Slate


Close Your Heart

SLATE

September 2, 2014

By James Verini

CENTRAFRICA-UNREST Even by the standards of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic and one of the poorest cities in the world, Saïdou is poor. Unlike the districts around it, with their neatly packed-in houses behind walls and gates, Saïdou, which occupies an oblong dirt plot near the city center, resembles a slum in a less orderly African city like Kinshasa or Lagos. That is another way of saying it resembles a village. There are no walls or gates. The one-story cinderblock homes face one another at strange angles. You go between them on dirt paths or by stepping through the undergrowth and over rivulets of gray water. To access Saïdou, you make a quick turn off the Avenue des Martyrs, slipping between a pair of high-rises. The high-rises are falling apart, and their residents are poor, too; but when they look down on Saïdou, they thank God, and the martyrs, for their luck. See Full Story


Is There an “Obama Effect” on Crime?

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October 5, 2011

By James Verini

Ever since crime started declining in American cities in the 1990s, researchers have been hunting for the reasons why. After more than a decade of research, many argued that smarter policing, more incarceration, the waning of the crack epidemic, improved home security, and legislation such as the Brady Bill had a role in cutting crime. More speculatively, some posit that an aging population, legal abortion (an argument first advanced in the Quarterly Journal of Economics Steven Levitt and later popularized in his book Freakonomics), the rise of mood-improving drugs, and, a theory that’s attracted much attention lately, laws banning lead in paint, may have contributed to the decline. See Full Story


The Real Deal

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June 15, 2010

By James Verini

Michael Winterbottom’s new film The Killer Inside Me, which comes out on Friday, has attracted comment for its graphic violence—Jessica Alba reportedly walked out of a screening, so put off was she by the unlikely sight of herself being beaten by Casey Affleck. You, too, can skip this adaptation of Jim Thompson’s probably un-adaptable cult novel because, for all the blood, it’s a bloodless and cursory affair. Here’s a better use of your movie time: Log onto Netflix, find every previous movie of Winterbottom’s you can (start the clock at 1997’s Welcome to Sarajevo), and then banish the rest of your queue belowdecks. As off-target as his latest effort is, Winterbottom may be the most consistently absorbing and challenging director working in English-language cinema today. Certainly he’s among the bravest. See Full Story


The Vatican Loves a Good Story

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June 3, 2010

By James Verini

It’s been an unpleasant year for Pope Benedict XVI, so much so, one feels moved to ask: Are there any papal practices he takes refuge in that are more fun than, say, celibacy? We know of at least one: saint-making. In his going-on-five-year-old reign, the pontiff has canonized at least 29 souls, according to the Holy See’s Web site—10 in 2009 alone. The newly sainted didn’t include Mother Teresa, everyone’s top seed, but they did include one friar, Bernardo Tolomei, born in the 13th century, whose crowning achievement, according to the Vatican biography, was to leave his fellow “monks an example of a holy life, the practice of the virtues to a heroic level, an existence dedicated to the service of others, and to contemplation.” See Full Story


Rubber Match: Which condom is best?

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March 1, 2005

By James Verini

When the list of the world’s great inventions is tallied, the wheel, the combustion engine, and the computer chip invariably make the list. The condom, amazingly, never does. This seems an injustice. The condom has been around in some form at least since the Roman times, probably longer, and to this day remains the most popular prophylactic in most parts of the world. It is a marvel of human ingenuity, really: cheap, easy to use, and remarkably effective. Read Full Story


Supersize It: As our waistlines expand our stuff expands too

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March 3, 2004

By James Verini

George Farquhar once said that necessity was the mother of invention, but we know that to be nonsense, really: Who needs an iPod that holds 10,000 songs? There is, however, one area of life in which technology keeps step with nature—the size of things. As we Americans are getting bigger (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimate that roughly a third of Americans are overweight, with 20 percent of us qualifying as obese), so, too, is our stuff. Read Full Story