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Archive for April, 2009

alhambra“One of Spain’s most enduring historical mysteries is close to being solved as experts decipher and translate more than 10,000 Arabic inscriptions adorning the walls of the Alhambra palace in Granada.

“The intricate Arabic inscriptions carved into the ceilings, columns and walls inside the imposing hill-top fortress have long fascinated visitors. They contain everything from snatches of poetry and verses from the Qur’an to clever aphorisms, pious wishes and boastful slogans.

“There are so many of them, however, that nobody has ever managed to study each and every one. Now a team of researchers armed with 3D laser scanners and digital imaging software is slowly working its way around the complex recording, transcribing and translating every inscription.

“‘There is probably no other place in the world where studying walls, columns and fountains is so similar to turning the pages of a book,’ said Juan Castilla, of Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), who heads the team.” (cont’d @ Guardian UK)

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Walgreens has announced that the commander in chief will not sprout a Chia Afro on its shelves. . . .

“We decided to pull the product because it didn’t fit with our corporate image,” [Robert Elfinger, a spokesman for Walgreens] said in a company statement. “We also didn’t want to be subject to any misinterpretation over the product. People could interpret it through a political viewpoint or other viewpoints and we want to avoid that situation.” . . .

“News of Walgreens’ removal of the presidential planter has led at least one enterprising Internet seller to offer the Chia Obama for $50—more than double the $19.99 shelf price.” (more @ Chicago Tribune)

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“In a recession, what people want is a happy ending.

“At a time when booksellers are struggling to lure readers, sales of romance novels are outstripping most other categories of books and giving some buoyancy to an otherwise sluggish market.

Harlequin Enterprises, the queen of the romance world, reported that fourth-quarter earnings were up 32 percent over the same period a year earlier, and Donna Hayes, Harlequin’s chief executive, said that sales in the first quarter of this year remained very strong. While sales of adult fiction overall were basically flat last year, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, the romance category was up 7 percent after holding fairly steady for the previous four years.” (more @ NY Times)

Related: That Old Flame

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sontag“Authorities in Sarajevo plan to name a city square after the late U.S. author and activist Susan Sontag, who, during the Bosnian war, staged Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot there. . . .

“Sontag’s insistence on staging the existential play in the besieged city drew attention to the country’s civil war. The Washington Post dubbed Sontag’s production ‘Waiting for Clinton.’

“‘Beckett’s play, written over 40 years ago, seems written for, and about, Sarajevo,’ noted Sontag at the time.

“The writer died in 2004 at age 71 from leukemia.” (more @ CBC News)

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schindlerpapers“A list of Jews saved from the Nazi death camps during World War II by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler has been found in research notes at an Australian library and will go on public display on Tuesday.

“The list of 801 Jewish men was found among six boxes of papers that belonged to the Australian author Thomas Keneally who wrote the book ‘Schindler’s Ark’ that was the basis for the Oscar-winning film ‘Schindler’s List‘ by Stephen Spielberg. The 13-page, yellowing, document was found tucked between research notes and German newspaper cuttings by a researcher at the New South Wales Library in Sydney sifting through the boxes of manuscripts acquired by the library in 1996.” (more @ Reuters)

RelatedSchindler’s List found in Sydney

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“What’s the right price for an e-book? No more than $10, says a group of Amazon Kindle e-book owners — and they have found a novel way to make themselves heard.

“Some 250 Kindle readers are using Amazon’s own book-tagging system to mark e-books priced more than $10 with the tag ‘9 99 boycott‘. Their argument: A Kindle book is more restricted in its use than a paper book and therefore should not cost as much. . . .

“The protesters are the latest in a long line of consumers to rebel against restrictive copy-protection technologies. Music lovers have been circumventing copy protection for decades, leading some labels to begin removing digital rights management (DRM) technology entirely. Film studios and consumers have clashed over copy protection in DVDs. Even iPhone apps are not immune from DRM-busting pirates.” (more @ Wired)

Related: Pirates Board Apple’s iPhone App Store

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Robert Delford Brown, a painter, sculptor, performance artist and avant-garde philosopher whose exuberantly provocative works challenged orthodoxies of both the art world and the world at large, usually with a big wink, was found dead on March 24 in the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, N.C. . . .

