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October 30, 2013

The Wages Of Destruction

America's key economic advantage -- perhaps -- is that it has the largest "internal" market of any country in the world. It is the third most populated country in the world, with citizens that are far wealthier in the aggregate than those in China and India -- the only two countries larger than the U.S. This advantage in size and affluence means that American companies can become the largest in the world simply by selling to Americans -- thus gaining the advantage of scale that allows them to dominate globally, writes Adam Toze.

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October 27, 2013

Genghis Khan

The Mongols did not just conquer, they completely levelled
the civilizations they conquered, writes Cecelia Holland.

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October 23, 2013

Thucydides

Thucydides was the ancient Greek historian who wrote of the wars of Sparta and Athens and who took the practice of writing history from the realm of mythology to the realistic examination of human motives. But like so many modern academics, he used prose that was unnecessarily difficult. And his most famous phrase, and his most famous phrase "The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must" -- is most likely a slight mistranslation, writes Mary Beard.

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October 20, 2013

Carole King

For thirteen-year-old Carole King, later to become a musical superstar with such songs as "You've Got a Friend," "It's Too Late" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," the stirrings of sexual
awakening were accompanied by the sounds of the Penguins' new 1955 hit song "Earth Angel'', writes Sheila Weller.

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October 16, 2013

How The Merchants Of Venice Created Modern Finance

Many of the greatest inventors of the past few centuries are well-known -- Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and James Watt. However, on a short list of mankind's most pervasive and
transformational inventions is one whose inventor goes almost unnoticed -- Luca Pacioli and double-entry bookkeeping, writes Jane Gleeson-White.

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How The Merchants Of Venice Created Modern Finance

Many of the greatest inventors of the past few centuries are well-known -- Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and James Watt. However, on a short list of mankind's most pervasive and
transformational inventions is one whose inventor goes almost unnoticed -- Luca Pacioli and double-entry bookkeeping, writes Jane Gleeson-White.

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October 13, 2013

The Millionaire And The Mummies

Theodore Davis was one of the now-forgotten titans of the post-Civil War "Gilded Age" -- he was a confederate of Boss Tweed, a friend of Teddy Roosevelt, and a rival to
J.P. Morgan. An attorney from Iowa, he moved to New York to increase his wealth, primarily through fraudulent schemes arising from his law practice. One such fraudulent scheme involved Davis's client, The Bank of the Metropolis. Astonishingly, the National Bank Act of 1863 had given national banks the authority to print and issue currency
backed by the treasury (currency that was the successor to the U.S. "greenbacks" of 1862). Although it helped the U.S. to finance the Civil War (the alternative was loans from European Banks at rates as high as 24 to 36 percent), it led to
large scale fraud and speculation -- in which Davis was an all-too-eager participant, writes John M. Adams.

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The Millionaire And The Mummies

Theodore Davis was one of the now-forgotten titans of the post-Civil War "Gilded Age" -- he was a confederate of Boss Tweed, a friend of Teddy Roosevelt, and a rival to
J.P. Morgan. An attorney from Iowa, he moved to New York to increase his wealth, primarily through fraudulent schemes arising from his law practice. One such fraudulent scheme involved Davis's client, The Bank of the Metropolis. Astonishingly, the National Bank Act of 1863 had given national banks the authority to print and issue currency
backed by the treasury (currency that was the successor to the U.S. "greenbacks" of 1862). Although it helped the U.S. to finance the Civil War (the alternative was loans from European Banks at rates as high as 24 to 36 percent), it led to
large scale fraud and speculation -- in which Davis was an all-too-eager participant, writes John M. Adams.

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October 09, 2013

Forgotten Ally

After the abdication of the last Chinese emperor in 1912, the country had fragmented into the chaos of regional warlords. In 1921, it was Sun Yat-sen and his Nationalist party, based in Guangzhou and under the protection of a local warlord, who were most committed to trying to unify the country. But they lacked enough funding for an effort of that scale and unsuccessfully sought support from the European powers and Japan. They then turned to newly communist Russia. Why would Russia be interested in supporting a non-communist party in China? Because of its fear of Japan, which had unexpectedly won the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 -- the
first Asian power to ever overcome a European one. Russia knew that a fragmented China would not be an effective buffer against Japan, and was therefore willing to support the Nationalist party as long as it desisted in its efforts to crush
China's new and far-smaller Communist party. This created an opportunity that might not otherwise have existed for a young revolutionary named Mao Zedong. writes Rana Mitter.

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October 06, 2013

Women, Men And Body Language

Overall women are far more perceptive than men, write Allan and Barbara Pease.

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October 02, 2013

Killer On The Road

In the early 1970s, the conservative, older residents of the quiet coastal California town of Santa Cruz began to be overrun by hippies. To control them, they tried to crack down on their practice of hitchhiking. However, the real danger of
hitchhiking was almost never to the driver, it was to the hitcher, writes Ginger Strand.

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September 29, 2013

Hard Ball

In the late 1800s, the period when today's National and
American Leagues were founded, the rules of baseball were very different than they are today. And though the ball was just as hard as today's, the pitcher was closer, and gloves and other forms of protection were much more limited. writes Edward Achorn.

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September 25, 2013

A Contrarian History Of Marriage

Susan Squire highlights divorce customs - some ancient, some not.

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September 22, 2013

Girls Like Us

In startling contrast to today, in 1960 more than half of women were married before the age of twenty. But vast changes to marriage and the family were just over the horizon, and one of the key harbingers of this change was Enovid, which in 1961 became the first pill approved by the FDA for contraception. In 1961, Carly Simon -- later to achieve
worldwide fame with such songs as "Anticipation," "You're So Vain," and "Coming Around Again" -- was a freshman at Sarah Lawrence, one of America's elite women's colleges. By 1964 she was an apostle of this change -- she had dropped out of college, was defying convention by living with her boyfriend, and was taking Enovid, writes Sheila Weller.

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September 18, 2013

Beats And Bohemians

In the 1940s and 50s, faced with increasing competition from movies and television, Broadway increasingly turned to lavish musicals such as The King and I, The Sound of Music, Flower Drum Song, and South Pacific. That left less room for serious drama -- and faced with this reality the actors union decided to allow its members work in small theaters for reduced pay, restricting the size of the audience and the number of performances. And so that drama moved south to the smaller, dishevelled spaces of Greenwich Village -- and showcased promising young unknowns such as Ed Asner, Jerry Stiller, Jerry Orbach, and Bea Arthur and works by T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein and even Pablo Picasso, all chronicled by a new paper called the Village Voice, writes John Strausbaugh.

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September 15, 2013

The Art Of Character

The key to any relationship is to understand clearly what
the other person wants. This is true whether that person is a spouse, an employee, a boss, or a friend. It is a task that is made more difficult by the fact that many people don't truly understand what it is they want, or have many wants that contradict or compete with each other. But that difficulty does not lessen the importance of understanding those wants, both within yourself and within those people that are most important to you. It was the key insight of the founder of the "method" acting, the great acting teacher Constantin Stanislavski (1863-1938), that in this same spirit, understanding a fictional character's wants was the key to great acting and great dramatic writing, reveals David Corbett.

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September 11, 2013

Why Things Bounce Back

The internet was created by the U.S. military as a way
to preserve communications to missile silos in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack, writes Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy.

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September 08, 2013

Lords Of Finance

In the early 1920s, Germany experience the worst instance
of hyperinflation ever recorded -- it took a wheelbarrow to carry the billions of marks (German dollars) needed to buy a loaf of bread. Hyperinflation came because the German government printed trillions of marks. This was not "printing money" as the term is used today -- a misnomer describing the case where the Federal Reserve Bank directly buys U.S. bonds issued by the Treasury -- but instead a literal printing of money that created a major logistical operation involving "133 printing works with 1,783 machines ... and more than 30 paper mills." And it was not in the amounts sometimes "printed" by governments today -- perhaps 5 to 10% of GDP per annum -- but instead amounts that far exceeded 100% of GDP in a single year, writes Liaquat Ahamed.

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September 04, 2013

Little Girl Blue

In 1970, a new band formed by a young musical prodigy named Richard Carpenter, along with his sister Karen -- the band's drummer -- they had achieved enough modest success with their first album to be selected to perform a medley
of Burt Bacharach's songs as an opening act in his upcoming tour, writes Randy L. Schmidt.

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September 01, 2013

The Village

In April 1961, a few hundred young protestors took their
placards and guitars to Washington Square in Greenwich Village to protest a new ban on folksinging in that park. In retrospect (and in the 15 minute historical video linked below), it appears as it was -- a sweet, almost heartbreaking portrait of innocence and invincible youth lost. Yet it was the harbinger of a decade of escalating protests to come. Musicians had been playing in Washington Square for
at least a generation, but when blacks and "degenerate" folksingers began to come, neighbors complained. The folksingers' protest was ultimately successful, writes John Strausbaugh.

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August 28, 2013

Overcoming Dyslexia

Recent research using magnetic resonance imaging has provided neuroscientists with a clearer picture of which parts of the brain are responsible for reading and how the brain develops over time into a sophisticated reading machine, writes Sally Shaywitz.

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August 25, 2013

Statistics Versus Judgement

In his book Clinical vs. Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical Analysis and a Review of the Evidence, psychoanalyst Paul Meehl gave evidence that statistical models almost always yield
better predictions and diagnoses than the judgment of trained professionals. In fact, experts frequently give different answers when presented with the same information within a matter of a few minutes, writes Daniel Kahneman.

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August 21, 2013

How The Mob Owned Cuba And Then Lost It To The Revolution

Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) was the dashing Cuban
dictator who protected the monied elite, ignored the needs of the poor, and took bribes and graft totaling a reported $300 million. Fidel Castro (b. 1926) was the revolutionary who toppled Batista. Given their different paths, it is perhaps telling
to note that Batista was the one who grew up in stark poverty and Castro the one who came from prosperity and privilege, writes T.J. English.

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August 18, 2013

Freaks

P.T. Barnum was one of the best-known men in the world in
the nineteenth century. Though he is best remembered today for his reinvention of the circus, that came late in his life. His claim to fame during most of his career was the American Museum in lower Manhattan. There, among other things, he assembled the greatest collection of "freaks" in the world, and thirty-eight million paying visitors passed through his museum's doors during a time when the nation's population
was just above thirty million, writes Duncan Wall.

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August 14, 2013

Music And Language

One of the surprising characteristics of our species is
the power that music holds over us. It is often the case that a song can influence our emotional state and day-to-day lives more than the information we glean from articles and books. In Western societies we have lost the sense of the central
position that music once occupied in communal life, it is still central in most parts of the world today -- and there is no culture anywhere in the world that does not have music, and in which people do not join together to sing or dance.
In fact, some scientists reference what they view as an actual binding of nervous systems in communal music activities -- and view music as a critical instrument of social cohesion in society even if it is a neglected instrument in Western societies.
And though it is controversial, it should not be surprising that some scientists believe that in the evolutionary development of humans, music came before language and was a path to the development of language, writes Iain McGilchrist.

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August 11, 2013

Money

Over the last few thousand years, contrary to popular belief,
the predominate form of money was not gold or silver coins, but instead such things as clay tablets and -- in the case of England -- notched tally sticks. However, metal coins survive more readily than tablets and sticks, and so many historians
have falsely assumed that most money was in the form of coins. In the case of England, a lack of understanding of this led to the wholesale destruction of one of the most important collections of source material in the history of money -- and indirectly led to the construction of London's beautiful Houses of Parliament so familiar to us today, writes Felix Martin.

