Cocktail Chatter

Flustered Chuck, Dolphins Who Fish, and Neolithic Curry

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel pauses as he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Fluster Chuck: Did anyone tell Chuck Hagel there would be questions?” by David Weigel. Weigel assesses Chuck Hagel’s performance in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, writing that the former Nebraska senator “searched for words like he was trapped in a closet, grasping for a dropped flashlight.” While Hagel may have succeeded in maintaining Democratic support for his nomination to be defense secretary, Weigel argues, his contrition and lack of confidence in the face of intense questioning didn’t advance his cause with Republican critics.

Fishing With Dolphins: An astonishing cooperative venture in which every species wins but the fish,” by Joe Roman. To many fishermen, dolphins are unwanted competitors and fair game for extermination—but not in Laguna, Brazil. Roman describes the surprising relationship between untrained dolphins and those in this city’s fishing community who are employing would-be rivals to their mutual advantage.

The Case for Torture: What really happened in the CIA’s ’enhanced‘ interrogations? Three former officials tell their stories,” William Saletan. A forum at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday had three former CIA officials discussing the ethics and efficacy of the enhanced interrogation techniques used against al-Qaida in the war on terror. Saletan summarizes the arguments made in favor of these techniques, which, he writes, “shook up” his assumptions about the interrogation program. 

Don’t Repay the National Debt: It’s time to revive a British financial innovation from the 18th century: perpetual bonds,” by Matthew Yglesias. Despite extremely low interest rates, worries about the mounting debt mean we’re not borrowing as much as we should, argues Yglesias. The solution may be “consols,” or perpetual bonds, which bear higher interest rates without a promise of repaying the principle.

Tear Down the Swing Sets: And the plastic forts. Here’s how to put the play back in playgrounds,” by Nicholas Day. The threat of injury and legal action has made American playgrounds built in the last several decades unappealing and boring, claims Day. Nevertheless, architect David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground in Lower Manhattan has sparked a revolution in playground design with “loose parts” as the key to restoring creativity to children’s play.

The San Francisco Retreat: The 49ers are moving to Santa Clara. Why didn’t the team’s longtime home try harder to keep them?” by John Upton. Even as the 49ers head to the Super Bowl this weekend, their days in San Francisco are numbered. Upton analyzes why the iconic team decided to leave for a new stadium in Silicon Valley and how former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom may have precipitated their departure.

The Original Jewish Genius: How the Gaon of Vilna helps explain Jewish intellectual achievement,” by Eliyahu Stern. Stern explores the legacy and achievements of the famous Vilna Gaon, whose unique genius has been celebrated by Jews since the 18th century. Stern writes that the Gaon served as an inspiration for Jewish intellectual achievement long before the days of Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman. 

The Mystery of Curry: It turns out we’ve been eating the spiced dish for a lot longer than anyone ever imagined,” by Andrew Lawler. Despite the relatively recent introduction of ingredients like chilies and cloves, Indian curries have been around in one form or another for as many as 4500 years. Archeological evidence attests to the use of ginger, turmeric, and garlic in the subcontinent’s cookery since the third millennium B.C.

The Liz Lemon Effect: Did Tina Fey change anything for women on TV?” by Jen Chaney. In light of this week’s series finale of NBC’s 30 Rock, Chaney assesses the legacy for women in television comedy left by Tiny Fey and her character Liz Lemon. Through Liz Lemon’s contentious yet productive relationship with Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, Chaney argues, 30 Rock showed that male-female relationships could be “complicated” for reasons other than sex.

I Love You. Now Text Me.: How online relationships are more real than real ones,” by Katie Roiphe. Internet relationships may be getting some bad ink these days, but much of this criticism is unduly harsh, contends Roiphe. She cites the effects of “screen courage” on personal interactions and asserts that written or even texted communication can be more intimate and potent than the face-to-face kind.