Cocktail Chatter

HBO’s Girls, Instagram, and the Crisis in American Walking

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Walking Club Real
Blaine walking club, 1910. What happened to walking in America?

Photograph courtesy Bain News Service/Library of Congress.

The Crisis in American Walking: How we got off the pedestrian path,” by Tom Vanderbilt. In this four-part series, Vanderbilt explores our heel-toe connection to terra firma. Part I looks at why Americans don’t use their feet for transportation much anymore. Part II explains pedestrian walking patterns and habits. Part III tells how you score a place’s “walkability.” And Part IV explains how America might get people walking again.

The New York Observers: Lena Dunham’s Girls, Candace Bushnell, Katie Roiphe, Whit Stillman, Chloë Sevigny, and the voices of generations,” by Troy Patterson. With Lena Dunham’s new show Girls premiering Sunday, Patterson goes on the journalistic equivalent of a vision quest to interrogate the “voices of a generation.” His protean, rambling, kaleidoscopic opus begins in a “very quiet bar on a Saturday afternoon,” but doesn’t stay there long, looping from the Great Awakening in 1724 to college campuses in the mid-90s. “I have more tangential questions than I do straight declarations,” Patterson writes. “But so does Girls?”

“Hey, Instagram, Here’s $1 Billion for Your Cool Photos: Why did Facebook pay so much for a company with zero revenue?” by Will Oremus. Instagram sold this week for far more than it was worth because Facebook knows the $1 billion price tag is worth warding off competing photo-sharing tools, Oremus says. 

The Trayvon Election: How the Martin case is changing Florida politics,” by David Weigel. Reporting on the fallout from Trayvon Martin’s death, Weigel finds that the racially charged case is forcing Florida politicians to take a stance on the shooting.

I Remember Mama and Dada: What do small children remember? And why do memories stick into adulthood?” by Nicholas Day. Children remember far more than we ever imagined, Day says, and he explains how your memory is like orzo pasta. In a related piece, Slate staffers share their first verifiable memory.

Death to Word: It’s time to give up on Microsoft’s word processor,” by Tom Scocca. Scocca uses Microsoft Word only in the most desperate circumstances because of its inefficient and outdated design. He outlines everything that he thinks is wrong with the popular word processing program, including that “Word’s idea of effective collaboration is its Track Changes feature, which makes an uneventful edit read like a color-coded transcript of an argument between the world’s most narcissistic writer and the world’s most pedantic and passive-aggressive copy editor.”

Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen: A country tries to banish gender,” by Nathalie Rothschild. Gender-neutrality efforts are sweeping across Sweden, from the inclusion of a new pronoun to toy catalogs with boys pushing prams and girls riding tractors. Not everyone is onboard with the effort, though. As Rothschild says, “Ironically, in the effort to free Swedish children from so-called normative behavior, gender-neutral proponents are also subjecting them to a whole set of new rules and new norms.”

Disc-y Business: Is America ready for professional Ultimate Frisbee?” by Daniel Lametti. With the formation of the new American Ultimate Disc League, ultimate Frisbee has becomes a professional sport. But Lametti wonders if the league can survive in a country where the majority of people don’t know how the game works or watch it as a spectator sport.

John Derbyshire’s Error: The ignorance of racial profiling,” by William Saletan. Saletan dissects now-fired National Review contributor John Derbyshire’s column in Taki’s on racial profiling: “If you tell people to protect themselves by avoiding interaction with the person they’re judging, you’re not just rationalizing racism. You’re perpetuating it.”

 “Forget the Factories: Obama’s foolish obsession with manufacturing jobs will make America poorer,” by Matthew Yglesias. Yglesias writes that President Obama is making an expensive mistake in trying to build up American manufacturing because “it should be obvious that the path forward for America is to focus on our strengths in information technology and media, and not compete with the Chinese for manufacturing supremacy.”

Fusion Reaction: How America fell in love, and then out of love, and then in love all over again, with Asian-influenced cuisine,” by Sara Dickerman. Dickerman says that we’ve drifted back into “like” with Asian-fusion cuisine like Korean barbecue tacos and kung pao pastrami. And she explains why all cuisine has become fusion in one way or another.