson, 44 ... always a close game,' which didn't always go over well in rural central Indiana, where most folks liked their weather straight. He also used the station to incubate what would later become some of his trademark late-night bits -- making fun of management and using staff members and passers-by (some­times cruelly) as unwitting foils.

"Unlike ... others, Letterman wasn't moving to Los Angeles hoping to make it big as a stand-up comic. Perform­ing live was not his thing. He'd been required to make all manner of public appearances as part of his TV gig in Indianapolis, and he'd hated every minute of it. The prospect of an upcoming event would cause him to lose sleep for a week, so that he constantly questioned himself, If it were in me to do this, then wouldn't it be easier?

"Letterman's ambition in going to Los Angeles was to land a job writing for television, preferably for Johnny Carson, his hero. He'd gleaned from watching The Tonight Show that performing at the Comedy Store was a good way to get Carson's attention, so he saw the Comedy Store as a necessary evil. Two months earlier, he'd flown to LA on a reconnaissance mission. Even though it was a Tuesday night, the Sunset club was jam-packed. The first comic he saw perform was George Miller, who was doing a routine about working in a Hollywood mailroom where the workers rated the executives as stamps; one guy was known as a 'five center,' an­other as 'air mail.' The punch line was about the stupidest execu­tive of all: 'Imagine what it's like to be known as "postage due."' It was a really dumb joke, but the crowd laughed, and Letterman did, too, thinking to himself, Oh, hell, I can do this.

"On his first Monday night in Los Angeles, he jumped right back into the fire, lining up with the other hopefuls waiting to audition for Mitzi Shore. His turn came just before midnight. As he stepped onto the stage, he was immediately unnerved by the white-hot intensity of the spotlight. It felt as if he were standing on a train track with a high-speed bullet train bearing down on him. The next five minutes seemed to take forever, and after­ward, he was sure he'd bombed. But Shore apparently saw some­thing she liked in his Midwestern manner. 'That was nice,' she said. 'You should come back.' ...

"The other comics quickly took notice of him because he wasn't like anyone else. For starters, he didn't tell jokes. He used everyday experiences as the setup and then supplied his own punch line, like the dreaded call from the mechanic telling you there's a lot more wrong with your car than you'd thought: 'Yeah, Dave, this is Earl down at the garage .... We were adjusting the dials on your radio ... and the engine blew up .... Yeah, it killed one of our guys.'

"The other comics also noticed that Letterman didn't sound like the rest of them. He didn't have the staccato cadence and hard sell delivery that usually came with being a club comic. He sounded more like a broadcaster -- smooth, controlled, conversational -- in the style of Carson, Steve Allen, and Jack Paar. That, combined with his caustic wit and ability to turn the tables on hecklers, cre­ated a presence on stage that belied his limited experience and cued his fellow comics that a major talent had arrived. It also helped to offset his appearance: the Hoosier clothes and scraggily red beard that Jay Leno said made him look like 'either Dinty Moore or Paul Bunyan's son.'

"Johnny Dark thought Letterman was a 'hayseed' when he first met him. They were standing in the hallway by the Comedy Store restroom waiting for Letterman to go on. Letterman introduced himself, called him 'Mr. Dark,' and said how much he admired his act. Dark then watched as the scruffy newcomer took the stage and faced a crowd that had been tough all night. 'They are going to eat this kid,' he thought.

"Instead, Letterman took it right to them. 'So what do you puds want to talk about tonight?' were the first words out of his mouth. From opposite sides of the room, two men heckled him simultane­ously. He fired back, 'Are you two guys sharing a brain?' The crowd roared. After that, he owned them. Johnny Dark was awed."

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I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era
Author: William Knoedelseder
Publisher: PublicAffairs
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Re: Today's selection
« Reply #214 on: October 04, 2017, 07:58:32 AM »
Today's selection -- from The Great Railroad Revolution by Christian Wolmar. The two predominant eras for hoboes -- the common slang term for migrant laborers, especially those who illegally traveled on trains -- were the years after the Civil War and the years of the Great Depression:

