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Digits

Don’t Trust the Numbers

Bloomberg/Getty

Every week we’re bombarded by numbers about GDP or consumer confidence or some other leading indicator about our economic health and prosperity. Don’t trust them says Zachary Karabell.

A week does not pass without another set of economic numbers blasting through the ether. Many of these receive instant coverage in the media and become fodder for financial market gyrations. This week alone we’ve had a home price index, consumer confidence number, a series of regional manufacturing surveys, and then on Friday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will release its latest estimate of the mother of all indicators, GDP.But for all the noise that these numbers generate, what do they actually tell us? What if I told you that many of the assumptions we make about our economic life are wrong, and that these assumptions based entirely of what these statistics, our “leading indicators” say.

Little Gentleman

Child’s Play

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As America stood on the brink of World War I, novelist Booth Tarkington published 'Penrod,' a book suffused in nostalgia for a time that never existed. Nathaniel Rich on how the Great War saved American fiction from such trifles.

Nothing is more fatal to literature than prosperity. It was Henry de Montherlant who said that happiness writes white. It leaves no trace. This is why the headlines always bring bad news, the world explodes a dozen different ways at the cineplex each summer, and comedies end as soon as there’s a wedding. It is a fact generally acknowledged that excessive happiness can kill a story. But can a joyful era—a golden age of peace and prosperity—sabotage its novelists? The answer can be found by scanning the list of novels published in the period immediately preceding World War I, the last time that the United States was, in the words of the historian Mark Sullivan, “a peaceful country in a particularly peaceful time.

Trayvon’s Only Non-White Juror

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The only non-white jury member in George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin speaks to Lisa Bloom about the experience. An excerpt from Bloom’s just published “Suspicion Nation.”

The Sixth Juror Maddy had had it. The trial wasn’t over, but she was out of there. Rules or no rules, she was leaving. “If they had to put me in jail for going home, then put me in jail.” Three weeks of sequestration with five white women who didn’t understand the first thing about her, who demeaned and mocked and trivialized her, was more than enough. As the only minority juror in the nation’s most watched and most racially charged case in decades, she was done.

Puzzle

How I Write: Doug Dorst

Emily Berl/The New York Times, via Redux

The writer talks about working with filmmaker J.J. Abrams on their beautifully illustrated and executed meta-novel ‘S.’

Where did you grow up?Chappaqua, New York.Where and what did you study?As an undergrad at Stanford, I was an English and Political Science double-major. I got a law degree at UC-Berkeley, then fled to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for an MFA in fiction. A few years later, I went back to Stanford as a Stegner Fellow in fiction.Where do you live and why?I live in Austin. My wife and I moved here from San Francisco for her Ph.D. program at UT, and we’ve put down roots.

Haunted

Wes Anderson’s Austrian Muse

Martin Scali/AP

Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel was inspired by one of the bestselling authors in the world in the 1920s and 30s: Stefan Zweig. Lucy Scholes on how his melancholy fiction about Europe before WWII inspired Anderson—and the nostalgia of hotel rooms.

For all their comedic momentum, a strand of sweet, melancholic nostalgia runs through Wes Anderson’s films; they’re all, in some way or other, about a loss of innocence. The stultified former child prodigies of The Royal Tenenbaums (2001); the now washed-up but once great eponymous explorer in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004); the three brothers attempting to re-forge their fraternal bonds in The Darjeeling Limited (2007); even George Clooney’s glib Mr.

Out of the Trenches

How the War Ended

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With the anniversary of the First World War’s contentious start approaching, dozens of books have already come out, but one new history bucks the trend to focus on the final days of the War. And it’s a brilliantly enlightening approach to war and men’s lives writes Ian Klaus.

If you add Nick Lloyd’s Hundred Days: The Campaign that Ended World War I  to the six Great War-related books recently reviewed by R.J.W. Evans in The New York Review of Books, you end up with a page count of just slightly under four thousand. Six months before the centenary of the war’s beginning in August 1914, we are already in the midst of an extended World War I book season with substantial works by Christopher Clark, Margaret Macmillan, and Max Hastings, among others.

One Planet. 22,416 Google Images

Search for any word in the dictionary and what is the first Google Image that comes up? Two designers have done just that and put the results in a new art book. They speak to Sarah Moroz about the images that define us.