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August 07, 2013

Wilt: Larger Than Life

Although the Harlem Globetrotters are now the beloved clowns
of basketball who have played in front of 100 million spectators in 115 countries, it was not always that way. The team was founded at a time when professional basketball
was barely viable, players often played for more than one team, games were played in dance halls, and teams barnstormed to remote locations for meager paychecks.
The Globetrotters played their first game in 1927 in Hinckley, Illinois and the players earned $10 each. Blacks were barred from the NBA until 1950, so in their early years the Globetrotters were "a bastion of black athletic excellence" who
took on and defeated the best teams in the NBA, writes Robert Allen Cherry.

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August 04, 2013

My Song

At the end of 1956, generally conceded to be the cultural
birth year of rock 'n' roll, the best-selling album in America was not Elvis Presley or Elvis, it was Harry Belafonte's Calypso. Belafonte was one of America's most popular entertainers of the mid-twentieth century and parlayed his commercial success
into civil rights activism. Calypso music had come from Trinidad and Tobago, with roots in West African Kaiso music and the migration of French planters and their
slaves from Martinique and Dominica.

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July 31, 2013

Republic Of Debtors

"Is failing to pay a debt a moral failure and criminal matter
that should be punished by jail or worse? Or is it instead a contractual matter, the province of civil courts and the risk management practices of lenders? This question has never fully been settled in any society, and individuals have disagreed
vehemently on the issue. And since widespread lending to individuals has existed since the very beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia, this debate is one of the oldest and most central that societies continually face. In fact, some see
this question as the very foundation of the world's great religious and philosophical systems, since language and parables regarding debt are found throughout all of them -- including Christianity (forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors), Islam, the Analects of Confucius, and Hinduism and the texts of the Rigveda, writes Bruce H. Mann.

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July 28, 2013

A Sure Thing

Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors in
the history of American business, parlaying his skills into a personal fortune that makes him one of the wealthiest men in the world. In their book, Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements, co-authors Mary Buffett and David Clark put forward Buffet's approach to identifying investment opportunities, which at its heart is the search for companies with a durable competitive advantage. Of the several key characteristics that Buffet looks for in a company, one of the more surprising is the absence of a large research and development budget.

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July 24, 2013

That's Disgusting

Mmm, mmm, good. Grab your fork and knife and tuck your napkin into your shirt, more and more people are now eating insects, writes Rachel Herz,

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July 21, 2013

Get Happy

In 1963, Judy Garland was a forty-one year old fading star
just a few short years from her own premature death from a drug overdose, while Barbra Streisand was twenty-one and an emerging star who already had a cult following. Garland, always broke, needed her new television show to be a hit -- and Streisand had a reputation as a guest star who could bring standout ratings and reviews. And so it was that Garland pieced together her own fragile self-confidence and invited
the irrepressible Streisand to be a guest on her show, writes William J. Mann.

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July 17, 2013

Biology's Cruel Joke

Our bodies follow circadian rhythms, which for most of us
means that we tend to perk up from around 9am until 2pm, then again from around 6pm until 10pm. This is governed in part by the brain's pineal gland, which knows to release melatonin throughout the body after it has been dark for a certain number of hours. However, during puberty, this shifts by several hours, making it biologically much harder for teenagers to go to sleep or get up at the normal times, writes David K. Randall.

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July 14, 2013

The Greatest Chess Match Of All Time

The Soviet Union's masterful Boris Spassky versus
America's unpredictable Bobby Fischer was the greatest chess match of all time. At the time, it was a proxy for the cold war between the U.S. and Russia -- fought without nuclear weapons. It was Ali versus Frazier, the Yankees versus the Red Sox, and the Superbowl all rolled into one. Spassky was the reigning champion and the USSR was dominant in chess. writes Robert Greene.

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July 10, 2013

A Whole New Mind

The two hemispheres of our brain have very different but
complimentary functions that work seamlessly together -- and our society is increasingly shifting from the influence of left-brained to right-brained thinkers. writes Daniel H. Pink.

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July 07, 2013

The Hidden Glory Of India

Spirituality informs all aspects of Indian culture, and
according to a recent Gallup survey, no county has a higher percentage of respondents who believe that religion is "very important" to their lives. (The United States ranks second.) However, the term "Hindu" is often mistakenly viewed as referring to a single religious system, when in fact, the term came into being as a geographical designation used primarily by foreigners, and is not found is the Bhagavad-gita or any of the classical writings of India. Even today the term is better understood as a collection of many religious traditions as diverse as Jainism and Shaktism, writes Steven J. Rosen.

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July 03, 2013

Dreamland

The content and meaning of our dreams. Sigmund Freud revolutionized modern thought with his theories -- including his belief in the symbolic nature of dreams. Many contemporary researchers disagree, writes David K. Randall.

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June 30, 2013

Steal Like An Artist

In any endeavor, whether writing a book, starting a business,
designing a house, or creating a recipe, narrowing the options is one of the hardest things to do. Self-editing is one of the most difficult forms of self discipline, writes Austin Kleon.

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June 26, 2013

Greenwich Village

New York City is designed as a grid. At a time when iconic
cities such as London and Rome had been designed around hills and waterways, and the new city of Washington, D.C. had adventurous circles and diagonals, New York City's plan plowed all nature's features into flat ground and paved all the streets in right angles. Though viewed by many today as a planning triumph, when originally published the complaints were immediate. writes John Strausbaugh.

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June 23, 2013

Keith Richards On Writing Songs

The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards says that writing songs causes you to distance yourself, to become more of an observer -- a bit of a Peeping Tom.

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June 19, 2013

The Forever Fix

Ricki Lewis tells of the astonishing physiology of the eye.

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June 12, 2013

Vietnam

After almost a millennium as an independent kingdom,
in the 1800s Vietnam (French Indochina) became a French colony and its people suffered under the colonial lash. It was then occupied by Japan during World War II, and sensing an opportunity upon the end of the war, Vietnam declared its independence from France under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. Vietnam's independence was brief, however, as the French ignored Vietnam's declaration and reasserted their rights to the colony. It took three hard-fought but successful wars of independence -- first against the French, then against the U.S., and finally against the Chinese -- before the country finally regained genuine independence. "Uncle" Ho became revered in Vietnam as fervently as George Washington was after the American Revolution, and today his body is viewed by thousands each day in an imposing mausoleum in the
heart of now-capitalist Hanoi, writes Ron Emmons.

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June 09, 2013

Philosophic Consolation

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher best
known today for his statement "that which does not kill us makes us stronger," was an early convert to the pessimism of Schopenhauer. Yet by 1876, at the age of thirty-two, he had radically changed his philosophy -- and adopted a philosophy that revered Ubermenschen ( which can be translated as "supermen"), men who pursued lives of adventure and exhilaration, but only after suffering in pursuit of that life, writes Alain De Botton.

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Philosophic Consolation

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher best
known today for his statement "that which does not kill us makes us stronger," was an early convert to the pessimism of Schopenhauer. Yet by 1876, at the age of thirty-two, he had radically changed his philosophy -- and adopted a philosophy that revered Ubermenschen ( which can be translated as "supermen"), men who pursued lives of adventure and exhilaration, but only after suffering in pursuit of that life, writes Alain De Botton.

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June 05, 2013

Attic Nights

The following selections, taken from ancient accounts, give a flavor for sports contests during the classical Greek era, writes J.C. McKeown.

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May 29, 2013

The Red And The White

Expertise in evaluating wines may be more elusive than wine
experts would have us believe, writes Mary Roach.

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May 26, 2013

China Today

Contemporary China has established a blistering pace of
economic development that has vaulted it past Japan to become the world's second largest economy. Some analysts project that it will surpass the U.S. as the world's largest economy within a generation. But all rapid change leaves a path of destruction and distress and China's success has left in its wake uneasiness and stress, which has been memorably articulated by award-winning author and commentator Yu Hua. Any comparison of China's current situation with any part of America's history is, of course, problematic and flawed, and the differences outweigh the similarities. However, in some respects, China's current stress faintly reflects the angst and dissatisfaction that resonated through American society in the late 1800s, the so-called Gilded Age, a period of unmatched economic achievement in America during which it vaulted past Britain to become the world's largest economy.

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May 22, 2013

Cold Reading

If you want to become a psychic, which is a $2 billion industry
in the U.S. alone, there is perhaps no better instruction book than Ian Rowland's The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading. Rowland, a highly successful practitioner, freely admits the tricks involved, and meticulously catalogues them for his readers. A good part of the book explains how the psychic can convince the client of his or her psychic abilities (e.g., "The Fuzzy Fact") and achieve a successful reading, but the book also explains how to handle situations where the client rejects the psychic's statements as incorrect. Two of the ten methods outlined in the book for dealing with this rejection -- focus and wareness -- are excerpted below

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May 19, 2013

Masters Of The Word

The invention of the first alphabet -- a much simpler system
of writing using only 20 to 30 characters as compared to the thousands required in a hieroglyphic system -- unleashed an era in which broad literacy and abstract ideas were possible to an unprecedented degree. Though it is popularly believed
the alphabet came from the Phoenicians, this invention pre-dated them and may have come from the Egyptians, writes William J. Bernstein.

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May 15, 2013

Phaedrus

With the internet, new education technologies are arriving
at a quickening pace, such as the free online courses known as MOOCs (for massively open online courses). These have sparked intense debate about the role of the classroom
and the long term fate of traditional learning institutions. Yet new technologies have long spurred such debate, writes Benjamin Jowett.

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May 12, 2013

Another Literary Rogue

In the shell-shocked aftermath of World War I, Scott and
Zelda Fitzgerald were among the lost generation that led the literary world into the raucous and roaring Jazz Age. They both died young -- he of a heart attack and she in an asylum -- after lives laced with alcohol and desperate abandon, writes Andrew Shaffer.

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May 08, 2013

A Literary Rogue

Our word "sadism," the derivation of pleasure as a result
of inflicting pain, cruelty, degradation, or humiliation, comes from the Marquis de Sade (1740 - 1814). Born into French royalty, he was subjected to abuse from an early age, and grew into a young adult of monstrous sexual appetites and behaviors that kept him in trouble with his family and the law. Denied sexual prey with his imprisonment at age twenty eight, he turned to writing and played out his fantasies on the page. He spent thirty two years of his life either in prison or an asylum, writes Andrew Shaffer.

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May 05, 2013

Basebrawls

With the baseball season in full swing, astute fans
will want to brush up on the unwritten rules of baseball -- those rules which are not in the official major league rulebook but are nevertheless stringently observed. Here are the unwritten rules that cover "basebrawls" -- the fights that break out during games, writes Paul Dickson.

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May 01, 2013

King Leopold's Ghost

In 1960, after years of protests, Belgium granted the African
colony of the Congo its freedom. In short order, newly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was assassinated with the assistance of the CIA, and a dictator named Joseph Mobutu soon took his place and began his thirty-two year rule, writes Adam Hochschild.

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April 28, 2013

The Half-Life Of Facts

In 1870, a German chemist made an error in transcribing
the data on how much iron was in spinach, providing a lesson in the spread and persistence of erroneous information in society, writes Samuel Arbesman.

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April 24, 2013

Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know

In today's selection -- though the average person is more likely to drop dead within one hour of purchasing a lottery ticket than to win the lottery, here are two strategies for you to consider, suggests John D Barrow.

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April 21, 2013

King Leopold's Ghost

In one of the greatest atrocities of the modern era, Belgian
King Leopold II was responsible for the deaths from 1885 to 1908 of ten million Africans in the lands surrounding the Congo River. Determined to acquire a colony from which to extract personal riches, the king had used famed explorer Henry Stanley to trick village chieftains into selling their lands to him for token compensation. To the world, he presented a face of benevolence regarding the colony, professing himself to be anti-slavery and his mission to be charitable. In fact, his personal army forced millions of Africans into de facto slavery to amass a personal fortune from elephant tusks and rubber plants. It was King Leopold's Congo that served as the subject for Joseph Conrad's famed novel Heart of Darkness. Two individuals who were among the earliest to begin reporting the horrors of the colony back to the western world were George Washington Williams and William Sheppard. In enforcing
the Africans to work, King Leopold's soldiers often had to shoot those who would not cooperate. To get credit for these actions, as well as to help prevent the waste of ammunition, these soldiers had to show the hands of those they had killed, writes Adam Hochschild.