"It was the ... suspicion and dislike of the railroad companies that led to the romanticization of the hoboes who jumped freight trains and trav­eled free. Like train robbers, they enjoyed a measure of public support be­cause they were perceived as getting one over on rapacious corporations who saw fit to hand out huge numbers of free passes to VIPs, especially politicians, who might be useful to them and were contemptuously known as 'deadheads' or 'fare beaters.' The phenomenon of hoboes jumping trains had its roots in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War, when large numbers of rootless men traveled the country with little clear purpose. Some were tramps, living life permanently on the road and never seeking work, but most men jumped trains in order to seek work or a new life, most commonly out west. It was a precarious way to travel. If possible, they boarded the trains at stations or freight sidings, but sometimes they hopped on trains trundling slowly through towns, running the obvious risk of being dragged underneath. There was a constant game of cat and
mouse between the train conductors and the hoboes, who rode anywhere on the train where they could keep out of view of the crew.
"The most perilous hiding place was on top of the cars, where falling asleep could prove fatal, but it could be equally dangerous to ride between or underneath the cars. The lucky ones found an empty wagon or broke into one, which they raided for any food or portable valuables. They risked the wrath of the conductors, who, however, sometimes turned a blind eye to these free­loaders, not least because many of them were former railroad workers or, indeed, were seeking a job on the railroads. Many of the hoboes, of course, had a drinking problem, as did many railroad workers, especially the driv­ers. According to Dee Brown, 'Pioneer engineers on the Western railroads had a reputation for heavy drinking' as an antidote to the stresses of oper­ating trains in such dangerous conditions, with the risk of attacks by robbers, derailments caused by the poor track, or collisions with other lo­comotives or livestock. Passengers occasionally attributed particularly bumpy rides to the lack of sobriety of the train crew, and, although drink­ing was a fireable offense, the railroad companies often took a lenient atti­tude, recognizing the pressures of the job. ...

"There had been hoboes on the railroads ever since the American Civil War, but with the Depression the phenomenon increased exponentially. Moreover, it was not just adults but a vast horde of teenagers who were on the move, es­timated by Errol Lincoln Uys to number a quarter of a million in the 1930s: 'Often as young as thirteen, each one came from a different background, each left home to ride the rails for different reasons, and each had unique experiences.' They were part of an army, estimated at 1.5 million during the peak years of the early 1930s, who used the railroads to get around the country to seek work. They suffered a terrible toll. According to the Interstate Commerce Commission, in the decade to 1939 nearly twenty­-five thousand trespassers -- seven a day -- were killed and the same number injured, often losing a limb, on railroad property. Although not all of these would have been hoboes, a great proportion undoubtedly were, as jumping on and off moving trains was a hazardous business, belying the romantic notion of the life often presented in films and books. Hoboes, who have an annual convention every year in Britt, Iowa, distinguish themselves clearly from tramps and bums. Whereas hoboes travel and work, a tramp travels and begs, while a bum, who may or may not go on the road, simply drinks or takes drugs. The number was greatly reduced after the Second World War, partly by the greater affluence, but also by the conversion to diesels, which unlike steam locomotives do not have to stop for water, giving hoboes fewer opportunities to jump on and off trains. Hitchhiking for a while be­came their preferred mode of travel, and today greater security and containerization make jumping the rails far less common."

The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America
Author: Christian Wolmar
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Copyright 2012 by Christian Wolmar
Pages: 205-206, 317-318
 
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Re: Today's selection
« Reply #215 on: October 05, 2017, 07:24:04 AM »

Today's encore selection -- from The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin. The human brain consumes more energy than any other part of the body:

"The entire brain weighs three pounds (1.4 kg) and so is only a small percentage of an adult's total body weight, typically 2%. But it consumes 20% of all the energy the body uses. Why? The perhaps oversimplified answer is that time is energy.

"Neural communication is very rapid -- it has to be -- reaching speeds of over 300 miles per hour and with neurons communicating with one another hundreds of times per second. The voltage output of a single resting neuron is 70 millivolts, about the same as the line output of an iPod. If you could hook up a neuron to a pair of earbuds, you could actually hear its rhythmic output as a series of clicks. ...

"Neurochemicals that control communication between neurons are manufactured in the brain itself. These include some relatively well-known ones such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and epinephrine, as well as acetylcholine, GABA, glutamate, and endocannabinoids. Chemicals are released in very specific locations and they act on specific synapses to change the flow of information in the brain. Manufacturing these chemicals, and dispersing them to regulate and modulate brain activity, requires energy -- neurons are living cells with a metabolism, and they get that energy from glucose. No other tissue in the body relies solely on glucose for energy except the testes. (This is why men occasionally experience a battle for resources between their brains and their glands.)

