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Pope Makes Unprecedented Move of Defrocking Ex-Cardinal McCarrick Over Sex Abuse
The Vatican announced on Saturday that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, once the archbishop of Washington, has been expelled from the priesthood after being found guilty of sexually abusing minors for decades. McCarrick was for decades one of the most powerful figures in the American Catholic church.
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Slate Articles
Parsing the Shadow Docket
To listen to this episode of Amicus, use the player below:
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Neti Pots Are Great for Flushing Out Snot. Plus, They Won’t Kill You.
Very Well is a weekly column by Slate’s Shannon Palus. Each week, she’ll test health and wellness products to help readers figure out what they should try, what they should skip, and why.
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My Girlfriend Is Livid That I Rent Out My Family’s Cabin to Hunters
The newest addition to the Dear Prudence lineup, the mini-column, is moving to Saturday for a spell.
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Slate Articles
The Powerful Little Mixer That Actually Fits in My Apartment
Growing up in a Pennsylvania-Dutch family, store-bought was not part of our vocabulary when it came to cooking and baking. I watched my mom, my grandma, my aunt, and my great aunt make birthday cakes, pies, soufflés, crumb cakes, cookies — all with a KitchenAid mixer. As an aspiring baker myself, a KitchenAid mixer has been the appliance I’ve most coveted since I moved out on my own and could no longer mooch off of my mom’s. But since I chose to live in a cardboard box–size apartment in New York City, storage for a heavy, bulky appliance was never in the cards — that is until I discovered there was a mini-version, and it could fit in the small space above my kitchen cabinets.
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Live From Sundance Film Festival: Lisa Kron and Desiree Akhavan
Listen to Employee of the Month in the player below:
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The Lucky Strike Edition
Listen to Slate Money via Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play.
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At Least 5 Dead, Several Wounded in Warehouse Shooting in Aurora, Illinois
A gunman killed at least five people and wounded multiple others, including five police officers, in a warehouse in Aurora, Illinois, on Friday. The Aurora Police Department said that the gunman died after exchanging fire with officers.
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I’m Really Upset About Losing Out on Amazon’s HQ2
The following essay is adapted from an episode of The Gist, a daily podcast from Slate about news, culture, and whatever else you’re discussing with your family and friends.
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Sex Scenes Didn’t Kill Meg Ryan’s Career. Being a Woman in Hollywood Did.
In a new interview with the New York Times Magazine, Meg Ryan says her career in front of the camera tapered off in the early 2000s because she was cut out for neither acting nor fame. The former left her feeling like she was “burning through life experiences” in the roles she played without having any of her own. The latter placed a barrier—“so much metal,” like the impermeable shell of a fancy car, she says—between her and the rest of the world.
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The Angle: The Mixed Bag Edition
Courting trouble: Today, President Donald Trump officially declared a national emergency to ensure construction of the border wall, bypassing congressional approval. Experts across the ideological spectrum agree this is unconstitutional, but at this point, it doesn’t matter what they think—it’s really up to the judiciary. Daniel Hemel explains why it’s a mistake to bet on the courts to stop the wall, and Dahlia Lithwick shows how Trump’s declaration undermines the Supreme Court.
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How Right-Wing Media Reacted to Trump’s Emergency Declaration
On Friday, in a move that most commentators viewed as a desperate attempt to prove to his base he was still fighting for his promised border wall, President Trump declared a national emergency. He knew, from the many weeks of effort by Republicans, that he couldn’t get the funding he needed through Congress. The national emergency was a necessary step to be able to say he’d done it all: averted the impending shutdown, skirted Congress, and made a move to get the funding he needed for his wall.
Slate Articles
The Myth of the Female Savior
In 2014, when Jill Abramson was fired from her job as executive editor of the New York Times, it wasn’t hard to summon feminist rage over how she was treated. When her “management style” and personality were criticized as “brusque” and “pushy,” those seemed like code words, and considered alongside her salary (less than her predecessor’s) and how she was fired (in “singularly humiliating” fashion”), it all seemed to tell a story: Though it would be misguided, as Rebecca Traister argued at the time, to attribute Abramson’s ouster to sexism alone, gender was a clear factor.
Slate Articles
Alita: Battle Angel May Actually Get You Excited for the Avatar Sequels
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, the pair belonging to the cyborg heroine of Alita: Battle Angel are a set of double doors flung wide open, as limpid and blossoming as a Keane painting’s. Alita (Rosa Salazar) enters the movie atop a heap of scrap outside the settlement of Iron City, which is where most of what human life remains on Earth has clustered in the mid–26th century. Or rather, her head does, along with a remnant of metallic spine dangling below. Storefront cybernetic surgeon Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds Alita’s central nervous system and rebuilds her from the neck down, but the movie, which was directed by Robert Rodriguez and co-written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, works in the other direction, from the gut—or is it the crotch—to the heart, only occasionally making it all the way to the brain.
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How Colin Kaepernick Beat the NFL
On Friday, the NFL and representatives for Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid announced that they had settled a grievance suit with the two players over alleged collusion to keep them out of the league because of their protests during the anthem.
