Cocktail Chatter

A Free-Range Internet, Killer Hybrids, and Baby Vegetables

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Parent Traps: Don’t monitor your kids’ Web surfing,” by Katie Roiphe. Seeking guidance on the right amount of internet exposure for her almost nine-year-old, Roiphe consults Microsoft researcher and academic dana boyd: “a fast-talking Dr. Seuss hipster with a visionary vibe.” boyd (the lower-case is intentional) posits that millennial kids enjoy far less freedom to wander around in physical space; they should at least be allowed to find their way online. 

 “Eating Babies: A study of youth horticulture,” by Daniel Engber. Are the tiny broccoli stalks and artichokes in your grocery store really “baby” vegetables, plucked before they reach maturity? Or are they full-grown midgets? Engber digs up the untold history of micro-produce.

Not Every Schoolboy’s Fantasy: Arizona teacher Gabriela Compton sexually abused two teenage boys. Why did she get off with a slap on the wrist?” by Emily Bazelon. Bazelon lifts the veil on a troubling discrepancy between the way male and female sex offenders are sentenced in court. She wonders: Do judges assume that all teenage boys secretly want sex with older women?.   

The Wrath of Cons: A proposed super-PAC assault on Obama exposes the right’s rage,” by William Saletan.  TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts wants to unleash a $10 million dollar ad campaign assaulting Obama’s character, but Mitt Romney would be better served by media attention that kept the focus on the weak economy. Saletan thinks that the GOP’s fury at the president derails its political strategy.

 “Avocados, Massages, and MacBooks: To start a successful small business, look for what the Web does poorly,” by Farhad Manjoo. Slate continues its Hive project of framing the ultimate small business cheat sheet. This time, web guru Manjoo advises would-be entrepreneurs to internet-proof their companies by providing “rich, personalized customer service.”

The Silent Killer: Hybrids are so quiet that pedestrians never hear them coming. Now automakers are racing to make the car of the future sound like the gas guzzlers of old,” by Paul Collins. Collins unearths a strange and beguiling history of car manufacturers tinkering with the way their products sound to protect the blind. And he proposes that the electric Ford hearken back to an earlier era with, of all things, sleigh bells.

 “I’m Through With Paper: The new iPad finally made me prefer a screen to a magazine,” by Farhad Manjoo. Though Manjoo “always [found] paper…the most pleasurable delivery system for the written word,” iPad’s crystal-clear retina screen has made him an e-reading convert. Now that content looks so lovely on it, he’s more disposed to appreciate the way iPad lets you read in the dark, collect libraries of material on one device, and never lose your place. 

Hello? A visual history of the telephone,” by Tom Vanderbilt. This latest entry in Slate’s series on the design of everyday objects follows the telephone along its trajectory from table-top box to ubiquitous “iSlab.” And it ends with a nod to “that longstanding dream—the video phone.”

Another Virginia Disgrace: The statehouse rejects the judicial nomination of a prosecutor—just because he’s gay,” by Dahlia Lithwick. “The Virginia House of Delegates proved that it can indeed be as mean-spirited and parochial as its detractors at Comedy Central have come to expect,” Lithwick writes. In rejecting Tracy Thorne-Begland’s bid for judgeship because he is a “homosexual activist,” the statehouse eroded its credibility and upheld a proud tradition of prejudice against gays.   

Introducing the Slate/SurveyMonkey Political Survey: Which presidential candidate would you let babysit your kids? Who’d be better at changing a tire? Who is being honest about the issues?” Slate is publishing the results of a monthly survey on how voters perceive Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the run-up to the 2012 election. This first installment looks at which candidate Americans would prefer to have over for dinner and who they’d trust to lend a hand if their car broke down on the side of the road.