"A number of studies have shown that eating or drinking glucose improves performance on mentally demanding tasks. For example, experimental participants are given a difficult problem to solve, and half of them are given a sugary treat and half of them are not. The ones who get the sugary treat perform better and more quickly because they are supplying the body with glucose that goes right to the brain to help feed the neural circuits that are doing the problem solving. This doesn't mean you should rush out and buy armloads of candy -- for one thing, the brain can draw on vast reserves of glucose already held in the body when it needs them. For another, chronic ingestion of sugars -- these experiments looked only at short-term ingestion -- can damage other systems and lead to diabetes and sugar crash, the sudden exhaustion that many people feel later when the sugar high wears off.

"But regardless of where it comes from, the brain burns glucose, as a car burns gasoline, to fuel mental operations. Just how much energy does the brain use? In an hour of relaxing or daydreaming, it uses eleven calories or fifteen watts -- about the same as one of those new energy-efficient light-bulbs. Using the central executive for reading for an hour takes about forty-two calories. Sitting in class, by comparison, takes sixty-five calories -- not from fidgeting in your seat (that's not factored in) but from the additional mental energy of absorbing new information. Most brain energy is used in synaptic transmission, that is, in connecting neurons to one another and, in turn, connecting thoughts and ideas to one another."

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
Author: Daniel J. Levitin
Publisher: Dutton, a division of Penguin Group
Copyright 2014 by Daniel J. Levitin
Pages 168-169

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Re: Today's selection
« Reply #216 on: October 06, 2017, 07:17:48 AM »
Today's selection -- from Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese. In the early 1800s, Manchester, England, was the center of the new coal mining boom that was powering the Industrial Revolution. The smoke produced was so thick that children developed rickets from, in part, the lack of sunlight:

"Like most factory towns, Manchester grew rapidly, and little value was placed on aesthetics, health, or anything other than industry. No space was set aside for public parks or patches of greenery, and their absence was sorely felt in the tightly packed slums. A doctor testifying before a parliamentary commission commented on the paucity of public gardens and walks in Man­chester, stating that 'it is scarcely in the power of the factory workman to taste the breath of nature or to look upon its verdure, and this defect is a strong impediment to convalescence from dis­ease, which is usually tedious and difficult in Manchester.'

"One 1840s government report notes that the density of smoke in Manchester had 'risen to an intolerable pitch, and is annually increasing, the air is rendered visibly impure, and no doubt unhealthy, abounding in soot, soiling the clothing and fur­niture of the inhabitants, and destroying the beauty and fertility of the garden as well as the foliage and verdure of the country.' An 1842 account describes 'an inky canopy which seemed to embrace and involve the entire place.'

"Overall, this was a time when the population of England was increasing, for reasons that are still the subject of debate, but national statistics hide what was actually happening in the grow­ing slums. An 1842 government report on the sanitary conditions of the working class -- a report that would help launch the public health movement in Britain -- stated that 'it is an appalling fact that, of all who are born of the labouring classes in Manchester, more than 57 per cent die before they attain five years of age.' The report makes it dramatically clear that the high death rates were a function of both poverty and urban surroundings. The childhood death rates gave the poor of Manchester an average life expectancy of only seventeen years; the professionals and gentry of the city could expect thirty-eight years. By contrast, the rural poor (taking as an example one region where wages were reported as half those of Manchester) had an average life span of thirty-eight years (the same as the well-off in Manchester), and the well-off in the countryside had an average life span of fifty­-two.

"Those who did survive had a pronounced lack of health and vitality. One observer, writing in 1833, recalled 'the robust and well-made' men who worked in the preindustrial cottage indus­tries, and bemoaned the 'vast deterioration in personal form which has been brought about in the manufacturing population, during the last thirty years' -- a deterioration marked by pallid skin, sunken cheeks, bowed legs, flat feet, curved spines, and a general air of dejection. Queen Victoria visited the city in 1851, and although she approved of the orderly behavior of the Man­chester crowd, calling it the best she had seen ('nobody moved, and therefore everybody saw well'), she couldn't help but notice that they were a 'painfully unhealthy-looking popula­tion.' Declining urban health soon became a national security issue. During the Crimean War, which broke out in 1854, 42 per­cent of urban recruits were rejected for physical weakness (compared to only 17 percent of rural recruits), and these were young men who had already been screened by local recruiters.