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What Actually Happened to Jussie Smollett? Here’s What We Know So Far.
On Jan. 29, it was reported that Empire star Jussie Smollett had been attacked in Chicago in what was described as a hate crime. Early reports said that Smollett was attacked by two men around 2 a.m. after getting a sandwich at his local Subway. He was reportedly beaten up and a noose was tied around his neck.
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The End of the Story
It was very surprising when, in July 2017, David Wallace-Wells’ New York magazine cover story “The Uninhabitable Earth” went viral immediately upon publication. It then went on to become the most widely read story in New York’s 50-plus-year history, a distinction it still holds today. As the editor of the science section of a magazine, I can tell you that normally stories about climate change are a tricky sell; it’s a sprawling, slow-moving topic that has traditionally felt less urgent than basically all other news, and it also has the side benefit of making everyone depressed. Readers are generally not here for it, and the ones who are tend to be a self-selected group. Wallace-Wells inverted this problem by writing a piece that felt both urgent and terrifying. His premise was to ask, simply and effectively: What if climate change is actually going to be just a little bit worse than we think? The resulting disaster movie was horrifying enough to make everyone pay attention.
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Separate, but Equal?
Listen to Live at Politics and Prose: On this episode of Live at Politics and Prose, Steve Luxenberg discusses his book Separate at a Politics and Prose. You can watch a playlist of videos from other readings that have featured in this podcast feed. Email: books@politics-prose.comTwitter: @PoliticsProse Podcast production by Tom Warren.
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Nancy Pelosi Put Her Faith in the Courts to Stop Trump’s Emergency Wall
President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday in order to build a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. If he ultimately gets the wall he wants, it will only be because Democrats who control the House of Representatives let him have it.
Slate Articles
Why Is It So Fraught to Talk About the Klobuchar Bad Boss Reports?
This article is adapted from a segment on the Waves and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Slate Articles
Trump Isn’t Just Defying the Constitution. He’s Undermining SCOTUS.
In a Rose Garden speech Friday morning announcing that he was declaring a national state of emergency to respond to an “invasion” at the southern border, the president invoked his usual fondue of imaginary statistics (“I get my numbers from a lot of sources”) that are belied by the numbers from his own Justice Department and most experts to conjure a crisis. He cited as statistical authority the strongly held feelings of some people—Angel Moms and the “crowd in El Paso”—who assure him that Wall makes them safer than Not Wall. He was also exquisitely clear on what should be a material legal point: that this is not, in fact, a national emergency: “I didn’t need to do this … I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.” This, after months of inaction and years of a Republican-controlled Congress and a 10 a.m. announcement time that became a 10:37 a.m. announcement time that will be followed by 4 p.m.departure for a golf weekend at Mar-a-Lago.
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Andrew McCabe: Jeff Sessions Complained That He Missed When the FBI “Only Hired Irishmen”
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s new book, which details his frustrations with President’s Trump administration, has made it clear that his “disdain for Trump is rivaled only by his contempt for [Jeff] Sessions,” according to an assessment from Washington Post reporter Greg Miller.
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Slate Articles
Moderate Democrats Are in Love With a Tepid and Outdated Idea to Fix Health Care
Democrats have spent much of the past year piling up ambitious health care proposals, from single-payer to various riffs on the public option, that have often been criticized for being too expensive or politically unrealistic. This week, they gave us a preview of their tepid fallback plan. Not that they quite framed it that way. On Wednesday, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow unveiled a bill that would let Americans ages 50 to 64 buy into Medicare—essentially creating a public option for the middle-aged, in which premiums would be set just high enough for the program to roughly pay for itself. The proposal is being backed by a wide array of Democrats, including a number of current and potential presidential contenders. Some of its supporters—such as Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand—have also endorsed Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for all bill. Others, such as co-sponsor Sherrod Brown, have said they prefer a more incremental approach. “I have always supported universal health care, but we are not there yet,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, another co-sponsor, told reporters. “Medicare at 50 is a very bold step in the right direction.” It would definitely be a step. But bold might be an overstatement. The idea of letting Americans purchase Medicare coverage before they turn 65 has been floating around Washington for decades now. Bill Clinton proposed a buy-in for 62-year-olds back in 1998, when he was deep into the triangulating small-ball period of his presidency. The concept surfaced again during the intense Obamacare negotiations of 2009, until Joe Lieberman snuffed it out. Hillary Clinton, ever a fan of medium-bore policy solutions, backed