Friday, October 31st, 2003

In the Underground Forum (a mixed martial arts discussion forum), I stumbled across a short video of a truly spectacular arm-bar, from standing, pulled off in judo competition.

I also stumbled across an article on Yoshida, a judo star who has joined Pride, the renowned Japanese MMA promotion:

Yoshida, 33, came to MMA after winning the gold medal in judo at 172 pounds in the 1992 Olympics. The gold medal only tells part of the story. Yoshida won all six matches via ippon, fighting just 16:21 total in what was regarded as an incredible performance at the time. More impressive was that in 1992, when he competed at 172, he once faced Naoya Ogawa, who ended up winning the silver at 286 pounds in the same Olympics. Giving up more than 100 pounds, he defeated Ogawa. In 1996 in Atlanta, moving up to 190 pounds, he placed fifth, competing with a bad knee. However, the idea that this guy is some judo guy who peaked more than a decade ago wouldn’t be fair, since he was world champion in 1999 and a gold medal favorite in 2000. He ended up suffering a broken arm in the Olympics that year and was unable to continue in the tournament. With the next Olympics not until 2004, he retired from judo, and quickly was offered a $250,000 signing bonus by Pride, looking for a national sports hero to add to its stable.

Yoshida won a controversial bout against Royce Gracie when the ref declared Yoshida the winner by choke — before Gracie tapped. He then beat Don Frye by arm-bar — dislocating his elbow before he could tap. His third match lasted less than a minute. He guillotine-choked Satake without wasting a moment — and without putting on enough of a show for the Pride promoters’ taste.

I have to catch this Yoshida guy in action.

Halloween Costume Trips Airport Detector

Thursday, October 30th, 2003

Amusing. Halloween Costume Trips Airport Detector:

Eric Velleca, 28, was pulled off his United Airlines flight to Chicago and questioned by investigators on Wednesday while a bomb squad inspected the trunk carrying three costumes patterned after the outfits worn in the film ‘Ghostbusters.’

The trunk contained PVC pipes, radios, cell phones, batteries with wires attached and car distributor caps to be used to assemble the ‘proton packs’ for costumes he and two friends were planning to wear for a Friday party.

The materials set off the security device and the trunk was rushed to a remote section of the airport. Officials had discussed blowing up the trunk but decided against it, Velleca said.

Rio Police Undress to Bust Beach Crime

Thursday, October 30th, 2003

Is this real, or is this a new show on UPN? From Rio Police Undress to Bust Beach Crime:

By stripping down to swimtrunks or bikinis and mixing with bathers, a special 50-member Rio de Janeiro police unit will combat rampant beach crime in Brazil’s tourist mecca from next weekend, state security officials said on Wednesday.

Left behind

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, authors of No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, point out a number of alarming facts in Left behind:

The student body of Cedarbrook Middle School in a Philadelphia suburb is one-third black, two-thirds white. The town has a very low poverty rate, good schools, and a long-established black middle class. But in an eighth-grade advanced algebra class that a reporter visited in June 2001, there was not a single black student. The class in which the teacher was explaining that the 2 in number 21 stands for 20, though, was 100 percent black. A few black students were taking accelerated English, but no whites were sitting in the English class that was learning to identify verbs.

The Cedarbrook picture is by no means unique. In fact, it is all too familiar. Here in Massachusetts, where the high school class of 2005 has begun the MCAS testing process, the gap is crystal clear. On the first try, 82 percent of white 10th-graders passed, and the figure for Asians was almost as high (77 percent). But the success rate for Hispanics was 42 percent and for blacks 47 percent. Across the nation, the glaring racial gap is between whites and Asians on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics on the other.

An interesting counter-point they acknowledge:

True, the black high-school graduation rate has more than doubled since 1960, and blacks today attend college at a higher rate than whites did just two decades ago.