"A malady that stunted and deformed those living in the shad­ows of the mills, even before they could be employed within them, was rickets. Rickets mainly strikes infants and toddlers, but it can hit later, too, and severe cases cause permanently bowed and stunted legs, a shrunken chest and pelvis, a curved spine, weakened muscles, and an impaired immune system. The chest deformities and immunity problems predispose victims to bron­chitis, emphysema, and pneumonia, and in females the con­tracted pelvises make subsequent childbirth much more dangerous.

"Rickets has an unusual cause and an unusual cure. Humans share with the most primitive algae the ability to photosynthesize part of the solar spectrum into a critical nutrient, ours being vita­min D. We can also get vitamin D from our diets, but even today much of the world gets its vitamin D from sunlight, and sunlight was undoubtedly an even more important source of vitamin D in the past. Cut us off from sunshine without giving us another source of vitamin D and, like plants kept too long in the dark, we will begin to wilt. Our bones will literally soften and bend, even­tually taking on a consistency more like cartilage than bone.

"Babies raised in the new industrial darkness of the 1800s were vulnerable to rickets for many reasons: They were gener­ally malnourished, no one had the time or space to take them strolling outdoors, and, perhaps most important, Manchester's smoke-blocked sun was no more than 'a disc without rays,' in Tocqueville's words. In the new industrial cities, rickets reached epidemic proportions among urban children, and came to be known elsewhere simply as 'the English disease.' In some neighborhoods, doctors reported that every child they saw showed signs of rickets. As recently as 1918, a government report found that not less than half the general population in Britain's industrial areas suffered from rickets, and called the disease 'probably the most potent factor interfering with the efficiency of the race.'

"A century before the role of the sun in preventing rickets was established, a doctor testifying before a parliamentary com­mission investigating night work by children in the factories argued that sunlight was critical to children's growth. He pointed out that the deformities common in the industrial towns were absent among Mexicans and Peruvians, who were continu­ously exposed to light. These concerns were brushed aside by Dr. Andrew Ure, who wrote a lengthy defense of the factory sys­tem in his 1835 book The Philosophy of Manufactures, and who was certain that the brilliant coal-gas lighting of a cotton mill was more than adequate to meet the developmental needs of the young 'factory inmates.' "
 
Coal: A Human History
Author: Barbara Freese
Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2003 by Barbara Freese
Pages 81-84
 
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Re: Today's selection
« Reply #217 on: October 13, 2017, 06:49:23 AM »
Today's encore selection -- from Grover Cleveland by Henry F. Graff. Democrat Grover Cleveland's 1884 presidential bid was almost derailed when, as a bachelor, he was accused of fathering an illegitimate child. Cleveland was the son of a church pastor, and though bland and unassuming, had ascended politically because of his reputation for honesty and fair dealing in the corrupt Tammany Hall era, first as mayor of Buffalo and then as governor of New York. He survived the scandal and won the presidency. In fact, he won the majority of the popular vote in three successive presidential elections -- 1884, 1888, and 1892 -- but lost the 1888 election based on electoral votes. During his first term in the White House, he married Frances Folsom, who was 27 years his junior. She became a beloved First Lady (or "President's Lady" as it was then called):

"Cleveland ... was the very symbol of rectitude and incorruptibility. But happily [for his Republican opponents, they] found a chink in his puritan armor.

"It was revealed to them on July 21, only two weeks after the Democratic [presidential] convention, when newsboys began hawking the Buffalo Evening Telegraph with its incredible front-page article headed:

"Cleveland ... was the very symbol of rectitude and incorruptibility. But happily [for his Republican opponents they] found a chink in his puritan armor.
"It was revealed to them on July 21, only two weeks after the Democratic [presidential] convention, when newsboys began hawking the Buffalo Evening Telegraph with its incredible front-page article headed:

A TERRIBLE TALE
A Dark Chapter in a Public Man's History
The Pitiful Story of Maria Halpin and Governor Cleveland's Son ...

