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Brain Pickings

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Scrabulous Down, Scrabble Downer

Why the if-I-can’t-have-it-you-can’t-have-it mentality produces nothing but a generous serving of loser.


What a week for the vocabulary-obsessed. Scrabulous fans are 32 hours into the offline jitters as Hasbro has finally pulled the legal plug on the lovable impostor. This time, it seems like all the group-joining, petition-signing, general bitching-and-moaning in the world will help.

Meanwhile, Hasbro has launched their own Facebook Scrabble application.

Or, erm, tried to.

Does anyone else see the utter irony and hypocrisy of it all? Here’s Hasbro‘s largely flawed logic: they can take down Scrabulous because it’s a rip-off of Scrabble, but Scrabble can go ahead and rip off Scrabulous on Facebook.

Because, really, who are we kidding? The true innovation at stake here isn’t in the age-old game itself, it’s in engaging with people where they are and how they choose to engage. And Scrabulous came up with that part — a true testament to the medium being the message. We bet a number of kids picked up the game of Scrabble from their experience with the Scrabulous application — good news for Hasbro, one would think.

Instead, Scrabulous fans are left bitter and disgruntled, possible converts to the Scrabble app are left high and dry, and we’re left thinking no one — not Hasbro, not Scrabulous, and certainly not us users — will get to put down a bingo in the end.

Here’s to another marketer grossly, severely, chronically not getting it.


Street Pickings: Riding Rebels

Sticking it to the man one Kryptonite at a time, and then some art.


As seen in the oh-so-rebellious streets of Philadelphia:

Notice also the little (decapitated) red guy on the sign — a seemingly brand new addition to the infamous Toynbee guerrilla mystery. (Remember that?)

Meanwhile, if you’re in Philly and bike-minded, be sure to check out the velo + city: the social history of the bicycle exhibition at the Lisa M Reisman gallery — a collection of vintage prints, posters and ephemera, from the penny-farthing to the diamond frame.

Conveniently, it’s right off of Rittenhouse Square (1714 Rittenhouse Square St), the very locale of the above fence — so savor the Philly bike scene experience in its entirety with the delectable combo of art and law-breaking.


Friday FYI: You’re Richer Than You Think

How to instantly feel more fabulous and why not watching Goran Visnjic can save Haiti.

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Ever find yourself couch-vegging in front of VH1’s Fabulous Lives of… only to end up contemplating just how unfabulous your own life is? There’s help — because there’s nothing like some good ol’ downward social comparison to make yourself feel better.

Enter Global Rich List — just plug in your annual income, and you’ll get just how many people you’re richer than and what wealth percentile you fall into. We’re proud to say we’re the 173,043,479th richest in the world, in the top 2.88% on the bling scale. (Never mind we barely make rent.)

Even a minimum-wage American burger-flipper making $16,140 a year is still the 719,547,292nd richest person in the world, in the top 11.99%.

And as much as we enjoy feeling pimp, we dig the concept behind the Global Rich List — feel richer than you thought you were, appreciate your own fortune and share it with the less fortunate. The project is currently supporting CARE International, a global organization fighting poverty by providing families with the food they need to survive in the short term, then helping the communities create sustainable solutions for the future.

If you’re still not feeling rich, fortunate or generous enough, here’s some more food for thought — to help you turn it into food on some malnourished child’s table.

  • $8 could buy you 15 organic apples, or 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market
  • $30 could buy you an ER DVD box set, or a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti
  • $73 could buy you a new mobile phone, or a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda
  • $2400 could buy you a second-generation High Definition TV, or schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village

So: just how rich are you?



Adult wonderland, adult telecommunication, 229 miles of patriotism, why George Lucas is going head-to-head with a D-lister, and what NASA has to do with the MoMA.


We’re all about redefining perception by exploring new ways of looking at things normally taken for granted. And, apparently, so are you — some of our most popular content has been just in that vein. (Like this, this, this and that.) So today, we do exactly that: re-perceive.

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Most of us secretly wish the world had remained as we saw it when we were kids — bright, colorful, full of simple shapes and yet full of wonder. What would happen if that childhood world came to life in our adult reality?

That’s exactly what Korean artist Yeondoo Jung explores in his photoseries Wonderland. He collected over 1,000 drawings from 5-to-7-year-old South Korean children, curated the few best suited for the project, then recreated the depicted scenes with live models, dramatic costumes and flamboyant colors.