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April 17, 2013

The Year Without A Summer

In 1815, the deadliest and most powerful volcanic eruption
in human history exploded out of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, sending ash eighteen miles into the sky and quickly causing the death of ninety thousand in Indonesia alone. The residue of this volcano quickly circled the earth, dimming sunlight
and dramatically lowering temperatures around the globe. This in turn damaged crops and economies around the world and left 1816 to be remembered as the year without a summer, write William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman.

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April 14, 2013

What The Dog Saw

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the number of American women
coloring their hair rose from 7 percent to more than 40 percent, writes Malcolm Gladwell.

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April 07, 2013

Drugs In America

Edward Conlon tells of the explosion of narcotics use in America after World War II.

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April 03, 2013

Rudyard Kipling

In 1870, five-year-old Rudyard "Rud" Kipling -- who rose
to become one of the most famous authors in the world -- and his three-year-old sister Alice "Trix" Kipling, were sent by their parents back to England from India. The father, Lockwood, accompanied by his wife and Alice, was busy establishing a
new career among the British in India, and had the racist attitudes typical of the British towards India during that era. So they hired an English family they had never previously met to care for their children. When they finally saw their children again five long years later, they discovered the children had suffered years of extreme emotional abuse, writes Harry Ricketts.

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March 31, 2013

Big Business

Robert Fulton, famous for being the first American
to operate a steamboat, went bankrupt when he lost his monopoly in a landmark Supreme Court ruling, which resulted in competition from innovative competitors like young
Cornelius Vanderbilt. Prices dropped so low that a newspaper quipped that walking was more expensive than traveling on the Vanderbilt line. writes Burton W. Folsom, Jr.

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March 27, 2013

Down The Highway

In the 1950s, amid the saccharine hits of The Chipmunks
and Doris Day -- and against the background of the payola scandal -- American folk music found its way to the top of the charts. Groups such as The Weavers and The Kingston Trio had hits, and college students flocked to the grittier offerings
of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Odetta, and even songs from isolated towns in the Appalachian mountains passed down from ancestors in the British Isles. One of these was a university of Minnesota student later known as Bob Dylan, writes Howard Sounes.

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March 24, 2013

Proto-Unitarians

Though America's founding fathers were not deeply religious
-- in fact Thomas Jefferson had a hatred for organized religion -- the average American in the early Republic made sense of the world through religion. Despite the spread of rationalism during this period, religion in America gained in authority precisely because of its separation from governmental power, a separation that had come from the Revolution, and that separation helped ignite a massive outpouring of religious
enthusiasm, writes Go0rdon S Wood.

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March 20, 2013

On Writing

In his book, On Writing, prolific fiction writer Stephen King argues for simplicity in writing. Here he attacks the adverb.

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March 17, 2013

The Fifties

The rock and roll revolution rode in on the rails of technology.
Disapproving parents in the 1950s might have been in control of the family record player, but they couldn't control a brand new marvel of technology, the portable transistor radio, which enterprising manufacturers would sell to the newly prosperous
postwar teens for $1 down and $1 a month. Portable record players were not far behind. In fact, the average teen had almost as much disposable income as entire families
had had only fifteen years earlier, writes David Halberstam.

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March 13, 2013

The Great Inversion

In London, Paris, and Vienna in 1900, life was lived on the streets more than in homes, and the streets were crowded and alive with all manifestations of society, writes Alan Ehrenhalt.

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March 10, 2013

India

With an estimated 1.2 billion inhabitants, the nation of India is the second largest on earth, and with faster population growth than China's, will likely become the largest. Most of India's population lives in the more than half million small villages that dot the countryside, reluctantly yielding to the inevitable tides of change, closely connected to the other members of their jati. Jati means caste, a kinship group larger than a family, but smaller and less self-sustaining than a tribe. There are thousands of jatis in modern India, tight-knit groups preserving ancient customs and traditions, and they should not be confused with India's ancient class or varna system, which is still partially observed and includes Brahmans (priests),
Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and landowners), Shudras (serfs), and those outside this system known as the Dalits or untouchables, writes Stanley Wolpert.

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March 06, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

It is well known that President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt
was frail and sickly as a young child as a result of life-threatening asthma, and he overcame this adversity through a demanding physical regimen he placed on himself. What is less well known is that later, as a young man, Roosevelt suffered even greater adversity -- the death of his father, mother and first wife within a few short years. He again met this adversity and the resulting depression -- what he called "black care" -- through a strenuous, self-imposed physical challenge, writes Candice Millard.

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March 03, 2013

The White Man's Burden

In the well-meaning effort to alleviate the suffering of
the poor around the globe, the complex, sweeping, high-budget plans of Western nations often come to little and are trumped by low-budget, focused, practical plans, writes William Easterly.

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February 27, 2013

The Last Greatest Magician in the World

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a golden age for American
magicians on the vaudeville circuit, Howard Thurston was America's preeminent magician, besting even his friend and rival Harry Houdini. In 1883, however, Thurston was an fourteen-year-old runaway in Ohio. He had escaped from his abusive, alcoholic father and was trying to scrape together a living along the glamorous new railroad lines criss-crossing the country. The abuse he suffered was all too common given
the extraordinarily high per capita consumption of alcohol in America -- which ultimately led to Prohibition -- as were the instances of teenagers leaving home in an era when the word "teenager" had not yet appeared, and high school was not
yet established as a mandatory part of the American experience, writes Jim Steinmeyer.

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February 24, 2013

A Natural History Of The Senses

Infants who are touched frequently, whether by holding,
stroking or massaging, are healthier and more emotionally developed than those who aren't, writes Diane Ackerman.

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February 20, 2013

Stories I OnlyTell My Friends

In his thoughtful autobiography, veteran actor Rob Lowe
writes about his experience as a nineteen-year-old working with true stars for the first time.

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February 17, 2013

The Natural History Of Destruction

During World War II, the British spearheaded bombing raids
on the German people that leveled all or part of 131 towns and cities, killed 600,000 civilians, destroyed 3.5 million homes, and left 7.5 million people homeless. Led by Sir Arthur Harris, this was done so "that those who have loosed ... horrors upon
mankind will now in their homes and persons feel the shattering strokes of just retribution." It was done even though the alternative of selective attacks on targets like factories would have paralyzed German production, even though the British military was split over the strategy, even though Lord Salisbury, Bishop George Bell and others decried it as immoral, and even though it swallowed up one-third of the entire British production of war material. After the war, it was a chapter that neither the Allies nor the Germans were eager to examine or discuss. writes W.G. Sebald.

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February 13, 2013

The World Until Yesterday

For most of mankind's existence, the role of "allo-parents,"
care-givers other than the biological parents themselves, was much more significant than it is today -- increasing the chance of survival for children and helping develop such attributes as early independence and precocious social skills, writes Jared Diamond.

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February 10, 2013

The Souls Of Toys

Charles Beaudelaire, the famed French poet who chronicled
the industrializing mid-1800s in Paris in such poems as Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), made the following observations about parents, children, and the souls
of toys.

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February 06, 2013

Bird By Bird

Here is advice from author and teacher Anne Lamott on how to write when the prospect of writing overwhelms you and causes you to procrastinate. Her advice seems applicable to all types of projects beyond writing -- and to life itself.

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February 03, 2013

Street Walkers And Ladies Of The Night

""If prostitutes are members of the world's oldest profession, then devising alternative names for them is one of the oldest forms of euphemizing,'' writes Ralph Keyes.

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January 30, 2013

Nine Steps To Living Well Forever

Medicine is beginning to turn into an information-based
science, in contrast to the hit-and-miss laboratory processes of the past. As that transition continues, success in medical treatments will begin to occur at an increasingly exponential pace, write Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, MD.

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January 23, 2013

Women Prepared To Criticise

In his book Lost People, the liberal anthropologist David Graeber makes an interesting observation about the respective roles of men and women. After two years of extensive fieldwork in Betafo, Madagascar, he observed that "authoritative men tend to avoid displays or references to conflict" and "build up the placid surfaces that women would then mischievously puncture and expose.

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January 20, 2013

Trying To Forget

"Total recall, the ability of someone to remember every word they read or hear, has often been lauded as tantamount to a high level of intelligence. The opposite is more often the case.'' writes Ingrid Wickelgren.

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January 16, 2013

Fear And Anxiety

The average high schooler today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s, writes Taylor Clark.

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January 13, 2013

CEOs And Psychopaths

Kevin Dutton shares some observations on the similarity between successful people, such as surgeons or CEOs, and psychopaths.

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January 09, 2013

Belle de Jour

An anonymous British call girl tells of her trade.

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January 06, 2013

Bound Feet

Author Jung Chang writes in her memoir of the excruciatingly painful Chinese custom of binding women's feet.

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January 02, 2013

Master Of The Game

There is an irresistible allure when one high profile executive
makes a business deal with another high profile executive or star -- the headline-grabbing story of one "big guy" negotiating with another, usually at some glamorous location,
and sketching out a mega-deal on the back of a napkin. But sometimes these deals don't work out. Such was the case in 1982, when Steve Ross, the man who built Time Warner into an entertainment powerhouse, entered into an agreement with the suddenly red-hot director Steven Speilberg to create a video game based on the movie E.T., writes Connie Bruck.

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Master Of The Game

There is an irresistible allure when one high profile executive
makes a business deal with another high profile executive or star -- the headline-grabbing story of one "big guy" negotiating with another, usually at some glamorous location,
and sketching out a mega-deal on the back of a napkin. But sometimes these deals don't work out. Such was the case in 1982, when Steve Ross, the man who built Time Warner into an entertainment powerhouse, entered into an agreement with the suddenly red-hot director Steven Speilberg to create a video game based on the movie E.T., writes Connie Bruck.

Continue reading "Master Of The Game" »

December 30, 2012

Dreamland

For most of history people have had two periods of sleep each
night, with the time in between being perhaps the most calm and relaxing part of their lives. Then came the lightbulb. This unexpected "two sleep" phenomenon was uncovered by historian Roger Ekirch when he began to do research for a history of the night, writes David K Randall.

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December 26, 2012

Hello, Gorgeous

The death of her father when she was not yet two, and the
addition at age eight of a stepfather who was verbally abusive to her and physically abusive and openly unfaithful to her mother, left Barbra Streisand with a unyielding determination to succeed, writes William J Mann.

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December 23, 2012

The Rise Of Women In American Comedy

In the 1990s, a young comedian named Janeane Garofalo and
her contemporaries pioneered a new style of comedy that came to be known as "alternative comedy", in part because it was happening outside the traditional comedy clubs in
alternative venues like coffee houses, bookstores and places like the Un-Cabaret Club. Garofalo was in a position to bring attention to this new school because of her new found fame gained from roles in Reality Bites and The Larry Sanders Show.
Comedians of this school stayed away from jokes, punchlines and repeat material -- and instead emphasized current experience from their own lives - the absurdity and angst of their own identities. Here are comments on the alternative scene from comedians that emerged during that time, writes Yael Kohen.

