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The Week in Ideas 8/5

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  August 5, 2013 10:29 AM

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Give American currency a makeover!: Leon Neyfakh on reasons to include more than “stately white gentlemen” on our money. The faces of American money—Grant, Washington, Franklin, Lincoln—have not changed for a long time and it’s worth questioning whether they fully represent what we’re most proud of about our country. We could add heroes and heroines from American history, artists, musicians, and classic scenes from American life like kids playing baseball. “To consider a makeover for our cash,” Neyfakh writes, “is to realize what else the country could be getting out of it. Money could do more than buy things. It could serve as a reminder to Americans of what we’ve achieved and what we’re capable of.”

Reza Aslan on Jesus as zealot: Michael Fitzgerald interviews Reza Aslan, author of the new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” Aslan explains that in writing this book, “My hope is this image of a celestial detached spirit with no interest in the world that has arisen about Jesus over the last 2,000 years will be seen as incomplete. We will instead look at Jesus in the world as a deeply political revolutionary figure, radically so, who took on the powers of his time and lost.”

How college classes encourage cheating: James M. Lang on how “the very nature of the college education we provide to our students” may encourage cheating. Lang, author of the book, “Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty,” explains that the percentage of self-admitted cheaters in college has held steady at about 75 percent over the last 50 years. Why is cheating so endemic to a college education? Lang cites factors like large, impersonal classes, courses that assign grades based on a few high-stakes exams, and a general culture of “extrinsic” motivation (rather than learning for the sake of learning) in introductory courses.

The warty, drunken, heirloom vegetables of New England: Sarah-Jane Stratford on why varietals of produce receive colorful names, like, “Dinosaur kale,” “Howling Mob corn,” and a “Red Warty Thing pumpkin.” The names can be practical and descriptive (Red Warty Thing), or a marketing tool. “You wanted something catchy,” scholar Ben Watson explains, “that told people what it was and that would stick in their minds.”

Plus: Kevin Lewis on how cops go harder on birthday boys and girls; how a placebo pill for disgust can limit people’s sense of revulsion; how early life coaching mitigates the effects of poverty; and more.

Image by Lesley Becker and Ryan Huddle, Globe Staff.

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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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