Greener Pastures

Give Us Now Our Daily Croissant

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 16:28

Where is your Kanye limit, the temperature level at which fascination boils over into exasperation? That’s an issue with any Kanye West album, but perhaps especially with the new Yeezus, which was officially released Tuesday but leaked on Friday, flooding the Internet with comments from all sides. For people who can’t stand his public image (and, of course, for Taylor Swift fans), the limit is zero. Others stop with the singles—hooky, less ranty, they yield the most pleasure with the least strain on patience. But that safe option mutes the very Kanyeness of Kanye; for the whole light show, you have to brave the albums.

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Getting in Bed With Europe

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 15:21

You may not be interested in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but TTIP is interested in you. And you may not recall the moment in Barack Obama’s State of the Union address when he called for a free trade pact with the European Union, but policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have continued to grind forward with the process. Last Friday, the European Union’s trade ministers delivered an official mandate to the European Commission to begin negotiating an agreement.

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Beware the Lone-Wolf Terrorist

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 14:49

The killing of Osama Bin Laden and the systematic elimination of numerous senior al-Qaida operatives during the past 12 years have undoubtedly reduced the risk of terrorism. But the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April reminds us that there are so-called “lone wolf” threats out there that are extremely difficult to track, even within U.S. borders.

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Can You Inhale Calories?

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 14:45

Public health officials worldwide are warning young people off the new trend of “smoking alcohol.” The user either pours hard liquor over dry ice or heats it, then inhales the vaporized alcohol. Some believe the process affords the inhaler a high without the calories of alcohol, but experts say there are still calories involved. Can you really inhale calories?

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Clarence Thomas, Liberal

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 12:23

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is frequently accused of being a partisan hack, a conservative lackey serving only the interests of the Republican Party. His votes are often portrayed as products of political ideology rather than constitutional philosophy, a practice he only encourages with his forays into political commentary. But as his recent opinions in Alleyne v. United States and the Myriad gene-patenting case illustrate, Thomas is much more than a Tea Party mouthpiece. That his views skew conservative is a product not of partisanship but rather of his deep, occasionally confounding dedication to originalist theory. And sometimes that dedication leads this already idiosyncratic justice to cast votes that would please Earl Warren.

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Mad Men, Season 6

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 12:02

Seth, Hanna,

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Trapped in an Underwater Air Bubble for Three Days

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 11:50

Being buried alive is usually near the top of any worst-ways-to-die list. But how about being buried alive 100 feet below the ocean surface in a tiny pocket of air? For Harrison Okene, a 29-year-old Nigerian boat cook, this nightmare scenario became a reality for nearly three grueling days.

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Flattened Affect

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 11:13

The first time you turn on your phone after installing iOS 7, you’ll feel like Charlie Bucket landing in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Those colors! Those icons! So much neon! You’ve fallen into a world of pure imagination, a place where everything familiar and solid has been flattened, slimmed down, spray painted, and made translucent—but now you’re feeling some regret. Was that golden ticket worth it after all?

 

When old things are made new, it’s natural to feel both lost and nostalgic, and it’s usually wise to push through your immediate sense of disorientation. Give iOS 7 a few days. Become comfortable with its technicolor aesthetic, lighter type, and spare graphics. Do this and you’ll notice, around Day 3 or 4, that your initial shock has given way to a new emotion: familiarity. Soon that feeling becomes so powerful that you may have trouble remembering what the old iOS looked like.

 

And then, surprisingly, a new question pops into your head: Wait, is that all there is?

 

That’s where I am now. It’s been almost a week since I installed Apple’s new mobile operating system on my iPhone 5. (You can get iOS 7 if you’re an iOS developer, or if a kind developer registers your iPhone with Apple. Beware: The OS is still in beta phase, so it’s annoyingly buggy.) Because the software is clearly a work in progress, I’ve tried to give it every benefit of the doubt, and I expect that a lot of it will be improved by the time it’s launched publicly in the fall. At this point, though, I’m puzzled by iOS 7.

 

For a redesign that’s so immediately jarring and radical, it comes to feel strangely superficial over time. As I used iOS 7, I kept thinking of something Steve Jobs once said: “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” he told the New York Times Magazine in 2003. “People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

 

Yet once I got used to the new icons and typography in iOS 7, there was no next step—no clear payoff for braving the dislocation the new design had caused. What’s this design in service of? How does it improve your phone? Does it make it faster, easier to use, more enjoyable, less annoying? In other words, does iOS 7 change how your device works, rather than just how it looks?