a buy-in for those over 50 during her 2016 presidential run. And Stabenow herself introduced a buy-in for 55-year-olds last year. The main upside of the buy-in is that it could be cheaper than the coverage currently available on Obamacare’s exchanges, at least for people who currently earn too much to qualify for the health law’s subsidies. Medicare pays doctors and hospitals lower rates for their services than private insurers, and the government doesn’t have to worry about running a profit. So even if enrollees have to pay full-freight, it might still be more affordable than a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. This year, for instance, a 60-year-old earning $50,000 will have to pay an average of $12,190 for a benchmark silver plan. By comparison, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2008 that the government would have to charge $7,600 a year if it wanted to break even on a buy-in program. The magic number is almost certainly higher today, and it won’t necessarily be cheap, but it might be cheaper than the eye-popping prices some people now face on the exchanges. There are at least a few other perks to the idea. Because it’s designed to be more or less deficit-neutral, the buy-in would by definition be a cheaper way to expand coverage for older adults than simply making private insurance subsidies more generous (and make no mistake—subsidizing private coverage is probably going to get very expensive in the coming years). It would also ensure that middle-aged Americans always had at least one option to buy coverage, even if private insurers pulled out of the market (it’s been a while since health care observers were worried about bare counties, but you never know). But this all raises a question: Why limit the buy-in to 50-year-olds? If it’s designed to cover its costs, why not open the program up to 30-year-olds or 25-year-olds or 18-year-olds? Focusing exclusively on older Americans might have made some semblance of policy sense during the late ’90s, since the insurance market was essentially unregulated at the federal level, and insurers could still reject you for looking at their paperwork funny. Giving near retirees the option to purchase a Medicare plan was a straightforward way to guarantee access to insurance when it was often nearly impossible for them to buy. But thanks to Obamacare, nobody has to worry anymore about being denied outright by insurers, and Americans of all ages face similar problems when it comes to getting covered. Middle-class households that earn too much to qualify for subsidies often can’t afford to buy policies through the exchanges. And those who can afford a plan often face sky-high deductibles. When I asked Linda Blumberg, a health policy expert at the Urban Institute, if there was any technocratic reason why you wouldn’t want to also offer a buy-in to younger Americans as well as the 50–64 demographic, she was blunt. “There’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to make that available for any age,” she said. Other experts I talked to suggested that limiting the rollout to older adults might make it marginally easier to test and design, though Blumberg suggested that wasn’t really the case. “The desire to peel off the 50- to 64-year-olds at this juncture seems more arbitrary and complicated than people understand,” she told me. When I asked Stabenow’s staff about these questions, the answer I got was fairly unsatisfying. In an email, a spokeswoman told me: “Americans approaching retirement are most likely to see cost increases and lack of affordable coverage. Allowing them to buy into Medicare is supported by the public and is something we can do right now.” It is true that older Americans see the highest prices on the exchanges. But they’re not the only people being priced out. It’s also true that a buy-in for the 50-and-up set is popular (77 percent approve, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation), but not much more so than opening up a version of Medicare to everybody (73 percent approve). And the medical industry won’t be any less opposed to a buy-in for 50-year-olds than it would be to a full public option for everyone. The hospital lobby, which doesn’t want to see payment rates to providers cut, has already come out swinging against Stabenow’s bill. The idea that Congress could pass a buy-in “now,” meanwhile, is just baffling. Stabenow’s staff told me she believes her bill can get bipartisan support (she’s said the same to Vox). And maybe she could get a friendly word from Susan Collins—who knows? But does she really think she could rally enough Republicans to overcome a filibuster? Does she believe that there’s a soft, social democratic heart beating beneath Mitch McConnell’s stern shell? After every bruising health care battle we’ve seen over the past decade, we’re still placing our hopes on bipartisan compromises? Seriously? In the end, the main thing animating this bill seems to be a misplaced preoccupation with optics—an unmerited belief that taking a tentative baby step toward a full public health insurance option for all Americans will arouse less opposition than the real thing, while letting Democrats pass a bill they can technically describe as Medicare for more. It’s nice that an idea once considered too edgy to pass the Senate is now regarded as the incremental half-measure for moderate squishes. But it’d be a tragic missed opportunity if a future president didn’t aim their ambitions higher.
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Slate Articles
Portland Mayor Orders Investigation of Friendly Texts Between Police and Far-Right Demonstrators
The mayor of Portland, Oregon, asked the city’s police chief to investigate “disturbing” text messages sent between a police lieutenant and the leader of a far-right group that organized rallies attended by violent extremists.
