Cocktail Chatter

Guantanamo’s Anniversary, Explainer of the Year, and the Golden Age of Publishing 

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Guantanamo Bay detention center.
This week marked the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention center

John Moore/Getty Images.

The Great Gitmo Blackout: The 10th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay and whether we should remember about forgetting,” by Dahlia Lithwick. Ten Guantanamo Bay received its first prisoners on Jan. 11, 2002. While the rest of the world commemorates Gitmo’s opening with shame and reproach, Americans are going about their business as usual. Lithwick thinks this reflects the sense of “inevitability” and “invisibility” that has always surrounded the prison camp: We somehow imagine that no alternatives existed at the time, and we don’t want to examine the details too closely. How can we address our collective amnesia?

Vote for the Callous Jerk! At Bain Capital, Mitt Romney was a cold, ruthless destroyer of jobs and families. Does America need someone like that in the White House?” by Matthew Yglesias. “Almost every successful business career is built on the ashes of doomed factories, pink-slipped workers, and towns laid to waste,” Yglesias remarks. “Restructuring troubled firms is often the best way to preserve jobs and shareholder value in the long run.” No one likes defending a practice with such painful consequences for households and families, but should we consider the possibility that Bain’s business practices required moral courage?

 “Girl Trouble: What Caitlin Flanagan’s new book Girl Land gets wrong about girls,” by Katie Roiphe. According to Roiphe, what this study in modern girlhood lacks in acuity it makes up for in diaries and canopy beds, cooing solicitousness and sentimental naiveté. If Flanagan lulls you into thinking that girls are delicate creatures, Roiphe’s criticism will clear that right up for you. “One begins to get the sense that Caitlin Flanagan’s Girl Land has one inhabitant: Caitlin Flanagan,” she gripes.

Ifs, Ands, and Butts: The Supreme Court gets the full-monty treatment,” by Dahlia Lithwick. Supreme Court Justices this week are absorbed in forced contemplation of naked butts with the return of FCC v. Fox, a case which several years ago challenged the FCC’s “fleeting expletives” policy. Is it reasonable to expect indecency-free zones on broadcast TV?

Why Are Smart People Usually Ugly? An answer to the Explainer’s 2011 Question of the Year,” by Daniel Engber. Engber took up his annual practice of answering the readers’ choice for question of the year, and it was a doozy. But, “They’re not,” says Engber. In fact, a battery of studies in which subjects were able to roughly rank peoples’ intelligence based on their headshots suggests that smarter people are generally prettier, too (or at least, dumber people are uglier). All of which, Engber notes, raises another question: Why do so many people assume that intelligence and unattractiveness go hand-in-hand? Maybe it’s the fault of famous ugly geniuses like Jean-Paul Sartre and Beethoven.   

 “All the Young Dudes: A posthumous memoir goes behind the scenes at the celebrated publisher of Burroughs, Lawrence, and Malcolm X,” by Choire Sicha. From his dabbling in Parisian literary magazines to his tenure at the groundbreaking Grove Press (which brought Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter to U.S. audiences), writer and editor Richard Seaver embodied the “Golden Age of Publishing.” His memoir, The Tender Hour of Night, released three years after his death, captures his debonair and innovative spirit. But, as Sicha argues, the book casts an unwitting light on the sexism that plagued Grove until it closed in 1971. Seaver was unapologetic in his exclusion of female voices—and that’s a hard fact for even his biggest fangirls to swallow.      

Free Willy: Should prison inmates have the right to masturbate?” by Dave Johns. Bans on porn and masturbation in state prisons have led several convicts to protest the the criminal justice system’s draconian sex policies. New research indicates that, far from inciting rape and harassment, access to porn correlates with a decrease in sex crimes—something that would definitely benefit prison culture. More abstractly, Johns asks, is masturbation an unalienable right, and does suppressing it constitute cruel and unusual punishment?

I’m Not Here To Make Friends: Google’s disastrous decision to muck up its search results with stuff from your social network,” by Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo didn’t mind when Google personalized its search results—why shouldn’t your past online activity help determine what sites you’re shown? But he loathes the new social search, which bombards his focused web queries with irrelevant data from friends who are just as unschooled as he is in the preparation of Pakistani biryani. ”While my friends are thoughtful and knowledgeable people, their views on the tens of thousands of large and small inquiries that I bring to Google every year are almost always irrelevant. “        

Fire Congress, Dump Mississippi and Alaska: How a private-equity firm would refurbish the United States for quick resale to China,” by Will Oremus. With America foundering, Oremus decides it’s time to streamline the whole thing for a leveraged buyout. Where will he start? Well, “merging the United States with a resource-rich neighbor” like Canada “could lead to exciting synergies.”

Porky Pig: In early America, farm animals took the blame for zoophilic sex,” by Jesse Bering. A visit to a pig farm gets Bering wondering about animal intelligence, which leads him, finally, to puzzle over the oozy question of nonhuman sexual consent. Along the way he unearths stupefying records from Colonial New England’s “other witch hunt,” during which alleged zoophiles and their four-legged ‘partners” were tried and executed for interspecies intercourse.