Slate Picks

What Happened at Slate This Week?

An insuppressibly exuberant reading list from Mark Joseph Stern.

Illustration by Charlie Powell.

Hello, Slate Plus members! I am Mark Joseph Stern. I mostly write for Outward, Slate’s home for LGBTQ news, although I also cover legal affairs and science stories—especially when those stories involve my nemesis Ken Ham.

I started at Slate as an intern 2½ years ago, and a colleague recently informed me that my superiors surreptitiously nicknamed me “Sparky” due to my insuppressible exuberance. (A compliment, to my mind!) Truth be told, I had little interest in pursuing journalism at the time; I was an art history major in college and dreamed of becoming a curator. However, once at Slate, I discovered that arguing with people in print is ridiculously fun, and I quickly grew addicted to the thrills of being called an imbecile by anonymous commenters. I was hooked, and when my internship ended, I more or less demanded that my editors find me something else to do. Two years later, I’m still here.

Anyway, to the stories! Let’s start with Phil Plait’s delicious polemic-cum-threnody about Sen. Ted Cruz, who will now serve as the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. Because Cruz is a hardcore science denier, assigning him to oversee NASA is perhaps not the smartest idea. But then, the Republican Party is largely financed by corporations that have every incentive to deny the overwhelming science behind climate change. There may be method in Republicans’ madness here—but that doesn’t make their madness any less contemptible.

Next up is Jordan Weissmann’s lovely piece explaining why President Barack Obama’s plan to make community college free is totally brilliant. Speaking of brilliance, you should also check out Will Oremus’ article on the evil genius of Facebook’s new strategy, which could put news websites like Slate at a steep disadvantage. Elsewhere, Amanda Marcotte flags a disturbing new bill in Indiana that would ban abortions for Down syndrome and other disabilities, foisting special-needs children on families without the emotional or financial resources to support them.

Obviously, much of this week’s news was devoted to the fallout from the horrors in Paris last week. L.V. Anderson, who really does speak beautiful français, translates the first post-massacre Charlie Hebdo cover into English, explaining its witty, slightly meta nuances. Dan Gillmor explained how world leaders are already using the murders to justify increased surveillance of civilians. And Josh Keating, perennial Slate MVP, noted that the French government—which spent the last week defending its commitment to free speech—is now cracking down on, well, free speech. (Keating’s article illustrates one of about a hundred good reasons I vigorously oppose so-called “hate speech” laws, whose censorial paternalism should be anathema to any free society.)

What else? We had a fascinating piece from Stefan Fatsis on the future of dictionaries—and whether we still even need them—as well as a look into the brutal tortures of solitary confinement by Leon Neyfakh. (If I were czar, I’d outlaw solitary confinement, along with the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole; Neyfakh’s article might just bring you over to my side.) For our #SlatePitch of the week, I recommend Bryan Lowder’s incisive, commendably sympathetic quasi-defense of My Husband’s Not Gay. (Lowder’s always-sparkling prose is especially luminescent here.) And finally, to end on a light note, I must direct you toward Laura Parker’s interview with the founder of ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.Com, the most devilishly clever website I’ve ever come across.

And that’s it! Thanks for reading the news with me and for being a Slate Plus member. There’s nobody I love arguing with more than you.


P.S. Want to hang out with Outward? If you’ll be in or near New York City on Feb. 3, join June Thomas, J. Bryan Lowder, and me, Mark Joseph Stern—and special guest Lea DeLaria of Orange Is the New Black fame!—for a queer kiki at the first-ever Outward live show, hosted by City Winery. Details and tickets can be found here. (Slate Plus members save 30 percent on tickets. Click “Upcoming Events” on the Slate Plus home page to find your discount code.)

P.P.S. A quick note from your Slate Plus team: We know that some of you ran into technical problems with the Slate Plus podcast feed in December. Though everything should be working now, it took longer than we hoped to fix the problem. Thanks, everyone, for your patience! As usual, you can email if you have any future problems. —Heidi, Jeff, Jennifer, and Kelly