Cocktail Chatter

The Russian Meteor, Pope Benedict’s Resignation, and the Fast-Food Fresh Wars

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Palle-Jooseppi, a male brown bear of Ranua Zoo, wakes up after winter hibernation in Ranua on February 23, 2012.

Palle-Jooseppi, a male brown bear of Ranua Zoo, wakes up after winter hibernation in Ranua on Feb. 23, 2012.

Photo by Kaisa Siren/AFP/Getty Images

Ex-Benedict: Will he still be infallible? Will he get a pension? All your papal questions, answered,” by L.V. Anderson. In the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he would abdicate at the end of February, the Explainer endeavored to detangle the details (such as what would become of the @pontifex Twitter account). Elsewhere, Michael Brendan Dougherty considers Benedict’s failed attempt to reform the Church.

The Feminine Mystique at 50” by Emily Bazelon and Noreen Malone. In a four-part series celebrating the 50-year anniversary of Betty Friedan’s seminal feminist tract, two woman writers narrate their experience of reading it for the first time. Part one assesses the book’s scope and omissions. Part two asks, “Did Betty Friedan start the mommy wars?” Part three contests the notion that Friedan was a “fun-killing witch.” And Part four wonders whether the “problem that has no name” has morphed into an obsession with name-calling.

Why Didn’t We Know the Russian Meteor Was Coming? We’re getting better at spotting potentially dangerous objects, but this one was too small,” by Konstantin Kakaes. Over the past twenty years, scientists have developed stronger telescopes to scan the skies for danger, and NASA has made detecting PHAs (potentially hazardous asteroids) a higher priority. But Kakaes argues that still more must be done to track and deflect PHAs.

Am I Buttoning My Button-Down Shirts Wrong? And do I have the panache to do it wrong on purpose?” by Troy Patterson. Slate is pleased to introduce The Gentleman Scholar, a new advice column on matters of modern masculinity. In his inaugural post, Patterson tackles the enigma of shirts with “those little button dealies on the collar.”

The Great ‘Do Bears Hibernate?’ Debate: Their sleeping patterns are weird. Their sex is weirder,” by Jason Bittel. Bittel provides a definitive answer to the hibernation question, strewing in mind-blowing facts about bear reproduction, bear milk and bear pee.

I Love Your Ballot, Baby: Members of your own political party are more beautiful,” by Seth Stevenson. Studies show that (surprise!) people are more romantically attracted to those who share their politics. Stevenson looks at the implications of this finding—a new generation of infant ideologues?—and compares political persuasion to other factors that might influence your dating life, such as religious belief.

Obama’s Wish List: The president brought a lot of ideas and one simple message: Republicans are the problem,” by John Dickerson. Obama may not have taken many risks in his 2013 State of the Union Address, but he did make one thing clear: Conservatives are blocking his most essential reforms. Dickerson unpacks the president’s strategy while evaluating the speech’s successes and failures. (Also be sure to read Dave Weigel on all the State of the Union spin you may have missed.)

The Fresh Wars: How the five-letter word became a fast-food mantra,” by S.T. VanAirsdale. What does it mean when Taco Bell says its ingredients are “fresh?” While fast-food chains throw the word around with impunity, VanAirsdale claims, the “only unabashedly pure thing about the concept of fresh is its subjectivity.”

The Five Stages of Grief Should Be Changed: My bereaved clients aren’t bargaining; they’re anxious,” by Claire Bidwell Smith. Smith, a therapist, makes the provocative case for replacing the “bargaining” stage in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous progression with an “anxiety” stage. Anxiety, she says, is “one of the most overlooked aspects of bereavement.” And it also happens to be treatable.

The World’s Oldest Pornography: It’s at least 3,000 years old, and it’s bi-curious,” by Mary Mycio. In the ancient Chinese petroglyphs Mycio describes, bisexual shamans conduct strange fertility rituals and men hold dildos longer than they are tall. “Prudes shouldn’t go into archeology,” the author warns. Yet she will grant that sex has a wondrous way of inspiring art.