Society and Culture

Matt Celeskey via flickr Creative Commons

To call someone a Neanderthal is to liken one to the heavy browed, ape-like troglodytes we see in history books or movies, but were they more sophisticated?

Sophisticated might be stretching it a bit, but a debate has surfaced in the scientific community about whether Neanderthals had a more complex culture than previous thought, and maybe even the cognitive powers equal to anatomically modern humans of the time.

Journalist Marek Kohn’s has been following the debate, his article “The Neanderthal Mind” appeared in the latest issue of Aeon magazine. He says the story starts with a perforated shell some fifty thousand years ago.

For Japanese Linguist, A Long And Lonely Schlep

Apr 16, 2012

A smattering of Yiddish words has crept into the American vernacular: Non-Jews go for a nosh or schmooze over cocktails. Yet the language itself, once spoken by millions of Jews, is now in retreat.

But you don't have to be Jewish to love Yiddish. In Japan, a linguist has toiled quietly for decades to compile the world's first Yiddish-Japanese dictionary — the first time the Jewish language has been translated into a non-European language other than Hebrew.

When 93-year-old Rachel Veitch picked up the newspaper on March 10 and realized that the macular degeneration in her eyes had developed to the point where she couldn't read the print, she knew it was time to stop driving.

But there's much more to the Orlando, Fla., woman's story.

The decision meant she would no longer be getting behind the wheel of her beloved 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente, a car she calls "The Chariot." Veitch has pampered her ride for nearly five decades and 567,000 miles.

Only four people in the United States carry the official designation of Lego Master Model Builder. And 23-year-old Andrew Johnson of Illinois is the newest — and youngest — to earn the title.

Legos are robots in disguise for Johnson, as in a 4 1/2-foot replica of the Transformer Optimus Prime made only from those tiny bricks.

Posting on Facebook is an easy way to connect with people, but it also can be a means to alienate them. That can be particularly troublesome for those with low self-esteem.

People with poor self-image tend to view the glass as half empty. They complain a bit more than everyone else, and they often share their negative views and feelings when face to face with friends and acquaintances.

America is dotted with countless restaurants large and small. Many of those are well-loved for their distinct character — and for what they can teach diners about cooking, and about life.

One such establishment is Enoteca Maria, an Italian restaurant on New York's Staten Island.

After losing his mom and sister, owner Joe Scaravella missed sitting down with family for home-cooked meals. So he created something of an oxymoron: a place to go out for a home-cooked meal.

Battle Over Barber Poles Spins In Minnesota

Mar 15, 2012

What's red, white and blue, and has spun its way into controversy? It's the barber pole.

The pole sometimes rotates outside the shops of cosmetologists or hair stylists who don't employ barbers. That's made some barbers across the country unhappy.

Minnesota is the latest state to explore making it illegal to display a barber pole, unless you are a licensed barber.

There's a new kind of technology that may be able to beat you at your own game — at least if your game is a crossword puzzle. Its name is "Dr. Fill," but unlike the TV psychologist, this doctor solves less complicated problems. Its solutions only go down and across.

The computer program will be an unofficial competitor at the 35th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in New York this week. It was created by Matt Ginsberg's software company, On Time Systems, which specializes in optimization algorithms.

It's hard to imagine Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Lucille Ball as part of the same club. But they were all, at one time, Girl Scouts. Founded 100 years ago in Savannah, Ga., the Girl Scouts now count 3.2 million members.

Girl Scout cookies have become as much of an American tradition as apple pie. At a busy intersection in Brookline, Mass., a gaggle of Girl Scouts stand behind a folding table piled high with boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas and Shortbreads.

"They are really, really good," the troop collectively assures a prospective buyer.

This spring, Les and Scott GrantSmith will mark their 25th wedding anniversary. The couple raised two daughters along the way. But 15 years ago, they hit a crisis that nearly shattered their family. Les was keeping a secret, and that became a problem. But they solved it as a family, in a way that kept them together and happy.

In the weeks leading up to that day back in 1997, Les was certain of two things: She was a mother who loved her daughters — and she was also transgender, the term for someone born in a body of the wrong sex.

Zumba isn't just a fitness craze; it's an international business with more than 12 million enthusiasts in its classes. You can buy Zumba CDs, a Zumba video game and Zumba clothes. For many students — who show up in spandex to body-roll, fist-pump and booty-shake — it's their first taste of Latin music and dance steps. Now, some Latin dancers are trying to make more of a distinction between their art — and what happens in a Zumba class.

Their marriage may be over, but singers Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony have come together for a new TV show that seeks out talent from throughout Latin America. It's been airing on Spanish language TV in the U.S. and in 21 countries. And as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports on today's All Things Considered, the show will also premiere on Fox this weekend, with English subtitles.

