Saturday, September 29, 2007


Putting Voices and Faces to the Story

This week my wife Jennifer and I are together for an hour-long interview with Krista Tippett on public radio's Speaking of Faith to talk about autism and the experience of raising our son Morgan.

Both the hour-long show and the unedited two hour raw footage of the entire interview (and I mean entire, right down to a long sound check) are at their website. They've done a beautiful job with the site, including both my own 2005 Times piece on Prozac and autism, Stephen Jay Gould's wonderful essay on his autistic son, and Morgan's own selection of his favorite Youtube videos.

It's the first time that Jennifer and I have been interviewed together. The photo of Morgan (above) was taken by our friend Marc Thomas (yes, the "Uncle Marc" of the book!) in 2002, squarely in the middle of the year covered by Not Even Wrong.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Tommy, the Musical

McSweeney's fans from the early days -- not to mention Seattlites who saw us read together at Elliot Bay a few years ago with Dan Savage, Sherman Alexie, Ellen Forney and Sean Carman -- might be wondering what Tommy Wallach has been up to lately.

Well, wonder no more: he's got an album out at CD Baby, and this handmade video for a newly written "Elodie" that made Youtube video of the week and racked up a deservedly gargantuan view count:


J-Cope's J-Rock

Today's Guardian reviews Teardrop Explodes frontman Julian Cope's new book Japrocksampler:

The music discussed in Japrocksampler has made almost no impact outside Japan, partly owing to the barrier of an undecodably alien writing system. Cope himself is not a Japanese speaker, but his omnivorous LP collecting and his friendship with some of Japan's current rockers make him a credible candidate to write this book.... Other books on the subject are not on offer. Alan Cummings, the most knowledgeable (and bilingual) British scholar of Japanese alternative music, writes articles for the Wire but has not yet written a stand-alone text. Japanese Independent Music, issued in 1998 by Sonore (a French publisher ) is out of print... Japrocksampler is a flawed but welcome reminder that there are musical worlds beyond our ken.

As you might guess from my Slate piece raving about J-rock earlier this year -- and lamenting how little known it is in the US -- I've already put in an order for this one. Like Cope, I don't know any Japanese, and it hardly matters.... it's just great music.

Don't believe me? Listen to this 30-second mp3 clip of "Daily News" by the band Lostage.

Or just watch a whole video for their song "Television City":

... Or watch Mo'some Tonebender's "Rockin' Luuula":

Saturday, September 15, 2007


A Forgotten Women's Health Scandal

I'm in New Scientist this week with the most disturbing bit of history I think I've ever written about -- it's about the "Tricho System" of the 1920s:

Tucked between pleas for the return of a travelling case left on the subway and a brown leather purse lost at the Polo Grounds, the New York Times’ Lost & Found column for 27 July 1923 contained this curious ad: “FOUR FIELD MICE lost from laboratory, 244 W 74th St., each mouse has a round bald spot on the right side caused by scientific experimentation. $20 reward for each mouse returned dead or alive to Dr. Albert C. Geyser, 244 W. 74th St.” New Yorkers were not to know it, but those fugitive mice were harbingers of one of the worst medical disasters of their time....

The disaster in question was Geyser's opening a chain of salons across the country in 1925, promising women "painless hair removal" in just minutes -- which is indeed exactly what they got. What they were not told was that the mysterious Tricho treatment actually consisted of.... massive doses of X-ray radiation.

In perhaps the least-known American medical scandal of the 20th century, tens of thousands of woman in the 1920s through 1940s -- and the number might even reach into the 6 figures -- received X-ray radiation to their faces and arms. After an initial wave of skin ailments and lawsuits, the real extent of the damage took much longer to show up --

Decades later, a second wave of Tricho injuries emerged: tell-tale scarring, wrinkling, and advanced cancers that, as one doctor in Toronto put it, were “obvious stigmata of radiation exposure”. One 80-year-old patient arrived with a grapefruit-sized tumour in her head; another refused treatment until she had “a huge and deep crater occupying practically the whole lower half of the breast and the chest wall immediately below it”. By 1970, US researchers were attributing over one-third of radiation-induced cancers in women to X-ray hair removal.

One 1989 study in the medical journal Surgery coined this term to describe the patients they were seeing: "North American Hiroshima Maiden Syndrome."

These injuries emerged so slowly that they received scarcely any media attention. The great mass of my sources were medical journals. The Times, for instance, has not written a single article in the last 80 years on the Tricho scandal. Not one. They certainly have had reason to: Tricho's NYC clinic boasted of having 20,000 patients alone.

Among new findings that my research turned up was that Tricho was getting sued by early test patients even as their system was getting launched; more hauntingly, I uncovered the fate of Tricho's most prominent celebrity endorser, the famed Ziegfield star Ann Pennington.

Sunday, September 09, 2007



From 1882, it's....

* (Must be pronounced aloud like a Thomas Dolby lyric.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Universal Wants You! (To Stop Discounting)

Back again to my earlier post on the overturning of the Dr. Miles decision by the Supreme Court, and the possibility of pricing restrictions in publishing: there's a fascinating piece yesterday in NPR's On The Media about a new case by Universal Music Group which opens another front in industry efforts to assert control beyond the "First Sale Doctrine."

Wikipedia, take it away! --

"The doctrine allows the purchaser to transfer (i.e., sell or give away) a particular lawfully made copy of the copyrighted work without permission once it has been obtained. That means that a copyright holder's rights to control the distribution of a particular copy end once that copy is sold. This doctrine is also referred to as the "first sale rule" or "exhaustion rule".

The First Sale Doctrine has been applied to book wholesalers who then distribute books to shops, who thus can sell it for whatever they like.... even at a loss. If Universal prevails, that could change.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Deathly Hallows Indeed

UK newspapers are abuzz that the UK division of Borders is on the ropes and ripe for takeover.

Wait, you say: an invincible chain in trouble? Good heavens, who was the giant-killer? According to an analysis posted today by Alan Shipman in Finance Week, it was Harry Potter:

The bespectacled boy wizard has gone the way of baked beans and designer jeans, becoming a loss-leader that gets sold at or below cost so as to draw customers into a store where they will splash out on more profitable lines. At the height of the Potter price war, supermarket chain Tesco – whose discount strategy has rapidly raised it to Britain’s biggest book and newsagent chain, alongside purveyor of one-third of its food – was selling the Deathly Hallows at £5, compared with a recommended price of £13.... Unfortunately for bookshops and other children’s authors, Potter has proved more a substitute than a complement for other contemporary fiction. So while shops’ loss on cheap beans and jeans is recouped on the basket that fills up around them, Rowling’s oeuvre has tended to fill the carrier bag on its own, depriving them of serendipitous sales with a more normal margin.

His ultimate culprit behind all this? You guessed it: the end of the Net Book Agreement.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


When Does a Bean Bag Toss Cost $350?

When it's a Victorian bean bag game, naturally....

Looks fun, but it's no Paper Box Furniture...


English As She is Scanned

An original 1855 copy of English as She is Spoke -- as originally published in Paris under the title O Novo Guia da Conversacao -- can now be viewed over at Google Books....

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