Cocktail Chatter

Robot Overlords, Chris Christie the Un-Candidate, and the Model-Plane Bomber

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.


Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Will Robots Steal Your Job? You’re highly educated. You make a lot of money. You should still be afraid,” by Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo investigates the extent to which robots could replace workers in an astonishingly diverse group of professions (read: watch out pharmacists, secretaries and writers). Since new software performs tasks once reserved for Ph.D.s and law-school grads, it’s clear that the relentless advance of computers now threatens even highly skilled workers. If you want to outsmart the robots, read this soon-to-be obsolete journalist’s series. You’ll need all the help you can get.

Meet the New Slate: The same great stories, but a better home page, improved tools, and a brand-new CMS,” by David Plotz. At midnight on Wednesday, Slate’s developers launched an exciting collection of new features for the site and unveiled a sleek new look. The makeover, Plotz writes, brings Slate’s design up to par with the top-notch writing it contains: The cover now matches the contents. What’s changed besides the glossy new interface? Readers will find it’s now easier to share articles on Facebook and Twitter, and to see the complete works of their favorite authors in one convenient location. But the new look, Plotz explains, is just a start. So if you’re a Slate fan, don’t hesitate to send your take on the redesign to

The Model-Plane Bomber: So much for airport security. The new terror threat is remote-controlled planes,” by William Saletan. At a time when home-grown terrorism is a serious threat—and potential attackers can purchase explosives over the Internet—how can the United States protect itself? Our best bet, Saletan writes, is still the intelligence community’s ability to lure in suspects by mimicking terrorist networks. The FBI demonstrated this week just how important this method remains when it detained Rezwan Ferdaus: He plotted to fly an explosive-packed, remote controlled aircraft into the Pentagon and the Capitol.

Leading Bystander: The claims that Obama doesn’t lead are wrong and muddle things,” by John Dickerson. During a speech this week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined the chorus of Republicans who say that President Obama has “failed to lead.” But is there any truth behind this accusation? Obama hasn’t suffered from an assertiveness shortage during his time in the White House: The president passed sweeping laws on health care and financial reform, and he called the shots for the risky operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. So what is the GOP’s definition of leadership? Seems like it’s a quality that’s achievable only by acquiescing blindly to Republican demands, Dickerson writes. 

Oh Snap! Sneaky Photos of Zombie Shoppers,” by Heather Murphy. Recession or no recession, America loves to shop. Our retail culture inspired photographer Brian Ulrich to focus his camera on the nation’s shoppers—and the stores they roamed —from 2003 to 2007. Although the staff at the outlets Ulrich visited forbade him from snapping photos on the premises, the rebellious Ulrich ignored their requests. Murphy compiles the best of his clandestine picture-taking in a slide show that is simultaneously haunting, funny, and profound.

Love, Child: Statistically speaking, marrying young can spell disaster. Not for me,” by Katie Arnold-Ratliff. Experts warn that tying the knot young can lead to divorce and separation. But Arnold-Ratliff, who met her husband Adam in second-period high school Spanish class and married him at 23, beat the odds. In this moving and funny essay, she tells readers how she managed to overcome the obstacles of young love and become an adult. Ultimately, Arnold-Ratliff learns that you often have to take responsibility for your life before you can share it with someone else.

The Perfect Day: His dog was dying. But they could spend one last day together,” by Jon Katz. In an excerpt from his new book, Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die, Katz tells the moving story of Harry, an Iraq war veteran who finds himself on the verge of losing his beloved dog, Duke. After learning that Duke has a failing heart, Harry plans a day devoted to his pet. The day is a bittersweet chance for Duke to indulge in all the joys of canine life—dining on hamburgers and bacon, swimming in the town pond, and walking in the woods. The two conclude their time together the way they spent much of their lives—side by side, taking in the view.

Christie Our Savior: Why this week’s Republican messiah is no better than last week’s,” by David Weigel. Up until Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s shaky debate performances this month, Republicans thought he would save the party and ensure victory in 2012. But now  that Perry has raised some eyebrows among conservatives with controversial comments about Social Security and immigration, the GOP  appears to be cheering for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to enter the race. But Christie is no messiah, either, Weigel writes. The New Jersey governor, with all his public bravado, isn’t saying anything radically different from what’s already part of the GOP narrative.

You-Boat: Can you buy your own submarine?” by Brian Palmer. Wouldn’t it be cool to have your own submarine, like the ones discovered in Colombia this week? Good news: As long as you have at least $600,000 to spare, you, too, can be a proud submarine owner! A handful of companies sell submersibles to deep-sea enthusiasts. But because of its high cost, the pastime is largely limited to the wealthy. One firm, for instance, sells an $80 million deep-sea model that contains a living and dining room area. If you decide to join the sub-club, you’ll join a group that includes James Cameron, Paul Allen, and Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich, all of whom are reportedly recreational submariners.

The Joy of Unicorns: The real reason you never see the mythical one-horned beasts,” by Frank Lesser. In his book Sad Monsters , Colbert Report writer Frank Lesser exposes the untold stories of “monsters who are sad, misunderstood, discouraged, lonely, and in many cases demonized.” In this book excerpt, he tackles a less threatening kind of mythical creature: the unicorn. How can you see one for yourself? It’s easy! To the delight of conservative schoolteachers everywhere, Lesser says the secret to befriending a unicorn is abstinence. “The little-known fact is, every abstinent teen gets her own unicorn as her BFF,” writes Lesser. “Why do you think good girls don’t mind 9 p.m. curfews? I’ll give you one hint: unicorn slumber parties!!!” Read his piece for more shocking revelations.