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March 28, 2008

Diversions: Literary Action Figures

Who wouldn’t want to own their own literary action figure? Check these out at Teptronics.

Charles Dickens Action Figure.jpg

Edgar Allan Poe Action Figure.jpg

Shakespeare Action Figure.jpg


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March 25, 2008

Earth Hour 2008: See the Difference You Can Make

Unplug it for ONE HOUR, 8 PM - March 29, 2008: unplug it for One hour

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March 20, 2008

Read: Cooked Books by Tyler Cowen

Why are we still surprised when “non-fiction” is less than truthful? - From The New Republic

Even if you are a Wikipedia fan who thinks the site is usually accurate, you can’t help but feel that there’s an implicit marker on all the content: “Maybe this is correct.” That “maybe” is what sticks in the craws of so many people. Teachers often insist that their students cannot cite Wikipedia. Journalists and academics are embarrassed to admit they use it, and most would not consider writing for it. But if your goal is to improve human understanding, isn’t one of the world’s top websites a better outlet than University of Nebraska Press?

The old model of publishing non-fiction, borrowed largely from academia, promised a straightforward result. You picked up an academic journal to find the latest word on French tax farming in the 18th century. You knew that what you were getting was tried, tested, vetted, and replicated, at least as much as was humanly possible. You thought of the author as laying small bricks for subsequent scientific advances. But this model of knowledge accretion never had the accuracy it pretended to. If I had to guess whether Wikipedia or the median refereed journal article on economics was more likely to be true, after a not so long think I would opt for Wikipedia. This comparison should give us pause.

The issues of trust and accuracy have come to the fore lately with the “revelation” that a number of published autobiographies are little more than fiction. Most notably, Margaret B. Jones’s acclaimed new memoir Love and Consequences was discovered to be fraudulent; a week before that, Misha Defonseca’s European bestseller Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, first published in 1997, was admitted to be a fabrication. Ms. Defonseca had told tales about running from the Nazis, living with wolves (really), and searching for her deported parents across Europe. Last month the author confessed that most of the story, including her identity, was simply made up.


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March 19, 2008

Watch: Crayon Physics Deluxe from Kloonigames

Don’t normally get excited about computer games. This video demo has me mesmorized. No wonder it won an award at this year’s Game Developer Conference.

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March 18, 2008

Read: Kingsley Amis on Drink

Excerpt from Bookforum.com; article by Alexander Waugh

Amis drank like a proverbial fish from boyhood through adulthood. In his early days, when he was poor and unrecognized, he went for whatever gave the most alcohol for the smallest amount of money. This method is known in England as “drinking the park-bench bottle,” because it is by looking under park benches, where the tramps have left their empties, that one may discover, without having to work it out for oneself, which drink gets one drunkest for the fewest pennies. Young Amis discovered for himself that for twenty-five old pennies he could get himself plastered on three barley wines, a pint of rough cider, and a small whisky. As his means improved, he moved on to beer as his daily tipple and from beer advanced to Scotch whisky, of which he drank so much that by the late ’70s, his monthly bill for the stuff was one thousand pounds. “Scotch whisky is my desert-island drink,” he said. “I mean not only that it is my favorite but that for me it comes nearer than anything else to being a drink for all occasions and all times of day.” Like most writers, however distinguished, Amis was not a particularly rich man. “If I had pots of money,” he used to say, “the only thing I would buy is people to carry me around.”

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Watch: Tent Cities in the City of Angels

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March 14, 2008

Read: Magical Thinking - Psychology Today

Even hard-core skeptics can’t help but find sympathy in the fabric of the universe—and occasionally try to pull its strings. By: Matthew Hutson

Last year John Lennon went on tour. He visited, among other locations, Oklahoma City, Waco, New Orleans, and Virginia Tech, spreading a message of peace and love at the sites of tragic events. You may not have recognized him, though, covered in scars and cigarette burns. But to hear him, there would have been no mistaking his presence.

On this journey, Lennon assumed the form of a piano, specifically the one on which he composed Imagine. “It gives off his spirit, and what he believed in, and what he preached for many years,” says Caroline True, the tour director and a colleague of the Steinway’s current owner, singer George Michael. Free of velvet ropes, it could be touched or played by anyone. According to Libra LaGrone, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, “It was like sleeping in your grandpa’s sweatshirt at night. Familiar, beautiful, and personal.”

