Cocktail Chatter

Tax Cuts, MILFs, and Singing Mormons

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

The ‘Nonplussed’ Problem: How long should we cling to a word’s particular meaning?” by Ben Yagoda. Toothsome, decimate, momentarily. Unless you mostly converse with dictionaries, chances are you’ve heard these words deployed in ways that would make your grandparents scratch their heads. Luckily, Yagoda’s algorithm will help you decide when to use a word in its original sense, and when to go with the descriptivist flow.

The Greatest Musical Satirists of Their Generation: The rude, hilarious, surprisingly sweet musical canon of Trey Parker and Matt Stone,” by Jeremy Stahl. Reviewers are showing Big Love for the South Park duo’s latest effort, a sunny satire called The Book of Mormon. Check out a slide show of lewd, strangely warm-hearted highlights from Parker and Stone’s songwriting career.

Now You’re Talking! Google has developed speech-recognition technology that actually works,” by Farhad Manjoo. Can Android eavesdrop on your conversations? It certainly understands what you’re saying: It thinks your voice is a piece of data that can be analyzed against millions of other vocal fragments in immense storehouses of recorded human speech. Farhad takes a look inside Google’s nascent speech-recognition software.

Good Plan! Republican Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is brave, radical, and smart,” by Jacob Weisberg. Rep. Ryan wants to tackle the budget deficit by turning the Medicare behemoth into a voucher system. His plan will certainly rile up liberals, but might it also announce the return of a more ideologically coherent GOP?

Too Old To Hold: The mystery of gerontophilia,” by Jesse Bering.  Speaking of grandparents, pedophilia (love of prepubescent children), hebephilia (love of children in early puberty), and ephebophilia (love of adolescents) have all been well-documented. But gerontophilia? The author draws back a curtain on loving the elderly, one of contemporary sexuality’s quietest taboos. 

Taxing Our Patience: Paul Ryan’s budget plan shows why we need to raise taxes, not cut them,” by Annie Lowrey.  As the United States continues to slip and slide in its pool of red ink, legislators need to find fresh sources of income, not whittle away at the insufficient revenue we’ve got.

Don’t Touch Anything But My Junk: If movie theaters can make you eat their junk food, shouldn’t they tell you what’s in it?” by William Saletan. Though theater food is notoriously unhealthy, pressure from NATO (that would be the National Association of Theatre Owners) has exempted movie theaters from the Food and Drug Administration’s menu-labeling laws. Adding insult to injury, most theaters are vigilant about prohibiting outside fare, so in Saletan’s formulation, you can either eat crap or starve. This article is his call for a reckoning. 

 ”Tech Brigands: The swashbuckling bastards are everywhere, destroying the old order!” by Jack Shafer. With its new cloud drive, Amazon has joined the motley crew of companies that exploit technological advances to upset old markets. “They’re coming,” warns Shafer, “to take over higher education, drive the DVD into extinction, and throttle your landline telephone.” Yaargh!

Twaffic: Will Twitter—and tweets about traffic—change the way we drive?” by Tom Vanderbilt. Commuters are using Twitter to disseminate personalized traffic reports – and to blow off steam in the middle of gridlock. Are they spreading vital information, or just getting distracted?

Cowardly, Stupid, and Tragically Wrong: The Obama administration’s appalling decision to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a military trial,” by Dahlia Lithwick. When the president allowed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to stand trial as a war criminal in Guantanamo, he consented to a two-tiered justice system, in which some defendants forfeit their right to legal protection because they are “too dangerous.” Instead of relegating scary trials to the shadows, Lithwick argues, we should use them to demonstrate our commitment to the rule of law.