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By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

The Books & Culture Weblog

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LANSING, Mich. — Selling Oldsmobiles has been Leo Jerome's life for four decades. One of the dealerships he owns sold 5,000 Olds models in a single year. Last month the 61-year-old Jerome suffered through the brutal indignity of selling one Oldsmobile. Just one. … Businesses collapse all the time and, as history has shown, so do car manufacturers—Studebaker, Packard, Nash, Hudson . … Some, like the Cluts, never—and perhaps thankfully—made it into production. But in Lansing, the hometown of Oldsmobile, the car's passing into the realm of memories and museums is painful. T-shirts boast that the wondrous mechanical creation of Ransom E. Olds predated Chevy, Dodge and Ford. Prominent landmarks, like the downtown home of minor league baseball's Lansing Lugnuts, bear the Oldsmobile name. Oldsmobile was the first mass-produced car with an automatic transmission. It was the first with a speedometer and the first modern car with front-wheel drive. President Theodore Roosevelt, in a 1907 visit to Lansing, rode down Michigan Avenue toward what is now Michigan State University in a 1907 2-cylinder REO. … Now Oldsmobile, once the nation's fourth-largest automaker, is the oldest carmaker to fold.


  • What does the soul weigh? The recent film 21 Grams thinks it has the answer. So did the early 20th century doctor Duncan MacDougall, who established the weight of the soul as a scientific "fact" after elaborate but dubious measurements of how much weight human and canine bodies lose at death. Unfortunately, MacDougall's work is marred by "the poor accuracy of his scales, the huge variability in his data, the all-too-few people studied, [and] the tricky skill of pinpointing the exact time of death," says the Melbourne Age. That didn't stop MacDougall from publishing his findings in 1907, the same year Einstein put forth the more reliable E=mc2. While the body does indeed decrease in weight as it decomposes, MacDougall's belief that humans suddenly lose three fourths of an ounce with the departure of their soul does not, says the Age, carry any weight. Full story
  • The latest review of The DaVinci Code is in. Senator John Edwards said in a television interview last fall that he had just finished the novel and thought it was a "great book." Edwards' favorite book is The Trial of Socrates, said Bookselling This Week last month in a report on books that presidential candidates have read and written. Senator John Kerry has reportedly polished off Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. Governor Howard Dean had cited Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed and David McCullough's Truman as two of his favorites before bowing out of the race. President Bush's favorites include a biography of Sam Houston and a book on the unintended consequences of 1960s liberalism. Dennis Kucinich was poring over a collection of Bush's "lies" about Iraq in preparation for a showdown with the president, despite the widespread perception that Kucinich, author of A Prayer for America, didn't have a prayer. Full story
Related: George Will's 28 questions for John Kerry

So much for fair ball. The New York Yankees' trade for Alex Rodriguez last week put to rest the theory of the bestselling Moneyball by Michael Lewis, which explained how the Oakland A's built a playoff contender on a tight budget by relying on scouting smarts. Two years later, the wealthier teams are using all of the same "sabermetric" tricks as the smaller franchises, and the gap between them is growing, says Aaron Schatz in The New Republic online. The real loser in the A-Rod trade, he says, is not Boston, which will probably still make the playoffs, but Toronto, which has even less to work with to battle the Yankees. Full story

Bill James and sabermetrics (fifth item)

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Nathan Bierma is editorial assistant at Books & Culture.

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