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Beyond the Book Articles
Cultural Curiosities

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Wolves as Totems (04/09)
Although many in the USA will associate totems - objects, animals or plants revered as a symbol of a tribe and often used in rituals - with Native Americans, totems are found in many cultures throughout the world, tracing far back into prehistory. Google the word and you'll find websites such, devoted to helping one find...
The AMBER Alert Program (03/09)
The AMBER Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and...
World War II at the Movies (03/09)
Alfred Day's attempt to face the disillusionment of war on a film set is similar to what society at the time was doing at the movie theaters. The massive movie hits of the 40s and 50s, like To Hell and Back, allowed moviegoers on both sides of the Atlantic to relive moments of the war, if they had been directly involved, or to understand ...
The British Class System (03/09)
As mentioned in the notes at the end of The House at Riverton, author Kate Morton is fascinated with the whole concept of nobility and servant classes. I think many people who aren't familiar with such a strict class system, notably Americans and Australians like Morton, are also intrigued by the thought that there could have been a whole...
A Short History of Darts (11/08)
The origin of the game of darts is lost in the mists of time. The game is known to have been played since at least the Middle Ages in England, but it seems likely that bored soldiers lounging around the campsite have probably been throwing arrows at targets for much longer. In fact, it doesn't take much imagination to trace the ...
The Linking Threads of God and Gold (10/08)
As you might expect with a book about history such as God and Gold, there's plenty of interesting points to highlight and even more for readers to birddog; but Mead is so polyhistoric in his knowledge and so profligate with his references, moving easily from Matthew Arnold to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it's hard to choose where to begin. Do we...
The story of Chess (10/08)
Chess is thought to have originated in northern India or Afghanistan. The earliest written references are from around 600 AD but there is some evidence that the game could have existed as early as 100 AD. Interest in chess spread along the trade routes from India, with differentvariations found in different countries, such as Shogi in ...
Belief in Ghosts (10/08)
  • A recent survey, cited by Boylan, reveals that 48% of people say they believe in ghosts, with women more likely to say so (56%) than men (38%); overall, more than 1 in 5 Americans say they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost. Having said that, other polls have put the general figures between 37%-65%, which does make ...
Shopping Malls (07/08)
A shopping mall is defined as a collection of shops usually in one main building or close series of buildings. It would seem that shopping malls date back to at least the 10th century when it is said that Isfahan's Grand Bazaar in Iran was founded (the current buildings date to the 17th century). The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, ...
All About Cheese (07/08)
Cheese can be made from the the milk of any mammal capable of being milked. Simply put, cheese making is the process of removing water from milk. The simplest method is to add an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar directly to the milk; an alternative method uses bacteria to create an acid in the milk; the bacteria also provides flavor ...
Some of the CIA's Biggest Blunders (06/08)
The Central Intelligence Agency has been riven by turf battles, political infighting, and the lack of qualified agents and analysts. But just as frequently, the CIA has been brought to its knees by thoroughly avoidable blunders…

from the (somewhat) droll…

In 1994, the station chief in Guatemala accused the American Ambassador, ...

Did you know? The US food supply chain factoids. (05/08)
  • The average supermarket food item has traveled 1500 miles to reach our kitchens - that's further than most families go on vacation.
  • If every US citizen ate just one meal a week from locally grown meat and roduce we would save 1.1 million barrels of oil every week!
  • Six companies now ...
Snooker (03/08)
Snooker is a very British sport, primarily played in the UK and various parts of the former colonies. The game bears some similarity to American Pool in that they both involve cues and balls, but Snooker is played on a table four times larger than the Pool table, the pockets are smaller and snooker players would say that the game is more ...
Flamenco Dancing (11/07)
Flamenco, which can be divided into cante ('the song'), baile ('the dance') and guitarra ('guitar'), is the traditional song and dance of the Gypsies (flamencos) of Andalusia in southern Spain. It is believed to have developed over several centuries from Gypsy, Moorish, Andalusian, and other roots (probably including northern India, as ...
Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS - MI6) (08/07)
According toSIS's informative website, a formal and permanent British intelligence service was first established in 1909; but the history of British intelligence organizations engaged in foreign intelligence goes back at least to the 15th century (Thomas Cromwell ran secret agents in Europe on behalf of Henry VIII and Sir Francis ...
The Better Farming Train and the Mallee (07/07)
The Better Farming Train did exist just as described in Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living; it steamed out of Melbourne for the first time in October 1924 and returned for the last time in 1935, making about 38 tours in total. At each of its 10 stops between 500 to 2000 farmers and townspeople would attend the exhibits. You can ...
Household servants in Victorian Times (07/07)
According to The Victorian Web if a Victorian household could afford only one servant it would likely be a 'general' maid-of-all-work (usually a girl of 13 or 14) similar to the role Bessy takes on. Next would come a house-maid or nurse-maid, followed by a cook. Only once this female trio was in place would the first manservant be ...
Animals on Trial (06/07)
The idea of canine testimony being accepted in court is not without precedent (e.g. drug smugglers who are convicted on the evidence of sniffer dogs), but what about the idea of putting an animal itself on trial?

These days, animals are not tried on the basis that they lack the ability to make moral judgments and therefore cannot be...
A Short History of The Hudson Bay Company (12/06)
The Hudson's Bay Company is still very much in existence, but with 500 retail outlets spread across Canada this department store retailer has come a long way from its beginnings in 1670 when King Charles II of Britain granted the lands of the Hudson Bay watershed to 'the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson ...
High John The Conqueror (12/06)
According to Mosley, 'Tall John himself is a reflection of an old slave myth about a spirit named High John the Conqueror. High John, the myth goes, came from Africa to confound the white masters and to ultimately free the slaves.' 

Zora Neale Hurston writes of High John de Conquer (pronounced conker) in The Sanctified Church, a ...
Myla Goldberg (11/06)
Myla Goldberg is the author of the bestselling Bee Season; an essay collection, Time’s Magpie, which explores all her favorite places in Prague, where she lived for a year in the early nineties; and Wickett’s Remedy which grew out of her fascination with the 1918 influenza epidemic. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband,...
Victoria London (11/06)
If you had a choice between being a tosher, mudlark, rag-and-bone man, scavenger or riverman in Victorian London, which would you choose?

London was a dangerous place with an unnerving number of bodies ending up in the river - cutpurses would murder their victims and throw the bodies in the river, drunken sailors fell overboard, dock ...
Anansi (10/06)
Anansi is one of the gods in West African mythology, sometimes depicted in human form, sometimes as a spider, sometimes as a hybrid.  He's tricky, greedy and lustful, but he's also good-hearted, lucky, and although often bad, never evil.  The legends are believed to have originated with the Ashanti tribe (from Ghana) but spread ...
Q & A (08/06)
Where is Ulieta? The island of Ulieta, or Ulietea, is too small to appear in our atlas but if you were to travel roughly North-West of Tahiti you'd likely come across it.  We 'Google Earthed' it (16° 49' 60, 151° 25' 0 W) and ...
The Armonica (05/06)
The armonica is a musical instrument constructed of graduated glass bowls with holes and corks in the center. It was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. He was inspired to create it having heard a concert played on wine glasses! For a time armonicas were all the rage, Marie Antoinette (who, incidentally, historians say never did utter ...
Barney is keen on the good things in life including Manolo Blahnik stilettos.  If you too have a thing about shoes you might want to check out Manolo Blahnik's website.

Barney will return in Motor Mouth (Feb 2006 hardcover).
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