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December 19, 2012

A Startling James Bond

Sean Connery, a marginally successful, hard-working
young actor from a poor background, auditioned in 1962 for the role of James Bond in Dr. No. Bond, the sophisticated, impeccably-styled fictional hero of Ian Fleming's spy novels, had taken the British public by storm as the antidote to their enfeebled post-World War II status. A number of established actors were considered for the part-including Cary Grant, Michael Redgrave, and Richard Burton -- though none
were likely to handcuff themselves to a movie series, especially considering the low pay being offered. Connery was not an obvious candidate since he was not given to wearing suits, much less to Bond's sophistication. So he took a gamble in the audition to convey the power of Bond and thus startle the producers into giving him the part. writes Christopher Bray.

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December 16, 2012

Megacities

The world is now more urban than rural, and the century
of the megacity has begun. In 1950, there were two cities with a population of more than ten million. By 1975, there were three. As of 2007, there were nineteen, and by 2025, the United Nations estimates that there will be twenty-seven. There are ninety cities in China alone that have a population of greater than one million, writes Laurence C Smith.

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December 12, 2012

How To Create A Mind

The secret to understanding the human brain is to realize
that it is not a logic machine -- in fact, it has a weak ability to process logic. Instead, it is a superb pattern recognizing machine. Armed with this insight, scientists across the world are racing to "reverse engineer" the human brain and vastly extend the powers of our own intelligence, writes Ray Kurzwell.

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December 09, 2012

The 4 Per Cent Universe

Astronomers and physicists are now grappling with evidence
that suggests, even with the most powerful telescopes, we can only observe four percent of the universe. The rest, they posit, is dark matter and dark energy, writes Richard Panek.

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December 02, 2012

Groupies

Pete Townshend, the creative force behind rock music group "The Who," had reached a new creative peak in his mid-twenties with the release of the rock opera Tommy. He had been a habitual marijuana smoker, and had unlimited
opportunities for liaisons with the omnipresent groupies that followed the band -- in which he had sometimes partaken. However, he was at a point where he had madea genuine commitment to being faithful in his marriage and to discontinue his drug use. It was then he began to ask about the motives and desires of groupies.

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November 28, 2012

Dino

Dino Crocetti, who from the time he was a kid in Steubenville,
Ohio had dreamed of being a singer, was recruited to Columbus by a bandleader named Ernie McKay -- who promptly changed his name to Dino Martini after the then-Hollywood-heartthrob Nino Martini. There he caught the eye of Cleveland bandleader Sammy Watkins, but these were the years of World War II and the shadow of Benito Mussolini, so another name change was in order -- to the anglicized Dean Martin. Cleveland was the big time -- flush in the wake of its strategic hold on the Erie canal and John D. Rockefeller's early oil success - - and this was Martin's big break, writes Nick Tosches.

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November 25, 2012

Unexpected Consequences

"Due to the increasing frequency of large forest fires that were essentially impossible to extinguish unless rain and low winds combined to help. People began to realize that the U.S. federal government's fire suppression policy was contributing to those big fires, and that natural fires caused by lightning had previously played an important role in maintaining forest
structure,'' writes Jared Diamond.

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November 21, 2012

The Next Best Place To Home

Alan (A.A.) Milne, the author and playwright who later
became world famous for Winnie the Pooh, grew up in the 1880s with his older brothers in the small British schoolhouse where his father, John (J.V.) Milne, was the headmaster.
Because J.V. came from poverty, he lacked qualifications and was only able to become headmaster at rougher schools. Yet he led these with affection and good humor, writes Ann Thwaite.

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November 18, 2012

The Swerve

In the Middle Ages, it became commonplace for religious leaders to flagellate themselves and members of their monastic orders, writes Stephen Greenblatt.

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November 14, 2012

The Key To Comedy

In an interview with Franklyn Ajaye, Jerry Seinfeld states that the key to his comedy is the discipline of sitting down and writing. And being left-handed

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November 11, 2012

Big Ideas

"Scientists and animal lovers had long observed that as life gets bigger, it slows down,'' writes Steve Johnson.

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November 07, 2012

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood has become one of the most successful directors
in Hollywood history. After gaining clout as a feature film star, especially from his role as Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, Eastwood began a thirty-five years stint directing movies at Warner Bros. This is the longest-standing actor-director relationship with a single studio in the history of the movies, and one that encompasses one-third of the history of the medium itself, writes Richard Schickel.

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November 04, 2012

Superior Investing

Legendary investor Howard Marks contends that superior
investment results can only come from going against the consensus. However, just because an investment is contrarian does not make it a good investment, it has to be the right contrarian investment -- and contrarian investing is by definition a highly risky and lonely pursuit.

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October 31, 2012

American Elections

The presidential election contest between Barack Obama of
Illinois and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts represents a departure from the long-term shift in power from "snowbelt" states to "sunbelt" states. From the outset of World War II, snowbelt states have declined from 57 percent of the U.S. population to only 40 percent, and sunbelt states have risen from 30 percent to 46 percent. From 1900 to the 1964 election, snowbelt states provided every U.S. president but one, and from the 1964 election until Barack Obama's election in 2008, sunbelt states provided every one, writes Jeffrey Sachs.

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October 28, 2012

Walkman v, Ipod

Before the introduction of Apple's iPod, Sony dominated the
portable music market with the Walkman. They could have preempted the iPod, but Sony's "content" divisions -- Sony Music and Sony Pictures -- viewed that type of digital product as dangerous since it facilitated piracy, and so they moved too
slowly. Then the iPod was introduced and took the market by storm. At first, the iPod was simply hardware and the accompanying software to manage digital music, and did not have the accompanying online music store. Apple's ads around this time were actually a play on this piracy -- "Rip. Mix. Burn." Sony should have responded quickly -- but this time their efforts were thwarted by their own internal conflicts, writes Morton T Hanson.

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October 24, 2012

Creating An Obligation

The supposedly virtuous act of giving is often instead
an act meant to create an obligation, an act whereby the giver measures himself against the receiver and requires a repayment, even if that repayment is gratitude, writes David Graeber.

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October 21, 2012

Chief Executive Officers

Nobel winning Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes about the impact of chief executive officers on the performance of their companies, and the effectiveness of business books based on an analysis of that impact.

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October 17, 2012

Under New Management

Las Vegas was a wasteland that crawled to life when the Nevada legislature legalized gambling and eased divorce laws as a way to prop up revenues during the Great Depression. The target was the workmen from a Depression-era public
works project just down the road -- Boulder Dam. Then in the late 1930s and 40s, when Attorney General, then Governor (and later U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice) Earl Warren cracked down on gambling in California, Las Vegas was the beneficiary, writes Nik Tosches.

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October 14, 2012

The Blood Of Heroes

The Alamo, one of the most famous battles ever fought on North American soil, should never have happened. Texas commander-in-chief Sam Houston thought the area was strategically unimportant, and had ordered the Texan troops
to abandon it. Mexican general Santa Anna's advisors had counseled him not to attack it for the very same reason -- it was viewed as peripheral, unimportant, and too far from potential ocean-based supply lines. But happen it did. And though it has been portrayed as brave but ragtag Texans standing up to crisp Mexican troops, the
truth was that the Mexican government itself was nascent, unstable, and nearly out of funds -- and its troops were raw, destitute, unmotivated, and prone to desertion, writes James Donovan.

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October 10, 2012

Art Thefts

Stealing famous art brings the challenge of overcoming heightened security measures as well as the difficulty of selling an easily identifiable work. Often, the motive is to provide collateral for a large drug deal, writes Sandy Nairne.

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October 07, 2012

Agassi At A Crossroads

Andre Agassi found himself at a crossroads in 1994. He was young, one of the brightest stars in tennis, but had underachieved in his career. So he and his manager approached Brad Gilbert, a fiery, veteran tennis player of good ability known as an overachiever, to offer him the job as Agassi's coach. But first, they wanted to hear Brad's assessment of Agassi's abilities.

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October 03, 2012

Sexy Humans

No animal on earth spends a greater portion of its life on
sex than Homo Sapiens, write Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha.

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October 01, 2012

Adolf Hitler - Beggar

At the age of twenty, in Vienna, with both parents dead
and his meager inheritance dwindling, Adolf Hitler resorted to begging for money, writes John Toland.

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September 30, 2012

Money Madhouse

Some things never change. The emotions and behavior of traders and investors in the earliest stock markets were no different than those of today, writes Edward Chancellor.

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September 26, 2012

Sex At Dawn

In their recent book Sex at Dawn, authors Christopher Ryan
and Cacilda Jetha suggest -- controversially -- that pre-hstorical homo sapiens in foraging bands typically had multimale, multifemale sexual relations. In making their case they cite scholars as far back as Charles Darwin and Lewis Henry Morgan

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September 23, 2012

Killer On The Road

In the early 1970s, the conservative, older residents of the
quiet coastal California town of Santa Cruz began to be overrun by hippies. To control them, they tried to crack down on their uncomfortable and often dangerous practice of hitchhiking, writes Ginger Strand.

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September 19, 2012

The Five Stages Of Sleep

Until the middle of the twentieth century, scientists thought that sleep was an unchanging condition during which time the brain was quiet. The discovery of rapid eye movements in the 1950s upended that. Researchers then realized that sleep is
made up of five distinct stages that the body cycles through over roughly ninety-minute periods. The first is so light that if you wake up from it, you might not realize that you have been sleeping. The second is marked by the appearance of sleep-specific brain waves that last only a few seconds at a time. If you reach this point in the cycle, you will know you have been sleeping when you wake up. This stage marks the last stop before your brain takes a long ride away from consciousness, writes David K Randall.

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September 16, 2012

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz

The message in Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz - the great American fairytale - was more ficused on "self-reliance" than "no place like home''.

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September 12, 2012

The Beatles

In the nightclubs of Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany, the Beatles had become the hottest act in British music after performing the song "Please Please Me" on the nationallytelevised pop showcase Thank Your Lucky Stars, writes Jody Rosen.

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September 09, 2012

Gunfighters

The gunfighters of the American West neither dressed, fought
nor behaved as they were depicted in Hollywood movies and pulp novels, writes Joseph G Rosa.

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September 05, 2012

The Great Silence

With the millions of deaths in World War I, the British
and French governments decided to bury dead soldiers in mass graves at the battlefield instead of returning them home. This left tens of millions of grieving relatives with no sense of closure and an overwhelming desire for one last moment with those that had died, writes Juliet Nicolson.

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September 02, 2012

The Years Of Lyndon Johnson

Prior to the 1960 Democratic Party's presidential nominating
convention, Texas Senator and Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson had been a favorite -- perhaps THE favorite. But his own vacillation had cost him the lead, and now Senator John Kennedy was the favorite. But it was not too late, and an unexpected opportunity to debate Kennedy provided Johnson with an opening, writes Robert A. Caro.

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August 29, 2012

Dreamland Adventures

"In the 1980s, researchers at the University of Chicago decided to find out what happens when an animal is deprived of sleep for a long period of time,'' writes David K Randall.

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August 26, 2012

Simon And Garfunkel

New York City high schoolers Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel,
later among the most successful recording artists in history. started out as the singing duo Tom and Jerry, writes David Browne.

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August 22, 2012

Thinking Fast And Slow

In his book Clinical vs. Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical
Analysis and a Review of the Evidence, psychoanalyst Paul Meehl gave evidence that statistical models almost always yield better predictions and diagnoses than the judgment of trained professionals. In fact, experts frequently give different answers when presented with the same information within a matter of a few minutes, writes author Daniel Kahneman.

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August 19, 2012

Mao's Great Famine

During Chairman Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, which
was an effort to use centralized Communist planning to vault China's economy past those of the Western European powers, China endured one of the greatest tragedies in human history - the death of over 45 million people, writes Frank Dikotter.

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August 15, 2012

A Nation Of Immigrants

By 1868, the United States had already become the world's largest economy, and by 1914 -- the dawn of World War I -- the US economy was larger than the economies of Britain, France, and Germany combined.