“A colleague of artists like Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg and Nam June Paik, Mr. Brown was a central figure in the anarchic New York art scene of the early 1960s, a participant in — and instigator of — events-as-art known as “happenings.” He saw the potential for aesthetic pronouncement in virtually everything. His métier was willful preposterousness, and his work contained both anger and insouciance.

“His raw materials included buildings, pornographic photos and even meat carcasses.

“He often performed in the persona of a religious leader, but dressed in a clown suit with a red nose and antennas hung with ripe bananas. In the end his message to the world was that both spirited individualism and unimpeded creativity must triumph.” (more @ NY Times)

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hendrix“Eric Segalstad has spent the past few years researching a group of musicians who have been dubbed ‘The 27s’ — rockers who died at that age, either through tragedy, misadventure or excess. The club includes Kurt Cobain, who took his own life 15 years ago Sunday.

“The king of grunge is just one of the more than 20 musicians featured in Segalstad’s book, The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll. It includes artists across all genres — from Jim Morrison to Robert Johnson.

“So, what is it about the number 27?

“‘It’s a strange number,’ Segalstad tells NPR’s Robert Smith. ‘It also happens right around that time in your life where most people go from the stage of youth to the stage of maturity.'” (more @ NPR)

An excerpt from Segalstad’s book can be found here.

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“As the national economic crisis has deepened and social services have become casualties of budget cuts, libraries have come to fill a void for more people, particularly job-seekers and those who have fallen on hard times. Libraries across the country are seeing double-digit increases in patronage, often from 10 percent to 30 percent, over previous years.

“But in some cities, this new popularity — some would call it overtaxing — is pushing libraries in directions not seen before, with librarians dealing with stresses that go far beyond overdue fines and misshelved books. Many say they feel ill-equipped for the newfound demands of the job, the result of working with anxious and often depressed patrons who say they have nowhere else to go.” (more @ NY Times)

RelatedIt Has Computers, Gives Advice and Is Free

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“Dough, wonga, greenbacks, cash. Just words, you might say, but they carry an eerie psychological force. Chew them over for a few moments, and you will become a different person. Simply thinking about words associated with money seems to makes us more self-reliant and less inclined to help others. And it gets weirder: just handling cash can take the sting out of social rejection and even diminish physical pain.

“This is all the stranger when you consider what money is supposed to be. For economists, it is nothing more than a tool of exchange that makes economic life more efficient. Just as an axe allows us to chop down trees, money allows us to have markets that, traditional economists tell us, dispassionately set the price of anything from a loaf of bread to a painting by Picasso. Yet money stirs up more passion, stress and envy than any axe or hammer ever could. We just can’t seem to deal with it rationally… but why?” (more @ New Scientist)

RelatedWhy Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness

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“He is the 82-year old giant of Latin American literature who pioneered the school of magical realism and inspired a generation of novelists. But Gabriel García Márquez has barely written a word since his last novel, Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores, came out to distinctly mixed reviews five years ago.

“Now fans of the Colombian author are facing the prospect that, after a career spanning half a century, Garcia Marquez has finally laid down his pen for good.

“His agent, Carmen Balcells, told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera: ‘I don’t think that García Márquez will write anything else.'” (more @ Guardian UK)

Update

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“In the latest chapter of a hot dispute over the building of a proposed tower near the Brooklyn Bridge, the historian and Brooklyn Bridge expert David McCullough is voicing his opposition to the plan.

“At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. McCullough spoke to a crowd of more than 50 local advocates and politicians about why he opposed plans by the developer Two Trees Management to construct a tower called Dock Street Dumbo, so close to the Brooklyn Bridge.

“While Mr. McCullough lives in Maine, he used to live near the bridge, and also spent extensive amounts of time near the site of the bridge when researching the Battle of Brooklyn for his book ‘1776′ and the bridge itself for ‘The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.’ He also worked with Ken Burns on a documentary of the Brooklyn Bridge.

