Finding E.T., Vintage Robot Hysteria, and Driving While High

The week's most intriguing stories.
Dec. 3 2011 4:16 AM

Finding E.T., Vintage Robot Hysteria, and Driving While High

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

AFP/Getty Images.

It’s Not All Facebook’s Fault: You're as much to blame for the site's privacy woes as Mark Zuckerberg,” by Farhad Manjoo. Facebook has undergone several different privacy makeovers in the last year and a half. But how private can a social networking site really be? Comparing the notion of a totally private Facebook to “expecting modesty at a strip club,” Manjoo argues that our desire for online privacy is incompatible with the way people use Facebook to share things and connect with people online.

DWI Versus DW-High: Is it more dangerous to drive drunk or stoned?” by Brian Palmer. A new study suggests that legalizing marijuana reduces alcohol consumption, which also reduces traffic fatalities. The study authors found that people are more hesitant to drive stoned than drunk, but is one form of intoxicated driving actually more dangerous? Yep. As Palmer explains, it’s alcohol, and the contest is “not even close.”

The Great Silence: E.T. is out there. Why can’t we find him?” by Chris Wilson. There are about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, and we’ve already found a few dozen potentially hospitable planets. But science still hasn’t located our own real-life version of E.T. In a two-part series, Wilson explains how we may simply be missing nearby extraterrestrial life due to the enormity of the galaxy. He even offers a suggestion to aid in the search: Let them come to us.

If I Were King ...: Newt Gingrich is the only candidate who knows what he’d actually do as president,” by John Dickerson. Presidential candidates are notorious for offering vague policy prescriptions and evasive answers. In an election cycle where standard campaign promises include repealing health care and balancing a staggeringly uneven budget, one candidate has emerged as surprisingly realistic: Newt Gingrich. Dickerson explains how Gingrich’s candor on issues such as immigration set him apart from the rest of the pack, even if his honest habits sometimes get him in trouble with his own party.

My Miraculous Conception: How two infertility doctors, a team of nurses, an embryologist, an acupuncturist, my husband, and I made a baby,” by Shawnee Barton. After three years of never-ending fertility treatments—everything from holistic medicine to cutting-edge technology—nothing seemed to help Barton get pregnant. Her doctor was pessimistic, too, warning that she might never conceive. In early 2010, Barton and her husband decided it was time for more drastic measures. They started documenting her first IVF cycle, which turned out to be the only one she needed to give birth to her daughter. Check out the photo slide show to see how Barton made a baby “the IVF way.”

The Death of Titles: I Hate My Teenage Daughter, Tower Heist, Cowboys and Aliens—why can't anyone think up a decent title anymore?” by Jacob Rubin. Movie titles today don’t leave much up to the imagination. Just guess what Snakes on a Plane is about. Longing for the days of “pungent, enigmatic titles” like Three Days of the Condor, Rubin explains how the practical evolution of more descriptive movie titles can spoil a narrative and result in a “reductive cultural frame.”

"Military Police State: Why is the Senate so determined to allow the U.S. military to arrest and detain U.S. citizens?” by Dahlia Lithwick. On Tuesday, 60 Senators approved a bill that allows the military to “pick up and detain, without charges or trial, anyone suspected of terrorism,” including American citizens. It effectively ignores that whole “innocent until proven guilty” idea and the constitution’s protection of civil liberties. Lithwick explores the bleak prospects for a law that grants sweeping executive power and threatens the separation between law enforcement and military authority.

'A Robot Has Shot Its Master': The 1930s hysteria about machines taking jobs and killing people,” by Matt Novak. Urban legend recalls a 1932 British inventor whose robotic creation shot its master. This never really happened, but people were willing to believe it. Why? Economic insecurity during the Great Depression led to a robot panic, Novak explains. Capitalizing on the fears of people already traumatized by staggering unemployment and bleak financial prospects, robots were the perfect symbol of menacing new technology. Don’t miss the accompanying photo slideshow of the paranoid Great Depression media depictions of robots.  

Air Fail: Blame Jimmy Carter for all the airline bankruptcies. Or better yet, thank him,” by Matthew Yglesias. The parent company of American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week surprising “exactly no one,” Yglesias says. That’s partly because 189 airlines have declared bankruptcy since 1990. But why? Yglesias explains how obscure deregulation measures passed during the Carter administration sunk airlines’ per-passenger revenue stream and made bankruptcies increasingly common in the industry. Despite the business implications of this shift, there was (and is) a silver lining for consumers: The same phenomenon decreased ticket costs.

Christmas Carols: Why do we keep singing them?” by Nathan Heller. From classics like “Silent Night” to new incarnations of Christmas carols by Justin Bieber, the holiday genre just won’t go away. Heller explains how carols—despite their questionable musical ingenuity upon first listen—often reveal deeper cultural trends and anxieties. Example 1: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” as complex Freudian trauma.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Sept. 19 2014 2:06 PM The Guest and Fort Bliss How do we tell the stories of soldiers returning home from war?
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.