With such extraordinary growth, the US required enormous new resources -- especially labor. To fill that need, immigrants came pouring into the US from around the world, turning America into a nation of immigrants. Greeting many of these immigrants was the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus's immortal phrase, "give us your tired, your poor, yourhuddled masses yearning to be free", writes Michael Lind.

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August 12, 2012

Master Of The Game

Steve Ross was a true business genius who used his financial
acumen, drive, and consummate relationship skills to parlay a start in his father-in-law's funeral home to building and managing the media behemoth, Time Warner. From the
start, he enthusiastically embraced his in-laws, the Rosenthals, and seemingly had unlimited time and attention for family and business associates-except, perhaps, his own wife Carol and his children, writes Connie Brook.

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August 08, 2012

The Origins Of Sex

In the 1700s, Western attitudes towards prostitution went from
punishment to reform, and from fear to charity. For a time, the wealthiest among the British vied to show their status by establishing asylums where prostitutes could be taken and reformed through piety and penitence, writes Faramerz Dabhoiwal.

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August 05, 2012

The Fires Of Vesuvius

The domus or 'private house' in ancient Rome was not 'private' in the sense that we usually mean, writes Mary Beard. It was treated as part of the public image of its owner, and it provided the backdrop against which he conducts[ed at least some of his public life.

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August 01, 2012

Dino

The Sicilian Mafia got its start in America in New Orleans
in the mid-1800s. That same Mafia got a boost in Italy from the Americans in 1943, writes Nick Tosches.

Continue reading "Dino" »

July 29, 2012

The 48 Laws Of Power

Robert Greene recalls the greatest chess match of all time.

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July 25, 2012

Debt

The language of great religions is permeated with the language of debt with words such as redemption being borrowed directly from debt transactions, writes David Graeber.

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July 22, 2012

Tupac Shakur

In 1988, Tupac Shakur, the legendary rapper murdered in 1996, was seventeen. His mother was a penniless, drug-addicted ex-Black Panther named Afeni. Though his life had been hunger and homelessness in New York and Maryland,
he had managed to attend a tuition-free high school for the performing arts, learned poetry and theater, and in that school had briefly found a spiritual home. Until his mother suddenly sent him to California, write Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Fred L. Johnson III, PhD.

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July 18, 2012

The Godfather

As Paramount Studios embarked on the filming of The Godfather, the film it was banking on to save the studio, exectutives were uncertain about whether it was truly comfortable with director Francis Ford Coppola, much less over-the-hill actor Marlon Brando, who corporate head Charles Bluhdorn had labeled 'box-office poison.' Both Coppola and Brando were in financial trouble, and competition for their coveted slots was fierce. Brando's financial difficulty would lead him to make a notoriously bad deal, writes Peter Bart.

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July 15, 2012

The Need To Be Admired

People embrace stock personality sketches as unique portraits
of themselves, and want to believe what psychics say about them, writes Alex Stone.

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July 11, 2012

Flourish

Martin Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania professor whose research has led to the development of the field of positive psychology, comments on the purpose of our large brains and speaks to the importance of relationships with others as one of the keys to our well-being

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July 08, 2012

Bebop

In the dawn of the Atomic Age, the hottest music trend was
bebop. Fast and dissonant, it packed returning soldiers into New York's nightclubs on The Street -- 52nd Street. The high priests of this music were Charlie "Bird" Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and their young protege Miles Davis. To those players, the father of this new music was Thelonious Monk with his angst-filled song laden with all the strange angularities of the new music -- "Round Midnight", writes Robin D G Kelley.

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July 04, 2012

Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History

Human female breasts, which gain much attention for reasons
unrelated to their milk, accumulate more toxins than any other organ in the body and pass them on to infants as part of breast milk, writes Florence Williams.

Continue reading "Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History" »

July 01, 2012

They Didn't Know What They Were Doing

Academic orthodoxy can be a dangerous thing. In fact, any kind of orthodoxy can too easily segue into herd mentality. And in economics, academic orthodoxy coupled with advanced quantitative techniques can easily become uncoupled from sound reasoning and common sense. And so Robert Merton and Myron Scholes --who defined asset valuation orthodoxy with such work as the Black-Scholes financial option pricing model -- were behind the spectacular multi-billion-dollar
collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998 after winning the Nobel Prize in economics in 1997, writes Ha-Joon Chang.

Continue reading "They Didn't Know What They Were Doing" »

June 27, 2012

Biting The Brand From A Hand

Even in the sparsely populated and violent world of
the American frontier, the settlers acted to have some semblance of law and justice. In 1810, 24 year old David Crockett, -- later a Congressman from Tennessee and hero
of the Alamo -- was newly married and about to move away from his wife's parents to find better hunting grounds, when he was exposed to harsh incidences of this justice, writes Michael Wallis.

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June 24, 2012

LBJ Living In Fear?

In the days before John F. Kennedy's assassination, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was caught up in an escalating corruption scandal that at the very least might mean that he would be removed from the 1964 ticket, if not forced to resign as Vice President or serve time in prison. Johnson had been involved in pay-for-influence practices so pervasive that it had turned a lifelong government employee into a millionaire many times over. In fact, at the very moment Kennedy was assassinated, Delaware Senator John J. Williams' committee counsel Burkett Van Kirk and General Accounting Office accountant Lorin Drennan were interrogating insurance broker Don B. Williams on the subject, and the editors of Life magazine were debating whether they should run a second story on the scandal in their next edition, writes Robert A Caro.

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June 20, 2012

Soldiers Are Reluctant To Kill

"Most soldiers are reluctant to fire their weapons when
confronted by the enemy,'' writes Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

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June 17, 2012

Comic Insights

Stand-up comedian Franklyn Ajaye interviews fellow stand-up
comedian and Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher about the travails and techniques of stand-up comedy:

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June 13, 2012

The Great American Story

The Cardiff Man, a twelve-foot petrified giant "discovered" outside of Syracuse, New York, was perhaps the greatest hoax of the nineteenth century. New Yorker Phineas
T. Barnum was one of the greatest businessmen of the age, the empresario of an era that saw the U.S. economy on the verge of becoming the largest in the world. L. Frank Baum, later the author of The Wizard of Oz, was then a Syracuse castorine-oil merchant who, along with all other citizens of the town, watched the hoax unfold, writes Evan I.Schwartz.

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June 10, 2012

The Fight Of The Century

In 1926, Philadelphia hosted a boxing match with the 120,000
spectators, a record attendance for a prizefight. Celebrities from Charlie Chaplin to William Randolph Hearst were in attendance. It was an effort to recoup losses from the financially disastrous Sesquicentennial celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of America, writes Laura E Beardsley.

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June 06, 2012

Wrong Choices

The United States routinely gives billions of dollars to foreign governments to influence the progress and policies of those governments. Yet the outcomes of those investments are unpredictable, and often the opposite of what we intended. During the Cold War, India was sympathetic to the Soviet Union and so we shunned it, while Pakistan was willing to assume our anti-Communist rhetoric and so we rewarded it, writes Lawrence Wright.

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June 02, 2012

The Passage Of Power

Perhaps no other president in American history desired the job with the same unquenchable determination as Lyndon Baines Johnson, writes Robert A Caro.

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May 30, 2012

Relaxation The Key To Great Acting

Michael Caine, the Oscar-winning veteran of over one hundred feature films, who has a reputation for professionalism and exhaustive preparation reveals that he can overcome his natural fear and tension and come across as natural in his work. In fact, he goes so far as to describe relaxation as key for great acting. Here he contrasts theater acting with movie acting.

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May 27, 2012

A Date With Hitler

In 1933, William Dodd, the new American ambassador to Germany, had the difficult task of assessing the new German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Dodd was accompanied during his tenure by his wife Mattie and his grown children, Bill and Martha. At one point, Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl, Hitler's foreign press chief, arranged for Dodd's daughter Martha to have a lunch date with Hitler knowing that Hitler's previous relationships with women had been odd and under the belief that Hitler "would be a much more reasonable leader if only he fell in love'' writes Erik Larsen.

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May 23, 2012

Inventing America

To build cars cheaply enough for the average person to buy, Henry Ford had to redesign the assembly line according to the dictates of Frederick Taylor, breaking down each task into its simplest components so that each worker was responsible for a single task that could be repeated all day with a minimum of wasted motion and time. This proved so dehumanizing that turnover skyrocketed to 350 percent. To counteract this, Ford doubled his wages. This paradox of rote work and high wages ushered in the beginnings of the great American urban middle class, it is stated in a book jointly authored by Pauline Maier, Merritt Roe Smith, Alexander Keyssar, and Daniel J. Kevles.

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May 20, 2012

The Dominion Of War

Ulysses Grant was general who led the North to victory in the
American Civil War. Often a failure at his small business endeavors before the war, he was plain-spoken, modest and unassuming as a general. When he arrived in Washington
from the West to assume his duties as head of the army in a rumpled, dirty private's uniform, he was not recognized until he signed his name at the guest register of the Willard Hotel. His autobiography - dictated from his death-bed to Samuel Clemons as a way to raise money for his again-impoverished family - is now regarded as one of the classics of American literature. Douglas MacArthur was one of the most controversial
generals in American history. Revered and deified by many, he is most remembered for his generalship during the Korean War and in the Pacific Theater of World War II. But he was egotistical in the extreme, adopting the full decor of generalship and more - and as many reviled him as deified him, especially for what they viewed as the unnecessary aggression and blunders of Korea. Like Grant, he wrote an autobiography, write authors Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton.

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May 16, 2012

Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian aristocrat who joined
the army out of disillusionment with his life. He fought in the Crimean War, and the demeaning treatment of soldiers he observed led him to become a reformist, and he repudiated his lifestyle of gambling, whoring and feasting. He eventually adopted a simple peasant's lifestyle and became a zealous reformer, writes Orlando Figes.

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May 13, 2012

Tomatoland - How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

Most of the tomatoes we buy at supermarkets are a far cry from the sweet, tart, flavorful tomatoes that we grow in gardens or that were plentiful in stores decades ago, writes Barry Estabrook.

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May 09, 2012

The Louisiana Purchase

Very early in its national life, the United States had the
opportunity to purchase a vast tract of land from Napoleon and France, write Robert E. Wright and David J. Cowen

Some consider it the greatest real estate deal in history. However, the U.S. didn't have the funds-the price was $15 million and the U.S. still had $82 million in unpaid war debts-and Napoleon needed cash for his wars, including his war with Britain. In an ironic development that reflected the claustrophobic and incestuous banking industry of the time, it was a British banker, Alexander Baring, who raised the funds for the America to pay Britain's archenemy Napoleon for the land.

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May 02, 2012

The Fight Of The Century

In 1926, Philadelphia hosted a boxing match with the 120,000
spectators, a record attendance for a prizefight. Celebrities from Charlie Chaplin to William Randolph Hearst were in attendance. It was an effort to recoup losses from the financially disastrous Sesquicentennial celebrating the 150th anniversaryof the founding of America, writes Laura E Beardsley.

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April 29, 2012

The World In Motion

We now think of Galileo's proof that the sun was the center of our solar system as the dawn of the scientific age, and he is often called "The Father of Modern Science." However, all scientific discovery is a continuum-the result of the work of many people. Though it is commonly known Galileo relied on Poland's Nicolaus Copernicus, we now know that Copernicus's work owed a debt to the Muslim astronomers Ibn al-Shatr and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, whose works were published by Cardinal Ferdinand de Medici. Galileo owed an even greater debt, one he never acknowledged, to the meticulous work of the German Johann Kepler and his mentor, the Dane Tycho Brahe, writes Thomas Christensen.

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April 25, 2012

Cleopatra

Although the Cleopatra of yore was portrayed primarily
as a seductress, the real Cleopatra was a skilled naval commander, a published medical authority, and an expert royal administrator who was met with adulation throughout
the eastern Mediterranean, and was perhaps even seen by some as a messianic figure, the hope for a future eastern Mediterranean free of Roman domination, writes Duane W Roller.