 

Most of the time, not really. While iOS 7 does introduce several new and useful features—like an immersive new app switcher, a handy finger-swipe gesture to go back to a previous screen, a superfast camera app, and a universal search and address bar in Safari—few of these feel like organic outgrowths of the new aesthetic. The app switcher, back swipe, and faster camera would have been possible and just as useful in the old iOS.

 

Yes, there are places where the new design does pay off—in the Calendar and Photos app, the lighter type and buttons allow you to see more of your appointments and pictures. Thanks to new transition animations, switching in and out of apps from the home screen feels faster and more fluid. But these improvements are offset by other areas where the lighter design leaves too little of the interface exposed. In a few places, the new touch targets are too small to hit accurately. And while I welcomed the removal of some of the “skeuomorphic” real-world textures that gummed up the old iOS—like green felt and stitched leather—the one-dimensional, line-drawn icons in iOS 7 are sometimes too inscrutable to give you an intuitive sense of what’s going on.

 

A lot of the redesign feels like aesthetics for aesthetics’ sake—the reflection of design chief Jony Ive’s personal taste for minimalism rather than an effort to improve how the software works. Or, as Jobs might say, it’s just veneer.

 

Take one of the biggest design innovations in iOS 7, the use of translucent interface “layers” that pile on top of one another. When you look at the home screen, you’ll see two different planes—a layer of app icons on top, and beneath that a layer of wallpaper. You don’t know they’re two layers until you angle your phone; when you do, you’ll notice the top layer of icons shift against the bottom layer of wallpaper, creating the effect of parallax. Then swipe down from the top of the screen to bring down iOS’s Notification Center. In old iOS, this pane was opaque, carrying the texture of faux linen; all such textures have been removed in iOS 7. Now the Notification Center is another translucent plane—just behind it, you can see your app icons, like you’ve brought down a piece of frosted glass over your home screen.

 

OK, so? How do these planes improve how your phone works? They don’t. The parallax effect is an innovation Ron Popeil of Ronco might prize—it will look great in ads, but on your own phone, having your icon shift position as you move your screen feels gimmicky, purposeless, and mildly irritating. It smacks of unnecessary ornamentation, calling into question Apple’s iOS 7’s marketing copy: “We don’t add features simply because we can, because it’s technologically possible.”

 

Meanwhile, having the Notification Center sit on glass rather than linen isn’t an obvious improvement, especially because the design changes make Notification Center less informative than the one in iOS 6. iOS 7’s version shows you far less data about your day at a glance, and it makes some bizarre and even unfriendly aesthetic choices. For example, rather than icons depicting the weather—say, an instantly recognizable sun-and-clouds picture—it gives you a written weather report. Three full sentences, in small type, that a radio weatherman might read in a newsbreak: “Partly cloudy conditions with 20 mph winds out of the northwest. …” That’s nuts.

 

Altogether, the changes make for a design that’s neither an obvious improvement nor a downgrade. Instead, iOS 7 is a step sideways. It’s a bold new look, and depending on your aesthetic sensibility, you’ll either love it or hate it. But that’s as deep as it goes. It doesn’t add many new features to your phone. It doesn’t improve the iPhone’s usability to any great degree (and for smartphone novices, it might well be more difficult to learn than iOS 6). It won’t fix Apple’s problems with data-driven cloud software. Perhaps, over time, iOS 7’s purpose will become apparent; it’s possible that the new design is a foundation for the future of Apple’s mobile software, one whose ultimate utility will be proven over the next few years. That’s the best-case scenario. The more likely outcome is a collective meh.

 

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The End of Joy

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 10:50

LeBron James had to be happy as the buzzer sounded to end Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He was still in the air, having just outsmarted and outworked and pretty much outeverythinged the Pacers to make a lay-in and give his Heat a game they otherwise would have lost.

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The End of the Unpaid Internship

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 09:54

Summer brings an annual invasion, in nearly every line of work, of shiny new interns. They're eager to fill out résumés and make contacts. That’s what they get instead of money—and so they save their employers about $600 million every year, according to Ross Perlin in his book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. That’s why the free intern bonanza continues despite plenty of complaints that it frequently means breaking the law.