The numbers, Thernstrom and Thernstrom say, are “heartbreaking”:

  • On the nation’s most reliable tests, the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), the typical black or Hispanic student at age 17 is scoring less well than at least 80 percent of his or her white classmates. On average, these non-Asian minority students are four years behind whites and Asians. They are, in effect, finishing high school with a junior-high education.
  • In five of the seven subjects tested by NAEP, a majority of black 17-year-olds perform in the lowest category: Below Basic. In math the figure is almost seven out of 10; in science it is more than three out of four. A majority of black students do not have even a “partial” mastery of the “fundamental” knowledge and skills expected of students in the 12th grade. (Hispanic students at the end of high school do somewhat better than their black classmates, but they too are far behind their white and Asian peers.) Though approximately two-thirds of black and Hispanic students go on to college, a great many are clearly entering higher education unprepared for true college-level work.
  • The news is no better at the top of the scale. Nearly half of all whites and close to 40 percent of Asians in the 12th-grade rank in the top two NAEP categories — Proficient and Advanced — in reading. Less than one-fifth of blacks and one-quarter of Hispanics achieve those levels. In science and math, a mere 3 percent of blacks and 4 to 7 percent of Hispanics display Proficient or Advanced knowledge and skills at the end of high school, in contrast to 7 to 10 times as many whites and Asians. And at the very top, only 0.2 percent of black students perform at a level rated Advanced in math. The figure is 11 times higher for whites and 37 times higher for Asians. Again, Hispanic students are only slightly ahead of blacks.
  • Black students were even farther behind a quarter of a century ago, when NAEP data first became available. But the modest progress that occurred during the 1980s has largely come to an end, and there are some indications that the racial gap is widening. Thus, current trends offer no grounds for complacency.

The authors note too that social class (including parental income, education, and place of residence) only accounts for one-third of the racial difference between non-Asian minorities and whites.

The solution? Better schools. Yeah, great insight.

The Opt-Out Revolution

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

While running some errands at lunch today, I caught Lisa Belkin discussing her article, The Opt-Out Revolution, on NPR:

Wander into any Starbucks in any Starbucks kind of neighborhood in the hours after the commuters are gone. See all those mothers drinking coffee and watching over toddlers at play? If you look past the Lycra gym clothes and the Internet-access cellphones, the scene could be the 50′s, but for the fact that the coffee is more expensive and the mothers have M.B.A.’s.

We’ve gotten so used to the sight that we’ve lost track of the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to be. Women — specifically, educated professional women — were supposed to achieve like men. Once the barriers came down, once the playing field was leveled, they were supposed to march toward the future and take rightful ownership of the universe, or at the very least, ownership of their half. The women’s movement was largely about grabbing a fair share of power — making equal money, standing at the helm in the macho realms of business and government and law. It was about running the world.
Arguably, the barriers of 40 years ago are down. Fifty percent of the undergraduate class of 2003 at Yale was female; this year’s graduating class at Berkeley Law School was 63 percent women; Harvard was 46 percent; Columbia was 51. Nearly 47 percent of medical students are women, as are 50percent of undergraduate business majors (though, interestingly, about 30percent of M.B.A. candidates). They are recruited by top firms in all fields. They start strong out of the gate.

And then, suddenly, they stop. Despite all those women graduating from law school, they comprise only 16 percent of partners in law firms. Although men and women enter corporate training programs in equal numbers, just 16 percent of corporate officers are women, and only eight companies in the Fortune 500 have female C.E.O.’s. Of 435 members of the House of Representatives, 62 are women; there are 14 women in the 100-member Senate.
The talk of this new decade is less about the obstacles faced by women than it is about the obstacles faced by mothers. As Joan C. Williams, director of the Program on WorkLife Law at American University, wrote in the Harvard Women’s Law Journal last spring, ”Many women never get near” that glass ceiling, because ”they are stopped long before by the maternal wall.”
Look at Harvard Business School. A survey of women from the classes of 1981, 1985 and 1991 found that only 38 percent were working full time. [...] Of white men with M.B.A.’s, 95 percent are working full time, but for white women with M.B.A.’s, that number drops to 67 percent.
Why don’t women run the world?

Maybe it’s because they don’t want to.

The 10-hour battle for Curly, Larry and Moe

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

I just become aware of this Telegraph story describing how American forces took three objectives — named Curly, Larry, and Moe — within Baghdad back in April. A few highlights from The 10-hour battle for Curly, Larry and Moe:

At about 7.20am, Bravo Tank Company reached Larry and immediately came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Lt Hunter Bowers, 23, the rugby-playing commander of White platoon, was first on the radio. ‘My lead tank’s been hit. He’s on fire on top of the overpass.’

As flames took hold on the back of the turret, ammunition inside started ‘cooking off’ — blowing up. Thanks to the strengthened doors of the ammunition compartment, Staff Sgt James Lawson and his crew were finally able to escape, dousing the flames with fire extinguishers. The men were alive, badly shaken, but still able to fight.

For the next 10 hours, they had no choice but to do so. Wave after wave of seemingly suicidal soldiers, driving civilian cars, trucks and even buses, armed only with AK47s and RPGs, threw themselves at the US tanks.