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April 22, 2012

The Decisive Moment

Each decision we make, however rational we believe it to be,
is an emotional, neurochemical tug-of-war inside our brain, writes Johah Lehrer.

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April 18, 2012

A Computer That Constantly Scours The Internet

Increasing numbers of large scale projects have been launched to create highly advanced, computer-based artificia intelligence systems. The most highly publicized of these has been "Watson," the system built by IBM which defeated the highest-rated Jeopardy champions. Another such system is NELL, which scours the world wide web reading and learning twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and within its first six months of operation had developed some four hundred thousand beliefs, writes Stephen Baker.

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April 15, 2012

Steve Martin Quits Standup

In the late 1970s, comedian Steve Martin, who had labored for years in obscurity, reached a level of success with his stand-up act that was unprecedented in comedy. But he was unprepared for the crush of this success, and left stand-up at the peak of his popularity, writes Richard Zoglin.

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April 11, 2012

Objects Of Contempt And Hatred

Europeans of the Middle Ages, just before the dawn of the Renaissance, did not prize, much less encourage, individuality, curiosity, and upward mobility, writes Stephen Greenblatt.

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April 08, 2012

Billy Graham's Success In Los Angeles

Billy Graham (b. 1918) came to national prominence in 1949 as part of the national religious revival that followed World War II. His natural audience was displaced southern whites-the great early-to-mid twentieth century diaspora of white southerners away from dwindling rural jobs to the commercial north and west. He received an unexpected and indispensable boost from William Randolph Hearst, whose vast newspaper empire had influenced causes from the Spanish-American War forward, writes Steve P. Miller.

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April 04, 2012

Many Romans Did Not Know Their Age

As many as half of the people in classical Rome and medieval Europe did not know their age. writes Gregory Clark.

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April 01, 2012

The Answer Is Blowin' In The Wind

In 1962, twenty-one year folk singer old Bob Dylan, relatively unknown and almost penniless, wrote "Blowin' in the Wind" in Manhattan. The song launched lyric writing for folk, rock and blues toward a new level of substance, reflection and poetry. It skyrocketed Dylan to fame and fortune, and ushered in a new era in music in which composers performed their own songs-the beginning of the end for Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building. But there were complications along the way, writes Howard Sounes.

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March 28, 2012

Stephen King - On Writing

In his book, On Writing, prolific fiction writer Stephen King argues for simplicity in writing. Here he attacks the adverb.

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March 25, 2012

Habits

When a habit is formed, that activity is governed by your basal ganglia cells, in a region completely separate from the primary cognitive areas of your brain. That's why you can brush your teeth or give someone your phone number without giving it the slightest thought, and while thinking intensely about something completely different, writes Charles Duhigg.

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March 21, 2012

The Pain Of Exclusion

Our need to matter and our need to belong are as fundamental as our need to eat and breathe. Therefore ostracism - rejection, silence, exclusion - is one of the most powerful punishments that one person can inflict on another, writes Kipling D Williams.

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March 18, 2012

Same Day - Different Date

There are different calendars in use throughout the world today which result in different dates and years being ascribed to the same day. In 1616, the situation was significantly more diverse, writes Thomas Christensen.

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March 14, 2012

Prostitutes Must Wear High Heels

In the 1400s, the heighth of the Renaissance in Florence - the time of Cosimo de' Medici, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci and countless other guiding lights - prostitutes were required by law to wear high heels and bells on their heads, widespread homosexuality was blamed for defeat in battle, and criminals had to be imported from other cities to satisfy the people's insatiable demand for public executions, writes Ross King.

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March 11, 2012

Grand Prix Without Seat Belts

The early days of Formula One racing, before roll bars and seat belts, drivers had in the estimate of some only a 33 percent chance of surviving. In fact, between 1957 and 1961 twenty Grand Prix drivers died and many more suffered terrible injuries. In 1961, Ferrari drivers Phil Hill and Baron Von Trips battled for the Formula 1 Championship, which culminated in the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Italy on a racetrack so perilous that the British team had boycotted it a year earlier, writes Michael Cannell.

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March 07, 2012

Publicising Frank Sinatra

A very young Frank Sinatra already had the teenage girls screaming and swooning at his concerts when, in 1943, he hired the best publicist in show business - George Evans. Evans saw that the crowds were hysterical, but not choreographed to his liking - so he took it upon himself to take Sinatra's crowds to a new level, writes James Kaplan.

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March 04, 2012

Intolerance Towards Catholics

In colonial America, even with the establishment of Protestant colonies, the King's official Anglican church and the various Protestant churches had an antagonistic coexistent that flared up as one of the key causes of the American Revolution, writes George W Boudreau.

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February 29, 2012

The Vilification Of General Washington

...Even George Washington faced protests and vilification during his time in office. In the waning days of his presidency, George Washington was vilified for his support of the Jay Treaty. One newspaper editor even called for "a speedy death to General Washington."...

Author Jay Winik reminds us that the vilification of presidents is to merely a modern trend.

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February 26, 2012

Germans Deported

At the end of World War II, millions of people of German heritage were forcibly deported to Germany from other European countries where they and their forbearers had long lived. This was part of an even larger series of heartbreaking, forced migrations of Europeans of many different heritages which left European nations ethnically homogeneous to an unprecedented degree. Some viewed the scale of this post-war resettlement, and the grim conditions in which it took place, to be without precedent in history, writes Tony Judt.

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February 22, 2012

America In 1963

Culturally, on the evening before President John F. Kennedy's assassination, America was an astonishingly monolithic country when compared to today, writes Charles Murray.

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February 19, 2012

Side By Side Toilets For Better Conversation

In the Middle Ages English houses had no privacy, writes Bill Bryson.

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February 15, 2012

Christopher Robin And His Father

When Alan (A.A.) Milne died at age 74, his only child Christopher Robin was estranged from him, writes Ann Thwaite.

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February 12, 2012

The Brain In Love

Where do we find enduring love? Answer: Oxytocin. Infidelity? Testosterone. Heartbreak? Low serotonin and endorphins. In fact, our loved ones are actually present in our brains - neurochemically - and when we lose them, it results in chemical trauma for the brain. writes Daniel G. Amen.

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February 08, 2012

Keith Richards Meets Mick Jagger

The letter below was written by eighteen-year-old Keith Richards to his Aunt Patty. It came to light in 2009 and had not been read by anyone outside the family prior to the recent release of his autobiography. In it, he describes meeting Mick Jagger in 1961. Almost immediately, they were regularly hanging out and "trying to learn how to do it." They went on to worldwide fame as the founding members of The Rolling Stones

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February 05, 2012

Money Made Of Wood

Money has been made from strange things - wood, leather, tobacco leaves, salt, ceramic tiles and a wide variety of other materials. This reflects money's origin as a token of debt, an agreement to pay based on trust in the issuer of the coin - as opposed to the inherent worth of the coin. Even coins made of gold or silver would usually trade at a premium to the value of the metal - reflecting trust in the strength of the king/money-redeemer who issued the coin, writes David Graeber.

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February 01, 2012

Rat Pack Girls

"The young women of the early 1960s who wanted to gain the attention and favors of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the other members and attendants of the Rat Pack. In spite of the hopes of these women, they rarely gained the attention of the Rat Pack, and when they did, it was usually only for a short, sexual moment in the whirl that accompanied the Rat Pack celebrity.

"Like the food at a party, flashy girls come in a variety of shades and sizes, but it's always the same variety. They are presented as 'actresses,' that's the standard line whether they are starlets or hookers. In New York, the term is model." - Judith Campbell Exner, as reported in a book by Shawn Levy.

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January 29, 2012

Comedy Without A Laugh

The 1970s were highly fertile years for comedy in America. That period yielded a who's who of future stars bursting forth from places like the Second City Comedy Club. For most though, it was a painful rite of passage, appearing at clubs that did not pay, taking menial jobs to pay rent, and dreaming of that one appearance on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show that would send them to stardom. Two such comedians were Al Franken (now a U.S. Senator) and Tom Davis - Franken and Davis - who later gained fame as writers and performers on Saturday Night Live, writes Tom Davis.

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January 25, 2012

The Wonders Of Vaudeville

Vaudeville, the circuit of variety acts went from town to town from the early 1880s until the early 1930s was America's preeminent form of entertainment - until it was swept aside by the ascendance of cinema and radio. In the 1920s, Louise Hovick, later world famous as the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, was hustled from one theater to the next, overshadowed by her baby sister June, dominated by her mother Rose, deprived of teachers and dental care, but exposed to the assortment of oddities and wonders only the world of vaudeville could provide, writes Karen Abbott.

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January 22, 2012

Increase Your Standing With A Book

The Kennedy family was ruled with an iron hand by John and Bobby Kennedy's father - reputed bootlegger and multi-millionaire Ambassador Joe Kennedy. It was Joe's ambitions that pushed John to run for President, and Joe's money and acumen that guided the campaign. And it was Joe's idea that his sons should try and increase their own stature by having books ghostwritten for them and then published under their own names - a practice then radical but now commonplace.

Although Ted Sorenson was the primary author of John Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage, and John Seigenthaler was the primary author of Bobby Kennedy's The Enemy Within, Joe was not pleased when anyone suspected that someone other than his boys were the authors. Still, the boys were able to assert their independence from the father in subtle ways, writes Burton Hersch.

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January 18, 2012

The Cure For A Recession

In a recession, it is the widespread assumption of politicians, citizens and economists that government intervention is required to return the economy to prosperity. There is an different line of thought, however, that states that recessions are an inevitable result of excesses (e.g., the overbuilding and related overlending that brought about our current crisis), and that government intervention simply prolongs the period required to "write-down" or otherwise absorb these excesses.
One such alternative theory is the Austrian school of economic thought, espoused by such authors as Ludwig von Mises and his economic disciple Murray Rothbard.


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January 15, 2012

Boston Bans Beethoven

Once America entered the First World War in 1917, anti-German passions began to rage against even those Germans living in America. As with the Irish, Italians and Chinese before, and Mexicans, Arabs and many other ethnic groups since, vilifying an ethnic group has long been part of our political fabric. In this case, for those who had been laboring to pass a prohibition amendment to the constitution, this anti-German sentiment could be used to sway votes since most of America's brewers were German. And, as Purley Baker, president of the powerful Anti-Saloon League put it, Germans were "a race of people who eat like gluttons and drink like swine" writes Daniel Okrent.

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January 11, 2012

Kids Are Cruel

The Mickey Mouse Club television show was cancelled in 1958 after three seasons, and almost all the Mouseketeers, who were pre-teens and teenagers, found themselves out of work and trying to reenter normal life. Very few received help from Disney or were able to sustain careers in the entertainment world, and most went on to lives filled with disappointment. Even returning to their former schools proved daunting, writes author Jennifer Armstrong.

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January 08, 2012

Fragile Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen, once the highest-paid actor in the world, whose talents seared the screen in such movies as Bullitt, The Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles, The Magnificent Seven, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Getaway, Papillon, and The Towering Inferno, had a fragile, needy psyche, writes author Marc Eliot.

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January 01, 2012

If I Save You I Owe You

In our society, we assume that if someone saves another person's life, then the person saved owes the person who saved them. However, in some societies, the opposite is true, the person who is saved is owed by the person who saved them. In fact, in some societies, if someone saves another's life, he is considered responsible for taking care of that person forever. Perhaps that is the deeper truth, writes David Graeber.

