Posts by: Lauren O'Neal

Man vs. Terrifying Gigantic Agribusiness

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…“grew up in world (S.C.) that wouldn’t accept him,” “needs adulation,” “doesn’t sleep,” was “scarred for life.”…“What’s motivating Hayes?—basic question.”

An actor’s notes for a role? A writer’s sketch of a character for a novel? Actually, these are observations by the communications manager of agribusiness giant Syngenta, as she and her colleagues try to figure out how to discredit the scientist who found one of their herbicides to cause “birth defects in humans as well as in animals.”

For the New YorkerRachel Aviv tells the story of the corporation’s relentless campaign against one biology professor—and his increasingly desperate attempts to fight back.

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Trolls Are “Sadists and Psychopaths”

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Common wisdom has it that the Internet has disconnected people from their sense of empathy—but maybe it’s just exposed society at large to greater numbers of people who were already unempathetic.

This Washington Post blog post reports on a Canadian study which “found that trolling correlated with higher rates of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, a certain lack of scruples when it comes to deceiving or manipulating other people.”

Is that better or worse?

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A Different Kind of Valentine

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Looking for a last-minute Valentine’s Day gift for the book-lover in your life? Why not pay that gift forward to your community?

Romance novelist Anna DeStefano’s Hearts for Hearts initiative “to give back to their communities by donating books they already own to nearby assistance groups” such as “homeless shelters, Medicaid nursing facilities, or similar centers.”

Or of course, our Letters in the Mail and book club subscriptions can always be given instantly—or, if your sweetheart is willing to wait, there’s our Write Like a Motherfucker mug with a big red heart on it.

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Do Writers Also Have to Be Protesters?

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Pankaj Mishra has always been a politically outspoken writer, so when Mo Yan, who has defended the Chinese government’s censorship, won the Nobel Prize, Mishra was the last person anyone expected to defend him.

But he did, asking, “Do we ever expose the political preferences of Mo Yan’s counterparts in the West to such harsh scrutiny?”

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How Writing Helped Connu’s Founders with Business

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Last year, writers Susannah Luthi and Niree Perian launched Connu, a sort of literary magazine in app form that curates short stories for readers. (We blogged about their Kickstarter campaign back in June.)

You’d think creating apps and writing fiction would go together like water and oil, but Luthi says it was actually surprisingly helpful to approach business from a writing background:

I’ll paraphrase John Trimble’s Writing with Style: What you build (or write) should be worth people’s attention.

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The Obsessive, Nerdy Joys of Copyediting

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This conversation at the Millions between Edan Lepucki and her copyeditor Susan Bradanini Betz is a beautiful paean to the editing process—and enlightening for anyone who wonders what precisely a copyeditor does.

Lepucki and Betz discuss author/editor compatibility, obsessive style sheets, and Donna Tartt’s anti-copyediting broadside.

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Studies Confirm: High School Sucks

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…over the past 40 years, despite endless debates about curricula, testing, teacher training, teachers’ salaries, and performance standards…there has been no improvement—none—in the academic proficiency of American high school students.

Also, “American high schools are even more boring than schools in nearly every other country.”

Read more depressing facts about American high schools at Slate.

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Acclaimed African Author Comes Out as Gay

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Supporters of African LGBT rights were so relieved about Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s veto of an anti-gay bill that they were nearly blindsided when Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s signed a similar bill into law.

The law prompted Binyavanga Wainaina, a prominent Kenyan author who also spends a lot of time in Lagos, Nigeria’s capital, to share something his wide readership did not know: he is gay.

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Grimm Fairy Tales Just Got Grimmer

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British art giant David Hockney is best known for pop-art paintings like A Bigger Splash, but he has also worked in many other mediums—including, it seems, illustrations for children’s books.

Over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova highlights a recently reissued collection of fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm with striking, discomfiting drawings by Hockney.

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Lil Wayne: Ecofeminist

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Back in college, Chelsey Clammer proclaimed herself an ecofeminist with an outbreak of bumper stickers on the back of her car: “Tree Hugging Dirt Worshiper,” “‘The Only Bush I Trust is My Own (and underneath that I wrote ‘and my girlfriend’s’),” and “a slew of…rainbow Ani Difranco stickers.”

These days, she’s more partial to Lil Wayne than the Lilith Fair, but she hasn’t given up her ecofeminist ideals, as she explains in an academically rigorous essay for the Nervous Breakdown:

“My anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hun.” Mix-A-Lot views (a part of) himself as a snake—perhaps as being one with nature.

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Barrelhouse Turns 10, Publishes Books

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Ten years marks the “tin anniversary,” but lit-mag Barrelhouse is celebrating theirs in a different way: by starting a small press!

Two of Barrelhouse’s first titles are You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored, a poetry collection by Justin Marks, and Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck: Rejection Letters from the Eyeshot Outbox, a nonfiction book by Lee Klein.

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A “Ridiculous, Potent Musical Minefield”

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As part of McSweeney’s long-running series “Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond,” Summer Brennan wrote “An Open Letter to the Mix Tape Made for Me by My College Boyfriend, Now Deceased.”

It’s exactly as poignant and sadly funny as the title makes it sound, and in Brennan’s able hands, it becomes downright transcendent.

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Sometimes It’s Okay to Read the Comments

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It’s a truism among people who spend a lot of time online that you should never, under any circumstances, read the comments—especially not YouTube comments.

But when writer Mark Slutsky broke that rule, he found unexpected flashes of genuine emotion hidden in the cesspool of racial slurs and semiliterate rantings—memories of a deceased friend under a James Blunt song, for example, or a tribute to a young cancer survivor under her favorite Taylor Swift tune.

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Millennials of Color Don’t Fit Your Stereotypes

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There have been a lot of hand-wringing thinkpieces about Millennials in the media, but most of them are just wordy ways to say, “Kids these days.” As Mike Dang points out, these thinkpieces also fail to take race into account, which is a pretty big oversight considering Millennials constitute “the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history.”

Many Asian Americans are expected to regularly send money to their parents, sometimes even the entirety of their first paycheck.

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The State of American Poetry

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If you liked David Biepsiel’s State of American Poetry address, here’s a nice counterpart by Natasha Trethewey at the Virginia Quarterly Review.

“Despair about the place of poetry in American culture is nothing new,” she begins, and goes on to write about the necessity and indelibility of poetry at the most basic levels:

For all of that, poetry is the corrective, the sacred language that allows us to connect across time and space, across all the things in everyday life that separate us and would destroy us.

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“Give Me Your Little Paw”

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In a luminous essay for the Morning News, Julia Phillips describes tagging along with the mushers of the Beringia, a Russian dogsled race that’s like the Iditarod but even more intense.

It’s a definite must-read in which Phillips deftly chronicles the simultaneous beauty and horror of half-wild dogs, a rainbow of Russian curses, the “mat of intimacies and betrayals” between contestants, and of course, the endless, unbelievable cold of the tundra.

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