Cocktail Chatter

The Politics of Prison, Throwing Badminton, and Romney’s Frightening Foreign Policy

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker
U.S. gymnast Alexandra Raisman performs on the beam during the all-around final on Aug. 2.

Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP/GettyImages

Out of Step: Female gymnasts used to be fantastic dancers. How did the floor exercise get so graceless?” by Dvora Meyers. The past week has featured a cornucopia of gymnastics news, with the U.S. women’s team capturing Olympic gold for the first time since 1996. Meyers isn’t convinced, however, that their floor exercises can match up to the grace of past teams, as she looks at why female gymnasts today seem less concerned with being dancers than their more elegant predecessors.

Please Submit All Ethnicities: The tricky business of writing casting notices,” by Nina Shen Rastogi. It’s a sad but true fact of television that ethnicities often get the shaft in plot and casting. And in the world of casting notices, advertising for ethnic roles can turn into a bundle of vague and politically correct language. In exploring the way casting notices work, Shen Rastogi lifts the veil on the delicate task of writing these documents.

Double Jeopardy: In China, the rich and powerful can hire body doubles to do their prison time for them,” by Geoffrey Sant. It sounds like a story out of the newest international thriller: rich criminals hiring body doubles to serve their prison sentences for them. But, as Sant explains, this narrative of body switching has very real roots in Chinese history.

Going Postal: Tomorrow’s $5.5 billion default is the beginning of the end for the U.S. Postal Service. It’s time to privatize it,” by Matthew Yglesias. It was neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night that broke the back of the U.S. Postal Service: Wednesday, it defaulted on a payment to cover retiree health costs, a move that reveals the dysfunction in the Postal Service’s financial structure. Instead of continuing with business as usual, Yglesias argues that it’s time for the Postal Service to take the leap into the private sector.

Reckless Romney: Mitt’s world tour revealed more than his gaffes. His foreign-policy ideas are actually quite scary,” by Fred Kaplan. With the London Olympics and Romney’s recent trip abroad, it seems like all eyes are turned toward the international stage. But Kaplan argues that eyes should be turned closer toward Romney’s foreign policy platform, which is even scarier than his international gaffes.

Don’t Sweat It: The case against the case against air conditioning,” by Daniel Engber. Despite this summer’s record temperatures, rumblings from A/C haters are causing a backlash against the cooling units. Looking at the disgruntled brrr-geoisie, Engber argues that the case against cooling is unfounded and urges us to enjoy the pleasure of central air.

Stop Eulogizing Gore Vidal: He was a racist and an elitist, forever mourning the decline of his era of aristocratic privilege,” by David Greenberg. After Gore Vidal’s death Tuesday, writers produced scores of memorial pieces remembering his legacy. Greenberg urges them not to forget some of the less savory aspects of Vidal’s history.

Everything Is a List: The genius of WorkFlowy, the note-taking app that changed the way I organize my life,” by Farhad Manjoo. The world is complicated and busy, so much so that making a simple to-do list can turn into a behemoth task. Enter WorkFlowy, an organizational app that Manjoo asserts will change the way you look at your to-do lists.

Food as Fuel: This summer’s drought highlights the madness of the government’s ethanol mandates,” by Robert Bryce. With record droughts ravaging America’s Midwest, the country’s farming production has taken a hard hit, made even harder by the government’s ethanol mandates. In the midst of crop shortages, Bryce explains the lunacy of a government set on turning corn into fuel.

Shuttlecock and Bull: Eight badminton players have been disqualified from the Olympics for tanking. Why were they trying to lose, and why is the sport so dirty?” by Justin Peters. London-watchers were in a tizzy Wednesday after eight female badminton players were disqualified for attempting to throw matches. In a world where we assume everyone at the Olympics wants to win, Peters looks at what prompted these players to seek out the agony of defeat.