Language Bullies, Obama’s Syria Problem, and, and RG3: The Week’s Most Interesting Slate Stories

The week's most intriguing stories.
Sept. 7 2013 6:30 AM

Language Bullies, Obama’s Syria Problem, and RG3

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Are You a Language Bully? Cut it out,” by Matthew J.X. Malady. It’s OK to have a built-up supply of esoteric language knowledge. But’s there’s a difference between the humble, lovable know-it-all and the language bully. The language bully uses her expertise to embarrass or humiliate others. The test, according to Malady, depends on how you answer the following question: Do you annoy and infuriate people at dinner parties and other social gatherings by correcting others on how they use or pronounce certain words? If so, he says, you’re a language bully. Cut it out.

 “A Disturbance in the Force: What happened to the Onion? Two words: The Internet,” by Farhad Manjoo. Back when the weekly print edition was its premier product, the Onion ran only the 20 funniest stories culled from more than 600 headline ideas its staff generated each week. As Manjoo quips, “It was harder to get your joke into the Onion than it was to get your kid into Harvard.” But about a year ago, the Onion ramped up online production and went through one the most profound transitions in its history. Depending on how you look at it, Manjoo writes, it’s either the best or worst thing that’s ever happened to fake news.

Can Robert Griffin III Save the NFL? Or will pro football destroy the first megastar of the post-CTE age?” by Jack Hamilton. On Monday night, Griffin will embark on what’s likely to be the most scrutinized season in the history of American professional sports, Hamilton writes. The game marks the quarterback’s return from a Jan. 6 injury that required reconstructive surgery and months of rehabilitation, and represented the moment when “Griffin’s transformative gifts collided with the intransigent brutality of his sport.” In light of the concussion controversy looming large over this season, Hamilton argues there’s “a creeping understanding that the very arena that showcases his tremendous physical and mental gifts is fundamentally dependent upon the destruction of the same.”

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The Real Problem With Obama’s Syria Policy: The president fails to understand how his words are interpreted around the world,” by Anne Applebaum. When President Clinton took office after campaigning on a promise to do “whatever it takes to stop the slaughter of civilians” in the Bosnian war, Croats and Muslims assumed the new administration would come to their rescue. Many were devastated when major intervention stalled for several years. Applebaum argues Obama’s failure to deliver on pledges to aid Syrian rebels shows a similar misunderstanding of how powerful a presidential promise is to those on the receiving end.

Hawks, Doves, Fence Sitters: There are 18 kinds of Syria bombing opponents in Congress, and 12 kinds of bombing supporters,” by John Dickerson. After the Cold War and even for a period after 9/11, a national security consensus existed between the two parties, Dickerson writes. But Syria shows the binary divide between Democrats and Republicans has atomized into a wider variety of positions on U.S. intervention. According to Dickerson, there are 18 kinds of Syria bombing opponents in Congress, two types of fence-sitters, and 12 kinds of bombing supporters.

We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online: Nothing. It’s the only way to defend her against facial recognition, Facebook profiling, and corporate data mining,” by Amy Webb. Are parents preventing their children from any hope of future anonymity with every status update, YouTube video, and birthday blog they post online? Instead of creating a trove of data that would enable algorithms to learn about their daughter, Webb and her husband have decided to defend their child against facial recognition software, Facebook profiling, and corporate data mining by posting nothing.

Nullification Everywhere: Are liberals hypocrites for supporting state challenges to federal marijuana laws but scorning state challenges to federal gun laws?” by Emily Bazelon. Liberals embrace state challenges to federal marijuana laws. Conservatives embrace state challenges to federal gun laws. Both arguments hinge on reading the Tenth Amendment as granting states broad power that sometimes trumps Congress. But Bazelon argues it’s not hypocritical for liberals to support the former state challenge and not the latter, since state pot laws are about substance rather than symbolism, while state gun laws are a political sideshow.

When Mom Died: I was 16 when cancer killed my mother. I raised my sisters the best I could,” by Stacy Torres. In Torres’ vivid account of the disillusioning experience of losing her mother to cancer, she portrays her family life as a poignant tableau vivant in which Torres occupied an “awkward, indeterminate place, somewhere between sister and mother, daughter and wife” as she sought to feed her kid sisters while placating their irritable father. This vignette is a stirring, surreal and wistful depiction of a family’s growing pains as an adolescent girl courageously if imperfectly attempts to fill the mold of her lost role model.

Unrigging the Admissions System: The path to getting into an elite school has long been shrouded in mystery. It’s up to us, the admissions officers, to lift the veil,” by Asha Rangappa. Yale’s dean of admissions argues it’s time elite schools lift the veil on the admissions process. By closing themselves off behind a wall of secrecy, she writes, admissions officers are complicit in creating a market that allows students who are already ahead of the game to get an even greater competitive edge in the process. Rangappa argues that by implementing a few common-sense reforms, admissions officers could go a long way toward making the system fairer and more transparent.

Why Are You Not Dead Yet? Life expectancy doubled in the past 150 years. Here’s why,” by Laura Helmuth. The most important difference between the world today and 150 years ago isn’t airplane flight or nuclear weapons or the Internet, Helmuth writes. It’s lifespan. Americans now live twice as long as they once did. Helmuth shows how cleaner water and food, hygiene, vaccinations and other advancements defanged once-deadly ailments and gave people two lives where they used to live one.

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