Cocktail Chatter

Owl Wars, the Real Aaron Swartz, and the Myth of Oil Abundance

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Swartz at the Chaos Communication Congress 23C3 in December 2006, in Berlin, Germany.
Aaron Swartz at the Chaos Communication Congress 23C3 in December 2006, in Berlin, Germany.

Courtesy of Jacob Appelbaum/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

The Idealist: Aaron Swartz wanted to save the world. Why couldn’t he save himself?” by Justin Peters. The world has been captivated by the recent suicide of Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, but who was he really? In this extensive profile, Peters examines the influence of activists like Richard Stallman, sheds light on Swartz’s longtime unhappiness, and examines the culpability of the MIT administration for Swartz’s prosecution by the Department of Justice and his ultimate suicide. The story raises questions about the efficacy of internet activism, the future of intellectual property law, and the legacy of this “restless, moody polymath.”

The Myth of ‘Saudi America’: Straight talk from geologists about our new era of oil abundance,” by Raymond T. Pierrehumbert. “Oil cornucopians” like Harvard’s Leonardo Maugeri claim that untapped shale oil reserves could lead the U.S. into a period of oil abundance, but Pierrehumbert argues that these assessments misunderstand how difficult, expensive, and unprofitable drilling for these reserves would be. Furthermore, he writes, this undue optimism about plentiful fossil fuels diverts focus and resources away from developing much-needed clean and renewable energy sources.  

There’s No Such Thing as an Illegal Immigrant: The United States has a well-functioning system of guest workers, whether or not it’s enshrined in law,” by Eric Posner. As Congress works toward new legislation tackling the problem of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants, Posner claims that the current situation may not be such a problem after all. Rather than being a failure of government, Posner argues, undocumented workers are an important component in a “quasi-guest-worker system,” which utilizes unskilled labor at low cost.

A History of Misunderstanding: In the largest study ever conducted, Israeli and Palestinian researchers reveal that both sides need to take a closer look at the books they teach,” by Emily Bazelon and Ruth Margalit. Monday marked the release of a new study comparing Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. Bazelon and Margalit write that the evenhanded study found flaws in both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks, but that the biggest problems were with Palestinian and ultra-Orthodox books.

Owl vs. Owl: Should the government shoot the spotted owl’s new enemy, the barred owl?” by Charles Bergman. After losing much of its Pacific Northwest habitat to logging, the spotted owl now faces a new threat from another owl species, the invasive barred wwl. The government of British Columbia has already approved plans to kill thousands of barred wwls, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be following suit, but these solutions, explains Bergman, pose tough ethical questions and speak to the frustrating complexities of wildlife management.   

Time Is Money: So how much is yours worth?” by Emily Oster. You probably have an intuitive sense that your time is worth something, but now you can finally calculate exactly how much. Oster explains the economic principle of opportunity cost and reveals how it can help guide decisions about everyday chores like shopping for groceries, cleaning the bathroom, and commuting to work.

Missing the Mark: The Senate Intelligence Committee blew its chance for an important debate on drone strikes in the Brennan hearing,” by Fred Kaplan. Kaplan covered the confirmation hearings for CIA nominee John Brennan and was disappointed in the quality of the questioning, since a recent white paper released by the Department of Justince indicates that the Obama administration has defined the conditions permitting drone strikes in such a way that drone strikes are almost always permissible.

So Your Boss Is Implicated in a Sex Scandal: Pity the poor Senate staffers when chaos descends on Capitol Hill,” by Paul D. Thacker. Thacker, a former Senate staffer, explains what it’s like on the Hill when a sex scandal like the one involving Democratic New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, breaks. The politician in question may have it bad, he says, but staffers have to deal with immediate exclusion from their bosses’ inner circle, “nuclear” telephone battles with constituents, and sudden uncertainty about their jobs.

Yes, I’m a Homemaker: I’m a guy. My wife works. We’ve got no kids. I’m a stay-at-home dude,” by Finn Boulding. Boulding, who left his job with an architectural firm to move with his wife, explains his decision to quit his job and see to his household’s upkeep while his wife brings home the bacon. Boulding suggests that as more and more women start outearning their husbands, other childless couples may find themselves considering a similar arrangement.

Dell’s Gigantic Tax Dodge: The biggest leveraged buyout since the financial crisis is more about accounting than business strategy,” by Matthew Yglesias. Yglesias analyzes the recently proposed Dell takeover, which is striking in seeking to keep the company’s current leadership team in place. The deal aims to repatriate Dell’s massive cash stockpile to shareholders while avoiding the taxes which would result from distributing these funds as dividends.