The intro to this article by Matt Taibbi describes the current American political scene quite accurately and explains why I think the US is an empire in decline:

The really beautiful thing about the culture war, from an entertainment standpoint, is that it is fundamentally irresolvable. There isn’t a concrete set of issues involved, where in theory both sides could give in a little and find middle ground, reach some sort of compromise.
That’s because there are no issues at all. At the end of this decade what we call “politics” has devolved into a kind of ongoing, brainless soap opera about dueling cultural resentments and the really cool thing about it, if you’re a TV news producer or a talk radio host, is that you can build the next day’s news cycle meme around pretty much anything at all, no matter how irrelevant — like who’s wearing a flag lapel pin and who isn’t, who spent $150K worth of campaign funds on clothes and who didn’t, who wore a t-shirt calling someone a cunt and who didn’t, and who put a picture of a former Vice Presidential candidate in jogging shorts on his magazine cover (and who didn’t).
It doesn’t matter what the argument is about. What’s important is that once the argument starts, the two sides will automatically coalesce around the various instant-cocoa talking points and scream at each other until they’re blue in the face, or until the next argument starts.
And while some of us are old enough to remember that once upon a time, these arguments always had at least some sort of ideological flavor to them, i.e. the throwdowns were at least rooted in some sort of real political issue (war, taxes, immigration, etc.) we’ve now got a whole generation that is accustomed to screaming at cultural enemies as an end in itself, for the sheer dismal fun of it. Start fighting first, figure out the reasons later.


This is why I read science blogs

Earlier this week, a story was all over the place about the man who was supposedly misdiagnosed for 23 years as being in a vegetative state when he was, in fact, completely conscious but unable to communicate. I skimmed a couple of paragraphs about the story and went on. This morning, I read an interesting blog post by a scientist with serious suspicions about the story, and I learned what ‘facilitated communication’ is. Interesting.

Public service announcement: how to get skunk odor off dogs

I assume it works for people, too, but fortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to try it. A former coworker’s dogs were sprayed the other day, and she was not aware of the state of the art in skunk smell removal until I shared it with her. So, here’s my public service announcement for anyone else who might need it.

Several years ago, I was walking our two dogs off-leash in a field near our house before dawn. In the dark, I could see them chasing a cat a hundred yards away (I didn’t worry; they’d never caught one before, and if they did, they’re cat friendly). Then, they suddenly stopped chasing the cat. Odd, I thought. Then, they started running back to me. When they got near, I realized it was no cat. They smelled lovely.
I was raised in the country and have dealt with skunk spray a few times; we always bathed our dogs in tomato juice, which didn’t work very well. However, when the spraying happened a few years ago, I thought: it’s been 20 years since I dealt with this, and now we have the Internet; let’s see if there’s a better way of getting rid of the skunk smell.
Sure enough, the current state of the art is a bath with a mixture of peroxide, baking soda and soap or shampoo. Full details here: Skunk Odor Removal.
I can vouch for this method. We bathed our two dogs about three times the day they got sprayed, and the smell was completely gone. It stripped every bit of oil out of their fur, so they were fuzzy messes, but that was a small price to pay.

…like the aurora borealis with scissors

Matthew Baldwin posted a perfect description of children. It’s short, so I’ll just quote it in full here:

I glanced up from my laptop to find my five-year-old son standing nearby, gripping a bottle of Elmer’s glue. He had removed the cap and was holding the container upside down, watching, fascinated, as the viscous white substance drooled into a ever-growing pool on the kitchen floor.
“What are you doing?!” I barked. “Put that down!”
He jumped, startled, and then hastily complied. After dropping the bottle–still uncapped, still upended–into the utility drawer from whence it had come, he slammed the drawer shut and took two steps backwards, thus positioning himself in the center of the pool. His socks began soaking up yet more glue, adding to the astonishing quantity already smeared on his shirt and hands.
“Nooo, arrgh!” I yelled, sprinting to the drawer. By the time I had jerked it open an entire corner had become an impromptu lagoon, swamping ballpoint pens, rubber bands, pads of Post-It notes, and unused gift cards. I grabbed a handful of paper towels and thrust them into the morass; a moment later, when I withdrew the wad, half of the contents of the drawer came with it.
Now thoroughly exasperated, I turned to find the kid, already writing a legendary harangue in my head. He was few feet away, nonchalantly drinking orange juice. Just as my eyes settled on him, the plastic cup suddenly slipped from his grasp. It hit the floor and spun as it rebounded, splashing juice everywhere.
Yes: he’d managed to drop the cup despite having hands coated in glue.
Occasionally parenthood offers moments of religious awe, when the anger and frustration melt away and are replaced by reverence, a profound appreciation for the primal forces of chaos so poorly contained within your progeny.
Children are a marvel, like the aurora borealis with scissors.

The economics of Halloween

From a clever Consumerology blog post about the economics of halloween:

It seems to me that trick-or-treating is the first job that most of us have. Sure, it’s only one day a year, but kids put forth the effort to get dressed, make the commute, and cold call perfect strangers. They get paid (in candy or, cruelly, all manners of non-candy including fruit and pencils) and then experience the indignity of losing some of that income to “the man” – in this case, parents with the misguided notion that they deserve a piece of the action.