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Slate Articles
Caste, the Patriarchy, and Climate Change
At the midpoint of Tamil Nadu, the sixth-largest Indian state by population, the delta formed by the Cauvery River appears like a nose in profile, jutting east into the Bay of Bengal. For centuries it was a flourishing artistic hub and the home of a powerful South Indian empire. Today, the Cauvery Delta is the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, a land of paddy fields and beleaguered farmers, its villages linked together by bridges that span dried-up tributaries. Already disaster-prone (the Delta faced a devastating tsunami in 2004 and a cyclone in November that killed more than 45 people), the Cauvery Delta’s challenges are only intensifying, as its once-dynamic, brackish waters slowly merge with the sea and become saltier. Without urgent action, experts predict the district closest to the bay will be submerged in less than three decades. Against this precarious backdrop, some of the most vulnerable inhabitants of the Cauvery Delta are Dalit women, those formerly known as “untouchables” who are at the bottom of India’s caste system. Excluded from resources and political power, these women are fighting for survival against the three-headed Hydra of climate change, the caste system, and patriarchy. In recent years, however, more and more have turned to collective farming to survive, pooling their resources as a financial and emotional buffer against the increasingly inhospitable environment. Although the term collective farming might conjure bleak Stalinist imagery, here it refers to grassroots farmer-led efforts to pool finances and labor for mutual benefit. Though the farms themselves are small, because they quietly rebel against centuries of rigidly enforced social structure, the idea has radical potential. For rural women in the Delta, collective farming is a way to capitalize on their agrarian upbringings to gain a degree of financial independence, often by organizing in cooperative pods of five to 10 and cultivating small neighborhood paddies of one to three acres. Most of the women farming in this region harvest rice one to two times per year, weather permitting, and sow “gram” (local legume varieties) in the offseason. They split the labor and the profits equally. While men in India are also increasingly engaged in collective farming efforts in Tamil Nadu, for them it has not been such a force for upward mobility as with Dalit and widowed women. “I joined [the collective] to improve my status and livelihood, to come up in life,” said M. Vasantha, a Dalit widow who started collective farming last year in the small town of Poonthazhai. While she admits that the four women in her collective sometimes bicker among themselves, the solidarity has given them courage to cultivate their own land rather than continue to serve as heavily exploited farmworkers (pejoratively called “coolies”) who labor on upper-caste villagers’ property. Female farm workers say they make about 150 rupees per day (or U.S.$2.10) when work is available, while men usually earn more than double that amount—still a meager salary. By pooling their labor, they own the full value of the crops they grow, which they can use to feed their families and potentially sell for shareable profits. But, like other farmers across the Bay of Bengal, they are faced with volatile weather patterns that present growing challenges to their newfound livelihoods. The Bay of Bengal—the largest bay in the world—touches eight countries that together contain 25 percent of the world’s population. Along the bay, an irregular pattern of heavy rains, punishing droughts, and increasing cyclonic activity is making generational agricultural knowledge obsolete as farmers scramble to deal with the fluctuating climate. Rice farmers in the Delta, including these women, have long depended on sustained northeast monsoon showers distributed from October to December to water their crops. However, “nowadays, we get only the unpredictable rain, not the predictable rain,” said M. Tamilarasi, who leads a collective of six Dalit women in the village of Thirukkalachery, four miles from the Bay of Bengal. According to M.R. Ramesh Kumar, chief scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography, recent monsoons have had a significant number of days with “intense rainfall,” meaning more than 10 centimeters in 24 hours. “It’s like you’re given one week, or one month’s food to eat all in one day. You can’t eat all of it, right?” Kumar says. Farmers are unable to store these vast quantities of excess water, and plants drown and are damaged by the accompanying winds. Kumar also notes that despite these heavy rain bursts, there has been a drop in the overall number of monsoon depressions formed over the bay, which typically play a key role in generating the needed rainfall for much of central and northern India. Alarmingly, the northeast monsoon brought 44 percent less rain to the region than expected in 2018, only two years after Tamil Nadu withstood the driest monsoon season in 140 years. The government purchases most rice in India for redistribution, and according to its data, procurement of rice in Tamil Nadu dropped by 88 percent in 2017. Without steady rain, ponds and lakes dry up, and the precious groundwater supply is overly extracted by water pumps and used for irrigation across the Delta. As regional farmers become more desperate, they dig deeper into the Earth, occasionally flooding their aquifers with saline seawater—the kiss of death for a rice paddy. Climate change expert and professor at the Institute of Economic Growth Saudamini Das says that climate change challenges are “intensified by human use and misuse” of the limited groundwater supplies. Additional forms of resource mismanagement and an ongoing water dispute between Tamil Nadu and the neighboring state of Karnataka over access to the Cauvery River have seriously exacerbated these problems. Collective farming cannot reverse global temperature increases or the rise of sea levels, nor is it intended to. Long term, the people most vulnerable to climate change can only hope for global political action to slow climate change. But collective farming does offer a valuable way for small and marginal farmers, who comprise more than 90 percent of the farmers in the state, to mitigate the short- and medium-term impacts and expand their local influence. Tamil Nadu Assistant Director of Agriculture Selvarajan says, “All of the produce on these farms