New Things To Argue About


The Internet is a high-capacity conduit for transmitting outrage from person to person. And yet there are things to be outraged about that you never even suspected to exist, which by itself should be annoying you. Thus we’re doing well so far. Here are some controversies you could get worked up about:

Cleaning The Toothbrush Holder.

Background: If you use one of those plastic cases to hold your toothbrush you’ve probably noticed how it’s got a layer of cruddy substance that we’re comfortable telling ourselves is probably a harmless mold lining the insides, all about an inch past where your longest finger can reach. What’s the best way to clean this out?

The Arguments: One faction claims that the best approach is to set the case into a bowl containing a dilute bleach solution, leave it to soak overnight, and then throw it out. Another maintains that the easiest way to clean it is to set it in the silverware holder through a regular load of the dishwasher, so that the jets of water will cause one or both halves to be popped out of the silverware compartment and get forever lost in the weird, scummy, slightly alarming pool of stuff underneath the spinning plastic blade-y thing. Another faction holds extremely tiny hamsters, but just for the fun of it, because there’s no fitting a hamster in a toothbrush holder.

Vegetarian Spiders.

Background: There’s a species of spider in Costa Rica that, to the surprise of biologists though not the spiders’ chefs, mostly eats plants. All the other 40,000-plus species of spiders are not plant-eaters, so far as they’ve let any nosey humans know. Earlier this week the comic strip Slylock Fox mentioned “spiders do not eat plants”. So: are Slylock Fox cartoonists Bob Weber Senior and Junior ignorant, lazy, or the embodiment of pure evil?

The Arguments: The group most outraged by this incomplete information presents the picture of an impressionable, knowledgeable child, curious about the world, soaking this up as part of a broad understanding of the world; and an embedded seed of faulty information will grow to, say, someday the adult in a hugely public stage, like the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions finals, asked to identify the unusual dietary preferences of the Bagheera kiplingi spider of Costa Rica, and be reduced to a panicky mess by having a cherished belief of a life ripped apart at the moment it costs a million dollars. The contrary faction says you may think worse of them for this but that would be kinda awesome TV.

The Edge Of The Galaxy.

Background: So you know how there’s a galaxy out there? If you don’t, step outside a moment — when it’s safe, don’t go interrupting your business piloting a corporate jet to do this — and look around; the spot where you’re looking is part of a galaxy known as the Milky Way because it is not a carbonated soda. Well, where does it end?

The Arguments: One group will argue that the edge of the galaxy can’t be defined because any objects gravitationally bound to the Milky Way are part of it and therefore objects arbitrarily far away will be part of it. Another group argues that they saw that episode of the Original Star Trek and if there were no edge to the galaxy then the show would never have gone to series because they’d just be going off in a straight line through a lot of emptiness for five years. Another faction has managed to progress the dispute so far that it’s now about whether an unambiguous distinction can be drawn between the Thirty Years War and roofing tile.

Sick Board Games.

Background: Do you remember that childhood board game where you get a cartoony figure with a bunch of organs loosely traced out, and you have to roll a die to mark strikes against one of the organs, and when one of them gets three strikes against it that’s the cause of death of your figure? That’s what we’re talking about.

The Arguments: One group insists this is the sickest game that was ever made in the 1970s or any time before or since. Another group insists this game was never made, it was just a dream, and you’re probably the kind of person laughing at the Jeopardy! contestant with the vegetarian spider. You can probably sympathize with both sides.

Lost Without A Galaxy


I found this article in the science section — any science section; I can’t imagine editors turning this one down — about how research has shown that dung beetles can use the Milky Way to navigate. I have to applaud the effort there. That’s more than I ever do with the Milky Way. If you left it to me I’d probably let the whole galaxy clutter up the scary drawer above all the pots and pans, and maybe take it out just enough to feel guilty about how I should be using it more. Navigating would never cross my mind, much less helping dung beetles navigate, so it’s good the beetles seem to have worked that out on their own.

The dung beetle navigation thing finally makes sense of a lot history, which is better than most history does for itself. You always imagined that people looked at Christopher Columbus funny for his refusal to adjust the heading until he’d had a flock of dung beetles on deck during a cloudless, moonless night, but he did all right for himself, and left his beetles in charge of Hispaniola while he was busy getting tried for treason.

But as ever we shouldn’t have been surprised. Folklore’s talked about how animals have astounding abilities for thousands of years now, although folklore also talks about how witches are baking little children and how it’s good luck for the Red-Leafed Arrogating Murderberry Vine to crack your house’s foundation and how this snowstorm is the very first time the university ever cancelled class for anything less than the death of a President, so maybe the trouble is folklore needs to be more selective about what it says. We can’t go listening to everything. There’s too much of it.

Continue reading “Lost Without A Galaxy”