How the College Board revolutionized the most controversial exam in America:
When the Scholastic Aptitude Test was created in 1926, it was promoted as a tool to create a classless, Jeffersonian-style meritocracy. The exam, which purported to measure innate intelligence, was originally adapted from the World War I Army I.Q. test and served as a scholarship screening device for about a dozen selective colleges throughout the 1930s. It was assumed that there was no way to effectively prep for a test geared to inborn intelligence, but as early as 1938, Stanley Kaplan began offering classes that promised higher scores. Today the company Kaplan founded and its main competitor, the Princeton Review, are joined by innumerable boutique firms (not to mention high-priced private tutors), all part of a $4.5-billion-a-year industry that caters largely to the worried wealthy in America who feel that the test can be gamed and that their children need to pay to learn the strategies.
PUBLISHED: March 6, 2014
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7380 words)
Our favorite stories of the week, featuring the London Review of Books, New York magazine, Medium, Texas Monthly, and the Morning News.
Andrew O’Hagan, in the London Review of Books, recounts the disastrous experience of trying to ghostwrite the autobiography of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (The publisher later released an unauthorized early draft of the book):
I wrote through the night to assemble what we had. The thinness could become a kind of statement, I asserted; it could become a modernist autobiography. But the jokes wouldn’t hold and Julian, despite promising his publishers and me that he’d produce pages, paragraphs, even notes towards his book, produced nothing in all the months I was there. Not a single written sentence came from him in all that time. But at the end, from all those exhausting late night interviews, we assembled a rough draft of 70,000 words. It wasn’t by any means great, but it had a voice, a reasonable, even-tempered, slightly amused but moral voice, which was as invented as anything I’d ever produced in fiction. Yet it hadn’t felt like creating a character in a novel, so much as writing a voiceover for a real person who isn’t quite real. His vanity and the organisation’s need for money couldn’t resist the project, but he never really considered the outcome, that I’d be there, making marks on a page that would in some way represent this process. The issue of control never became real to Julian. He should have felt worried about what he was supplying, but he never did – he had in this, as in everything, a broad illusion of control. Only once did he turn to me and show a glint of understanding. ‘People think you’re helping me write my book,’ he said, ‘but actually I’m helping you write your novel.’
PUBLISHED: Feb. 23, 2014
LENGTH: 105 minutes (26390 words)
Our story picks of the week, featuring London Review of Books, Billboard, Texas Observer, Narratively and Slate.
The writer visits a Zen temple in Japan, where he meets with a priest who has been exorcising the spirits of people who had drowned in the 2011 tsunami and taken possession of the living. A story about loss and Japan's cult of ancestors:
Over the course of last summer, Reverend Kaneda exorcised 25 spirits from Rumiko Takahashi. They came and went at the rate of several a week. All of them, after the wartime sailor, were ghosts of the tsunami. For Kaneda, the days followed a relentless routine. The telephone call from Rumiko would come in the early evening; at nine o’clock her fiancé would pull up in front of the temple and carry her out of the car. As many as three spirits would appear in a single session. Kaneda talked to each personality in turn, sometimes over several hours: he established their circumstances, calmed their fears and politely but firmly enjoined them to follow him towards the light. Kaneda’s wife would sit with Rumiko; sometimes other priests were present to join in with the prayers. In the early hours of the morning, Rumiko would be driven home. ‘Each time she would feel better, and go back to Sendai, and go to work,’ Kaneda told me. ‘But then after a few days, she’d be overwhelmed again.’ Out among the living, surrounded by the city, she would become conscious of the dead, a thousand importunate spirits pressing in on her and trying to get inside.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 6, 2014
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7185 words)
Our favorite stories of the week, featuring Washingtonian, New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Financial Times and Full Stop.
A senior physician gets a new perspective about what it's like to be critically ill under the U.S. medical care system after falling and breaking his neck:
What did this experience teach me about the current state of medical care in the US? Quite a lot, as it turns out. I always knew that the treatment of the critically ill in our best teaching hospitals was excellent. That was certainly confirmed by the life-saving treatment I received in the Massachusetts General emergency room. Physicians there simply refused to let me die (try as hard as I might). But what I hadn’t appreciated was the extent to which, when there is no emergency, new technologies and electronic record-keeping affect how doctors do their work. Attention to the masses of data generated by laboratory and imaging studies has shifted their focus away from the patient. Doctors now spend more time with their computers than at the bedside. That seemed true at both the ICU and Spaulding. Reading the physicians’ notes in the MGH and Spaulding records, I found only a few brief descriptions of how I felt or looked, but there were copious reports of the data from tests and monitoring devices. Conversations with my physicians were infrequent, brief, and hardly ever reported.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 20, 2014
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4024 words)
PUBLISHED: Jan. 18, 2014
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4928 words)
On the 100th anniversary of World War I, severalnewbooks examine how the global powers walked into it, and who really was to blame:
Thus was unleashed the calamitous conflict that, more than any other series of events, has shaped the world ever since; without it we can doubt that communism would have taken hold in Russia, fascism in Italy, and Nazism in Germany, or that global empires would have disintegrated so rapidly and so chaotically. A century on we still search for its causes, and very often, if possible, for people to blame. In the immediate aftermath of war that seemed clear to many: Germany, and especially its leaders, had been responsible; the Austrians too, as accomplices, in lesser degree. The Treaty of Versailles made this official, as the victorious powers there spoke of a “war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.” This was the notorious guilt clause used to justify severe “reparation” payments stretching far into the future. It was a widespread view, and ordinary Germans might have shared it if the vanquishers had not gone for the premise of collective responsibility, which undermined attempts to build a fresh German regime untainted by the past.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 18, 2014
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4424 words)