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Mad Men, Season 6

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 07:45

Paul, Hanna,

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Bad Connection

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 07:43

If you visit one of the public schools in Mooresville, N.C., you can get a glimpse into what the classroom of tomorrow might look like. A high-speed broadband network, personalized software, and laptops for every student allow each member of the class to learn at his or her own pace while teachers receive real-time feedback about their learners’ progress. That’s why President Barack Obama went to Mooresville in early June to launch a new initiative called ConnectED, which aims to bring similar next-generation connectivity to classrooms across America in the next five years.

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If You Could Eat Only One Thing …

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 07:24

A friend admitted to me recently that she’d paid $65 into the crowdfunding campaign for Soylent, the “future of nutrition.” In August, she expects to receive a week’s worth of meals in the form of an unflavored beige powder. For her contribution she’ll also get a travel mug with a little wire ball inside, so that while reconstituting her meals in water she can more easily break up the chunks.

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Skyjacker of the Day

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 07:15

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States suffered through a skyjacking epidemic that has now been largely forgotten. In his new book, The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, Brendan I. Koerner tells the story of the chaotic age when jets were routinely commandeered by the desperate and disillusioned. In the run-up to his book’s publication on June 18, Koerner has been writing a daily series of skyjacker profiles. Slate is running the final dozen of these “Skyjacker of the Day” entries.

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I Would Have Hired Edward Snowden

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 06:42

I don’t know Edward Snowden, but I know his kind. I’ve read through a decade’s worth of his posts to Ars Technica under the name “TheTrueHOOHA,” where the now 29-year-old NSA whistle-blower wrote on everything from shooter games to corporatism to Goethe. The unguarded posts reveal a young man who’s highly individualist, moralist, elitist, arrogant about his superior intellect (“I feel that responding to your post will prove to be a wasted kindness. I'll do it anyway, because I am still hopeful that you will learn something”), contemptuous of corporate profiteering (“I am opposed to selling and creating games solely as a means to create money”), and at times fond of anti-authoritarian sloganeering (“Piracy is today’s boycott. Just say no to corporate amerika”). In other words, he was exactly like many of his techie brethren. The act that made him famous was singular. Snowden himself is not.

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The Tyranny of the Smile

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 06:06

Back in April the comedy website Funny or Die created a PSA video about a dire condition afflicting a subset of women: Bitchy Resting Face. “That’s just my face” is the cri de coeur of the BRF sufferer, who looks pissed even when she’s not judging your outfit or dreaming up schemes against unsuspecting colleagues. “We’ll face it together,” the commercial promises BRFers worldwide. Scan the actors’ visages and that invitation seems less than reassuring.

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Strap In or Get Out

Slate.com's Green Room - Tue, 06/18/2013 - 05:15

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

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This Time, Scalia Doesn’t Want to See Your Papers

Slate.com's Green Room - Mon, 06/17/2013 - 18:10

By a surprising 7 to 2 majority, the Supreme Court on Monday struck down a bristly little ballot initiative that Arizona passed in 2004, requiring everyone who registers to vote to prove his or her citizenship. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, and he had everyone on board besides Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito. Voter ID laws, including this one about voter registration from Arizona, are all about partisan politics. They pit Republicans who say they’re worried about voter fraud against Democrats who want to make it easier, not harder, for people to vote. These state-driven initiatives are especially bad for minority voters, and the young, poor, or disabled—groups that tend to stay off the rolls in larger numbers when there are more hoops to jump through. 

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The Whitey Bulger Trial

Slate.com's Green Room - Mon, 06/17/2013 - 18:04

John Martorano is a porpoise of a man inside a massive suit jacket. His face disappears into the fat of his neck. When he takes the stand today—tinted eyeglasses, polka-dot tie, pocket square—he tells us he is 72 years old, divorced, and unemployed. Also, he has murdered 20 people.

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Obama Doesn’t Fight Like Bush

Slate.com's Green Room - Mon, 06/17/2013 - 18:03

Whatever the long-term fallout from recent disclosures about the NSA’s data mining, the leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden are, if nothing else, a stark reminder that the war on terrorism is still being waged aggressively on multiple fronts. They also offer more fodder for critics who say the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies, including the ongoing use of drone strikes and the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay prison, are merely a continuation of the overreach and missteps made by President Bush.

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