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The Week in Ideas (3/11)

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  March 11, 2013 09:00 AM

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Egyptian Wedding.jpegThe Middle East’s fight for civil marriage: Thanassis Cambanis on an underdog campaign to carve out space in Middle Eastern countries for a civil (i.e.: not religious) interpretation of personal life. Right now in all Middle Eastern countries, marriage, inheritance, and child custody are all governed by religious rules. This leads to anachronistic, discriminatory treatment of women and poses significant challenges for interfaith couples—like Kholoud Sukkarieh and Nidal Darwish of Lebanon, who are featured in the article—looking to have their marriages officially recognized. Cambanis looks at efforts to create “a legally recognized personal life outside the umbrella of religion” but notes that these efforts “are flying straight into the teeth of a countervailing trend: the rise of political Islam.”

How to make stress work in your favor: Chris Berdik on new research that shows that stress isn’t entirely bad. Most of us think of stress as an unmitigated negative, but Berdik details research which shows that the human stress response is actually helpful in a number of ways: “[S]tudies show that the body’s initial response to stress, including intense stress, revs up the immune system. The stress response also rushes oxygen and glucose energy through the body, increasing strength and brainpower.” So how do you harness the positive effects of stress without suffering the negative effects? One of the best ways, Berdik explains, is to embrace stress rather than fear it. Studies have shown that people who go into stressful situations (like a big test or a running race) primed with a positive impression of stress are more able to reap the benefits of stress and less likely to succumb to the costs.

Video games mean losing. So why play?: Leon Neyfakh interviews Jesper Juul, an assistant professor at the New York University Game Center and the author of the new book, “The Art of Failure.” Juul talks about what we learn about ourselves from repeated defeats in video games. As Neyfakh puts it in his introduction to the interview, “Games, in this light—and video games, in particular—provide us with a chance to experiment with our own vulnerability, to struggle with our flaws in what is essentially a low-stakes simulation of an intense emotional experience.”

The original scalawag: Ben Zimmer on how a family genealogy search led to the earliest known use of the word “scalawag.” 22-year-old Nathaniel Sharpe of Bathgate, N.D., was trying to dig up information on his ancestor, John W. Putnam of Batavia, N.Y. He found Putnam mentioned in the March 8, 1836 issue of Batavia’s Republican Advocate newspaper—on a blacklist of people who’d fled town without paying their debts, with the word “skallewag” appended to his name.

Plus: Kevin Lewis on why more attractive athletes come out tops in their sports; how happiness promotes health even more powerfully than having enough food or a place to live; how the more insecure you are in your romantic relationship, the better you likely are at detecting lies; and more.

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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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