Slate Fare

What’s in Slate

April 10, 2009

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In Faith-Based, Michael Lukas offers a skeptic’s guide to Passover—including scientific explanations for the events like the parting of the Red Sea, the 10 plagues, and the burning bush. Larry Hurtado explains how extreme a punishment crucifixion was in ancient Rome and how, though early Christians had a difficult time reconciling their savior with how he was killed, the symbol of the crucifix has become ubiquitous and accepted today. Patton Dodd delves into the gory Passion plays that are a fixture of Easter weekend and proposes a better approach to telling stories about Jesus. Michael Sean Winters reveals the behind-the-scenes Holy Week preparation at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

In Jurisprudence, Daniel Redman explores the trend of dictionaries defining same-sex unions as marriage. “Opponents of gay marriage generally have relied on two authorities, the Bible and the dictionary—the divine word and the defined word. … But in their latest editions, the dictionaries have begun to switch sides.” The updates are significant because dictionaries have long been used as barometers of popular opinion to legally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The new entries are helping to change the status quo. “When you make it into the dictionary, you’re no longer novel.”

In Human Guinea Pig, Emily Yoffe tries out the electronic cigarette, which produces a nicotine-laced vapor instead of smoke and looks almost like the real thing. Yoffe got a kick out of bystanders’ reactions when she lit up in socially unacceptable places like the grocery store, but it wasn’t all fun and games. “My experiments were taking a toll. … I had to dose myself not only with breath mints but painkillers as well. I worried that my fake cigarette might contain a brew of the greatest hits of Chinese contaminates: antifreeze, melamine, puffer-fish toxin (or even MSG!), because each time I took a puff a sharp pain ran across the top of my skull. ” No wonder. Despite vendor claims, the FDA has not approved gadget and has labeled it a “drug-delivery system.”

In Jurisprudence, Julian David Mortenson highlights Spain’s plan to prosecute Bush lawyers for alleged torture that took place at Guantanamo Bay. Judge Baltasar Garzon, the same man who issued an arrest warrant for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, plans to investigate former top officials, including Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes, and John Yoo. Though Spain does not allow defendants to be tried without their presence (and the United States is not likely to send the men abroad to be tried), once warrants are issued, it will make it very difficult for them to travel abroad, particularly in Western Europe. There are myriad objections out of America, but “any way you look at it, the proceedings in Madrid are a reality that will hang over counterterrorist efforts for years to come.”

Also in Slate: In Politics, Christopher Beam lauds the lighthearted blogging by the Transportation Security Administration, one of the more hated government agencies. In Drink, Mike Steinberger explains how cheap Australian wine crushed its own industry. In Technology, Farhad Manjoo extols the virtues of Vimeo, a video-sharing Web site more sophisticated than YouTube.