Back when refrigeration wasn't up to modern standards, Fat Tuesday was a time to clear your house of indulgent foods. This led to lots of rich recipes, from Shrove pancakes to King Cake. In Sweden, the specialty is semlor. A group of people in Portland, Ore., are keeping that dish — and a few other Swedish traditions — alive.

Picture soft, sweet rolls, sort of like brioche, piled with creamy almond filling. Now picture them being made by a room full of young, mostly blond children speaking Swedish.

(Note: This is a post about obscenity. Proceed with caution if the subject bothers you.)

We've got one more thing to say about "the bird" and singer M.I.A.'s flipping of her middle finger on national TV during Sunday's halftime show at the Super Bowl.

Cheap Chic: Couture Comes To Discount Retailers

Feb 3, 2012

On Feb. 5, fashion designer Jason Wu is launching a limited-edition line for Target. Wu became famous for designing Michelle Obama's inaugural gown. He's the latest high-end designer to partner with a mainstream retailer and offer his chic couture at cheap prices for the masses.

On a bitterly cold morning in Washington, D.C., last November, hundreds of fashionistas flooded the street in front of the low-priced fashion chain H&M. Italian luxury label Versace was launching a collection there, and customers were waiting for the doors to open.

S'il-Vous-Plait: Raising Your 'Bebe' The French Way

Feb 1, 2012

When her first child was born, Pamela Druckerman expected to spend the next several years frantically meeting her daughter's demands. In the U.S., after all, mealtimes, living rooms and sleep schedules typically turn to chaos as soon as a baby arrives. That's the reason one friend of mine used to refer to his child as a "destroying angel."

Every year, thousands of video-game fans flock to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for a unique music festival called MAGFest. It's short for "Music and Gaming Festival," and it's designed to celebrate the music of video games.

Photo by Theein via Flickr Creative Commons

Thousands of foster kids are released from the system at age 18 only to realize that they are thousands of dollars in fraudulent debt. It can take years for any target of identity theft to restore their credit, and even longer to recover a sense of security. Former foster kids without family support or the benefit of experience or access to resources can be especially challenged.

Photo by, ILoveDoodle, courtesy of Flickr creative commons

While celebrity might be an aspiration to some, actual stars complain about the adoring hordes fawning over their every move and the aggressive paparazzi capturing sloppy visits to the coffee shop and gym. For those envious of Kardashian-style celebrity, there is one man to call.

Raj Patel, Sherry Turkle, Bruce Levine, Tyler Cowen and Eliza Griswold...oh, my! We smack a big red bow on our 11 for '11 series of conversations with big thinkers, analyze their predictive powers, and talk about their spheres of influence.  How  

We also look at some folks who, in retrospect, should have made the list, like leading edge tweeter Evan Hill, and music critic and retro-downer Simon Reynolds

Photo by: A*A*R*O*N


(Photo by Zack Ramey via Flickr Creative Commons)

When I read about the New York City Beard Competition on the New York Times's City Room blog, I had to find out more about it...can you blame me? Turns out, Matt Flegenheimer was the guy to call.


Whisker Wars on IFC



I have done a lot of things in New Hampshire.

I have climbed Mount Monadnock in a sleet-storm, ridden a snow machine deep into the woods of Coos County; I have met future presidents, made maple syrup, split untold cords of firewood, battled ice dams, swallowed black flies; I’ve eaten beans that had been cooked in a hole in the ground in Berlin. 

I’ve been to the Isles of Shoals and to Donald Hall’s living room.

I once presented Hugh Gregg with the gift of a sack full of turnips. 

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And our last word in business today is comic value. The long-running NBC comedy series "The Office" is about a group of workers employed by a fictitious paper company.


(Photo by <a href="" target="_blank">Ginger Me</a> via Flickr Creative Commons)

Super designer and celebrity lifestyle expert Matthew Mead shares his ideas for Holiday entertaining. A vegan cookbook does its best to make Turkey Day yummy. P.J. O'Rourke shares tales from the lighter side of reporting. And why we should do a little better with that whole "listening" thing.

Produced by Chris Cuffe

Is time real, or is change just a kind of optical illusion resting on a deeper unchanging reality?

As finite creatures, with death hovering just out of our sight, the true nature of time haunts all our endeavors. Tomorrow, physicist Brian Greene tackles time's illusion in his Fabric of Reality PBS series. Science, however, is just one way we ask about the reality of time.

(Photo by dhammza / off via Flickr Creative Commons)

GalleyCat's Jason Boog talks about Amazon's foray into the publishing biz with some major authors signing on. And Alyssa Rosenberg, culture critic and contributor to The Atlantic, talks about how campaigns on shows like Glee compare to real-life political races.