The best of Slate: June Thomas on her favorite reads of the week.

From the History of American Slavery to America’s Dental Crisis, These Were the Best Slate Stories This Week

From the History of American Slavery to America’s Dental Crisis, These Were the Best Slate Stories This Week

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June 5 2015 11:25 AM
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What Happened at Slate This Week?

Culture critic and Outward editor June Thomas on the best of Slate, from the history of American slavery to America’s dental crisis.

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Illustration by Charlie Powell

Hello, Slate Plus people!

I’m June Thomas, a culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ blog.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

Some of your Slatt Plous guides from the last few weeks have been relative newcomers to the magazine, but I’m a grizzled old-timer: I recently celebrated my 18th anniversary at Slate. Back in the 20th century, when Internet journalism was a novelty and we had to instruct some would-be writers how to “call up” their stories once they hit the Web, I started out as a copy editor in what was then the mother office on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington. After a few terrifying months in that job, I became the copy chief, then the managing editor, the West Coast editor, and the foreign editor, a business card I held onto for seven years or so. Four years ago I left the staff, but I can’t tear myself away from the magazine.

Why? I admit, my affection is partly selfish—they let me write about all sorts of things, from television to British politics to stationery, along with LGBTQ topics, of course—and that was just in the last month. But mostly it’s that everyone who works at Slate is wonderful. If magazines competed in staff menschiness rather than softball, I have no doubt that Slate would take home the biggest trophy at the end of every summer.

You surely don’t need me to tell you that, though, because Slatesters’ awesomeness shines through with the brightness of those stars Phil Plait is always writing about. The best Slate pieces have a particular tone: smart, informed, friendly, sometimes funny, and always questioning. I really admired “The Best Police Blotter in America—Revisited,” in which Leon Neyfakh reconsidered his praise, just a few days earlier, of the Point Reyes Light’s police blotter. The Sheriff’s Calls column is, Neyfakh declared, “a pointillist portrait of a bewitching region populated by idiosyncratic characters.” It certainly is. But when a reader of the Point Reyes Light asked if the column mined locals’ real-life traumas as a source of wry amusement, Neyfakh took the question seriously. The resulting rumination was genuinely mind-expanding, and got me to think beyond journalistic clichés like “writers are always selling somebody out.”

That willingness to push beyond the obvious take was also on display in “Don’t Cry for Carnegie Mellon,” Will Oremus’ hard look at the fallout from the Pittsburgh university’s partnership with Uber. The deal didn’t work out as CMU hoped, and many in the media have piled on the tech company, which, heaven knows, usually deserves brickbats—as Will put it, “In its five years of existence, Uber has shown zero scruples in its business practices.” But by the end of his piece, Will had me convinced that my initial response had been a lazy one.

I’m also in awe of Emily Yoffe’s willingness to ask really tough questions. “How The Hunting Ground Blurs the Truth,” her close reading of the documentary about campus rape, is inspirational and upsetting.

Sometimes, a barely suppressed sigh of disappointment is just the right tone. So it was with my Outward colleague J. Bryan Lowder’s reading of a much-trailed flirtation between two of the suitors on a popular TV dating show, or as his headline so aptly put it: “Why the ‘Brokeback Bachelor’ Plot on Last Night’s Bachelorette Was a Biphobic Mess.” Trust me, you don’t need to watch the show to enjoy Bryan’s excoriation of an offensive stereotype masquerading as a progressive showmance.

I haven’t seen Cameron Crowe’s new movie, Aloha, but I still nodded along to “Waimanalo Blues,” Nate Chinen’s look at the cultural and racial pitfalls the movie managed to tumble into—I was so moved, in fact, that I wrote an email to the piece’s editor, Dan Kois, to mount a limited defense of Hawaii Five-0, which makes many of the same missteps. I don’t have Comcast—indeed, I am currently enjoying a honeymoon period with a brand-new Internet and cable provider—but Jim Saksa’s take on why we hate our ISPs, cable companies, and HMOs struck me as exactly right. And if outrage is what you’re looking for, check out Mark Joseph Stern’s impassioned look at how the Supreme Court killed a cruel, vicious law and angered the court’s conservative justices in doing so.

I’m a huge Slate podcast fan from way back—back in the day I spent my evenings talking into a microphone placed in a T-shirt–lined cardboard box recording the Explainer podcast—and this week had some special audio goodness. Not only did we get a Hang Up and Listen extra after sportocrat Sepp Blatter hung up his FIFA blazer, we were also treated to Episode 2 of the Slate Academy podcast on the history of American slavery. This is one of the most stunning projects Slate has ever launched, and I love everything about it, from the rapport between hosts Rebecca Onion and Jamelle Bouie to the erudite experts they talk with and the brain-expanding information they’re serving.

Speaking of experts, I spent a few years as Fred Kaplan’s editor, so I know he’s brilliant on defense and international relations, but I live for his music writing. His defense of audiophiles this February was one of the reading highlights of the year, but don’t miss this week’s Slate Plus piece on turntables—or Fred’s willingness to stick up for himself in the comments.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to write a paragraph for each of my years at Slate, but I’ll leave you with one last recommendation: My favorite piece of the whole week was Jordan Weissmann’s Moneybox post, “Way Too Many Americans Can’t Afford to Take Care of Their Teeth.” As I’ve written (again and again), dentistry is the health care crisis Americans seem to know and care least about—if they’re lucky enough to have a healthy mouth, that is. I’m overjoyed every time that tragic story gets told.

Don’t forget to brush and floss,
June