Cocktail Chatter

Sequester Insanity, the Mysteries of Gluten, and Coral Sex

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

US navy servicemen are seen with an F/A-18 Hornet warplane on the USS George Washington, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, in Hong Kong on November 9, 2011.
An F/A-18 Hornet  on the USS George Washington, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

Photo by Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images

Sequester Insanity: Why the Pentagon budget cuts are far worse than you think,” by Fred Kaplan. The much-feared sequestration budget cuts went into effect on Friday, and Kaplan explains that the consequences for the Pentagon will be even worse than many suppose. While the $46-billion figure mandated by the Budget Control Act may not in itself be devastating, the indiscriminate, across-the-board nature of the cuts means the Pentagon will not be able to decide which programs can most afford to be slashed.

Did We Doom the Mammoths?: The end times of saber-toothed cats, giant wombats, and carnivorous koalas,” by Brian Switek. Decoding the mysteries of the Pleistocene extinction, which killed off much of the world’s most spectacular megafauna several thousand years ago, remains an immense challenge. Nevertheless, Switek argues, trying to piece together its causes is crucial to preserve the many species threatened today. 

Why Do So Many People Think They Need Gluten-Free Foods?: Some conditions are overdiagnosed, but some are underdiagnosed,” by Darshak Sanghavi. Sanghavi explains that while incidences of celiac disase and wheat allergy are underdiagnosed, the broadercondition “gluten intolerance” might be overdiagnosed. But doctors are struggling to understand why some people definitely thrive by reducing or eliminating their gluten intake.

Slumdogs, Millionaires: Thanks to Mumbai’s land reform act, the very rich and very poor have become next-door neighbors,” by Daniel Brook. By allowing real-estate developers to build market-rate high-rise projects atop former slums, Mumbai has transformed into a city where the richest and poorest Indians live in increasingly close proximity. Brook balances the positive aspects of this urban revitalization scheme with charges that it’s merely a cosmetic fix that does little to address the underlying causes of urban poverty.

Swimming in Sperm and Eggs: Coral sex is explosive, exquisitely timed, and funky,” by Michelle Nijhuis. With coral reefs dwindling worldwide, the natural reproduction of coral species in the wild is also waning. Nijhuis documents the work of scientists who collect coral sperm and eggs for breeding in captivity. She describes the amazing complexity and difficulty of these efforts to help save marine biodiversity.

You Can’t Touch This: Why don’t Apple laptops have touch screens?” by Farhad Manjoo. Apple’s Mac computers continue to lack touch screen capabilities even as this feature becomes more and more common in PCs—and that’s too bad, writes Manjoo. He explains that the small share of Mac sales in Apple’s revenues and the company’s belief that tablets are the future of computing mean that Macs are likely to remain without touch screens for the foreseeable future. 

Why Does My Kid Freak Out?: The totally legitimate reasons your animal child just threw spaghetti in your face,” Melinda Wenner Moyer. As any parent knows, toddlers throw tantrums over what seem to be the smallest things. Not only is thisnormal behavior, writes Moyer, it’s totally reasonable. The sudden introduction of rules and constraints, inchoate language skills, and underdeveloped frontal lobes all make toddlers’ more prone to tantrums

Oscar Shocker!: Movie stars rivet the entire world by wearing stunningly conventional evening gowns,” by Simon Doonan. Doonan rails against the fashion choices at Sunday’s 85th Academy Awards, calling the event “a parade of conventional prom dresses.” Lamenting the lack of risk-taking surprises, he manages to pick up on at least a few noteworthy trends, among them sequined dresses, “not being anorexic,” and being named “Jennifer.” Yawn.

America’s Overpaid Doctors: Time’s long investigation of American health care prices missed one thing: We pay our doctors way too much,” by Matthew Yglesias. Yglesias critiques a new Time piece about crushing health care costs, explaining that while it accurately identifies the causes of the problem, it mistakenly argues against Medicare expansion by claiming it would reduce doctors’ incomes. Yglesias maintains that doctors’ pay could well afford to decrease.

Growing the Business: How legal marijuana sellers can beat a draconian tax,” by Benjamin M. Leff. As state governments move to decriminalize marijuana, prosecution by federal law enforcement may be less of a threat to cannabis dealers than punitive taxation by the IRS. Leff explains that by claiming their businesses as nonprofit “social welfare organizations,” marijuana dealers may be able to avoid the immense burden of paying taxes on profits as well as on business expenses.