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Defunding Obamacare, Mormon Weddings, and the Virtues of Email

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner and House Republicans voted to defund Obamacare this week.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

The GOP’s Suicide Squeeze: House Republicans aren’t just courting disaster. They’re helping President Obama make the case that they were the problem all along,” by John Dickerson. House Republican leaders, under threat from their most conservative members, have offered a plan to keep the government operating through December that is conditioned on defunding Obama’s unpopular health care plan. Dickerson writes that many Republicans worry the gambit will lead to a government shutdown, which risks validating the president’s argument that a small band of ultrapure conservatives have led the GOP down a path of blundering self-destruction.

In Praise of an Overflowing Inbox: Email is ubiquitous, meritocratic, and forgiving. It will never die, and I don’t want it to,” by Farhad Manjoo. In one of his last columns for Slate, Manjoo writes an encomium for email in all its ubiquitous, messy, overflowing glory. “As annoying as it is, email was also just about the most important part of my job at Slate—the best forum for brainstorming with colleagues, for sharpening my arguments, for finding new ideas, and for chatting up sources.” The perennial rumors of email’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, Manjoo writes, and he’s glad it’s not going away any time soon.

How Circumcision Broke the Internet: A fringe group is drowning out any discussion of facts,” by Mark Joseph Stern. In the past two decades, a fringe group of self-proclaimed “intactivists” has hijacked the conversation about circumcision by dismissing science, slamming reason and generally hectoring anyone who dares question their conspiracy theory, writes Stern. Now that a generation of future doctors, scientists, and parents has been exposed to a constant stream of acrimonious and unscientific lies about circumcision, its fair to say intactivists are winning the online battle, Stern writes. Time will tell if they win the broader information war.

The Official Transportation of the Apocalypse: Bike-sharing programs prepare us for the end times,” by Paul Ford. There’s something post-apocalyptic about Citi Bike, the bike-sharing program that debuted a few months ago in parts of New York City, writes Ford, because these bikes basically are designed for the end of the world. The bikes are human-powered, solar-charged, and built with aluminum frames so sturdy they broke the equipment used to stress-test them. Ford’s fanciful article traces the role of the bicycle in post-apocalyptic fiction and concludes that “after the flame deluge, the Great Mistake, the plague, peak oil, or another Bush Administration—Citi Bike will endure.”

Sorry, Your Friends Can’t Come to Your Mormon Wedding: Temple sealings are a sacred Mormon tradition. But they shouldn’t come at the cost of a civil ceremony with non-LDS friends,” by Holly Welker. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has garnered a lot of attention over the last few years for its opposition to gay marriage, but the church has another, less publicized divisive marriage policy: expecting its members in the U.S. and a few other countries to marry in ceremonies that exclude everyone who is not a fully active Mormon adult—and punishing couples who have separate civil ceremonies by making them wait a year for a temple marriage. Welker weaves anecdotes about the practice into her argument for why Mormon couples should be able have a civil wedding and invite whomever they please without being religiously shamed and punished for it.

Shaken Like a Polaroid Picture: Apple’s slump looks a lot like the decline of a certain iconic camera company,” by Christopher Bonanos. Apple has slipped into the habit of refining what it does, vamping on established products and markets and expanding them—refinishing the furniture when it needs to be building a new wing, writes Bonanos. On the heels of Apple’s release of its new iPhones last week, the parallel between Apple and Polaroid has become more striking than ever, as Apple revealed that it’s taking its first strides down the same road that ultimately doomed Polaroid. Apple’s fate, he writes, depends on what emerges in the future from the unknowable black box that is Apple’s development labs.

A Digital Afterlife: You’ve thought about a funeral. You’ve thought about a will. But have you thought about what to do with the Facebook account?” by Naomi Cahn and Amy Ziettlow. Thinking about illness, death and dying is something no one enjoys. But given that the average American values his or her digital assets, such as photo libraries, personal communication, and entertainment files, at about $55,000, our digital lives hold real and sentimental worth. Cahn and Ziettlow offer advice on how fold our digital assets into traditional estate planning.

Chicken Stock Doesn’t Count as Meat: Vegetarians won’t die if they sometimes eat food with poultry broth in it,” by J. Bryan Lowder. Gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin says “stock to a cook is like voice to a singer.” Lowder wonders whether cooks’ voices should be muted by vegetarian dinner guests who insist chicken broth is meat that violates the strictures of a vegetarian diet. “Vegetarians and vegans,” Lowder declares, “chicken stock does not count as meat.” You won’t die if you sometimes eat food with poultry broth in it — and sucking it up strikes a fair compromise between cook and diner, he argues.

Is Google Wrecking Our Memory? Nope. It’s much, much weirder than that,” by Clive Thompson. Each time we reach for the mouse pad when we space out on the ingredients for a Tom Collins or the capital of Arkansas, are we losing the power to retain knowledge? Thompson says no—what’s really happening is we’ve begun to fit the machines into an age-old technique of “transactive memory,” the process humans have engaged in for eons whereby we store a huge chunk of what we know in people around us. We have begun to treat search engines, Evernote, and smartphones the way we’ve long treated our spouses, friends, and workmates, Thompson writes. They’re handy devices we use to compensate for our crappy ability to remember details. 

Showdown Over Science in Texas: Creationists corrupted state education standards and may push evolution out of textbooks,” by Zack Kopplin. The Texas state Board of Education is in the process of adopting new science textbooks that will be used in public schools for the next decade. Creationists came out in full force during a public hearing on the texts books this week, demanding that “biblical truth,” rather than evolution, be presented in the state’s biology textbooks. Kopplin writes this moment culminates years of efforts by anti-science activists, and could compromise the teaching of evolution all across the country.