These fighters were, in large part, Syrians. ‘They drove straight at you at 70 miles an hour, one after the other,’ said Lt Mike Martin, 24. ‘They would see about a dozen or more cars already on fire, but that wouldn’t put them off.’
Engineers went out in ACEs – armoured combat earthmovers — to shift the wreckage, giving the tanks a clear line of fire and allowing vehicles from other units to push further up the line.

Sgt Jason Reis, 23, from Pennsylvania, returned with his ACE sporting five dents where AK47 bullets had failed to penetrate. Days later he was still shocked, but not by the bullets. “There were bodies burning,” he said. “You could smell them and you had to move them out of the way. There were arms and legs lying on the road.”
“Just about every vehicle took three or four RPG hits. They were everywhere. They were even firing from the mosque.

“We fought all day and night and took out about 300 [enemy soldiers]. They would come on foot in waves, three at a time. It was almost comical. These guys would be trying to dodge 25mm high-explosive rounds from the Bradleys, which take out everything in a five-metre radius.”
Sgt Major “Blackhawk Bob” Gallagher, a former special forces solder and veteran of the infamous “Black Hawk Down” mission in Somalia, quickly lived up to his other nickname, the “Metal Magnet”. An RPG exploded nearby, causing a shrapnel wound to his ankle, to add to the collection begun in Mogadishu — bullet wounds in both arms and shrapnel in his back. Sgt Major Gallagher, 40, remained standing and carried on firing, ignoring the medics bandaging his legs.
About 750 of his men had faced 900 enemy fighters. The only American fatalities were the two men killed when the fuel train was ambushed. There were 30 American casualties.

Public Choice: Politics Without Romance

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

In Public Choice: Politics Without Romance, James Buchanan, winner of the 1986 Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics at George Mason University, explains public choice theory, a field he developed:

Nations emerging from World War II, including the Western democracies, were allocating between one-third and one-half of their total product through political institutions rather than through markets. Economists, however, were devoting their efforts almost exclusively to understanding and explaining the market sector. My own modest first entry into the subject matter, in 1949, was little more than a call for those economists who examined taxes and spending to pay some attention to empirical reality, and thus to politics.


Here it is necessary to appreciate the prevailing mindset of social scientists and philosophers at the midpoint of the 20th century when public choice arose. The socialist ideology was pervasive, and was supported by the allegedly neutral research programme called ‘theoretical welfare economics’, which concentrated on identifying the failures of observed markets to meet idealised standards. In sum, this branch of inquiry offered theories of market failure. But failure in comparison with what? The implicit presumption was always that politicised corrections for market failures would work perfectly. In other words, market failures were set against an idealised politics.

Public choice then came along and provided analyses of the behavior of persons acting politically, whether voters, politicians or bureaucrats. These analyses exposed the essentially false comparisons that were then informing so much of both scientific and public opinion. In a very real sense, public choice became a set of theories of governmental failures, as an offset to the theories of market failures that had previously emerged from theoretical welfare economics. Or, as I put it in the title of a lecture in Vienna in 1978, public choice may be summarised by the three-word description, ‘politics without romance’.

The consequences of joining the club

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

Japan transformed from an isolated island empire to a modern naval empire remarkably quickly. Jonathan Mirsky reviews Ian Buruma’s Inventing Japan: From Empire to Economic Miracle, 1853-1964:

It is the considerable achievement of Ian Buruma’s book that he eloquently describes Japan’s progression from a seemingly closed country, forced open in 1853 by an American flotilla of “black ships” that sailed into Tokyo harbour, to 1964 when, as Buruma puts it, “Japan rejoined the world” by putting on the Olympics and showing that it was peaceful and democratic.


From the 17th century Japan was ruled by a samurai government in Edo, now Tokyo, led by the Shogun in the name of a figurehead emperor in Kyoto. These samurai, however, were not mere muscle-men and Japan was not wholly “closed”. As Buruma says, they “knew more about the West than most other Asians”, including detailed maps of the US, Western science, economies, and military affairs. All this was based on “Dutch learning”, extracted from the tiny group of traders from Holland, the only foreigners permitted to live in Japan.

