Plus Roundups

“I’ve Convinced Them to Let Me Write About Pretty Much All My Other Obscure Interests”

Here are John Swansburg’s favorite reads from Slate this week, from the good old Grateful Dead to ex-con voting rights. 

Illustration by Charlie Powell. Photo by Thinkstock.

Hi Slate Plus,

Your guest editor for this week’s newsletter is me, Slate’s deputy editor and senior basset hound correspondent. Actually, I’ve never written anything for Slate about basset hounds, but I am a basset hound lover and my mom’s basset hound was recently featured in slide 16 of this slide show, in which he demonstrated the scale of the snow pack in my hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts. Maybe I’ll find a way to convince my colleagues to let me write about this most noble and long-eared of breeds one day. I’ve convinced them in the past to let me write about pretty much all my other obscure interests: Civil War generals with literary aspirations; the Grateful Dead; Malta; Nascar; Sneakers; Luis Guzman’s ad work.

When I’m not taking advantage of my colleagues’ indulgence, I spend my time editing and going to meetings and generally feeling grateful to all you Slate Plus members for your support. Here are some of my favorite things we published this week:

On Monday, my colleague Ali Griswold put all of her colleagues on notice: If any of us wanted to win headline of the week, we were going to have to outdo “Massive Games of Hide-and-Seek Are Now Banned at Ikeas in the Netherlands.” Pro-tip: Always look under the Fjellse

Also on Monday, Slate’s food editor, L.V. Anderson, published a very fun piece with another how-can-you-not-click-that title: “Chocolate Experts Hate Mast Brothers.” As a self-loathing lover of Mast Brothers chocolate, I found this article cathartic. I hate myself for falling victim to the bearded bros’ handsome packaging and (to my apparently unrefined cacao palate) delicious single-origin bars. $7.95 for a candy bar—it’s outrageous. It’s an indefensible purchase. It’s clearly a sign of the decadent rot that will bring down this once proud, Hershey-tolerating nation. So I was glad to see brothers come in for some criticism. Though now all I can think about is getting my hands on some Jamaica 75 percent by the expert-approved Rogue Chocolatier!   

On Tuesday, Henry Grabar wrote a piece called “How to Stop the Stadium Wars,” about how cities and suburbs across America are currently duking it out for the dubious honor of getting to build pro sports stadiums. As Grabar notes, such turf wars are rarely good for the communities fighting them, as cities and ’burbs offer increasingly generous deals to pro teams to win their affection. Georgia’s Cobb County, for example, offered the Atlanta Braves a tax break worth $8.6 million annually to relocate to the suburb, this despite the fact that stadium building rarely brings the economic benefits that teams and developers promise. This was outside the purview of Grabar’s article, but as someone who has spent a lot of time in America’s ballparks, I would note that the rise of the suburban stadium bidder is bad for fans, too. There’s nothing better than a ballpark nestled into a city, one you can get to by public transportation, or walking. The parking lot parks—The Royals’ Kauffman Stadium, the Rangers’ Globe Life Park in Arlington—can never match the charm of the urban stadiums in Detroit or Pittsburgh, which are woven into the fabric of the cities the teams represent.

Also on Tuesday, Leon Neyfakh wrote a piece called “Why Can’t Ex-Cons Vote?” It’s one of those policies that, when you stop to think about it, just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. (But one rarely stops to think about it.) Why should men and women who have paid their debt to society be disenfranchised? Leon, who I have the great pleasure of editing, found that neither conservatives nor liberals have ever been all that keen on standing up for felon rights, as there’s not much to be gained politically from doing so. My favorite fact in the piece is that two New England states take a wonderfully progressive view on this issue: In Maine and Vermont, not only can ex-cons vote, current-cons can vote—from prison. I did not know that.

On Wednesday, Jack Stripling wrote about a subject dear to my heart, the good old Grateful Dead. Specifically, he wrote about Tales From the Golden Road, which was once a sleepy satellite radio call-in show where fans could swap stories about favorite shows and preferred renditions of “Cryptical Envelopment.” Recently, however, the show has taken on a new vibe, as irate Dead fans who’ve been shut out of the trio of concerts planned for this July in Chicago have taken to the airwaves to vent their spleen. The shows might be the final ones for the “core four” of living Dead members: Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and, on the drums on stage right, Mr. Bill Kreutzmann. Many fans feel that not enough efforts were made to ensure that tickets went to the die-hard heads. It’s a charming story about a subculture I care about, and Stripling wrote about it without mocking it, which I appreciated. Also, anyone got a spare ticket? I need a miracle.

But look, I don’t only listen to the Dead. This week my soundtrack has been To Pimp a Butterfly, the new album by Kendrick Lamar. On Thursday, Slate published a review by our music critic Carl Wilson. One of my favorite things about our culture section is when Carl goes Carl on a piece. By that I mean, he just goes all-in on a work of criticism, writing long and deep. Carl has proclaimed the album an instant contender for best of the year, and he does a great job of enumerating its achievements. But he’s equally strong on the album’s politics, and indeed the politics of listening to it. 

OK, I have to go edit some stories (read: watch some first round NCAA tournament games—last year I was perfect through opening Thursday!). Thanks again for being Plus members and Slate readers. Oh, and as of this writing, Ali is still the leader in the clubhouse for headline of the week, though Mark Stern gave her a run for her money by trotting out a choice zeugma: “New Hampshire Legislators Kill 4th Graders’ Bill, Dreams in Front of Them.”