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Mittmentum Is Real, Cloud Atlas Is Messy, and the Zune Saved Microsoft

The week’s most intresting Slate stories.

Free to Be … You and Me 40 years later

Free to Be: Forty years ago this fall, a bunch of feminists released an album. They wanted to change … everything,” by Dan Kois.  To mark the upcoming 40th anniversary, , Dan Kois explores the history of Free to Be…You and Me, a slyly pro-feminist children’s album that changed the way millions of kids thought about gender. Kois explains the album’s goals and history, interviews its collaborators, and examines its effect on culture then and now.

“Mittmentum Is Real: It’s a fool’s game to guess whose momentum is greater. But Romney is peaking at just the right moment,” by John Dickerson. Enthusiasm is high in Ohio as Mitt Romney co-opts Barac Obama’s campaign strategy from 2008 and presents himself to massive crowds as the candidate for change. Should team Obama be worried? Also, each day Slate is posting one “ray of hope” for both Romney and Obama.

 “All Hail the Nanny State: How Michael Bloomberg, with his soda and cigarette bans, created a new social justice movement,” by Lowen Liu. Liu argues that Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on large soda drinks is a necessarily incomprehensive approach to fighting obesity and promoting public health. Small restrictions on items like sodas and cigarettes will unobtrusively become adopted as healthy habits across the city, gathering momentum over time.

The Flop That Saved Microsoft: How the Zune—yes, the Zune—helped revive a great American tech company,” by Farhad Manjoo. For Slate’s Reader Takeover, Manjoo was commanded to track down a Zune and explain its fall into obsolescence. Instead, he found a technology that he almost loved: attractive, user-friendly, and as good at playing music as anything Apple ever created. Luckily, says Manjoo, the Zune’s spirit lives on in the software of the Windows OS phone. He resolves not to make fun of it ever again.  

Cloud Atlas: An adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel starring Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hank, and Tom Hanks,” by Dana Stevens. Everybody will be talking about Cloud Atlas this weekend. Should you see it? Dana Stevens leans toward no, slamming the film as a silly and messy train wreck of sentimentality and weirdly gory violence. Also, there’s a little too much Tom Hanks.

The Most Spectacular Mutation in Recent Human History: How did milk help found Western civilization?” by Benjamin Phelan. Around 10,000 B.C., a genetic mutation near modern-day Turkey enabled human beings to continually produce lactase, the enzyme necessary to digest lactose in milk. A few thousand years later, the mutation went global.  Phelan explores the research surrounding this miraculous evolutionary advantage.

The Worst Years of Our Lives: Everyone hates middle school. But this crucial, oft-ignored part of your children’s education is getting a makeover,” by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen. Middle school is an infamously awkward and painful period of a child’s life. It doesn’t have to be. Glenn and Larsen explore the new frontier of middle schools, where emotional intelligence is given as much attention as academics. When it comes to well-adjusted kids, cooperation and self-esteem may be just as important as algebra and social studies.

 “The Avenger: Obama isn’t the candidate of war. He’s the candidate of vengeance,” by William Saletan. At Monday night’s foreign policy presidential debate, Mitt Romney positioned himself as a candidate of peace—and Barack Obama revealed himself as a president bent on revenge. William Saletan explores Obama’s righteous use of bloodshed to achieve justice.

“Heaven Help Us: Another “Harvard brain scientist” finds faith and tells the world,” by Daniel Engber. Engber evaluates  Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife, in which Harvard neurosurgeon turned neuro-prophet Eben Alexander III recounts a bout of bacterial meningitis that delivered unto him a definitive understanding of God. But a more skeptical Engber thinks Alexander may have just been hallucinating.

 “Why Amnesty Will Lose at the Supreme Court: It’s not the job of judges to stop warrantless wiretapping,” by Eric Posner. On Monday, Amnesty International will attempt to persuade the Supreme Court that it has standing to bring a suit against warrantless wiretapping. Its reasoning? Employees are afraid that they could be surveiled. Judge Posner explains why the Supreme Court should deny Amnesty standing, lest it open the floodgates to a deluge of lawsuits blocking execute powers.