Five obscure tactics to snarl Congress: Jordan Michael Smith on some of the less-well-known ways our representatives can get nothing done -- including an obscure provision which lets legislators insist on discussing only "trivia" on Wednesdays.
The world according to Bashar Assad: David Lesch on Assad's transformation from an intellectual ophthalmologist into the power-crazed Syrian president we know today. Lesch: "I met with him on a regular basis between 2004 and 2009, spending more time face-to-face with him than perhaps any other American. I witnessed his transformation first-hand, as he evolved from a potential agent of reform to a repressive dictator with his own people’s blood on his hands."
The quest for plant consciousness: Latif Nasser on the history of "the question of the humanness of plants." The long search for the inner lives of plants seems misguided today, but "it can tell us a lot about what’s going in the world outside the flowerpot."
The human computer: Samuel Arbesman and Nicholas Christakis offer a proof of concept. Now that social science offers robustly predictive models of human behavior, it might be possible to "actually construct novel, unnatural social systems based on the predictable ways that humans act, the same way we manipulate silicon to make computer chips."
Plus: Kevin Lewis on how the most convincing alibi might be "say[ing] you were busy watching porn on your computer."
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
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.