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The Week in Ideas (1/21)

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  January 20, 2013 03:42 PM

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How digital art decays—and how to save it: Simon Waxman on the challenges of preserving digital artwork. The principle issue, he explains, is that digital art is tied to technology, and technology changes over time. Operating systems, hardware, and software become obsolete, and works of art based on older technology run the risk of becoming obsolete themselves—unless dedicated art conservationists (like the several Waxman talks to) find technological fixes to keep them alive.

The gun toll we’re ignoring: suicide: Leon Neyfakh on a crucial but overlooked part of the gun control debate—that fact that the majority of gun deaths in America are suicides. Evidence shows that, all else being equal, access to a gun makes it more likely that a person will commit suicide. “At the heart of this argument,” Neyfakh writes, “is the idea that the vast majority of people who have committed suicide by shooting themselves would have stayed alive if they had not been easily able to pick up a gun.

You patented it, you own it? Not so fast.: Robin Feldman on how U.S. businesses are being strangled by patent lawsuits—and how a change in the way we think about intellectual property is the key to reform. Traditionally, we think of a patent as “a deed of ownership to a clearly described idea.” A better definition, Feldman argues—and one that would lead to less litigation—is that a patent is “a document that gives its holder an opportunity to bargain, a seat at the table—not an absolute right to everything that springs from an idea.”

All the president’s words: Ben Zimmer on U.S. presidents as linguistic innovators. He chronicles words and phrases credited to (or at least popularized by) past commanders-in-chief. Thomas Jefferson lays claim to “belittle” and “odometer.” Warren G. Harding gets “bloviate.” Teddy Roosevelt owns “lunatic fringe.” Zimmer goes on to theorize about why, nowadays, presidents neologize less frequently than they used to.

Plus: Kevin Lewis on how China’s one-child policy creates psychological handicaps for only children; how fixation on conspiracy theories leads to a sense of powerlessness and disengagement; and how gay couples who are married exhibit better mental health than gay couples in registered domestic partnerships.

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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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