Cocktail Chatter

Fireworks, Asian Babes, and Interviewing Jacko

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

1) “Fireworks Suck: They really do,” by Troy Patterson. What is there to celebrate about simplistic, loud, inartful displays of airborne firepower? Nothing, unless you belong to the below-average masses enthralled simply by bright lights.

2) “Are All Civil Rights Special Privileges Now? Assessing the damage done by the Supreme Court in the New Haven firefighters case,” by Richard Thompson Ford. In overruling the Connecticut city’s decision to void a promotion test for the sake of racial diversity, the high court jeopardized all forms of assistance to disadvantaged minorities. Where does it stop?

3) “Steroids, Anyone? Tennis is one of the few sports that hasn’t been tainted by doping scandals. Can any sport possibly be that clean?” by Bill Gifford. Considering that the sports most soaked in performance-enhancing drugs are also the ones most heavily policed, tennis might be protecting its reputation just by declining to look.

4) “China’s Marlboro Country: The strange, underground world of counterfeit cigarettes,” by Te-Ping Chen. It takes a big industry to feed the Chinese nicotine habit—more than 2 trillion cigarettes a year, most of them brand-name knockoffs. Our correspondent goes underground, literally, to take photos and video of the booming business.

5) “Caught on Tape: What the Nixon tapes tell us about the Republican Party,” by Christopher Hitchens. As nauseatingly racist and egomaniacal as the latest batch of audiotapes released by the Nixon library may be, the Republican Party can’t escape the fact that much of its modern appeal is based on Tricky Dick’s example.

6) “Medical Errors: Why is polling about health care reform so unreliable?” by Christopher Beam. This subject might just be too complicated for your standard opinion poll—for every question about health care reform, there’s another way to ask it that will yield a totally different result.

7) “The Birth, and Death, of the Asian Babe: The sordid history of the sexually exotic East,” by Johann Hari. A book about how Western men have for centuries romanticized the alluring lady of the Orient tries to argue that women themselves were not simply passive victims—but patriarchy is a powerful thing, and it’s wrong to say they were willing.

8) “Does Plastic Art Last Forever? Not even close. Can a generation of plastic objects be saved?” by Sam Kean. Turns out plastic is actually one of the materials most vulnerable to the effects of air and light. Objets d’art from dolls to mobiles are degenerating in museums around the world—and taking others with them

9) “Let Me Tell You About the Time I Interviewed Michael Jackson: Why reporters won’t shut up about their encounters with the dead pop star,” by Jack Shafer. Seems like anyone who ever had a brush with the Gloved One wants to share his story, but as newsworthy as the man’s death may be, there’s a limit to how much the public really needs to know.

10) “Will My Video Get 1 Million Views on YouTube? A Slate investigation reveals: not a chance,” by Chris Wilson. Don’t let the success of random home videos like “Charlie Bit Me” fool you. With the camcorder-carrying masses now posting their creations online, even breaking 10,000 is a feat.