"The details, on their face, were shocking. The article spoke of how Cleveland had seduced Halpin and, when she became pregnant, led her to believe he was going to marry her. Instead, he forced her to commit the baby to an orphan asylum, and the fallen woman was obliged to leave town. Her seducer, the paper went on, remained publicly a paragon of virtue and goodness. These 'facts' seemed to give the lie to Cleveland's pontifical assertion of long before: 'It is no credit to me to do right. I am under no temptation to do wrong.'

"The facts are somewhat different. Maria Halpin was a comely young widow from Pennsylvania who, leaving two children behind, had come to Buffalo from Jersey City in 1871 at the age of thirty-three -- a year younger than Cleveland. Tall, attractive, and winsome, able to speak French, she had found employment in a dry-goods store and quickly attained a responsible position. A parishioner of the fashionable St. John's Episcopal Church, she almost immediately had prominent friends. Possibly Cleveland was seduced as well as the seducer. When the child was born, Halpin began to drink heavily and to neglect the infant. Alarmed, Cleveland had his friend, Roswell L. Burrows, a county judge, look into the matter. He arranged for Halpin to be committed to the Providence Asylum -- an institution for mentally deranged people run by the Sisters of Charity. The little boy was sent to the Protestant Orphan Asylum, where Cleveland promised to pay through Burrows the monthly cost of five dollars. Cleveland also persuaded Halpin to leave town, setting her up in business in Niagara Falls.

"Pining for her child and still disappointed that she had not been able to snare Cleveland in marriage, she returned to Buffalo in 1876 and, after failing to recover him legally, kidnapped the youngster from the orphanage. Burrows once again played the Good Samaritan: he returned the boy to the asylum from which he was later adopted by a respectable family in town. Halpin disappeared, although years later, during Cleveland's second term as president, she wrote to him for money.
"That Cleveland had been involved with Halpin was known in official circles in Buffalo, because he had had the help of detectives and others in arranging for Halpin to be committed, and for the boy to be adopted. Moreover, Cleveland had mentioned his 'woman scrape' to a New York Democratic leader at the time of the convention in Chicago, and even though Tammany people knew of it, they made nothing of the story. The name of Cleveland's friend [and father of his future wife] Oscar Folsom was central to the tale. Halpin had named her infant Oscar Folsom Cleveland.

"Although Cleveland never acknowledged the child to be his, as we see, he had contributed to the boy's support. Possibly Miss Halpin did not know who the father was and had selected Cleveland because he was the most likely or because he was the only bachelor among the possibilities. Folsom was a man about town who sought his pleasures of the night. In all likelihood, Cleveland accepted responsibility because of his affection for Folsom, who was killed in a traffic accident in 1875. The gesture honored the memory of his friend and spared his widow and daughter from shame.

"Because the Telegraph had a reputation as a scandal sheet, many people dismissed its lurid report. But the creditable Boston Journal was another matter. It sent to Buffalo a reporter who discovered confirmation of the damning account and published it. The principal source was the Reverend George H. Ball of the Hudson Street Free Baptist Church. Ball asserted that respectable people never allowed Cleveland into their homes, that he was a noted whoremonger, regularly frequenting Buffalo's fleshpots, and that his roistering and carousing were legendary. 'Women now married and anxious to cover the sins of their youth have been his victims, and are now alarmed lest their relations with him shall be exposed .... Abundant rumors implicate him at Albany, and well-authenticated facts convict him at Buffalo.' Ball insisted that the awful fate of Maria Halpin was not a solitary incident and that Cleveland even after becoming governor had not 'abated his lecheries.' Word spread that one night Cleveland was so drunk with his law partner Oscar Folsom that they lost control of the horses drawing their carriage and that that was how Folsom was thrown from it and killed.

"When Cleveland's longtime chum Charles Goodyear asked him what the Democrats' public response should be, Cleveland answered in a telegram that was simple and direct: 'Tell the truth,' three words that remain to this day the gold standard reply. ...

"[During the campaign] the Republican crowds that often paraded behind baby carriages [to draw attention to the scandal] sometimes chanted:

" 'Ma! Ma! Where's my pa?
Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.' "

[Cleveland was deeply hurt by what he considered a betrayal by his enemies in Buffalo and returned to the city only three more times in his life.]

Grover Cleveland (The American Presidents Series)
Author: Henry F. Graff
Publisher: Times Books
Copyright 2002 Henry F. Graff
Pages: 61-64

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