“I never went anywhere saying this is a magic piano and it’s going to cure your ills,” True says. But she consistently saw even the most skeptical hearts warm to the experience—even in Virginia, where the piano landed just a month after the massacre. “I had no idea an inanimate object could give people so much.”

Maybe you’re not a Beatles fan. Maybe you even hate peace and love. But you are wired to find meaning in the world, a predisposition that leaves you with less control over your beliefs than you may think. Even if you’re a hard-core atheist who walks under ladders and pronounces “new age” like “sewage,” you believe in magic.

Magical thinking springs up everywhere. Some irrational beliefs (Santa Claus?) are passed on to us. But others we find on our own. Survival requires recognizing patterns—night follows day, berries that color will make you ill. And because missing the obvious often hurts more than seeing the imaginary, our skills at inferring connections are overtuned. No one told Wade Boggs that eating chicken before every single game would help his batting average; he decided that on his own, and no one can argue with his success. We look for patterns because we hate surprises and because we love being in control.


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March 13, 2008

American Review of Books: The 100 best last lines from Novels

The American Book Review has made their list of the 100 best last lines from novels available online. Who do you think should have won?

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March 10, 2008

going green in style

Rosaleah Brown (in green pumps) prepared to pedal up Mass. Ave. in Cambridge to a meeting as part of the Green Streets Initiative ~ a grassroots organization of people from Cambridge and surrounding cities who celebrate, promote, and advocate for the use of alternative transportation. (Globe Staff Photo / Mark Wilson)

Rosaleah Brown Green Streets.bmp

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Read: An unsanitised history of washing by Katherine Ashenburg

To modern Westerners life without showers is unimaginable, but mankind somehow survived before the advent of soap and deodorants by Katherine Ashenburg

For the modern, middle-class North American, “clean” means that you shower and apply deodorant each and every day without fail. For the aristocratic 17th-century Frenchman, it meant that he changed his linen shirt daily and dabbled his hands in water, but never touched the rest of his body with water or soap. For the Roman in the first century, it involved two or more hours of splashing, soaking and steaming the body in water of various temperatures, raking off sweat and oil with a metal scraper, and giving himself a final oiling - all done daily, in company and without soap.

Even more than in the eye or the nose, cleanliness exists in the mind of the beholder. Every culture defines it for itself, choosing what it sees as the perfect point between squalid and over-fastidious.


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the view from our living-room window

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We’ve been in our new home now for about three weeks. It’s taking us much longer than we thought to unpack and find a place for all our stuff. We’re encouraged by the signs of spring in our garden. Each of our three Camellia trees are starting to bloom.

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March 4, 2008

Literary Fraud: Margaret Seltzer

Read the New York Times: Lies and Consequences: Tracking the Fallout of (Another) Literary Fraud By MOTOKO RICH

One day after the author of “Love and Consequences” confessed that she had made up the memoir about her supposed life as a foster child in gang-infested South-Central Los Angeles, the focus turned to her publisher and the credulous news organizations that helped publicize what appeared to be a searing autobiography.

Geoffrey Kloske, publisher of Riverhead Books, the unit of Penguin Group USA that released the book, by Margaret Seltzer, under a pseudonym, Margaret B. Jones, said on Tuesday that there was nothing else that he or Sarah McGrath, the book’s editor, could have done to prevent the author from lying.

“In hindsight we can second-guess all day things we could have looked for or found,” Mr. Kloske said. “The fact is that the author went to extraordinary lengths: she provided people who acted as her foster siblings. There was a professor who vouched for her work, and a writer who had written about her that seemed to corroborate her story.” He added that Ms. Seltzer had signed a contract in which she had legally promised to tell the truth. “The one thing we wish,” Mr. Kloske said, “is that the author had told us the truth.”

Follow the sad saga on Gawker.

And finally, read Margaret’s Penguin Group interview that would have been part of her media package for the book tour.

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Meet Evangeline Mudd

Evangeline Books1.jpg

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Evangeline Mudd might possibly be the luckiest girl in the world. After all, how many kids have parents who encourage them to swing from the dining room chandeliers or eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with their feet?

Evangeline’s parents, Merriweather and Magdelana Mudd, are not your typical mother and father. They’re primatologists.

Enter the magical world of children’s author, David Elliott.

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