Cocktail Chatter

Autofellatio, How to Write Faster, and the Tiniest Countries

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

The Makeni Children: In 1998, Americans Adopted 29 Children From a Town in Sierra Leone. Their Birth Families Say They Were Stolen,” by E.J. Graff. In this riveting three-part series, Graff takes us into the home of  Tony and Judith Mosley as they learn that their five adopted children may have been snatched from their birth families. In wrenching detail, Judith recounts how she returned one daughter to her birth family in Cambodia and struggled to track down the biological parents of her son.

Snipefest! Bachmann slams Pawlenty, Santorum ribs Ron Paul, Gingrich slaps Fox News—and Romney smiles,” by John Dickerson. The GOP had its first Iowa showdown Thursday night, and the candidates wasted no time exchanging blows. Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty got heated over their own Minnesota records, Rick Santorum set his sights on Ron Paul’s Iran stance, and Gingrich went after the “gotcha” media and their “Mickey Mouse games.” All night, Romney, the comfortable frontrunner, looked on, mostly untouched as the flock fought among themselves.

Overdone: Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?” by Farhad Manjoo. Restaurant websites tend to be awful, says Manjoo. There are, it seems, too many cooks on the Web. Or too many attempting—and usually failing—to translate kitchen creativity into user-friendly digital design.  Manjoo observes that the clarity of a restaurant website is often inversely proportional to how expensive it is. “Masa,” the four-star Manhattan sushi spot, for instance, offers up a lot of New Age graphics and minimalist sidebars. But you won’t find anything indicating that you’ll be paying around $400 for a tasting menu.

Burning Down the House: ‘Social exclusion’ is a real problem, but it doesn’t excuse the looting and lawlessness on the streets of London,” by Michael Weiss. London is burning, but the band of street marauders causing the trouble seem to be more interested in stealing DVD players than delivering social justice. Weiss, writing from the scene, marvels at how neighborhoods that once held quiet brunch spots have morphed into hotbeds of chaos.

Big Man, Little Countries: a tour of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Liechtenstein,” by Josh Levin. What is it like to live in a country so small you can run into the prime minister at the grocery store? Levin vows to find out. He tours Europe’s smallest nations, discovering that sometimes, the little guys have all the fun.

The Top Right in Government: Slate selects five American policy wonks who are both wildly inventive and incredibly practical.” In the latest installment to its Top Right series, Slate picks the leaders who are shaping the country with public policy. Included on the list: David Bossie, who led a crusade to reshape American campaign finance, Janette Sadik-Khan, who is pushing for a greener New York, and Gen. James Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command.

So Close, and Yet So Far Away: The Contorted History of Autofellatio,” by Jesse Bering. For decades, Bering writes, autofellatio—putting one’s genitals in one’s mouth for sexual pleasure—carried a potent social stigma. Psychologists often conflated it with homosexuality. But recent studies indicate that the practice is common among adolescent males. Sex researchers are attempting to dispel the world’s reflexive taboo surrounding the act.

August: Let’s get rid of it,” by David Plotz. In a piece from 2001, Slate’s editor argues why we could do without this summer month. Almost nothing good ever happens during its long 31 days, Plotz writes. Who needs the month, after all, that gave us the start of World War I and celebrations like National Religious Software Week?

Pisco: Don’t hate it because it’s fashionable,” by Troy Patterson. Feeling the need to update your alcoholic beverage of choice to reflect the season? Try Pisco, the mellow South American brandy with a slight kick. The liquor makes for delicious cocktails, like “pisco sour,” blended with citrus and egg yolk and “pisco punch,” a drink mixed with a dash of pineapple syrup. But conservative drinkers need not fear, Patterson writes. You can always take the less-adventurous road and mix Pisco with plain old Coca-Cola.

Slowpoke: How to be a faster writer,” by Michael Agger. Why can some writers churn out a book review during a cab ride across town, while others take hours to scribble a few sentences? Agger vows to find out, for the sake of amateur authors and modern Hemmingways alike. Among the tips we learn from his research: Writers compose faster for money and when they know their subject well. Maintaining realistic deadlines doesn’t hurt, either.

Overrated: Authors, critics, and editors on ‘great books’ that aren’t all that great,” by Juliet Lapidos. Summer is the time to finish the books you were supposed to love but never could. Is it your fault? They’re classics, aren’t they? In this survey, seasoned readers reveal their own “meh” picks—books that fall short of their established reputations. Along the way, they take on luminaries like Thomas Pynchon, J.D. Salinger, and James Joyce, providing solace to bleary-eyed college freshmen everywhere.