is sold collectively, which gives the farmers bargaining power” as well as decreases the costs of cultivation. That’s particularly valuable for vulnerable groups, like women, who can finally save both money and food, enabling them to better withstand economic swings caused by volatile weather. They no longer need to rely on local landowners for employment, which is unpredictable and contingent on erratic weather patterns. Collective farming also allows the women to diversify their crops and grow produce like eggplant, tapioca, okra, and bottle gourds to bolster their food security. Unfortunately, while women are legally permitted to own land, securing property is very difficult (only 13 percent of agricultural landowners in India are women), and exponentially more so for Dalit women. Systemic discrimination propagated by the Hindu caste system has far-reaching effects to this day, despite being technically abolished more than 50 years ago. For hundreds of years, Dalits were prohibited from owning property, and today the majority lack the money or status to buy land—in Tamil Nadu, 86 percent of Dalit farmers are landless laborers. To lease property, hundreds of landless women across the state depend on local NGOs to help negotiate for land as well as offer training in farming techniques. More than 50 female farmers in the Delta region work closely with Kalangarai, an NGO led by an enthusiastic local Jesuit priest named Antony Kulandaisamy. According to Kulandaisamy, 15 women who engage in collective farming in the bay-adjacent town of Karaikal have been harassed by members of the Vanniyars community in the past two years. The Vanniyars—though historically not members of the uppermost castes—in recent years have become politically influential and protective of their growing status. I. Arockiamary, a middle-aged Dalit widow, says, “No one from our town was ready to lease us property, but one man lives overseas now, and he agreed to give land to our collective.” This angered their Vanniyar neighbor, who now insists on blocking the flow of rainwater from his field to theirs and refuses to allow them to walk through his field to reach their own land. Frustrated that the women no longer work in his field after years of providing low-wage labor, he threatened to destroy their water pump if they placed it in their preferred location near his property. According to Arockiamary, his actions have forced the women to pay more to irrigate their fields, cutting into their already razor-thin profit margins. When asked if the women were fearful of what the upper-caste community members might do next, they all shook their heads no. “With courage, we fought back and sowed our seeds. And with no man’s help,” Arockiamary says. Through collective farming, she says, “it’s like we’ve been rescued from slavery.” In surrounding villages, the hard work of female farmers has turned plots of previously worthless land profitable, and members of the upper castes have sought to reap the benefits. In Thirukkalachery, Tamilarasi’s collective spent much of last season subleasing a plot of uncultivated, bramble-filled land from an upper-caste man, who in turn had leased the land from a local Hindu temple. After seeing the transformation of the property, temple officials demanded that the women pay a large additional sum: 18,000 rupees (U.S.$257) to collect their yield. Since the women generally hope to make a minimum of 5,000 rupees (U.S.$70) per person, per harvest, in addition to their share of the produce, the added expenses meant they lost any chance of making a profit that season. Despite the obstacles, there have been a number of success stories across Tamil Nadu, and women in local leadership say they are actively helping more groups of collective farmers get started. In northeast Tamil Nadu in a village called Thiruvanaikoil, a group of 30—mostly Dalits, widows, and abandoned women—has been consistently turning a profit through collective farming since 2013. Thanks to a strong irrigation system, the women are able to grow several crops each year as well as a variety of vegetables. Newly empowered to cultivate the land in the way they choose, the women are focused on preserving the health of the land and the community for future generations. For the first time, the women are also embracing the term farmer, which has traditionally been associated only with men. Explaining why the collectives are determined to succeed, Tamilarasi says, “It is because we are women, because we are widows, that we will not give up.” Reporting for this story was supported by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network Bay of Bengal Story Grants.
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Baby Godiva
Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group. Dear Care and Feeding, How do I get my daughter (22 months) to stop getting completely naked at night? The first time it was funny. She’d waited till morning, had previously showed no skill or interest in taking her PJs off, and was really quite pleased with herself. The second time it was much less funny, as she’d smeared poop on pretty much every available surface. Another time recently, she’d done it early in the evening (we checked on her when we went to bed, and found her curled up completely asleep and completely naked) so we had to wake her up and put everything back on. She’s not doing it every night, but it’s often enough that it’s a problem. In addition to the potential mess, she wakes up pretty early in the mornings, probably because she’s naked and cold. Most nights she’s wearing the basic Carter’s one-piece PJs, with a diagonal zipper and a snap at the top or something similar. (Also cloth diapers with snaps, but I think any diaper is probably easy to get off.) I know she can definitely get a shirt off and is getting good with pants, as well. —Just … Keep Your Clothes On! Dear JKYCO, Hahahahahahahahaha. Well, yes, this is extremely common and also annoying as heck (especially when it gets messy). But marvel at her fine motor control! My solution is actually pretty straightforward (and has been tested in the field): You gotta put the jammies on backward. Most of the time you can do it fairly easily (and I sense it’s worth it to you to acquire a few new PJs that can be worn backward with ease). Either that will hold her, or she will become a Cirque Du Soleil performer and you can be proud of her and tell all your friends. One quick question, though: How’s the temperature in that room? She may wake up naked and cold, but is it