What if the pandemonium of the internet was turned into something more indexical and even tangible?Two 23-year-old designers, Felix Heyes and Ben West, conceived of and executed just that premise with Google, Volume 1. Repurposing the Oxford English Pocket Dictionary and its 21,110 entries, their directory provides a visual equivalence by way of subbing in the first outcome for each word from what they pulled from Google Images. Behind the sleek marbled cover by Jemma Lewis lay 22,416 Google findings: each page consists of three clean columns of uncaptioned images.

Hold the Bacon

How DC Will Make You Fat and Dead

Bloomberg

Lost in the vitriolic debate over Obama’s health reforms is the simple fact that tobacco, alcohol, and bad food are the leading killers in America. Professor Nicholas Freudenberg on why we need to change our consumption if we’re going to get healthier.

While it’s unrealistic to expect that recent successes in enrolling more people into health insurance will diminish the health care debates in Congress any time before November’s elections, Washington’s obsession with ObamaCare has made the nation lose sight of other strategies for improving health and reducing health care costs.Advances in public health require not only getting more people insured, but also finding ways to turn off the faucets that are sending floods of Americans with chronic diseases into our emergency rooms, hospitals—and morgues.

Mission Impossible

This Week’s Hot Reads

Three nonfiction books: a look at missionary work in the Caribbean and Holland, an account of being a stringer in the Congo, and German espionage in the U.S. during World War I.

More Than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments By Megan HustadIn 1978, Megan Hustad’s father quit his job to become a missionary. On assignment with Trans World Radio—an evangelical broadcasting company with the motto “Speaking Hope to the World”—StanHustad decamped, his family in tow, from Minnesota to a small island in the Netherland Antilles called Bonaire. Missionary work would send the Hustad’s from Bonaire to Holland; after nine years abroad, they would return to the United States.

Hunted

Where Our Secrets Hide

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A gripping new thriller by Scott O’Connor brings us inside the world of the Cold War CIA as they test the limits of human consciousness. It's the perfect book for our present moment, writes Stefan Beck.

There is a scene in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012) in which the CIA’s Pakistan chief, played by Mark Strong, is giving his underlings the third degree. “I want to make something absolutely clear,” he says. “If you thought there was some secret cell somewhere working Al Qaeda, well, I want you to know that you’re wrong. This is it. There’s no working group coming to the rescue. There’s nobody else hidden away on some other floor.” This bit of monologue, which on first viewing wouldn’t rate among the film’s fifty most unnerving moments, is spooky nevertheless.

Intimacies

Perils of Hemingway’s Wives

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To understand the great novelist we should look to the complicated relationships he had with his four wives argues a new book. Nico Hines on fresh revelations about the bad behavior, gushing love notes, and high drama of America’s literary king.

Across three divorces, several continents, and countless martinis, Ernest Hemingway was never without a woman during his 40-year writing career. For a man whose violent tempers and big game hunting built a towering cult of masculinity, Hemingway was never far from the comfort of a wife, or a mistress, or both.After more than half a century in the shadow of a literary titan, his four wives have been propelled into the foreground by a new book that examines the Mrs.

They’re Alive

My Imaginary Literary Friends

Ever find yourself reading a novel and one of the characters becomes like a friend, a real friend? For Malcolm Jones many of his best friends are pure fiction.

When I was 13 years old, I fell in love with an imaginary girl. If you suppose this was the low point of my love life, you would be wrong. The low point—points really—involved real people and there was plenty of pain and unhappiness to go around. In the case of that first crush, though, the pain was all mine. She didn’t feel a thing.The girl’s name was Estella, and she lived with Miss Havisham inside a novel called Great Expectations. Why I fell for someone designed, as she was, to break men’s hearts is a mystery to me still, but she was cold and aloof, and that was something that totally resonated with me so far as girls were concerned in those dark adolescent years.

Confused

Allende Hate-Writes a Mystery

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Bestseller author Isabel Allende caused a furor when she dismissed mysteries while she herself was promoting her new novel, a mystery itself. She talks to Jane Ciabattari about the controversy and why she tried her hand at the genre.

Isabel Allende has stirred up a hornet’s nest. In a January 25 NPR interview, she said of her new novel Ripper, “The book is tongue-in-cheek. It’s very ironic…and I’m not a fan of mysteries…So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what readers expect, but it is a joke.”Some mystery authors and fans took offense at her remarks, accusing her of being scornful of the mystery genre. She apologized in a letter to Houston bookseller McKenna Jordan, who had returned signed copies of Ripper after hearing the NPR interview.

