Cocktail Chatter

Break-Ins, Bombers, and the Fat Police

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

1) “The Depressing Cycle of Racial Accusation: The arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. is about neither racial profiling nor playing the race card,” by Richard Thompson Ford. Yes, Skip Gates was wrongfully arrested. And yes, racial profiling is a problem in law enforcement. But the real issue is how society has chosen to deal with poverty and racial injustice, and a coerced apology from a  cop won’t make it go away.

2) “Book Club: The Snakehead,” by Patrick Radden Keefe and Sudhir Venkatesh. Keefe, whose new book delves into the underworld of immigrant smuggling in New York’s Chinatown, discusses the subculture with Venkatesh, a Columbia University sociologist who has studied the underground economy of Chicago gangs.

3) “Why I Didn’t Trust Walter Cronkite: Reason No. 1: He was not worthy,” by Jack Shafer. Cronkite’s eulogizers seem certain that the public “trusted” the late newsman because of his evenhanded approach—but could that just have been the news industry’s old Fairness Doctrine talking?

4) “The Resurrection of Neo: Obama pitches health care reform to the reality-based community,” by Timothy Noah. In his benchmark health care speech on Wednesday, President Obama offered a simple choice: Do what makes sense, based on things that are true, or do not. Of course, his truth may not match up with Rush Limbaugh’s or Jim DeMint’s, but it’s making sense to those who look at the issue in terms of facts on the ground rather than partisan advantage.

5) “News Junkie Smackdown: The generational gap in the newsroom and the newsstand,” by Timothy Egan, Michael Kinsley, Michael Newman, Seth Stevenson, Sam Howe Verhovek, and Emily Yoffe. What would happen if one group of news consumers read only newsprint, and another got its information from the Web? A team of journalists subject themselves to this experiment and emerge equally well-informed but with differing world views.

6) “Beyond BMI: Why doctors won’t stop using an outdated measure for obesity,” by Jeremy Singer-Vine. Body mass index is how we’re taught to gauge whether we’re over- or underweight, but it was never meant to be used that way. Originally devised as a population measure, it doesn’t say much about individual health. Unfortunately, it’s become too entrenched for doctors to ditch.

7) “They Scrapped the F-22! The remarkable vote to kill the plane and what it means for America’s military future,” by Fred Kaplan. The F-22 bomber has long been one of the defense budget’s most expensive and impractical boondoggles, kept alive by defense contractor pressure in the right places. This significant cut may usher in a new era of Pentagon spending driven by results, not politics.

8) “Donkey Business: The only zebra in Gaza,” by Sharon Weinberger. Even a mini-state blocked off from the outside world, supplied only through secret tunnels, needs a zoo. Economic and logistical imperatives dictate that the animals on parade are not always what they seem: Are those real stripes on that “zebra”? No matter; he’s still on sale for $700.

9) “Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four: How Amazon’s remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book banning’s digital future,” by Farhad Manjoo. The most important difference between an actual paper book and one you read on your Kindle? The fact that it’s not, strictly speaking, yours: According to current licensing agreements, the company that sold it to you can still take it away. The deletion of George Orwell’s classic is only the latest illustration of a disturbing trend.

10) “Don’t Be So Square: Why American drivers should learn to love the roundabout,” by Tom Vanderbilt. Americans have a knee-jerk dislike of roundabouts, those circular intersections they may have encountered in Europe or in the 1950s, when they were huge and inefficient. But this traffic device’s modern incarnation is safer and makes better use of both time and space. What’s not to love?