What we want from the marathon bombing trial: Leon Neyfakh on why the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is likely to provide less closure than people may hope. Criminologists who’ve studied prosecutions in terrorism cases (like Timothy McVeigh’s for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing) find that seeing the perpetrator convicted does provide some emotional relief for the immediate victims of those crimes. However, trials usually provides less satisfaction for society at-large. Neyfakh writes, “While Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is, in one sense, an unfathomable monster…he’s also just one 19-year-old from Cambridge, and it’s hard to imagine punishing him in a way that would fully convey the weight of what he is accused of doing.”
A history of American dreams: Andrew Burstein on how the way Americans dream—and think about their dreams—has changed in the last couple hundred years. Burnstein, who is the author of the forthcoming title, “Lincoln Dreamt He Died: The Midnight Visions of ¬Remarkable Americans from Colonial Times to Freud,” explains that in the early 19th-century Americans viewed dreams as a symptom of physiological distress. By mid-century, though, people started thinking of dreams the way we do now—as expressions of deep-seated emotions that perhaps point the way to surprising personal truths. Mark Twain believed in the prophetic power of dreams, and Henry David Thoreau thought, “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."
Conversations with evil men: Gal Beckerman interviews James Dawes, author of the book Evil Men. Dawes interviewed former Japanese soldiers, now old men, who committed terrible crimes in World War II. Dawes describes the “vertiginous” experience of sitting across the table, sharing a meal, with men who by any other standard seem perfectly normal—while listening to them talk about the evil things they did in the past. Turning to the marathon bombings and the hints of sympathy that have been shown for the younger bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Dawes says, “Sympathy and understanding can coexist with the fullest punishments we are able to mete out as a culture. I don’t think they have to be opposed. And sympathy doesn’t have to mean forgiveness.”
At this year’s spelling bee, make way for meaning: Ben Zimmer on controversy around a late-breaking rule change for the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee—for the first time ever, contestants will have to answer multiple-choice vocabulary questions.
Plus: Kevin Lewis on how men with low-pitched voices are more likely candidates to become CEOs; how ambiverts—people halfway between extroverted and introverted—make the best salespeople; how limits on the sizes in which sugary drinks are sold can actually lead people to drink more than they otherwise would; and more.
Image: Japanese troops marching into Nanking, capital of China, after the city’s capture in 1937. Courtesy of Bettmann/Corbis.
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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.