In the mid-19th century, an increasingly wealthy merchant class and some go-ahead samurai, aware that the West was dismembering China and that the shogunate was rotting away, concluded that it was the discipline of Christianity that made the West strong; they resolved that they too must devise a religion that would cement national unity. They reinvented the notion of a divine emperor — an ancient belief related to a nature cult with numerous gods — and cobbled this to Western ideas of nationalism, a modern army, colonialism, and Germanic state worship. Buruma states that emperor worship “was as phony as the Gothic inventions in Wilhelminian Germany”, which the new nationalists admired. These modernisers “managed to pick some of the worst, most bellicose aspects of the Western world for emulation in Japan”. This dangerously mobilising ideology, Buruma shows throughout his compact, learned book, was to be the model for the next century. In 1868, the samurai oligarchs who overthrew the no longer fearsome shogunate and established the Meiji emperor in Edo, now named Tokyo, were “steeped in the samurai ethos of loyalty, obedience, and military discipline”. They were determined to make Japan rich, powerful, and resistant to democratic values for which they — and their Western admirers — insisted Japanese were not suited.

Armed with this set of beliefs, the new Japan defeated China in 1895 and Russia in 1905, and set out on the road to a disastrous world war in the early Thirties. “Together with millions of lives buried under the wreckage of war, a particular idea of Japan, both modern and archaic, Western and nativist, destructive of others and of the Japanese themselves, lay buried, too, one hoped forever.” As Buruma shows, these ideas may have been buried but they stir still.

Toddlers Have Bad Eating Habits

Saturday, October 25th, 2003

Hey, who are we to tell toddlers what to eat? Toddlers Have Bad Eating Habits:

A new study of more than 3,000 youngsters found significant numbers of infants and toddlers are downing french fries, pizza, candy and soda.
Up to a third of the children under 2 consumed no fruits or vegetables, according to the survey. And for those who did have a vegetable, french fries were the most common selection for children 15 months and older.

Nine percent of children 9 months to 11 months old ate fries at least once per day. For those 19 months to 2 years old, more than 20 percent had fries daily.

Hot dogs, sausage and bacon also were daily staples for many children — 7 percent in the 9-to-11 month group, and 25 percent in the older range.

More than 60 percent of 12-month-olds had dessert or candy at least once per day, and 16 percent ate a salty snack. Those numbers rose to 70 percent and 27 percent by age 19 months.

Thirty to 40 percent of the children 15 months and up had a sugary fruit drink each day, and about 10 percent had soda.

I don’t think I even need to comment on this part:

Shortcomings were more pronounced for families receiving financial assistance through the federal Women, Infants and Children program, the study found. More than 40 percent of WIC toddlers did not eat any fruit on the survey day, and those children also drank more sweetened drinks.

You Press the Button, We Do the Rest

Friday, October 24th, 2003

You Press the Button, We Do the Rest tells the story of George Eastman and the original Kodak camera:

At 21 he had a job at the Rochester Savings Bank that paid him $1,000 a year, a middle-class income. In 1877 he was prosperous enough to plan a trip to Santo Domingo, and he bought a camera to take along, paying $49.58, according to his meticulously kept personal accounts. He got more than just a camera. Indeed, he also got, according to a letter he wrote in 1891, “a tripod, plus plates, paper, boxes for storing negatives, and a tent that he could set up as a darkroom, also the furnishings of a small chemistry laboratory — nitrate of silver, acetate soda, chlorides of gold, sodium, and iron, collodion, varnish, alcohol….” To learn how to use all this paraphernalia, he spent five dollars taking lessons.

As chance would have it, just as Eastman was learning the wet collodion process, photography was taking one of its great technological leaps. Dry plates, in which the light-sensitive chemicals are suspended in a thin coating of gelatin, could be stored until needed and stored after exposure until processed. Most of the stuff Eastman had had to buy with his camera would no longer be necessary.

He read about the new process in an article in the March 1878 edition of the British Journal of Photography, to which he had subscribed just the previous month. It was almost a eureka moment for the young man. He at once began tinkering with dry-plate emulsions for his own use, and he quickly realized that while wet plates could only be assembled as needed, dry plates could be manufactured. He decided to do exactly that.
George Eastman, who was still working full-time for the Rochester Savings Bank, soon developed an emulsion formula that he thought superior to any then available and created a machine for coating glass plates with it. He began manufacturing dry plates in a loft over a music store and made about $4,000 selling them in 1879 and 1880. The next year he quit his job and went to work full-time running the Eastman Dry Plate Company.

Glass, heavy and delicate, had numerous drawbacks as a substrate for light-sensitive chemicals. Plus, a fresh plate had to go into the camera for each exposure, requiring elaborate mechanisms to avoid exposing it to light during the loading and removal. Research was under way in many places to find a replacement for glass, centering on the use of nitrocellulose, or film, which was not only much lighter than glass but could be rolled around a spool, allowing multiple exposures before reloading.

