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A Gitmo Memoir, a Defense of Cannibalism, and a Turkish Harem

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

In this file photo, U.S. guards escort an unnamed detainee after a "life skills" class for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay in 2010.
In this file photo, U.S. guards escort an unnamed detainee after a “life skills” class for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay in 2010.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

 “The Guantánamo Memoirs of Mohamedou Ould Slahi: He was tortured, beaten, and humiliated, and he remains in prison. Here is his story, in his own words,” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. This week, Slate published excerpts of the 466-page memoirs of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian national who has been held in detention at Guantánamo Bay since 2002. Larry Siems, who selected the excerpts, writes, “Slahi’s writing is much more than a litany of abuses. It is driven by something much deeper: not just the desire to ‘be fair,’ as he puts it, but to understand his guards, his interrogators, and his fellow detainees as protagonists in their own right, and to show that even the most dehumanizing situations are composed of individual, and at times harrowingly intimate, human exchanges. The result is an account that is both damning and redeeming.”

Out of His League?: Jason Collins averaged one point per game this season. Does he have a future in the NBA?” by Josh Levin. On Monday, NBA center Jason Collins became the first active athlete in a major American sports league to come out as gay. While acknowledging what the news means for gay rights, Levin suggests that Collins’ poor numbers and the NBA’s decreasing need for “big men” might mean the end of his career. Elsewhere on Slate, Nathaniel Frank uses the example of integrating gays into the military to argue that gay athletes won’t divide professional sports teams.

Flights of Fancy: Congress’ fast fix for ending the FAA furlough will make sequestration worse,” by John Dickerson. Legislation ending the furlough of air traffic controllers was enacted this week, ending the threat of boundless airport delays. Dickerson writes that this sequestration patch is a bad deal for Democrats, whose ultimate goal of a comprehensive budget reform will now be even less of a priority.

A Sjón of Ice and Fire: An Icelandic mythmaker gets his American debut,” by Jenny Hendrix. In the monthly Slate Book Review, Hendrix writes about Icelandic novelist Sjon, whose novels The Blue Fox, The Whispering Muse, and From The Mouth of the Whale are making their U.S. debut this month and deal with the supernatural. Also in the Slate Book Review, novelist Claire Messud is interviewed by her editor, and Laura Anderson reviews Alison Pearlman’s Smart Casual.

Eat Me: The starving Jamestown settlers were cannibals. Good for them!” by David Plotz. A report in Smithsonian revealed that the Jamestown settlers resorted to cannibalism during the harsh winter of 1609, according to archaeological evidence. Plotz defends the practice of starvation cannibalism, arguing that while people-eating might not be appropriate in most circumstances, for the desperate and starving, a corpse is a terrible thing to waste.

The Republican War on Social Science: They’re winning it,” by David Weigel. Republican congressmen like Bill Posey of Florida and Lamar Smith of Texas have been seeking to slash government-funded social science research, arguing that these studies are wasteful, coercive, and damaging to the U.S.’s interests. Weigel explains how Democrats who want to preserve these NSF-funded studies are fighting a losing battle even as it becomes evident that alternative sources of funding from the private sector are not available.

Why I Love the National Internet Sales Tax Plan: You might end up paying more, but it’ll be good for America,” by Farhad Manjoo. With Congress apparently close to requiring online retailers to charge and collect sales tax on interstate sales, Manjoo praises the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, which he argues will increase revenues for states and cities and simplify tax systems badly in need of overhaul. Elsewhere on Slate, Jacob Weisberg recounts how Amazon helped delay action on this issue for more than a decade through aggressive lobbying and support from anti-tax Republicans.

The Case Against Grades: They lower self-esteem, discourage creativity, and reinforce the class divide,” by Michael Thomsen. Recent studies have shown that the traditional educational model of assigning grades for students’ work can result in poor self-esteem. This can lead to poverty and social dysfunction later in life. Thomsen praises the successful records of schools following the Montessori and Summerhill models, which eschew grading in favor of freer learning, and he argues that eliminating grades would replace motivation through fear of failure with a greater desire to discover and contribute.

You’ll Never Learn!: Students can’t resist multitasking, and it’s impairing their memory,” by Annie Murphy Paul. At the same time that media multitasking is becoming the new norm for today’s generation of students, recent studies show that this increasingly common phenomenon results in spottier, shallower learning. Paul explains how electronic diversions like Facebook and text messages interfere with the brain’s ability to effectively process important information and writes that periodic “tech breaks,” allowing for longer periods of uninterrupted studying, may be the key to solving the problem. 

The Versace Harem: A group of Muslim women with tight shirts, bright lipstick, a feminist mission, and total devotion to a creationist guru,” by Jenna Krajeski. Even the Turks have been intrigued by the weirdness of the Turkish television talk show Building Bridges, hosted by a “pious and sexy” quartet of alluringly dressed and made-up Muslim women. Krajeski examines the program’s allegiance to the controversial Turkish theologian Andnan Oktar and the hosts’ unique brand of Islam, simultaneously critical of both doctrinaire conservatism and secular feminism. “For these Muslim women,” she writes, “being called ‘sluts’ is better than being called ‘terrorists.’”