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The Week in Ideas (8/7)

Posted by Josh Rothman  August 7, 2012 12:10 AM

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Housing bubble? What housing bubble? Leon Neyfakh profiles Paul Willen, an economist at the Boston Fed who argues that it's pretty much impossible to see financial crises coming. Instead, "we should humbly come to terms with the frightening fact that when economic delusions take hold, none of us may be able to tell that we’re being swept up in them." That might mean that we're doomed to repeat history -- no matter how good our regulations become.

Everyone's an Islamist now: Thanassis Cambanis on this increasingly meaningless, and misleading, term, which obscures more than it reveals. We read all the time about "Islamist" politicians -- but the truth is that "“Islamist” is quickly becoming a term as broadly applicable -- and as useless -- as 'Judeo-Christian' in American and European politics."

No, your mama! Francie Latour talks with Elijah Wald, historian of the rap-battle, insult-contest tradition. It goes all the way back to the 1920s: "two players, fueled by the reaction of a gathered crowd, insulting each other in rhyme."

The poem that won Olympic gold: Amanda Katz goes back to a time when "literature was actually an Olympic medal event." In 1912, the gold-medal-winning poem was so good that the judged "refused to award either the silver or the bronze."

Plus: Kevin Lewis on why forgetting those who've wronged you is less effective than forgiving them.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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