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There’s a Fungus Among Us

Medicine, Poison, and Dietary Pleasure
Revered as powerful medicine, feared as deadly poison, and beloved as tasty additions to our diet, mushrooms inspire both dread and gustatory pleasure. We apply the term “mushroom” to over 38,000 varieties of fungus.

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Out of this World

More Science Fiction
Sentient castles, anthropomorphic animals, animated objects, and humanoid creatures populate literature, but few concepts capture the imagination so well as life beyond our planet. Ancient peoples gazing upon the night sky grouped the constellations, named them, and created stories about them, a belief called cosmic pluralism. Those ancients assumed the existence of many inhabited worlds beyond that which they knew and gave them names, such as Valhalla. Authors use the  extraterrestrial archetype to illustrate the best and worst of humanity. Stories, including the mythologies of various peoples, that feature extraterrestrial beings can be grouped by period. Many have been repeatedly reprinted and repurposed into graphic novels, animated cartoons, television shows, and movies.

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Icons of Romance

Rudolph Valentino & James Dean
In February, the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, a holiday dedicated to romantic love. The sentiment that held little significance in centuries past, but now features as a major windfall for jewelers and chocolatiers. Publishers and Hollywood capitalize year-round on society’s insatiable appetite for romance, epitomized by two legendary heartthrobs: Rudolph Valentino and James Dean. They both died young, which contributes to their enduring fame and popularity.

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Polo

History on HorseBback
Polo has not produced a bevy of celebrated, well known athletes, but its historical significance spans millennia. The exact origin of the game is speculative. Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia, India, and China have all claimed polo as their own, but it most likely was a recreational pastime played by mounted nomads in Central Asia, where it later spread to Persia and beyond. Emperor Shapur II, the tenth shahanshah of the longest reigning monarch in Iranian history, learned to play polo when he was only seven. A Persian miniature from the poem Guy-O Chawgân (“The Ball and the Polo Mallet”), dating back 1546 A.D., shows courtiers playing a game of polo. In the neighboring Byzantine Empire, Emperor Basil I was reportedly an excellent player; however, his son and successor, Emperor Alexander, succumbed to exhaustion during play.

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Ragtime

A Sound That Rippled in Time
Ragtime, a style of music that fell out in favor of jazz in the early 1900s, enjoyed a short, momentous run between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Ragtime’s most prominent figure, Scott Joplin, was an African-American railroad laborer who traveled the United States and as an itinerant musician, even performing at Chicago’s World Fair. There he contributed to what would soon become a national craze. 

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African American Literature

A Nation’s Truth
In February, the birth month of famed abolitionist, orator, and writer Frederick Douglass, the world celebrates the contributions African-Americans have made to film, music, fashion, cuisine, art, and literature, and every other facet in American society. 

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Artist Manifestos

The Poetry of Statements
On February 20, 1909, after an effusive, exclamation-riddled introduction marked by an almost delusional but utterly genuine romance for vehicles, Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti begins the first three points of the ur-artist manifesto, the Futurist Manifesto:

1. We want to sing about the love of danger, about the use of energy and recklessness as common, daily practice. 
2. Courage, boldness and rebellion will be essential elements in our poetry. 
3. Up to now, literature has extolled a contemplative stillness, rapture and reverie. We intend to glorify aggressive action, a restive wakefulness, life at the double, the slap and the punching fist. (p. 4, 100 Artists’ Manifestos by Alex Danchev)
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Thinking as a Subversive Act

Philosophy and Beating the Dead Horse Until It Walks
The passage of time proves not that we approach new territories of topics, but that we re-contextualize old topics to fit new quandaries, deepening our knowledge of age-old questions.

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Early Experimental Novels

Everything But Tradition
Experimental fiction is characterized by many techniques and styles including, but not limited to, metafiction, stream-of-consciousness, cut-up method, absurdist plots, fragmented narration, slipstream, collaging, visual poetry, hyperbolic wordplay, and erratic points of view.  

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Fidel Castro

The Absolution of History
On February 16, 1959, Fidel Castro was sworn in as prime minister of Cuba after forcing out right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista through a series of guerilla campaigns. At the age of 32, Castro was the youngest premier of Cuba.

