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Good Reads: From lab-grown meat, to solar LED lamps, to Algebra II reconsidered

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes the case for growing meat with stem cells, Thailand's draconian defamation laws, Kazakhstan's new role in the war against terrorism, a lamp that is changing villages in Kenya, and why it really doesn't matter if you don't take Algebra II.

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Not all the nearby residents are thrilled to have a lethal disease laboratory in their neighborhood. But a number of decaying Soviet-era buildings, where the USSR once “kept some of its finest potential bioweapons,” are being upgraded to withstand all the seismic activity in the region, as well as updated security measures. It’s all an effort to develop scientific expertise on biological weapons, build relationships, and keep them from getting into the wrong hands in a key regional location.

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Jenna Fisher is the Monitor's former Asia editor, overseeing regional coverage for and the weekly magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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Let there be good light

About two hours southeast of Nairobi, Kenya, where many live in mud-walled, grass-roofed homes and eke out a living raising goats and growing crops like kale and maize, an unlikely economic transformation is taking place. David Talbot of MIT Technology Review reports on Evans Wadongo and his idea to bring solar-charged LED lanterns to remote villages lit by dim kerosene lamps. But he knew the new lamps wouldn’t succeed unless they had villager investment. So the lanterns are made in “local workshops with scrap metal and off-the-shelf photovoltaic panels, batteries, and LEDs.” Each is stamped with the words Mwanga Bora (Swahili for “Good Light”). Villagers have been using the money they save on kerosene to launch their own local enterprises. 

The case against Algebra II

Think back to your high school days. Do you remember sitting at your kitchen table hunched over Algebra II homework that you just didn’t get? A well-intentioned math teacher likely told you that the problem solving required in Algebra II would come in handy and you’d be glad you had persevered.
That might not actually be true. In fact, it turns out that perfectly reasonable lovers and teachers of mathematics have long believed Algebra II isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be forced on children, but rather treated like an elective course. But this is a story that doesn’t get told often: It’s too sensitive a topic, writes Nicholson Baker in Harper’s magazine.

Traditional thinking goes, writes Mr. Baker, that requiring students to slog through Algebra II as a prerequisite for college admissions develops reasoning skills and produces scientists. Except it doesn’t. The US appears to have fewer home-grown scientists now than when Algebra II wasn’t required. “By 1950, at a time when only a quarter of American high school students were taking algebra, the nation’s technological prowess was the envy of the planet,” writes Baker.


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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

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