Cocktail Chatter

Conspiracy Theories of 9/11, a Bruised Glee star and Perry vs. Romney

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Trutherism  2011: A Slate special report,” by Jeremy Stahl. A decade after 9/11, Stahl explains how fringe conspiracy theories blaming the Sept. 11 attacks on the Bush administration gained and then lost traction in the political mainstream. In his five-part series, Stahl separates 9/11 theories from fact, and catches up with ex-truthers who have disavowed the movement.

Romney’s Perry Problem: Mitt has a 59-point plan to fix the economy, and a zero-point plan to fight off his aggressive rival,” by John Dickerson. Sure, you can download Mitt Romney’s fancy, high-tech economic plan on your Kindle, but all of those glossy accessories might not be very effective against Rick Perry, Dickerson writes. Instead, the GOP nomination will be won or lost by the substance of each candidate’s plan to add jobs to the economy.

Lady Gaga: Pop’s leading conservative,” by Nathan Heller. Forget the meat dress, the cross-dressing and the 12-inch heels: Heller argues that even with all of her high-profile public antics, Lady Gaga is actually “a totem of the cultural establishment.” Despite critical acclaim for her “performance art” music and style, Heller says awkward songwriting and lyrics that are eerily reminiscent of ‘70s disco should relegate Gaga firmly to standard pop star status.

NFL 2011: Does the NFL Have the Moral High Ground?” by Josh Levin, Tommy Craggs, Stefan Fatsis, and Tom Scocca. It’s that time again. The lockout is over and the NFL’s “Year of the Quarterback” is upon us. In the first series of dialogues written in partnership with Deadspin, the authors offer their season previews, featuring a rundown of which players to watch for game-stealing performances. With an offseason kickoff rule change and a full-on frenzy about Peyton Manning’s injured neck already under way, the season promises to be an entertaining one.

The Duel: The battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry explodes at the GOP presidential debate,” by John Dickerson. The premiere matchup in Rick Perry’s debut presidential debate was a one-on-one verbal smackdown with former front-runner Mitt Romney. Covering everything from global warming to Social Security, the most recent GOP debate was also the most exciting so far, Dickerson writes. Now, he says, with three former governors in the mix (Utah’s Jon Huntsman is the third), the other remaining candidates—who possess decidedly less executive know-how—are facing increasingly unlikely odds.

America’s Next Top Sociologist: A daylong photo shoot for Vogue pays only $150, women are like milk cartons, and other insights from the academic study of modeling,” by Libby Copeland. Some grad students pay the bills by bartending or   babysitting. Ashley Mears chose modeling—but not because it’s her dream to walk the runway. Between her grueling, low-paying, and unglamorous gigs, Mears was conducting sociological research for her book called Pricing Beauty. As Copeland reports, the result of Mears’ undercover work reveals the often-futile struggle for working models trying to reach the big time.

I’m Still Here: Sarah Palin, still not running for president, writes the GOP’s campaign theme for it,” by David Weigel. Sarah Palin still isn’t running for president. However, Weigel writes, that isn’t stopping her from setting the tone of the campaign for the scattered field of GOP candidates. At a Labor Day rally in New Hampshire, Palin shirked questions about a presidential run in favor of jabs at the candidates who are actually running.

Hot in Austin: Do wildfires raise the temperature in nearby cities?” by Brian Palmer. In just one week, more than 170 wildfires burned 135,000 acres in Texas. Some reached temperatures of 1,500 degrees. But even the hottest flames didn’t raise temperatures in cities downwind of the inferno. In fact, Palmer writes, major fires that produce large amounts of ash can actually provide extra shade, slightly cooling nearby cities.

Oh Snap!: Photographer defends his photos of bruised Glee star Heather Morris,” by Heather Murphy. Who knew Gleeks were so aggressive? After posting photos of Glee star Heather Morris with makeup resembling a black eye, photographer Tyler Shields told Slate he was caught off guard by death threats from her fans and a backlash from advocates who said the photos glamorize domestic abuse. “Did I think that people would freak out?” Shields said. “No, I didn’t. I thought this would be cool.”

Can Brain Research Keep Us Safe?: Post-9/11 “neurosecurity” research is very cool, but it holds more promise than results,” by Jonathan D. Moreno. From machine guns to atomic bombs, war often catalyzes the development of cutting edge technology. The war on terrorism is no different; researchers have recently uncovered promising military applications for neuroscience. Imagine “super-soldiers” who can function without sleep, brain imaging to screen for deception and brain chips to enhance memory and learning. Still, the realistic use of these new tools, Moreno cautions, is yet to be seen.