Eastman and his coworkers realized that the keys to success in the photographic materials business would be film, the equipment needed to manufacture it, and the roll holder around which it would be wound. Eastman bent all his company’s efforts to developing the best in each category, patenting everything in sight as he did so.

He was soon a major player in the aborning business of photographic materials. But that was nevertheless a very small market. The average person still regarded photography as a miracle, and many of the professionals clung to the old glass plates. So Eastman decided to create a whole new market. “When we started out with our scheme of film photography, we expected that everybody who used glass plates would take up film,” he wrote much later. “But we found that the number which did so was relatively small. In order to make a large business we would have to reach the general public and create a new class of patron.”

In 1887 Eastman developed a new camera that he hoped would find a mass market. At a mere 63/4 by 33/4 by 33/4 inches, it was a small fraction of the size of the camera he had bought 10 years earlier, and it cost half as much. He named it the Kodak because he liked the letter K, wanted a name that both began and ended with it, and wanted a word that was unique and easily remembered.

Unlike that first camera of his, the Kodak came loaded with a roll of film that could take 100 photographs. Then the owner simply sent the camera and film back to Eastman, who returned it with the finished prints and a new roll of film in the camera. George Eastman had invented the photo-finishing business.

One more piece of the puzzle was needed to make photography a mass-market business. Eastman had to convince the public that it could handle what had always been a very complicated technology. He turned the trick with what is universally regarded as one of the greatest slogans in advertising history: “You press the button, we do the rest.” The new Kodak was a sensation, and George Eastman became fabulously rich.

Researchers Find Possible New Antibiotic

Friday, October 24th, 2003

Researchers Find Possible New Antibiotic:

U.S. researchers said on Thursday they had developed a new class of antibiotic that could potentially be developed into a new drug to fight increasingly drug-resistant bacteria.

The compounds, known by the experimental name CBR703, act in a unique way to keep bacteria from reproducing, according to the team at the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University and privately held Cumbre Inc. of Dallas, Texas.

Writing in the journal Science, they said the compounds inhibit RNA polymerase, the key enzyme used by cells to help genes express — or to turn their genetic code into a protein that does something.

Now all we need is a drug company to pump billions of dollars into its development — even though the FDA will probably restrict its use to those cases where other drugs didn’t work.

Chiang Kai-Shek’s Widow Dies at 106

Friday, October 24th, 2003

Madame Chiang Kai-shek died yesterday — in New York. At age 106. There’s a lot I didn’t know about her. From Chiang Kai-Shek’s Widow Dies at 106:

Madame Chiang Kai-shek, once the most powerful woman in China, has died in her sleep aged 106 in her home in New York, finally bringing down the curtain on one of the most turbulent chapters of Chinese history.
A devout Christian educated at the elite Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she was born Soong May-ling in southern China and married Chiang Kai-shek in 1927, as he was crushing warlord armies to unify China under Nationalist rule.

She became her husband’s spokeswoman and China’s voice to the outside world, charming the American public with her impeccable English, spoken with a southern U.S. accent, elegant silk dresses and extravagant jewelry.

During World War II, Madame Chiang brought the U.S. congress to its feet with a passionate appeal for anti-Japanese aid. Her political adeptness as a roving ambassador for the war-ravaged country led the foreign press to dub her “the brains of China.”

She helped to establish the Nationalist air force and reached the pinnacle of her power in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when she influenced policy and strategy as Nationalist forces battled Japanese occupation troops.
Those who have met her say Madame Chiang’s charisma was matched only by her toughness. At a White House dinner with President Franklin Roosevelt she was asked about a troublesome U.S. union leader and how her government would deal with him.

The diminutive Madame Chiang silently drew a delicate finger across her throat.

She stole the limelight from her husband at the World War II Cairo conference attended by Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, intervening frequently with: “If you allow me, I shall put before you the generalissimo’s true thoughts.”

Icelandic skipper kills shark with bare hands

Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

Icelandic skipper kills shark with bare hands:

An Icelandic fishing captain, known as “the Iceman” for his tough character, grabbed a 300 kg shark with his bare hands as it swam in shallow water towards his crew, a witness said today.

The skipper of the trawler “Erik the Red” was on a beach in Kuummiit, east Greenland, watching his crew processing a catch when he saw the shark swimming towards the fish blood and guts — and his men.