“‘It’s one of the most important structures in our country,’ he said. The construction of the proposed tower is ‘upstaging what should not be upstaged. The magic of the bridge’s image is diminished. It’s wrecked.'” (more @ NY Times)

letter from McCullough to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz opposing the Dock Street Project, penned in January, 2009, can be found here. 

A video of McCullough calling for a halt to construction plans near the Brooklyn Bridge, which he says would obscure the monument and damage a forgotten historical site nearby, can be found here.

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PD*27902069“A German pastor who sought to teach children the Easter message by fashioning bibilical scenes out of specially adapted Playmobil figures has been ordered by the toy maker to dismantle his creations.

“Rev Markus Bomhard, 38, an evangelical preacher from Eschborn, Hesse, glued breasts on to his ‘Eve’ character and even recreated the Passion in plastic, depicting the Crucifixion by using a hairdryer to melt and mould the Christ figure’s hands to a cross.

“But the montage attracted the wrath of Germany’s favourite toy company, which produces the Klicky figures used by the pastor, after a series of pictures were published on the internet.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

Meanwhile . . .

In Great Britain, “A nightclub leaflet showing the late Pope John Paul II holding a bottle of beer and dancing with a blonde woman has been banned.

“The Advertising Standards Authority branded the flyer offensive and ordered it to be removed [sic] a complaint by the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) on behalf of angry Poles and Catholics. . . .

“It was distributed to promote a night called Berserk at Club Fire nightclub in Ipswich.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

[Update: (4/9/09) I’ve decided to leave empty the now-broken link where the image of the lecherous Pope leaflet appeared in my post. When the Daily Telegraph updated the article yesterday they apparently deleted the image, no doubt at the request of some “higher authority.” Commentary enough, I think, on the power of  “angry Poles and Catholics.”]

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jackjohnson1“Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he’s sure that President Barack Obama ‘will be more than eager’ to pardon the late black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, who was sent to prison nearly a century ago because of his romantic ties with a white woman.

“Appearing with three of Johnson’s family members and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., McCain unveiled a resolution urging a presidential pardon for Johnson, who was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. The law has since been heavily amended, but has not been repealed. (more @ ESPN)

[Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion in 1908, defeating then-champion Tommy Burns from Australia; Johnson reigned until 1915, losing his title to Jess Willard in a controversial fight in Havana, Cuba. Best remembered for spawning a search for a “great white hope,” Johnson’s story has been chronicled in both stage and film productions of “The Great White Hope” and in “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” a PBS documentary by Ken Burns. Two particularly fine studies of Johnson’s cultural significance written by prominent sports historians are Bad Nigger!: The National Impact of Jack Johnson (Al-Tony Gilmore, 1975) and Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes (Randy Roberts, 1983).]

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pizzatheactionPuns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion. Most resemble mathematical formulas: clever, perhaps, but hardly occasion for knee-slapping. The worst smack of tawdriness, even indecency, which is why puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies. Odds are that a restaurant with a punning name — Snacks Fifth Avenue, General Custard’s Last Stand — hasn’t acquired its first Michelin star.” (more @ NY Times)

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Indonesia Miss Universe“A ‘relaxing, calm, beautiful place’ may not be everyone’s description of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States holds about 240 prisoners in a detention center that has drawn condemnation from around the world.

“But this was the opinion of reigning Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela, who visited the U.S. naval facility in eastern Cuba this month . . .

“‘It was a loooot of fun!,’ Mendoza wrote . . . she said they also visited a bar on the base and the ‘unbelievable’ beach there.” (more @ Reuters)

UpdateMiss Universe’s Blog Post on Guantánamo Vanishes

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reading01“Reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce the stress levels by more than two thirds, according to new research.

“And it works better and faster than other methods to calm frazzled nerves such as listening to music, going for a walk or settling down with a cup of tea, research found.

“Psychologists believe this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

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