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The Week in Ideas (3/20)

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  March 20, 2013 10:10 AM

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The untapped power of presidential pardons: Leon Neyfakh on why the presidential pardon has fallen into disuse and become an object of public ridicule- and how in the past it’s been an important tool of executive power. Past president issued thousands of pardons, often to send a message about laws they thought were unjust (Woodrow Wilson pardoned 500 people convicted under liquor laws to signal his opposition to prohibition). But since Ronald Reagan, presidents have responded to the need to appear “tough on crime,” and have backed away from pardons as too politically risky (using them, instead, in haphazard fashion, often to help cronies). To date, Barack Obama has issued only 39 pardons. Neyfakh talks with experts on presidential power who argue that by letting his pardoning power lapse, Obama has abandoned one of his most unique and powerful rights as president. They urge him to “lay out principles for how [pardons] should be used, and stick to them”--and to employ those principles aggressively.

Makiya has no regret about pressing the war in Iraq: Jordan Michael Smith on Kanan Makiya, whose 1989 book “Republic of Fear” was hugely influential in pushing the United States into war in Iraq in 2003. Makiya wrote the book to shed light on Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian rule, and his book was used by the Georgre W. Bush administration as a justification for war. In that same period Makiya argued, publicly and persuasively, that the U.S. soldiers would be greeted with “sweets and flowers” when they rolled into Iraq. That, of course, proved not to be the case, so how does Makiya feel about his role in the war today? He recognizes that regime change has not turned out as he’d hoped, but he’s unbowed: He won’t apologize for his work, and thinks the war was still the right thing to do.

Munsell, the man who colored America: Dushko Petrovich on a Boston painter named Albert Munsell who, in 1898, set out to give America a vocabulary for describing colors. Munsell, whose work is recounted in Regina Lee Blaszczyk’s recent book “The Color Revolution,” initially hoped to create a dictionary of colors for use in primary schools, but his effort was rejected in education circles as too complicated for kids. But, it found a home in industry, and for decades afterwards provided car companies, clothing manufacturers, furniture makers (and just about everyone else) with a way to consistently mix-and-match colors across products and through time. The result, Petrovich explains, is the multitudinous use of color we find in our homes today.

How to filibuster: Following Senator Rand Paul’s recent throwback, 13-hour, talking filibuster, Keith Hennessey provides a step-by-step guide for how to obstruct business in Congress’s upper chamber. Step 1: Get the presiding officer to recognize you to speak. After that? Keep talking, don’t sit down (you’ll lose the floor), refuel with water, milk, and hard candies (the only permissible comestibles), get a colleague to ask a question (that can stretch hours and allows you to rest while he talks), and finally, sit down once you’ve made your point (or can no longer hold off going to the bathroom).

Plus: Kevin Lewis on how choosing jihad is a good career strategy for some Muslim clerics; how business teams comprised equally of men and women outperform competitors with greater gender imbalance; how using non-round numbers in negotiation ($4,925 compared to $5,000) gets you a better counteroffer; 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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