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December 28, 2011

The Last Gunfight

Wyatt Earp, the legendary lawman most famous for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Arizona, grew up in the mid-1800s in places as diverse as Illinois, Missouri and California. His father, like so many others, unsuccessfully sought fortune and esteem in the new American West. As a young man, Wyatt alternately served as a lawman and ran afoul of the law for crimes such as theft and working in a bordello, writes Jeff Guinn.

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December 21, 2011

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow

between 1959 and 1964, the most prolific incubator for new teenage music in America was the Brill Building in New York City, which launched the careers of such legendary songwriters (and later performers) as Carole King, Neil Diamond and Bobby Darin, writes Greg Shaw.

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December 18, 2011

A European Bank Brings Down The World

Just as Europe is struggling in 2011 to contain a banking crisis, it struggled in 1930 - unsuccessfully - to contain another banking crisis. The results was a key element in turning the slump of 1929 into a worldwide Great Depression. In 1930, a year before the more renowned failure of the Bank of United States sent Americans into a panic, a series of major banking crises had created a worldwide recession which John Maynard Keynes referred to as "The Great Slump of 1930" writes Liaquat Ahamed.

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December 14, 2011

Young George Harrison

The relentless Nazi bombing of Liverpool left it scarred and resource starved. Out of this deprivation, its citizens - including young George Harrison and his friends - developed a sense of humor, a work ethic, and the hope of escape.

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December 11, 2011

The Most Successful Lobbyist

Decades before today's religious right began its well-organized political efforts, the Christian-based Anti-Saloon League (ASL) waged the most successful single issue lobbying effort in American history which culminated in Prohibition - the Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, says author Daniel Okrent.

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December 07, 2011

Writing Jokes

Stand-up comedian Jay Sankey offers his advice on writing and editing jokes to aspiring stand-up comedians. His advice has application to all forms of communication:

"'Never use a long word where a short one will do.'
-George Orwell

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November 30, 2011

A School Full Of Love

Alan (A.A.) Milne, the author and playwright who later became world famous for Winnie the Pooh, grew up in the 1880s with his older brothers in the small British schoolhouse where his father, John (J.V.) Milne, was the headmaster. Because John came from poverty, he lacked qualifications and was only able to become headmaster at rougher schools. Yet he led these with affection and good humor, writes author Ann Thwaite.

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November 27, 2011

The Reunification Of Germany

Author Manjit Kumar tells of the reunification of Germany in the 19th Century.

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November 23, 2011

Many Early Americans Were Not Free

Most early Americans, if you exclude the important category of Native Americans, were African slaves, convicts from Britain who were forcibly shipped to America, and indentured servants, writes Anthony Vaver.

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November 20, 2011

Eunuchs

Eunuchs, castrated servants, performed a wide variety of functions for kings in ancient and more recent times, writes James J O'Donnell.

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November 16, 2011

Icelandic Melt-Down

In the darkest days of our current financial crisis (which seems to be entering its second act in Europe), no country suffered a more spectacular collapse than tiny Iceland with its 300,000 citizens, writes Michael Lewis.

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November 13, 2011

Superior Investing

Legendary investor Howard Marks contends that superior investment results can only come from going against the consensus. However, just because an investment is contrarian does not make it a good investment, it has to be the right contrarian investment - and contrarian investing is by definition a highly risky and lonely pursuit,

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November 09, 2011

The Way You Wear Your Hat

Throughout his life Frank Sinatra dreaded being alone and so spent most nights surrounded by friends, insisting that they stay and often greeting the dawn with them, says author Bill Zehme.

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November 06, 2011

Violence Decreasing

In his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, author Stephen Pinker discusses the reasons for the decline in societal violence.

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November 02, 2011

Can We Live For Ever?

Author Ray Kurzwell points out that some researchers now believe we will soon be able to reverse the aging process.

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October 30, 2011

The Creator Of Peanuts

Charles Schulz, creator, author and illustrator of the cartoon strip Peanuts for nearly fifty years, which at its peak was read by over 300 million people. His most powerful memory - and his most powerful motivator - was the death of his mother, writes David Michaelis.

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October 26, 2011

Ancient Kings Cancelleed Debts

In ancient city-states such as Babylon, Sumeria and Judaea, rulers found it necessary to cancel all consumer debt from time to time to keep peasants from becoming permanent debt-peons and thus to keep society from being torn apart - a phenomenon all the more interesting from the perspective of our debt-laden 21st century. writes David Graeber.

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October 23, 2011

Sexual Norms

Sexual norms have varied widely throughout history, writes Anna Clark.

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October 19, 2011

Churchill And Gandfhi

"In the centuries leading up to 1900, Britain built an empire of countries around the globe to increase its wealth, in part by granting monopolies to its own citizens and the expense of the citizens of the colony. Chief among these British colonies was India, and chief among those trying to cast off the colonial yoke was Mohandas Gandhi. One of his first broad efforts in this regard was leading a boycott of the British monopoly of India's salt. To Winston Churchill, this made Gandhi an enemy,'' writes Nicholson Baker.

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October 16, 2011

Sex On Six Legs

"Ten million kinds of insects provide an incomparable variety of behaviors - including some whose genitals explode after sex and others who can exercise mind control over other insect species,'' writes Marlene Zuk.

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October 12, 2011

Little More Than Slaves

In Confucian China, women were little more than slaves, a status that remained true through the turn of the twentieth century, writes Sterling Seagrave,

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October 09, 2011

The Beatles' First Album

Jody Rosen tells how, in 1963, a young band called The Beatles, forged in the nightclubs of Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany, had become the hottest act in British music after performing the song "Please Please Me" on the nationally televised pop showcase Thank Your Lucky Stars. Long play (LP) albums were first introduced in 1948 but still infrequently used by rock groups, and soon after Lucky Stars they recorded their first.

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October 05, 2011

James Bond's Work Ethic

"At the age of twenty-four, Sean Connery had his first exposure to acting - a minor part in a touring company of South Pacific - as well as an offer to play soccer for Manchester United. Still trying to escape the poverty of Scotland and reasoning that his athletic career could only last a few years, Connery plunged into a program of self-improvement,'' writes Christopher Bray.

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October 02, 2011

Teach Like A Champion

In Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov's brilliant distillation of forty-nine techniques for teachers to use to improve student performance, he writes that teachers should normalize error and avoid chastening students for getting things wrong. (Lemov's book has application far beyond the classroom).:

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September 28, 2011

Hitler Begs

Author John Toland recalls that Hitler, at the age of twenty, in Vienna, with both parents dead and his meager inheritance dwindling, resorted to begging for money.

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September 25, 2011

Andre Ag assi's Last Match

In this excerpt from his autobiography tennis champion Andre Agassi writes about the final tournament of his life and the preparation for a match that may be last of his career - and about the loneliness of tennis.

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September 21, 2011

George Orwell v Aldous Huxley

Two competing visions of the future came from British authors George Orwell (1903-1950) and Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). Though it came 17 years later, Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 is better known; however, Huxley's Brave New World has proven more relevant, suggests author Neil Postman.

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September 18, 2011

Chinese Converts To Christianity

Efforts by Christian missionaries in the 1800s to convert the largely rural Chinese to their faith stumbled badly, amid cultural dissonance, social and political maneuvering, and libelous claims and counterclaims. But British economic and military superiority soon made it advantageous to for Chinese to convert, says author Sterling Seagrave.

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September 14, 2011

Making Stuff Funnier

Here in an interview with authors Peter Desberg and Jeffrey David the star producer, director, playwright and comedy writer Walter Bennett, reflects on writing comedy.

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September 11, 2011

Only 2.5 Per Cent Of Earth's Water Is Fresh

Only the tiniest fraction of all the earth's water is available to us as fresh liquid water, and control of rivers, more than oceans or lakes, has been the key to the advance of civilization, writes Steven Solomon.

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September 07, 2011

An Active Hatred Of The British

"In the 1890s, Americans still had an active hate for the British,'' writes Walter Karp.

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September 04, 2011

Bonds v. Stocks

As told in The Big Short, Michael Lewis's chronicle of the sub-prime mortgage debacle, Steve Eisman and Vincent Daniel were two brilliant investment managers who were among the very few to figure out the problem early on. Along the way, they discovered that the stock market (also called the equity market) was small and relatively well regulated compared to the bond market (also called the fixed income market) - which was huge, sprawling and had eluded serious regulation.

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August 31, 2011

One Of The Greatest Tragedies In Human History

During Chairman Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, which was an effort to use centralized Communist planning to vault China's economy past those of the Western European powers, China endured one of the greatest tragedies in human history - the death of over 45 million people, writes Frank Dikotter.

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August 28, 2011

Children Who Tell Lies

"Researchers have found that the ability to tell fibs at the age of two is a sign of a fast developing brain and means they are more likely to have successful lives. They found that the more plausible the lie, the more quick witted they will be in later years and the better their ability to think on their feet. It also means that they have developed 'executive function' - the ability to invent a convincing lie by keeping the truth at the back of their mind,'' writes Richard Alleyne.

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August 24, 2011

Financial Turmoil

Given the turmoil in financial markets it is interesting to note the not-so-subtle beginnings of the still-current financial crisis - namely subprime real estate. With all that has transpired since 2007, it is a problem that remains only partially addressed, say the authors of the book Guaranteed To Fail.

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August 21, 2011

Barbaric Rituals And Degrading Superstitions

"In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the Russian Orthodox Church sent more pilgrims to Jerusalem than any other branch of the Christian faith,'' writes Orlando Figes.

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August 17, 2011

Connery's Bond

After World War II, movies about spies and war were taken seriously - a movie told a story and the audience was expected to believe it. Ian Fleming's wildly popular books about James Bond continued that tradition - Fleming's Bond was a humorless, high-born, and unquestioningly patriotic creature. (In fact, Fleming dismissed the idea of Alfred Hitchcock directing his films because he he felt he would not treat them seriously enough). Sean Connery - who was relatively unknown, was climbing up from a working class background, and was paid a relative pittance for the role - knew intuitively to imbue his Bond with insolence and an amoral humor. Thus 1962's Dr. No, the first of the Bond movies, marks the beginning of decadence in post-war cinema - the first time the audience is in on the joke, writes Christopher Bray.

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August 14, 2011

The Noble Gases

the Noble Gases, also known as inert gases, are located in column eighteen on the far right side of the Periodic Table of Elements and consist of: Helium (He), Neon (Ne), Argon (Ar), Krypton (Kr), Xenon (Xe), and Radon (Rn). Each of these gases, under standard conditions, are odorless, colorless, monatomic gases, with very low chemical reactivity, writes Sam Kean.

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August 10, 2011

Hitler Decides To Enter Politics

In 1918, after one final military assault that failed, Germany was defeated. Young Adolf Hitler, blind after a mustard gas attack, and humiliated after the Fatherland's defeat, vowed to enter politics, writes John Toland.

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August 07, 2011

Wonder Girl

At the turn of the twentieth century, a time of the greatest inward migration in American history, Ole and Hannah Didriksen and their small, destitute Norwegian family migrated to bleak, oil-drenched East Texas to seek riches from the new oil boom. Their as-yet-unborn daughter, later known to the world as Babe Didrikson, was to become one of the most acclaimed athletes in America history. But not before the Didriksens endured more poverty in America, and suffered the same mixture of hope and heartbreak suffered by millions of immigrants before and since, writes Don Van Natta Jr.

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August 03, 2011

The Making Of Sports Illustrated

"Time Magazine founder Henry Luce launched the new magazine Sports Illustrated in 1954, a time in which the biggest change in American life was the rapid growth of leisure and entertainment. The writing was superb - William Faulkner wrote an account of the 1955 Kentucky Derby - but it did not produce a profit until its tenth year,'' writes Alan Brinkley.

