Cocktail Chatter

UFOs, Butter Churns, and Cheating Hearts

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Illustration by Lilli Carre.

This week, Slate launched a new blog on crime, creatively named, “Crime.” Peters explains what makes a cannibal, advises us on how to steal lottery winnings, and identifies the dumbest criminal this week: a man who revealed he had a child pornography stash while interviewing for a job at the FBI.

At the Slate Book Review, Dan Kois rounds up the best books of 2012. Check out Slate staffers’ picks, overlooked books of 2012, Kois’ favorites, and the top 10 of the year. Oh, and there’s a whole slew of new book reviews, too.

Don’t Be a Wife: I’m a lesbian and I’m never getting married. Why are you?” by June Thomas. Gay couples might be winning the right to marry, but should they exercise it? June Thomas explains why she won’t be heading down the aisle and wonders why younger women want to settle down so soon, “Once a relationship has run its course, lovers become great friends. If you know a lesbian, chances are you know a lesbian who’s gone on vacation with her current girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend, and a dog she once shared with a different ex.”

Won’t Someone Take iTunes Out Back and Shoot It? Apple’s horrible, bloated program needs to die,” by Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo vents his frustration with the malfunctioning mammoth that is the new iTunes 11. In describing the program’s evolution from music player to unwieldy software sync-master, he explains why subscriptions systems such as Spotify give music lovers a better way forward.

Loving a Child on the Fringe: There is an element of cowardice in Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity,” by Christina Nehring. After an unplanned pregnancy and a father who fled to Greece, Nehring found herself alone and raising a child with down-syndrome in Paris. She reflects upon the unanticipated joy of raising her young daughter while critiquing Andrew Solomon’s new parenting book.

The Hunt for a Better Butter Churn: In which Farhad Manjoo reviews a very old technology, because Slate readers told him to,” by Farhad Manjoo. Before industrialization, butter-churning involved stirring cream until fat molecules lost their membranes and clumped together. It is (still) an arduous but rewarding process and you can do it at home!

UFOs’ Over Denver Bug Me,” by Phil Plait. At the “Bad Astronomy,” blog Phil Plait debunks a local television station’s investigative reporting on UFOs by identifying the flying objects: They’re insects.

Crazy Making: The Supreme Court is wrong to let Idaho have no insanity defense,” by Emily Bazelon. Bazelon discusses the disturbing trend of young men committing violent crimes while suffering from schizophrenic delusions. People such Jared Lee Loughner require months of treatment to understand the criminal charges leveled against them, she argues. But even more disturbing is the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to require states to provide a traditional insanity defense. This means that Idaho can continue trying and convicting the criminally insane as they would mentally stable individuals.

 “What Obama Can Accomplish Without Congress: A dozen ways to fight climate change right now,” by Paul Tullis. Environmentalists want Obama to act on climate change, but he doesn’t have the votes in Congress. In the meantime, Paul Tullis lays out a plan for how Obama can work on emission standards, fuel efficiency, and other “green” measures.

How Political Campaign Spending Brought Down the Roman Republic: If Cato, Cicero, or Julius Caesar were here today, they would recognize the danger posed by Citizens United,” by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni. When Romans could no longer enforce laws against vote-buying, Julius Caesar used his “mastery of the Roman campaign-finance practices” to seize power. Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni make the provocative case that America’s campaign spending troubles could prove to be an existential threat.

 “Make ’Em Talk: Four reasons why the latest Democratic ploy to change the Senate filibuster might actually work,” by David Weigel. Filibuster reform has long been a wonk’s dream. Looking at factors like Harry Reid’s support for changes that, anyway, “aren’t particularly new or scary,” David Weigel explains why the dream finally might be coming true.