Cocktail Chatter

Fake Facebook Birthdays, Obama’s Baby Electorate, and Unhealthy Antioxidants

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Obama at 50: Older, Wiser … Happier? How the study of happiness is changing out understanding of aging,” by Libby Copeland. It’s been a tough few months for the President, but Obama may take solace in the fact that by hitting the half-century mark, happiness may follow (along with liver spots). Recent studies reveal that as we age, our sense of well-being increases as levels of anger, stress and worry decrease. Finally something Obama can celebrate about!

 ”The Top Right in Technology: Slate selects five American technology gurus who are both wildly inventive and incredibly practical.” Slate continues to unveil the names of its Top Right list, a compilation of the 25 most innovative problem solvers of our time. Nerds take note—this week’s honorees could be you one day. From Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to IBM’s David Ferrucci, Slatereveals the internal mechanics of the country’s top high-tech champions. 

Seeing Catch-22 Twice: The awful truth people miss about Heller’s great novel,” by Ron Rosenbaum. Catch-22, the renowned novel about World War II, is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary of publication. On a second read of the book, Rosenbaum finds that everything is not what it seems. According to Rosenbaum’s logic, Catch-22 is not the anti-war story so many believe it to be. It’s a theological tale, delving into issues such as the existence of God.

Renters from Hell: Airbnb and the limits of trust online,” by Farhad Manjoo. How much faith do you have in your fellow man? This is the question Airbnb users are faced with each time they agree to host a complete stranger in their home. Although renter horror stories are few and far between (due in part to Airbnb covering them up), would you willing to risk priceless possessions for a check?

My Fake Facebook Birthdays: What happened when I celebrated my Facebook birthday on July 11. And July 25. And July 28,” by David Plotz.  In the technological age, social interactions seem like they’re becoming more and more impersonal. Plotz tests this idea by changing his birthday multiple times on Facebook during the span of a couple weeks. The birthday boy concludes that many of the well-wishes are not actually genuine, but reflexive responses made in the vein of “politeness.” A very happy un-birthday.

Go Ahead, Eat Chocolate for Breakfast: Why the lawsuit against Nutella is bunk,” by Nadia Arumugam. Ferrero, the Italian company that distributes Nutella, has recently become the subject of several lawsuits regarding its health content. Critics claim that Ferrero misled buyers into believing that the chocolate-and-hazelnut spread was a nutritious component of a balanced breakfast. In fact, it’s much healthier than many sugary breakfast alternatives currently on the market.

From Bored to Awestruck: Children’s Reactions to president Obama,” by Heather Murphy. Ah, the innocence of a child—so refreshing, so genuine, so rude. In this gallery, President Obama is pictured with kids, whose expressions range from delighted to disgruntled. If there is one completely honest electoral group, it’s the under-five-crowd.

How To Help Friends in Mourning: Condolence notes? Casseroles? What our grief survey revealed,” by Meghan O’Rourke and Leeat Granek. Grief is both familiar and foreign. As difficult as it is to navigate its many iterations within ourselves, it’s even harder to anticipate its affects on friends. The million-dollar question: What can you say or do when nothing will bring back the deceased? In a Slate survey conducted this spring, respondents revealed what they really want when they’re mourning: Acknowledgement of their feelings.

Would Cutting the Military Budget Threaten Our Security? It depends how we define our priorities,” by Fred Kaplan. The Pentagon’s proposed budget for next year is over $671 billion—that’s 17 percent higher than our peak Cold War budget (the most we’ve ever spent on the military in a year). Kaplan calls for a full-scale budget evaluation: Just like all social programs don’t help the needy, not all security expenditures make us safer. 

The Doctor and the Pomegranate: Antioxidants don’t work, but no one wants to hear it,” by Kent Sepkowitz.  Antioxidants have been heralded as super substances since the 1950’s: We were told they promoted better heart health, bolstered immunity and even prevented cancer. Just one small problem: There’s never been evidence to back up these miraculous claims. New research now shows that the vitamins are actually harmful and can weaken the human cell.