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July 31, 2011

Russia Colonizes America

"The expeditions of Vitus Bering, after whom the Bering Strait is named, were part of a successful Russian effort to colonize America in the early 1700s. Russia's dominion iver a vast portion of North America ended over a century later with the U.S. purchase of 'Alaska' from Russia under the administration of President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward - a transaction known as Seward's Folly''' writes Stephen R Bown.

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July 27, 2011

Europe's Beautiful Bridges

Some of Europe's most beautiful bridges - the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Old London Bridge, the Rialto Bridge in Venice - were evidence of the trade and wealth that was pulling Europe out of its feudal past and toward a market economy, a transition known as the Commercial Revolution. Trade was most pronounced on rivers, especially where those rivers were near the sea, and new bridges were built throughout the continent. Houses, shops, and marketplaces were built on top of these bridges, and the lenders who set up their shops on the river banks adjacent to these bridges - the "banchieri" in Italian - gave us the modern word "bank", writes Steven Solomon.

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July 24, 2011

Studying Sex

Alfred Kinsey, and later William Masters and Virginia Johnson, endured rejection and ridicule to publish what ultimately became recognized as groundbreaking studies on human sexuality, says Mary Roach.

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July 20, 2011

Marlon Brando - The Godfather

In today's excerpt - legendary movie critic Pauline Kael wrote the following passage about Marlon Brando in The New Yorker as part of her 1972 review of the then newly-released movie, The Godfather:

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July 17, 2011

No Point In Trying To Hide From Your Bacteria

"Louis Pasteur, the great French chemist and bacteriologist, became so preoccupied with them that he took to peering critically at every dish placed before him with a magnifying glass, a habit that presumably did not win him many repeat invitations to dinner,'' writes Bill Bryson.

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July 13, 2011

America's Great Advantage

The United States has recently developed a key strategic advantage versus most other countries in the world: the U.S. population is growing, especially in the key working age groups, while a significant number of other large countries have declining populations and have a comparatively higher percent of their population in the "retired" age range - which will create a higher burden in social security and healthcare costs, writes Joel Kotkin.

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July 10, 2011

The New Madrid Earthquakes

"In 1811-1812, a series of earthquakes known as the New Madrid Earthquakes rocked the Mississippi Valley, reaching a level some estimate as 7.5 to 8.0 on the Richter Scale. These earthquakes remain the most powerful earthquakes ever to hit the eastern United States,'' writes Michael Wallis.

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July 06, 2011

Most Soldiers Are Reluctant To Kill

Most soldiers are reluctant to fire their weapons when confronted by the enemy, writes Lt. Col. David Grossman.

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July 03, 2011

How To Fire Someone

Michael Freedland recalls that Judy Garland was fired by MGM during the early days of filming Annie Get Your Gun while coming off the set in full Indian costume.

Garland was perhaps the most popular entertainer of her era - dazzling audiences on film, radio, television and records - but had become increasingly unreliable. MGM was the grandest studio of Hollywood's golden era. Annie Get Your Gun was one of the most popular Broadway shows of its day - and was viewed as a sure-fire Hollywood box office smash.

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June 29, 2011

Rip Van Winkle

"Rip Van Winkle, who was author Washington Irving's vehicle for conveying the lightning pace of change in early post-Revolutionary America. During this period, Americans became the first people to expect and to prize change, and business and profit became more honored than in any other country in the Western world,'' says author Gordon Wood.

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June 26, 2011

The Dangerous Economics Prize

"Academic orthodoxy can be a dangerous thing. In fact, any kind of orthodoxy can too easily segue into herd mentality. And in economics, academic orthodoxy coupled with advanced quantitative techniques can easily become uncoupled from sound reasoning and common sense,'' says author Ho-Joon Chang.

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June 22, 2011

The Triumph Of The Cities

"In 2007, the urban population of the world surpassed the rural population for the first time, due to both the increased mechanization of agriculture and the economic and social lure of the city. It had happened in the U.S. in the late 1910's. Now, two hundred forty-three million Americans crowd together in the 3 percent of the country that is urban, and the other 97 percent of the land in the country houses the remaining sixty million. And China's urban population is expected to surpass its rural population in 2015. The city has triumphed,'' writes Edward Glaeser.

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June 19, 2011

Too Much Success

Alan Jay Lerner comments on the unhappy ending of his long-term Broadway collaboration with Fritz Loewe, a relationship through which they had both achieved stratospheric success, yet one that came to an unclimactic end during the production of their last smash musical hit - Camelot

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June 15, 2011

American Aid For Pakistan

"The United States routinely gives billions of dollars to foreign governments to influence the progress and policies of those governments. Yet the outcomes of those investments are unpredictable, and often the opposite of what we intended. During the Cold War, India was sympathetic to the Soviet Union and so we shunned it, while Pakistan was willing to assume our anti-Communist rhetoric and so we rewarded it,'' says Lawrence Wright.

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June 12, 2011

Americans Love To Be Humbugged

"The Cardiff Man, P.T. Barnum, and the Wizard of Oz. The Cardiff Man, a twelve-foot petrified giant "discovered" outside of Syracuse, New York, was perhaps the greatest hoax of the nineteenth century. New Yorker Phineas T. Barnum was one of the greatest businessmen of the age, the empresario of an era that saw the U.S. economy on the verge of becoming the largest in the world. L. Frank Baum, later the author of The Wizard of Oz, was then a Syracuse castorine-oil merchant who, along with all other citizens of the town, watched the hoax unfold,'' writes Evan I. Schwartz.

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June 08, 2011

Chess Grand Masters Have Average Cognitive Skills

"Chess grandmasters have average cognitive skills and average memories for matters outside of chess, and only show their extraordinary skills within the discipline of chess. This suggests that expertise in chess (and most other areas) has less to do with analytical skills - the ability to project and weigh the relative merits of hundreds of options - and more to do with long-term immersion and pattern recognition - having experienced and "stored" thousands of game situations and thus having the ability to pluck an optimal answer from among those stored memories. It also suggests that expertise may be less a result of analytical prowess and more a result of passion, love or obsession for a given subject area - enough passion to have spent the hours necessary to accumulate a robust set of experiences and memories in that area,'' writes Joshua Foer.

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June 05, 2011

The Naming Of America

"In 1507, a German scholar named Matthias Ringmann gave the New World a name - America,'' records author Toby Lester.

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June 01, 2011

Five Rules For Better Writing

George Orwell, in his famous 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language," lamented the demise of the English language, in particular the lack of clarity in the expression of ideas. In it, he gave five brief examples of bad writing and five rules for better writing.

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May 29, 2011

My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life

Hal Needham, whose extraordinary Hollywood career encompassed 4,500 television episodes and 310 feature films as a stuntman, and then ten movies as director - including the iconic 70s movies Smoky and the Bandit and Hooper reveals that he was not yet ten years old and the child of a single mother when his life in rural Arkansas was saved by the Salvation Army. His experience was not untypical of rural America in the 1940s

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May 25, 2011

Sex O'Clock In America

"For those who thought America's rebellious music and dance started with rock and roll in the 1950s, it was instead 50 years earlier, the music was ragtime, and as in 1950, the "Negro" was wrongly vilified,'' says author Jon Savage.

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May 22, 2011

Do Women Talk More Than Men?

"There are some ideas that people are so ready to believe that they become widely held with little or no basis in data. One such item was the 2006 assertion by Louann Brizendine that women speak 20,000 words a day and men speak only 7,000,'' says author Robert Lane Green.

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May 18, 2011

Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven

Authors Richard Cole and Richard Trubo tell of the making of Led Zeppelin's iconic rock album Stairway To Heaven.

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May 15, 2011

My Fair Lady

After years of planning and months of agonizing preparation, Alan Jay Lerner and Fritz Loewe had the smash hit of 1956 on their hands - My Fair Lady - the biggest hit in the history of Broadway up to that point. As the curtain fell, Lerner, who had written the book and lyrics for the show, had something unexpected to deal with - enormous success.

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May 11, 2011

The Mansions Of Kings And Queens

"Traditionally, the great house builders (and house accumulators) in Britain were monarchs. At the time of his death Henry VIII had no fewer than forty-two palaces. But his daughter Elizabeth cannily saw that it was much cheaper to visit others and let them absorb the costs of her travels, so she resurrected in a big way the venerable practice of making annual royal "progresses" (lengthy visits to the houses of nobles). The queen was not in truth a great traveler - she never left England or even ventured very far within it - but she was a terrific visitor. Her annual progresses lasted eight to twelve weeks and took in about two dozen houses,'' Bill Bryson informs us.

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May 08, 2011

How We Got Do Re Mi

Peter D'Epiro tells of the invention of a method of learning notes we now refer to as "do, re, mi''.

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May 04, 2011

Steve Martin Quits Stand-Up

"In his peak years of 1978 and '79, Martin played outdoor amphitheaters and twenty-thousand-seat coliseums, sometimes two shows a night. He was outdrawing even the top rock groups of the era.''

But Steve Martin was about to be overwhelmed by his own popularity, as Richard Zoglin reveals in his book Comedy at the Edge.

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May 01, 2011

The Unwritten Rules Of Baseball

"With the baseball season in full swing, astute fans will want to brush up on the unwritten rules of baseball - those rules which are not in the official major league rulebook but are nevertheless stringently observed. Here are the unwritten rules that cover "basebrawls" - the fights that break out during games,'' writes Paul Dickson.

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April 27, 2011

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz

Writing about one of the most famous childrens's books of all timne, L Fran Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Jon Savage says "Despite Baum's avowed intent to leave out the musty nightmares of European folktales, Oz was full of trickery, dismemberment, and pervasive fear.''

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April 24, 2011

Undemocratic Chinese Leaders

Richard C Koo presents sobering thoughts on decisions confronting China's undemocratic leadership.

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April 20, 2011

I Would Rather Die Than Hate You

"In 1630, John Winthrop, leader of the religious colonists who would establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony, delivered to them a sermon that is now considered one of the most important documents in setting forth a vision of America, "A Model of Christian Charity". Anticipating the hardships they will encounter during the coming months and years, it centers on the impossible idea that we should love our neighbors as ourselves,'' writes Sarah Vowell in her book The Wordy Shipmates.

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April 17, 2011

Computers Which Read And Learn

...It would read twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It would be a perpetual reading machine, and by extracting information, it would slowly cobble together a network of knowledge: every president, continent, baseball team, volcano, endangered species, crime. Its curriculum was the World Wide Web...

Author Stephen Baker tells of machines which are building a "big picture'' of the world.

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April 13, 2011

Musical Notes And Ordinary Noises

"Musical notes are different from non-musical noises because every musical note is made up of a ripple pattern which repeats itself over and over again,'' John Powell explains.

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April 10, 2011

The United States Constitution

Jill LePore reminds us that Anti-Federalists charged that the United States Constitution was so difficult to read that it amounted to a conspiracy against the understanding of a plain man.


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April 06, 2011

Waves Of Revolution

...Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of large states were ruled by autocrats, and virtually all the people in those states lived in poverty. Since then, however, international waves of revolution have been common, as the decentralization of economic power brought by the Industrial Revolution has created an imperative for the decentralization of political power...

Today's words, courtesy of Delanceyplace, tell of the revolutionary waves which down the centuries have swept around the world.

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April 03, 2011

The Truth Wears Off

Delauncey Place, a not-for-profit organisation based in the USA, offers regular, interesting and noteworthy quotes from articles and books.

That name Delanceyplace comes from the name of a Street in downtown Philadelphia. The Web site's founder Richard Vague is a voracious reader and he would occasionally (which became frequently) send out quotes from whatever he was reading at the time to his circle of friends that he thought they would find meaningful.

Clarissa F. Griebel, Publisher of Delauncey Place, has given Open Writing permission to reproduce some of the articles which appear on a fascinating Web site.

Today we begin what will be a regular series of Delauncey Place extracts.

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