warmer when she goes down at night? Just something to think about. * * * * * * Dear Care and Feeding, My husband and I have two lovely girls and a third baby on the way. One of my best friends (we’ve been friends for over 15 years) and her husband are infertile and have been trying to adopt a baby for over two years now, with no success. I try to avoid complaints of pregnancy-related woes to her, include them both in my kids’ lives when I can (they live out of state), and generally keep up on their lives as best as I can. My question is this: Can I be doing something else or something better to support her and her husband? How often is appropriate to ask someone how they’re doing with sensitive topics like infertility and adoption? I try to send her “just thinking of you” notes and care packages every so often, and ask about the adoption process when it comes up naturally, but I feel like I don’t have the life experience to address it correctly without bringing up pain and jealousy more often than necessary. I never want her to think that I think of her only in light of their adoption process, but as she’s probably thinking about it all the time, I can’t tell if it’s rude to not bring it up more? Help! —Feeling Guilty for Procreating Easily Dear FG, It sounds to me like you’re handling things pretty well as is: Being self-aware when you have a friend struggling with infertility is half the battle. I would assume that if she wanted to talk more about the adoption process, she would, and just being a present and warm friend is what she needs most at the current time. Adoption, as you likely know, is not a cure for infertility, and when and if she and her husband succeed in adopting a child (also never a given), keep in mind that she’s likely still going to be processing this stuff for a long time. I don’t want you to feel like you can never ask; it’s just hard to repeatedly have to say “No change!” to a painful question, so sticking to engaging when the issue comes up naturally is a good plan for now. My only other piece of advice is to think about what topics you can chat about that do not involve children or parenting or fertility at all: music, movies, current favorite show to binge-watch, how much you dislike the brunette in your speed-walking crew, etc. Things that make her feel like a “normal” person talking about “normal” stuff. You’re being a good and thoughtful friend. Keep up the good work. * * * • If you missed Wednesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here. • Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group! * * * Dear Care and Feeding, My husband and I are talking about moving—not far, just about 25 minutes from where we currently live, in order to be closer to our respective workplaces. Our daughter’s day care would be closer to our new home so she would be positively affected with a 45-minute commute cut to 20. One of our ongoing conversations is: At what age does transferring schools—and having to make new friends—really matter? Our son is in kindergarten now and has been doing great. He didn’t know anyone there before he started but is excelling academically and is very happy. We are torn between moving this summer (prior to first grade) or next summer (prior to second grade). He’s currently in a K–1 building with all the other kindergartners and first-graders from our district. In second grade, the kids are split between other schools. Other parents have told me that in advance of that division, there is a concerted effort made to mix up the kids from kindergarten into first grade, and he’s unlikely to be in a first-grade class with more than four or five from his current class. He has always been very shy and, while he’s still quiet, I am amazed at how quickly he’s adapted and made many friends he enjoys playing with. To be fair, I don’t really think it’s a big deal and I trust that he’ll adapt either way, but I’ve known my best friends since third grade, when I transferred to their school. They had known each other since first grade so I’m still acknowledged to be the new one to the group … and that was almost 30 years ago. —Now or Later? Dear Now or Later, I do not think this matters at all from a parenting point of view at this age, so I would make the best decision for your family’s general happiness level: Cut that damn commute in half right now, and never look back. I’m sorry this is not a more interesting answer, but it’s the truth. He’ll be fine either way. * * * Dear Care and Feeding, I’m a single mom to a stunningly beautiful 3-year-old daughter. (People in public are constantly commenting on her beauty and suggesting she model, I’m not being biased or egotistical—OK, maybe a little!) I’m wondering how to have a conversation with her about places people shouldn’t touch on her body. She currently speaks like a little Frankenstein so I know it’s not going to be some in-depth discourse, but I want to at least start talking to her about these things. I don’t want something to happen and find out about it 20 years from now and quietly die inside because I failed to protect her or teach her that she needs to come to Mommy with these kinds of things right away. What advice do you have for me? —This Is Hard to Talk About Dear Hard to Talk About, Look, here’s the thing: There is not the kind of connection between being very beautiful and being preyed upon that one might expect. Talking about bodily autonomy and how no one is allowed to touch us against our will (yes, yes, sometimes you gotta yank them into snow pants for their own good, I know) is a conversation to have with all children. It is not something we save for the cute ones. It seems to me like there are two basically unrelated questions here: how to deal with the attention your daughter gets for being a very cute 3-year-old who may or may not grow into a very attractive grown woman, and how to talk to your small child about the dangers of life in this world. Do not cross those streams. Should your next child be, well, plain, they would still need to learn about not letting people touch their bodies! In both cases, however, it’s important to talk about inappropriate touch and conduct from both strangers and close friends and family. You want to work on honesty and transparency and building the sort of trust between you that will ensure she comes to you if she is scared or worried. —Nicole * * * Ask a Teacher Could you explain the value teachers see in giving kindergartners’ homework? If I don’t make my child do it, will his teacher think I’m a terrible parent?