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Haiku

In the Air of Perfume
The haiku originated from another style of 9th century Japanese poetry called renga, which was popular between the 9th and 12th centuries. Renga—a collaboration between at least two authors but often times many more—begins with a 3-line stanza called a hokku which is followed by a chain of stanzas written by other poets. The hokku is created by an honored individual, and follows a 5-7-5 structure of mōra, units of sound which determine stress or sound, very similar although not entirely the same as syllables. This in turn morphed into the modern day haiku.

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Stoicism

Logic, Tolerance & Inner Joy
One of the most enduring Stoic philosophers, Lucius Seneca, said, "Sometimes even to live is an act of courage." This well-known stoic quote gets thrown around not only for its pithiness but also for its jarring, disarming simplicity. Even though all of us live, not a single life lived is easy. In our modern time of extended life and mass metropolitan populations, it is perhaps the fact that so many of us are living that we become desensitized to the hardship of existence itself.

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A World in a Grain of Sand

Concepts of Infinity
In the poem, "Auguries of Innocence", William Blake wrote,

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour (p. 229, Collected Poems of William Blake)
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The Great Stink

Cholera and the Father of Epidemiology
Nineteenth century London faced a medical mystery: was it possible that cholera, a disease that infects the intestines and causes diarrheal illness, was contracted from contaminated water? Or is it more probable that an invisible, miasmic stink bore the contagion?

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Something in the Water

The 1916 Jersey Shore Shark Attacks
Many people are hesitant to swim in the sea because they fear shark attacks, but the fact is that more people die from falls or while snapping selfies. Every year, about 17,000 people die from falls, but over a person’s lifetime, he or she has a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark. On average, there are six shark related deaths worldwide annually. Recent selfie deaths worldwide amounted to 250 fatalities within six years.                                                                             

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Tragedy at Sea

The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis marks the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy. Named for the city of Indianapolis, the warship was one of fastest ships of its in size in the fleet. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sailed on this ship on his tour to South America. 

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In Harmony

Scandinavian and Japanese Design Aesthetics
Some cultures and art movements celebrate ornate design (think France and Rococo design), while others embrace a more minimalist aesthetic. The Japanese and Scandinavian cultures are both renowned for their minimalist approaches to design. Both embrace simplicity, clean lines, craftsmanship, and nature.

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Benevolent Beings

Folkloric Tales
Every culture has its own beliefs on what symbols in the form of animals, insects, or other beings are believed to bring good luck or offer protection. Swedish people believe that a carved wooden statue called the Dalecarlian horse brings luck. Egyptians believe in the power of the beetle, which is celebrated for its ability to harness the power of the sun.What one culture regards as a symbol of good luck may seem strange to another. 

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Soundtracks at the Forefront

Shaping Stage & Film through Sound
The music that accompanies film is equally as pervasive as the images that move across screen and stage. In stage productions, theater music plays on the moods of operettas like Henry Baldwin’s St. Nicholas Book of Plays and Operettas and in Arthur Penn’s Yokohama Maid: A Japanese Comic Operetta. In silent films, live music (guitarists, pianists, and live orchestras) was often paired with public projections. In the science-fiction classic Star Wars, Darth Vader’s theme music is as ominous as his character. The same goes for Jaws; composer John Williams created a suspenseful backdrop that had become synonymous with impending danger. Today, original soundtracks (OST) are often found on the top of the Billboard charts.

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The Thrill of the Game

Cue Sports
In the semifinals of the 2017 World Pool Series, billiards champion Chris Melling hit a series of incredible shots to secure his place in the championship round. After curving the cue ball around the table to sink his shot, Melling scored another miraculous strike: he knocked one of his final balls in, bouncing it off all four sides of the table before it landed in a corner pocket. Billiards aficionados revere the daring, expertise, and technical skill necessary to become masters of pool and other cue sports. Author Walter Tevis, whose 1958 novel The Hustler stylized the world of pool for millions of readers, understood that pool and other billiard games are entrenched with a sense of fearlessness and, at times, an almost fatalist approach to winning and losing. 

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