Cocktail Chatter

Vladimir Putin, Longevity, and Parents Left Behind

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Baby being born via Caesarean Section.
Baby being born via Caesarean section.

Photo by Martin Valigursky/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The Disturbing, Shameful History of Childbirth Deaths: If you are pregnant, do not read this story,”  by Laura Helmuth. Helmuth’s series on longevity examines the reasons that the human lifespan has expanded so much, and this entry explores maternal health.When doctors first began taking over the birthing process from midwives, infant mortality rates went up. But while the natural birthing techniques preached by midwives may be well-suited for a comfortable birth, over time it has been doctors who deserve credit for making the process of giving birth much safer.Don’t miss her list of 14 oddball reasons you’re still alive.

Putin on Assad Face: The Russian president’s lecture about peace in Syria is all hypocrisy and lies,” by William Saletan. The New York Times published an op-ed from Putin that argued against military conflict in Syria, and took some jabs at the concept of American exceptionalism. Yet Putin failed to mention some pretty important facts in his article, including Russia’s role in supplying weapons to Syria. He also glossed over the fact that the U.N has had its hands tied in terms of intervening in the country due to his consistent vetoes.  William Dobson, meanwhile, analyzes the Obama administration’s woeful handling of the Syrian crisis,  giving the president props at least for leaving friend and foe equally confused.

The First Victim of Sept. 11: He was likely the first person killed, but his influence was felt that entire terrible day –online,” by Molly Knight Raskin. Danny Lewin, 31, was on American Airlines Flight 11 when it was highjacked. Lewin tried to physically fight off the hijackers before his throat was cut. On the day he died, it was his prior work with Akamai Technologies that kept the Internet running through the chaos. 

He’s Not Holden! The one big mistake people make about Salinger and Catcher in the Rye,” by Ron Rosenbaum. Despite suffering from “Salinger fatigue,” Rosenbaum is compelled to wade back into the conversation surrounding the hermetic author when a new book commits a cardinal sin: conflating Salinger with his creation, Holden Caulfield. Rosenbaum cracks open his copy of Catcher in the Rye and examines five crucial moments in which Salinger distinctly parts ways from Holden. QED.

Parents Left Behind: How public school reforms are turning American parents into dummies,” by Dahlia Lithwick. Thoroughly flummoxed by “Back to School Night” at her child’s place of learning, the underperforming author tries to understand where it all went wrong. Was it the socio-emotional jargon? The incomprehensible exams? The acronyms? At least, she writes, “there is hope for struggling public school parents: differential instruction, followed by a Scantron post-test.”

What We Haven’t Learned From the Crisis: Our old theory of what t do was wrong, and we don’t have a new one,” by Matthew Yglesias. On the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, and after the implementation of a costly stimulus plan,  Yglesias observes that “the self-correcting economy we were promised hasn’t materialized.” Bailouts can’t prevent a descent into recession, as was once believed. But Yglesias is troubled that no new strategy has arrived to take the old one’s place.

 “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs: Why are we so sure that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?” by Daniel Engber. Everyone’s been told, by a teacher, doctor, or mother, that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A close analysis, though shows that there is a pro-breakfast bias in the considerable amount of research on the subject.  In truth, while cereal, toast, and OJ won’t do you any harm, it may not be as important as you’ve been led to believe. 

 “Facebook News Feed Changed Everything: Media. Advertising. Politics. And us,” by Farhad Manjoo. It has been seven years since Facebook debuted its news feed, and since then, the way we have shared content online has fundamentally changed. The user no longer has to go seek out data; instead all social media is now focused on presenting your information to an audience, aggregating little pieces from tons of people into one place.

“Creationists Once Again Threaten to Make a Mockery of Texas Science Education, by Phil Plait. Texas already had a long history of promoting un-scientific, faith based views in its public education system, so it comes as no surprise that creationists have infiltrated their textbook review board. These reviewers were unhappy that the theory of evolution was being treated as fact, not merely as a “theory”, and are pushing to get creationist views into public education curriculums. (I guess it’s OK to use blogs instead of articles, but I dunno, I kinda have a preference for articles. Maybe I’m old. Not fighting this one, because I’m old and tired!) 

 “The Beats With a Billion Eyes: He’s conquered the headphones market, but Dr. Dre isn’t selling great sound. He’s not even selling celebrity. He’s selling the concept of ‘bass,’” by Jesse Dorris. Beats by Drew have been massively successful,  with revenues increasing fivefold in just two years. But their success isn’t due to being a better product. Dr. Dre is focused on the same sound he concentrates on when he makes music: deep, heavy, thumping bass.