The result: a stunning, visually and conceptually dazzling collection of surreal photography that leaves us dreamsome and a little sad at the same time, the eerie bittersweetness of an imagined reality we’ve long dismissed as unattainable.

Also, it makes us wanna do psychedelic drugs.

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And speaking of the harsh clash between childhood dreams and adult reality, how about that all-important what-do-you-wanna-be-when-you-grow-up question? If we all ended up doing exactly what we answered at age 6, Capitalism and the entire Western civilization would have to depend on a dysfunctional army of astronauts, Yankees pitchers and Broadway starlets.

One answer we bet was quite uncommon: “phone sex operator.” Which makes us wonder about the persons behind the personas — who are the people who end up in this bastard child of the sex industry, the faceless strangers who inspire such blind and uninhibited intimacy? Are all of them really tall 36DD blondes?

In his new book, Phone Sex, photographer Phillip Toledano explores the complex human element behind the sexy voice through a crosssection of art and sociology that makes us reconsider the purely transactional nature of that industry.

“I’m 60 years old, have a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University, and married for 25 years. I have a son in his last years of college who lives at home. He’s a 4.0 with a double major in English Literature and Religion. Men call me for an infinity of reasons. Of course, they call to masturbate. I call it “Executive Stress Relief.” It’s not sex; it’s a cocktail of testosterone, fueled by addiction to pornography, loneliness, and the need to hear a woman’s voice. I make twice the money I made in the corporate world. I work from home, the money transfers into my bank account daily. I’m Scheherezade: If I don’t tell stories that fascinate the Pasha, he will kill me in the morning”

Read the fascinating interview with the artist at The Morning News and marvel at the gallery, complete with insight from the subjects ranging from the mundane to the unexpected to the utterly bizarre.

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Just like the fundamental currency of the phone sex business, many of the relationships we form in life are with virtual strangers little pieces of whom we get to know through random glimpses, strangers we build up into idols and antagonists, heroes and villains, based on how we put those random little pieces together.

Take celebrity culture. Or politics.

Some of the greatest American idols have inspired tremendous reverence and unconditional empathy in us common folk. Which is why their deaths become a national tragedy we experience and grieve like the death of a close friend. In 1968, a train between New York and Washington carried one such national tragedy: Robert F. Kennedy’s coffin. That train also carried Look Magazine photographer Paul Fusco.

Originally assigned to shoot the funeral procession, Fusco soon realized that the greater ceremony took place along the tracks of the 8-hour ride: Americans of all walks of life saluting the fallen hero, some barefoot, some wearing their finest church clothes. The Fallen was born.

Fusco only had one shot at each scene and, unable to change his position or perspective throughout the entire ride, but he made the most of it in a way that revealed the pure patriotism lining those 229 miles.

Using color-intense Kodachrome film, the photographer captured what history books never could: the raw impact Kennedy had on the people, stripping away all the political pretense to unveil the deep-felt human connection.

See The Fallen in its entirety at New York Times Magazine, with a deeply moving voiceover from the photographer himself.

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On a much lighter note, a much less artistically talented but no less experimentally brave guy takes on another kind of hero culture: movie heroes and superheroes. (Yep, we’re at it again.) D-list actor Andrew Goldenberg has taken to doing something so random and so bizarre that it’s simply brilliant: putting lyrics to movie theme songs.

Tux-clad and shakily on-key, he merges the worst of Broadway with the best of Comedy Central for a whole new level of spoof hilarity.

From Superman to Batman to Indiana Jones, he spares no blockbuster hero. Our favorite: Jaws. If Lucas were dead, he’d be rolling in his grave. Laughing. RIGL is the new ROFL.

>>> via LA Metblogs

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Remember our wildly popular Maps issue and that insanely artistic-looking NASA map of the moon? Well, the government’s space crusaders are back with more. The guys over at Environmental Graffiti bring us a collection of the 30 Most Incredible Abstract Images of Earth — we’re talking stuff better suited for the MoMA than the science classroom.

The collection represents the crème de la crème of the 400,000 images taken by NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite, hand-selected by NASA’s own scientists for an exhibition at the Library of Congress in 2000 — reassurance that at least some of our tax dollar is going to, um, the arts.

The images remind us of David Gallo’s stunning TED footage of those wondrous, color-shifting deep ocean creatures. Most of all, they remind us how amazing Earth is at its rawest, deepest core — and how overwhelming the sense of urgency about preserving it is.

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