Captain Sigurdur Petursson, known to locals as “the Iceman”, ran into the shallow water and grabbed the shark by its tail. He dragged it off to dry land and killed it with his knife.

“He caught it just with his hands. There was a lot of blood in the sea and the shark came in and he thought it was dangerous,” Frede Kilime, a hunter and fisherman who watched from the beach, told Reuters by phone from Greenland.

Icelandic author and journalist Reynir Traustason, who knows the trawler captain, said the act was typical of the man.

“He’s called ‘the Iceman’ because he isn’t scared of anything,” he said. “I know the people in that part of the world. They are really tough.”

‘Designer Steroid’ Rocking Sports World

Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

It appears that athletes have been using a new steroid — or steroid-like substance — that disintegrates during the standard testing process. From ‘Designer Steroid’ Rocking Sports World:

Already, Europe’s fastest man — 100-meter champion Dwain Chambers of Britain — has admitted taking tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG. Other athletes — including sluggers Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi and boxer Shane Mosley — have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating the nutritional supplement company at the center of the unfolding case.
THG’s chemical components are similar to those of most banned steroids, but with an insidious twist: THG disintegrates during the standard testing process, foiling even the skilled doping detectives who hunt for steroids in urine samples, said Dr. Don Catlin of the University of California, Los Angeles Olympic Analytical Laboratory.

Jihad Slavery

Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

Jihad Slavery describes an episode from the modern slave trade in Sudan:

That day, the Catholic boy nicknamed Piol, for rain, lost his childhood and world to the murahaliin. After torching the nearby villages and slaying their inhabitants, 20 light-skinned Juur horsemen charged into Nyamlell. They severed the heads of all Dinka men with single sword strokes, left them rolling in the blood-soaked market dust and stole off Piol’s older friends Abuk, Kwol and Nyabol in different directions. A rifleman permanently silenced a crying girl with a bullet to her head. A swordsman more “mercifully” sliced off her sister’s leg at the thigh like the branch of a small tree. Francis tried to flee. Terror squelched his cries. He was halted at gunpoint, grabbed and slung astride a small saddle, crafted specifically to carry abducted children, and ridden far north.

This is not a new phenomenon of course.

Islam captured and enslaved probably millions of children — under the Seljuks and Ottomans, over 500 years, in Greece, Serbia, North Africa, India and over 1,400 years of Islamic history wherever Islam reigned. This would explain the surreal quality reverberating through this moving Drina passage:
It was already the sixth year since the last collection of this tribute of blood, and so this time the choice had been easy and rich; The necessary number of healthy, bright and good looking lads between ten and fifteen years old had been found without difficulty, even though many parents had hidden their children in the forest, taught them how to appear half-witted, clothed them in rags and let them get filthy, to avoid the aga’s choice. Some went so far as to maim their own children, cutting off one of their fingers with an ax….A little way behind the last horses in that strange convoy straggled, disheveled and exhausted, many parents and relatives of those children who were being carried away forever to a foreign world, where they would be circumcised, become Turkish, and forgetting their faith, their country and their origin, would pass their lives in the ranks of the janissaries or in some other, higher, service of the Empire. They were for the most part women, mothers, grandmothers and sisters of the stolen children. When they came too close, the aga’s horsemen would drive them away with whips, urging their horses at them with loud cries to Allah….. The mothers were especially persistent and hard to restrain. Some would rush forward not looking where they were going with bare breasts and disheveled hair, forgetting everything about them, wailing and lamenting as at a burial, while others almost out of their minds moaned as if their wounds were being torn by birth pangs, and blinded with tears, ran right onto the horsemen’s whips and replied to every blow with the fruitless question: “Where are you taking him? Why are you taking him from me?”

Where many went, their mothers would not like to have known: Throughout Islamic history, boys’ darkest use was as eunuchs. Islamic trade in castrated male slaves persisted until Europe pressured the Ottomans to stop in the 19th century. But from the 8th century onward, writes historian Jan Hagendorn, supplies came from “foreigners,” stolen and forced under the knife at long distances from their final markets — to limit transportation costs to the 10% or so who survived.

“Exports” came primarily from central and eastern European forest areas the Muslims called “Bilad as-Saqaaliba,” (or “slave country,”); central Asian steppes called “Bilad al-Attak” (or “Turks’ country,”); and eventually, most prominently, savannahs and wooded fringes south of the Sahara, called country of the blacks or “Bilad as-Sudan.”