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The Week in Ideas 5/6

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  May 6, 2013 09:00 AM

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Boston’s water: public or private?: Carl Smith on how Boston’s water system became public and what that reveals about the spirit of the city. By the 1840s it was clear that Boston had grown beyond its water supply and a new source was needed. But it was unclear whether this new water project would be a public resource funded by taxpayers, or a private enterprise. After a long and intense debate, Boston voted in 1846 for a public waterworks connecting Long Pond to the city. Smith explains that the debate over water—and the way it was resolved—indicate how public spiritedness has long been a part of Boston’s culture.

Belichick was right! Economics and the NFL draft: Keith O’Brien on why first round picks in the NFL draft are rarely worth the money. In this year’s draft Bill Belichick traded the Patriots’ first round pick for a number of picks in later rounds. According to a paper released in March by economists Cade Massey and Richard Thaler, that was exactly the right thing to do. First round picks command big contracts but scouts and NFL executives alike are, on the whole, blind to the real uncertainty that surrounds any player fresh out of college—even the next can’t miss quarterback. Massey and Thaler calculated that between 1994 and 2008, second round picks were, on average, 15 percent more valuable (on the dollar) than first round picks.

Selling creativity to America’s kids: Rebecca Onion interviews Amy Ogata about her new book, “Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America.” Ogata argues that the current emphasis parents place on nurturing their children’s individualism and creativity dates to Cold War-era concerns about conformity. “A whole bunch of different kinds of people, scientists, parents, school board members, magazine editors, were interested in the idea of an American child who existed in opposition to or in some way was different from the Soviet child,” Ogata says. “There is a sense that [creativity] is something that is desirable. Something that will distinguish American children from other children.

The $100 bill, now in color!: Sebastian Smee on what color means in money. There’s an idea in American culture that colorful money is unserious, currency for board games and banana republics. But the new $100 bill has a big blue stripe down the center and a large splash of gold. Smee wonders whether the turn to color portends an attitude change at the famously buttoned-up Federal Reserve—an indication that after all the financial shenanigans of recent years, even they’ve stopped taking our currency seriously.

Plus: Kevin Lewis on how 1,000 milligrams of Tylenol may make people more compassionate; how women’s religious feeling and political leanings fluctuate with their fertility cycles; how on average couples who are close together in age are more accomplished than couples with a bigger age gap; and more.

Image of water celebration on Boston Common October 25, 1848 courtesy of Boston Athenaeum.

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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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