My name is Mike Pesca, and I host The Gist, a daily podcast produced by Slate.
For some, I’m sure I will have to explain what that means. Mike, my first name, comes from Michael the archangel, a sword-wielding avenger of Christian mythos. Pesca is an Italian surname. Many people think it has something to do with fishing, but it actually means peach in Italian. Podcasts are a form of on-demand audio very popular with youth, the intellectually curious, the friendless, and guys in their 30s and 40s who want to know what running back to take in the fourth round of their fantasy drafts. And I’ve been asked to offer a roundup of some of my favorite articles Slate has run this week.
This was one of those weeks with a profusion of news stories, not just a singular event. It strikes me that Slate is good at both types of news weeks—the diverse, and the single-issue-dominated—but in different ways. When there is one overarching topic, like the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine, Slate uncovers angles, questions accepted wisdom, and contributes expertise.
But in a week such as this past one, Slate was at its eclectic best. The magazine was interesting in ways that I didn’t expect as a reader and that I didn’t know to seek out beforehand.
With that in mind, I’ve organized my stories of the week into three sections. The first highlights interesting takes on topics I knew a lot about already. The second will cover something that I didn’t know a lot about at first. And the last section is for stories that I didn’t really know anything about at all—in fact, I didn’t even know enough to be interested in them initially.
From the first section:
While reporting from Ferguson, writer Jamelle Bouie analyzed the tension between police and protesters. And he did it sublimely: He brought us right to the scene so you could feel the sting of tear gas as you heard the perspectives of residents. Then he backed up and gave us the view from a few hundred yards, ably mixing research and analysis. And then finally, he took inside his own camera lens and gave us a really useful reporter’s notebook about his methods as a writer, and also as a photographer. (I didn’t even realize he was a one-man band who took his own shots. But it’s 2014. The guy is New Media all the way. Of course he is.)
Another subject area that I went into knowing something about was the Little League World Series. I covered sports for NPR for many years—I still offer analysis for NPR, and I’m one of the three panelists on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast (fantasy draft analysis forthcoming). Still, Amanda Hess’ take on why we’re thrilled by the accomplishments of 13-year-old Mo’Ne Davis was notable for me. “[T]he most likely scenario is that Davis has no future in professional baseball,” Hess wrote. “That, too, is a narrative gift: It means that Davis is almost certainly at the peak of her baseball career at this very moment.”
Another subject that I’m very well-versed in is The Simpsons, and I, for one, welcome our yellow overlords.
For a deep dive into Simpsons minutiae, Jack Hamilton traces the angry New Jersey prank-phone call origins of Moe Szyslak, and contextualizes the character as a microcosm of the show itself, and of us all. OK, Hamilton doesn’t at all make the case that Moe is a microcosm of “of us”—but I thought as much. This is especially true if by “all of us” he means Megan Greenwell.
Greenwell had been a Simpsons virgin until she challenged herself to begin watching this totem of American culture she somehow had missed. (Was she living inside an EPA- imposed dome?) Her verdict, gratifyingly, was that The Simpsons is damn funny.
For the second section—a topic I knew I didn’t know much about—I’m nominating a piece by Jesse Bering, about people who look like their dogs. The question is “Why?” The answer is “The eyes.” The evidence is presented through compelling visuals.
And lastly, the piece that hooked me on a subject I never knew existed: “It’s Time for Americans to Fall in Love With Sarah Lancashire” by June Thomas.
The star of the upcoming Netflix series Happy Valley, is, in June’s words, “that rarest of creatures the actress who has gotten better parts as she’s gotten older.” Lancashire’s appeal is rooted in her specific Northern English background, and so she therefore excels at playing “contemporary Northern characters, often working-class women in grim circumstances.”
That’s a subtlety I could never have picked up on, and one I look forward to dropping in into a conversation with my imagined soon-to-be-hooked-on-Happy Valley friends. I’m sure the response I get will either be “Keen insight!”—or more likely “You read that on Slate, you poseur.”