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On the stand: A weekly roundup of the best magazine reads Oct. 28


November, 2011

At first glance, the multipage spread featuring the Muppets and empirical data on everyday life (an incongruous mix) seems like a cheap idea, a sign of Wired becoming even more commercially minded than usual. Yet not so fast. Among the shots of Kermit, Beeker and Animal are some terrific bits of academic data for the party season.

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A physicist in Brooklyn, N.Y., found that when holding a party, the limit should be no more than one person per 21 square feet, or 24 per 500-square-foot room, otherwise the noise level increases exponentially as people shout to get themselves heard. Researchers in Amsterdam found that people displaying self-restraint, even if under false pretenses, are perceived by others as trustworthy, possibly a good catch. And at Indiana University, a professor has statistically broken down the prospects of finding a soul mate: After dating 12 people, you should have a baseline standard. Find a 13th person who exceeds that standard and... voilà.


November, 2011

W has always been known for edgy photo spreads, on par with European fashion mags, rather than the staid North American Vogues and Elles. Yet W treads especially ambitious ground in this issue, featuring the Chinese dissident artist and superstar Ai Weiwei collaborating on a fashion shoot, said to be his first work since his release from Chinese government custody.

The five black-and-white shots taken by photographer Max Vadukul show a beautiful model of Asian decent being rounded up and handcuffed by (presumably) plain-clothed officers. Ai helped to direct the fashion shoot through a Skype hookup from his studio in Beijing. In an accompanying piece, he describes the scenes as the individual versus authority, any authority, political or otherwise. Given the current Occupy movements, these shots have a disturbing undertone.

The Believer

October, 2011

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Amy Winehouse died this summer a tragic enigma. Her public persona was of a woman rattled by loss and dependency (the personal kind and the drug and alcohol kind), baring all in song. Yet that woman, in turn, seemed based on the songs that influenced Winehouse, from the 1960s girl group the Shangri-Las to others. As veteran music writer Greil Marcus notes, "Winehouse was her own leader of the pack, but without a pack… adding something to the form that brought her to life as an artist, adding her name and face to the story it told."

Marcus's description is a kind of circular character sketch. Winehouse wrote songs based on a life based on song. Where Marcus's argument may break down is in speculating on what other kind of life Winehouse might have led: as a junkie on the street, or a sidewalk musician, or a social worker, or "an old woman with stories nobody believes." Really, all we know is the Winehouse who could only live the life of the character she portrayed in her own music.

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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