Hi Slate Plus,
Your guest editor this week is me, Leon Neyfakh, Slate’s criminal justice reporter, which means I’m the guy who writes about prisons, prosecutors, policing, and … people who commit crimes. And until pretty recently, I was the newest member of Slate’s editorial staff. It was nice while it lasted: I could blame social missteps on the all-staff Slack channel on the fact that I had “just started” and also not feel too bad about ignoring the Slate style guide when filing first drafts to my editor. Now that I’ve been here for about three months, my excuses have unfortunately lost their potency. And while that means the pressure is on me to step up my game in all respects, it also comes with a happy sense of belonging: This is my squad now, and I regard the people I see every day not as strangers but as colleagues and friends.
That said, sorry if this newsletter isn’t quite up to snuff. It’s my first time and I don’t really know what I’m doing!
No, just kidding. The truth is putting this together has been really easy because the work that went up on Slate this week pretty much sold itself:
To begin, I want to highlight L.V. Anderson’s intensely pleasurable, ultra-ambitious, long-lasting piece on condom innovation—and the shocking lack thereof that we’ve seen since the rolled latex condom was introduced in the 1920s. Laura, as we know her around the office, wrote this story as her “Fresca” project, and the love she put into the work shows in every paragraph. There are vivid phrases (the smell of lambskin condoms is described as ranging from “fruity to fishy to gamy”), incredible facts (the Food and Drug Administration does not test or approve any condoms for anal sex, only vaginal sex between straight couples), and party-ready trivia (America’s first condom shop opened in 1991 and was a fixture of Greenwich Village until its closing in 2007). More broadly, the piece is just an extraordinary rendering of all the obstacles that people driven to invent a better condom have encountered over the years. Read it—you’ll never have safe sex again without thinking about the appalling failure of imagination plaguing Big Condom.
Other great pieces I read on Slate this week:
- Slate’s features editor Jessica Winter’s funny and levelheaded take on newly minted Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad tweets. Jessica argues that the real reason we should be concerned with Noah’s jokes about “fat chicks” and Jews isn’t that they’re bigoted or misogynist—it’s that they’re “annihilatingly stupid.” In a media climate where saying “that’s so offensive” is the easiest way to get people to pay attention to what you have to say, Jessica chose to make a different point, reminding all of us that responding to the news quickly doesn’t have to mean making the most obvious argument available.
- This impassioned plea for reasonableness from Slate columnist Dan Engber, who has noticed that, thanks in part to a new book about public shaming in the digital age, disgraced science journalist Jonah Lehrer is mounting a comeback while getting a pass on his most important transgressions.The reason Lehrer’s books were pulped by his publisher wasn’t just that he made up a few Bob Dylan quotes, as multiple articles have said. It was that he didn’t seem to care whether the things he wrote were true or not. To me, the most amazing part of this story was a quote from Lehrer’s blog, where he recently wrote a post about redemption that perfectly mimicked—to the point of parody—the structure and style that he was known for before his fall. “The story of redemption is as American as apple pie,” Lehrer wrote, before concluding that, for many people, “redemption narratives—even when they simplify the facts of life—help them live better lives.” I mean, woof. As Slate Culture Gabfest host Stephen Metcalf put it on Twitter: “In a surprise, Jonah Lehrer rehab/apologism eerily Jonah Lehrer-like.”
- This piece by William Saletan about “the rule of two” that saves lives and prevents disaster in a variety of high-stakes realms, and why airlines that want to avoid the tragedy that befell Germanwings Flight 9525 should all adopt it immediately by requiring that there should always be two people in every cockpit when a plane is in flight.
It’s a concept that explains “why companies hire outside accountants, armored cars have crews, nuclear missiles require multiple sign-offs, and FBI agents monitor one another’s custody of seized drugs,” Saletan writes. “The entire U.S. government is an extension of, and a tribute to, the rule of two.” As I write this, news is breaking that the pilot who crashed the Germanwings plane had done research on cockpit doors and suicide in the days before he killed himself and 149 innocent people. That this horrific act could have been prevented with a failsafe as simple as the one Saletan describes is depressing but also potentially comforting, if the people in charge of keeping us safe while we’re in the sky take it to heart.
There was lots of other excellent stuff in the magazine this week. Katy Waldman’s essay on ACCIDENTAL CAPS LOCK as the defining “typographical faux pas” of our time had a killer kicker. The Culture Gabfest’s field trip to Winnie’s, the beloved Chinatown karaoke bar that’s closing soon, featured field recordings of Metcalf singing not one but two Mellencamp songs. Jamelle Bouie explained how the controversy surrounding “religious freedom” laws in Indiana and Arkansas will affect the 2016 election. Alison Griswold wrote about why Amazon’s new Home Services marketplace hastens the arrival of an economy “in which more and more people don’t have full-time jobs, but instead scrape together gigs through various online platforms.”
I strongly encourage you to read all these stories over the weekend!