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Slate Articles
Sometimes, You Won’t Feel Better Tomorrow
“Suicide,” goes the popular expression, “is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” The provenance is murky, but the internet attributes the saying to 1980s media personality Phil Donahue. (I was going to write “of all people” but there’s no particular reason that something so profound cannot find its origins in the mouth of a schleppy-yet-endearing daytime talk show host from Ohio.) In any event, it’s a clever saying, and also one not altogether wrong. I can see why it’s had such viral appeal. Oftentimes a myopic focus on the present, accompanied by a flash flood of negative emotions, gas-pedals that fleeting impulse. Yet if we can survive that terrible moment, we may feel shockingly more composed just a day later. This tends to be the prevailing narrative around suicide and suicidality—a message cloaked in a constant admonishment to “just reach out for help” if you are feeling this way, and someone will try to see you through to the other side. The problem with this, though, is the obvious reality that some problems really are permanent, thank you very much. We may, with the right therapy or psychopharmacological help, change our perspective of such problems so that they don’t cause us so much ongoing distress. But not all problems fade with time; some actually do get worse. It should not be irrational to acknowledge this existential fact, and yet it remains stubbornly difficult to talk about. It’s important not to confuse the point I am trying to make with the fact that suicidal people are especially susceptible to poor decision-making. This is because acute suicidality, which involves feeling like one should die now, is a genuine altered state of consciousness. In fact, researchers have identified distinct cognitive biases that attend this mental state, including a distorted, perceptually elongated sense of the passage of time (the clock “slowly drips out,” as one woman who’d attempted suicide put it) and increased egocentric thought (the suicidal person is not being deliberately “selfish” but has impaired perspective-taking abilities, finding it literally difficult to grasp the catastrophic suffering their death may cause others). However, this does not mean that all suicides are inherently irrational, nor does it mean they are all symptomatic of mental illness. Although it’s true that many of those who die by suicide have underlying conditions, especially mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, the catchall mental illness explanation only takes us so far. The oft-cited “90%” figure—that 90 percent of suicides are attributable to mental illness—is in fact dubious. It’s derived primarily from postmortem analyses (“psychological autopsies”), which are almost certainly subject to hindsight bias. When experts are given edited case histories of people who died by suicide without knowing they’ve taken their own lives, they are far less likely to see a mental illness. Yet, in the popular discourse, suicide remains inextricably linked with psychological faults, in part because the concept of suicide feels inherently disturbing to people who haven’t experienced it, and in part because adding the language of diagnosis often helps us feel like we’re solving problems. I think the over-reliance on disease models surrounding this topic is a mistake for several reasons. For one thing, the mental illness lexicon is so loaded that everyday people just don’t consider themselves to be part of that medicalized conversation. Depending on your definitions, it may be technically correct to do so, but how many of us with periodic depression or anxiety see ourselves as “mentally ill”? As a result, many individuals don’t self-identify as suicidal until it’s too late because killing oneself is something that only psychiatrically exotic, disturbed others would do. Those obligatory support lines that the media so liberally shares in the aftermath of a celebrity suicide? “Those are for people with real mental problems,” says the suicidal rationalist. “Me? I’m too sane.” This is about more than just semantics, because many of those at risk are tuning out of a vitally important conversation. Over the past year or so, while working on a book about suicidality, I’ve received many harrowing emails from people who’ve meticulously laid out for me the “case” for their own suicides. It’s as if they’re saying, “I’ve crunched the numbers, and correct me if I’m wrong, but how is killing myself not an intelligent decision given these variables?” It’s easy in the abstract to say that all suicides should be prevented, and as someone who prides himself on being a sympathetic human being, this is my first instinct as well (my next instinct is to direct them to an appropriate help line). But as a scientist who trades in logical thinking, what often strikes me about these individuals’ descriptions of their lives and why they’re thinking of ending them is that not all of these people are obviously mentally ill. Rather, in a very real sense, the opposite is true—they’re approaching often impossible situations from entirely rational places; indeed, they’d be more delusional not to at least feel suicidal. Take the case of “Mike,” for example, who reached out to me after reading one of my Scientific American articles on suicide. An articulate 49-year-old handyman, he’d served prison time for an unnamed sex offense and, for the past 13 years, had been living alone in a barn on a remote New England farm, getting room and board in exchange for labor. This lonely arrangement had given Mike, a sensitive outcast, a sense of contained social purpose and had made his debilitating anxiety about facing others at least tolerable. But now the elderly landowner had died and the family was selling off the farm, and Mike was about to be shoved back out into the harsh glare of an unforgiving society. “I cannot imagine a way to live without the thought of impending doom,” he wrote. “Sometimes the world can seem like it is filled with enemies,” I wrote back, “but when you lay yourself out there completely, allowing yourself to be honest and vulnerable, you will find people who will surprise you with their kindness and compassion … you can still come out stronger for this, and maybe help others down the road.” I meant those words, too. Yet, can any of us say with a straight face that Mike’s mortal fears about being ostracized and pilloried as a convicted sex offender in contemporary America aren’t justified? That still doesn’t make suicide a good option, and there are many ways to look at his specific situation, but I would say that his feeling suicidal is