F is for Chemo Fashion

Madhulika Sikka/Facebook

In her new book “The Breast Cancer Alphabet,” Madhulika Sikka dissects the pros and cons of post-chemotherapy headscarves, turbans and big shiny earrings.

You have been diagnosed with a terrible disease that for previous generations was almost always a death sentence, so it may seem a little frivolous to devote a whole section to fashion, most especially fashion accessories. But frankly, not enough attention is paid to fashion accessories at the best of times, and this is a moment when they come in useful (see “L Is for Looks”).If you undergo chemotherapy, you will soon come to terms with the fact that you are bald (see “H Is for Hair”).

Longreads

The Week’s Best Reads

From sexual assault at a fundamentalist evangelical college to Wall Streeters in drag, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

Sexual Assault at God’s Harvard Kiera Feldman, The New Republic Patrick Henry College, a small evangelical school in northern Virginia, was supposed to be a safe place for its predominantly homeschooled students. For these young women, it wasn’t.Scientology’s Vanished Queen Ned Zeman, Vanity Fair After the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige disappeared from public view, in 2007, those who asked questions were stonewalled, or worse.

Action

WWII Lies of Hollywood's Greats

Ralph Crane/Time & Life Pictures, via Getty

Five famous American directors did their patriotic duty during WWII by filming staged propaganda films but they presented to the public as authentic documentaries. Caryn James on their deceptions.

In John Huston’s classic 1943 documentary, The Battle of San Pietro, American soldiers run into battle, gunfire all around. They fall backwards into trenches, the camera jolting with the concussive force of the explosions. Eventually we see corpses placed into body bags. That harrowing immediacy is one reason James Agee called it “as good a war film as any that has been made,”—but it was entirely fake, staged with the help of the U.S. military to create better propaganda.

Chit Chat

The Laboratory of Real Life

Joan Marcus

What do we talk about when we talk about love? A breathtaking new play from Caryl Churchill explores love through 57 different short scenes with 100 characters.

Recently, my young nephew got in trouble for peeling all the stickers off his scrambled Rubik’s Cube. Yearning to appear clever, but incapable of making the color-blocks line up in the right configuration, he tried to fake mastery by resticking the colored tabs in the correct spots. But they wouldn’t stay in place; all he did was spoil the game. This is the paradox that the British playwright Caryl Churchill tackles in her intricate, moving (in both senses) puzzle of a play, “Love and Information,” which opened Wednesday at the Minetta Lane (a production of New York Theatre Workshop)—its Playbill illustrated by a defective Rubik’s Cube whose images don’t align.

Breeched

Sex Lives of our Founding Fathers

Everett Collection

Did Hamilton have gay sex? Was Jefferson in love with his slave? Each generation’s examination of the sex lives of the Founding Fathers is a reflection of its own sexual mores and identities, argues a new book.

Long before the modern sex columnist, there was Benjamin Franklin. In a column from 1745 titled “Advice on the Choice of a Mistress,” Franklin advised bachelors to seek out older women: They “hazard no children,” he wrote, and “are so grateful” for a young man’s attention. “Regarding only what is below the girdle,” he added, “it is impossible…to know an old from a young one.”Franklin wasn’t the only Founding Father whose libido was a frequent topic of conversation.

Breaking

What is the News?

Justin Sullivan/Getty

How do you define what appears on your TV screen and in your newspaper? Pop philosopher Alain de Botton tells us what he thinks the news should be—and what it should do.

What do you expect from the news? Asking this is a bit like asking someone to describe his or her ideal mate: You’re bound to learn more about the fixations and attitudes of that individual than about anything real or even possible. Conventional wisdom has it that good front-of-the-book news coverage should be objective. Problem is, what counts as objective is often a matter of opinion.When we complain about news coverage being biased, slanted, or flawed in some way, what we’re usually saying is that it fails to do justice to our own preferred view of the world; it’s unspoken assumptions are different from our own.

Field of Study

Truth About Florida’s Civil War

AP

150 years ago a brutal battle in the Civil War was fought in Florida but what happened that day has been obscured by political games and historical revisionism—as so often happens in the Sunshine State.

Olustee, Florida—Lugging their private artillery pieces behind their pick-up trucks, heavy-weapons hobbyists drive days to get to the annual celebration of the Civil War Battle of Olustee, fought 150 years ago, on February 20, 1864. Fire fills the night sky as celebrants shoot off their mini-howitzers, and the next day rebel yells fill the air as reenactors whup the Yankees. Other events include a crafts fair and the annual Tiny Miss Tots Battle of Olustee contest.

How I Write