Ahoy, Slate Plus friends!
I am Ben Mathis-Lilley, your chief Slatest blogger. I’ve been a full-time staffer for six-ish months, but have been freelancing off and on for Slate for more than a decade, dating back to when I would wake up in my college dorm and write Summary Judgment items. (FACT: Reviews for the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man were “good, not great”).
Probably my favorite piece I’ve ever written for Slate is “Don’t Worry About Conan—He’s Going to be Great as the Tonight Show Host,” just because I nailed that prediction so perfectly. (Honorable mention: this review I wrote of a book about Detroit, in which I realized that my sense of what it’s like to live in a down-on-its-luck city—even one like Detroit that I’ve visited numerous times—was way, way off. Unless you’re reading this IN Detroit, yours probably is too.)
This week’s news, on a national level, was dominated by the NFL’s botching of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson abuse cases, and there are two stories I’d like to highlight from our coverage thereof. One is Amanda Hess’s quick-turnaround piece on the NFL’s appointment of four women to head up the league’s new domestic violence initiative. Amanda’s reaction to the move is probably best described as “well-informed skepticism”—but she also lays out a convincing positive case for what good might come out of the league’s actions. In a week of very bad press for the NFL, it is a credit to Amanda that she was able to swim against the Snark Tide to explain why this move MIGHT not be a complete sham.
The other NFL piece you should definitely read is Stefan Fatsis’ breakdown of the power dynamics at work between the league and the writers who cover it. Media criticism can be solipsistic and pointless, but this is a situation in which understanding the role of reporters is crucial to understanding a larger issue, and Stefan explains thoroughly how the business and practice of sports journalism contributed to the fiasco that Roger Goodell finds himself in. The piece also has a great lead of the type I like to call the Classic Switcheroo. There’s nothing like a good switcheroo!
Getting away from sports, but not away from things that are bad, I would be remiss in documenting this week in Slate without highlighting Annie Stoltie’s account of how a beetle crawled into her ear while she was camping and attacked her eardrum and caused her days of agonizing pain and wasn’t removed until days later by doctors who described it as “big.” This is why I don’t go camping. All human progress can be traced back to the urge not to have to sleep on the ground with ear beetles. Why throw that away?
A piece I enjoyed this week that was not about beetles was Dahlia Lithwick’s account of a Supreme Court amicus brief explaining what rap is. The justices are going to be hearing a free-speech case in December that involves rap-lyric-style Facebook posts, and the brief means to inform them about the genre in order to argue that words uttered in rap must be taken in artistic and political context and not merely used as literal statements. It’s a subject that seems goofy—an august institution considering Eminem—but its implications both in terms of free speech and wider racial/generational relations are significant, and Dahlia walks the reader through the issues in her characteristically clear style, which I refer to as “sharp casual.”
I haven’t read Seth Stevenson’s big feature on astounding developments at chess’ Sinquefield Cup, but I am going to come right out and recommend it nonetheless. That’s right—I’m going blind on this one. I know that Seth will deliver! Back in his days at Brown University, they called Seth “Ol’ Mr. McAlwaysDeliversOnChessStories.” Brown is a weird place.
Finally, this is David Weigel’s last week at Slate, and in his characteristic style, he’s filling his blog with a bounty of wryly perceptive dispatches up to the very last moment. Weigel has the rare availability to look at a story that is out there for everyone else to see—in this case, Benghazi—and write about it in a way that is both vastly more insightful and entertaining than anyone else. As a Slatest news blogger, I like to think my mission is to write faster than anyone who is writing smarter, and smarter than anyone who is writing faster. Sometimes I like to think I’m getting good at it—but then I look at Weigel and remember that I’ve got a long way to go. He will be missed.
Have a good weekend, everyone!
P.S. (You may have noticed great stuff happening in your Slate Plus podcast feed—the number of ad-free shows we’re able to give you keeps growing and growing. You can now enjoy the Political Gabfest, Culture Gabfest, DoubleX Gabfest, Slate Money, Mom And Dad Are Fighting, Hang Up And Listen, and The Gist, as well as our member-only TV Club podcasts, like Orange Is The New Black and Doctor Who.)