certainly understandable, even rational, given the punishing social conditions that he’s facing. By conceptualizing suicide as an act that only mentally ill people consider, intelligent people—the ones who’ve crunched the numbers and have come out with unfavorable estimates for tolerable living—are left feeling marginalized. One of the most frustrating findings in the field of suicide prevention is a stubborn positive correlation between suicidality and treatment resistance: The more suicidal a person, the more unlikely they are to seek help. In fact, up to 78 percent of those who die by suicide explicitly deny being suicidal in their last verbal communications. That’s revealing of something very, very wrong in the way we’ve been dealing with this grievous problem. In the book, I tell the devastating tale of Vic McLeod, a brilliant but troubled 17-year-old who jumped to her death from a 10-story building in 2014. It was only much later that her parents found the diary she’d been keeping in the months leading up to her death. Her parents shared it with me. One line—logical libertarianism laid bare—haunts me still: “We are each given a life. We’re supposed to live it. I don’t. It’s as simple as that.” (In fact, it wasn’t as simple as that, as other passages revealed she was deeply ambivalent about her death wish.) “I will be that girl who was sick. Sick in the head,” wrote Vic shortly before she took her own life. “I don’t think I am. I just want to go.” So, what am I suggesting as an alternative to the overly medicalized suicide discourse, one that continues to posit suicidal feelings as the litmus test for insanity? Perhaps just a realization from those who would weigh in on the subject, including professionals and the public alike, that suicidal thinking is actually more human, and sometimes even more rational, than is being conveyed. Asking someone if they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts is always better than avoiding the subject. It can and often does work as basic intervention. But if the person—rightfully so—fears being seen as mentally ill or, worse yet, is despondent over the prospect of being forcibly hospitalized for a perceived pathology, we’re deluding ourselves in expecting an honest answer. It may be scary as hell for us to hear, but I think saving lives requires a radical shift in the conversation; desperate people need to be free to talk openly about suicide without feeling that the listener is clinically parsing their every word. Indeed, for so many of us—especially us rationalists—it is this shared appreciation of the fundamental meaninglessness of life, of the funny tangibles of chaos, of being momentarily alive as the fleeting, flawed creatures we are that, ironically, offers us the greatest hope against suicide. What other choice do we have? Sometimes, we have to embrace the absurdity of living to survive our own sanity. One of the cruelest tricks of the suicidal mind is that during those darkest of hours, other people can seem to us one-dimensional and cartoonish, the almost-limitless depths of another consciousness is blighted out by our own nagging, unbearable self-awareness. The truly suicidal person is embraced by a loved one and still feels oceans away. Yet that bubble of egoism can be ruptured in the most unexpected of ways, too. In my early 20s, I once found myself in the crowded aisle of a grocery store, oblivious to my surroundings, feeling crestfallen, depressed, and well, imminently suicidal over some drama I’ve long since forgotten. While staring at the shelves in a sort of shell-shocked state, a firm but benevolent hand, seemingly out of nowhere, squeezed my forearm. “Step out of yourself for a minute and let me pass,” said a smiling old man leaning over into his cart. It’s a philosophy unto itself; and I still try, sometimes desperately, to live by those words. * * * Resources Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide. Crisis Text Line is the only 24/7 nationwide crisis-intervention text-message hotline. The Trevor Project is a nationwide organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.
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Slate Articles
The Bridge: R. Kelly and Music’s #MeToo Reckoning
Listen to Hit Parade via Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play. Hit Parade, the music history podcast from Slate, is back with a new episode of the Bridge. In this monthly mini-episode, host Chris Molanphy reflects on the previous full-length episode of the show, and invites one Slate Plus member to play some music trivia related to an upcoming episode. This month, Molanphy is joined at the mic by T. J. Raphael, senior producer of the Slate Podcast Network. Together, they discuss the sexual assault allegations facing artist R. Kelly, and whether the #MeToo movement will finally change the music industry. After a break, Molanphy is joined by one listener for some music trivia related to the next full-length episode of Hit Parade, which is all about Creedence Clearwater Revival. How does it all work? The contestant is asked three trivia questions, and the player also has the opportunity to turn the tables—they get a chance to try to stump Molanphy, a music journalist for the past 25 years, with one trivia question of their own. If you’d like to be a contestant on an upcoming show, sign up for a Slate Plus membership here, and then enter as a contestant here. You can also enter to play if you’re already a Slate Plus member. Want your question featured in an upcoming show? Email a voice memo to hitparade@slate.com. Podcast production by Danielle Hewitt.
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Slate Articles
Amazon and the End of the Growth Machine
I’m breaking up with you before you can break up with me.
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Slate Articles
New York’s Bad Math
Listen to Slate’s The Gist: Listen to The Gist via Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play.  On The Gist, racy names for missiles. In the interview, Chris Molanphy is here to talk about the Billboard hits of 1979, disco’s last hurrah, and how that year prepared for the coming wave of pop. Molanphy is the host of Hit Parade and writes the column Why Is This Song No. 1? In the Spiel, Amazon leaving New York City is a big loss, but people don’t seem to realize it. Join Slate Plus! Members get bonus segments, exclusive member-only podcasts, and more. Sign up for a free trial today at Slate.com/gistplus. Join the discussion of this episode on Facebook. Email: thegist@slate.comTwitter: @slategist Podcast production by Daniel Schroeder and Pierre Bienaimé.
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Slate Articles