Cocktail Chatter

Depressed Dogs, a Parent’s Guide to Star Wars and Monster Truck Moms

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.

Pets With Problems: Does spaying cause depression in dogs and cats?” by Madeleine Johnson. Researchers have found that neutering mice—as well as a few other animals—has a significant effect on their moods. This makes sense. After all, when people lose the ability to reproduce, they’re more likely to feel down and have less energy. Why should cats and dogs be any different?  Given the huge effect sex hormones have on the brain, Johnson says there’s a good chance Fido will be depressed as a result being neutered.

Latter-Day Sins: Why don’t we challenge anti-Mormonism? Because it’s the prejudice of our age,” by William Saletan. This week, Robert Jeffress, a prominent Baptist pastor, called Mormonism a non-Christian cult. He then urged voters to support Rick Perry over Mitt Romney because Perry is a “genuine follower of Jesus Christ.” This kind of religious intolerance, Saletan writes, is the latest form of bigotry to make its ugly mark on presidential politics. Why haven’t the other candidates condemned the remark as wholeheartedly as they should? Prejudices of the moment are far more politically acceptable than the prejudices of the past, Saletan writes.

Nine! Nine! Nine! Why Republicans are having such a hard time dismissing Herman Cain’s goofy tax plan,” by David Weigel. Herman Cain’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination have been quick to attack his 9-9-9 tax plan, which calls for replacing the current tax code with a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent business tax and a 9 percent sales tax. But they should have seen the popularity of a simple plan like this one from a mile away, Weigel writes. Cain is simply the latest in a long line of presidential candidates who have attempted to reform the nation’s tax code with a dangerously simple formula.

Use the Force, Daddy! A guide to the Clone Wars for parents of inquisitive children,” by Michael Agger. Did you come of age during the 1980s and fall in love with the Star Wars trilogy? Do you now have kids who have been born since George Lucas released the three prequels and a cartoon series dealing with the Clone Wars? Is your 6-year-old asking you questions about said new films that you just can’t answer? Agger understands that the generation gap can make Star Wars discussions difficult for families. As an antidote to all the confusion, Agger offers this helpful guide to parents who need answers to every question their kids might ask about Star Wars.

The Solo Cup: How the disposable drinking vessel became an American party staple,” by Seth Stevenson. Ever since it hit the American marketplace in the 1970s, the red drinking cup manufactured by Solo has been a staple of the college kegger. But the company recently redesigned the cup’s most distinguishing characteristics: It ditched the round bottom for a square one and slapped on side grips for sticky Budweiser fingers.  Stevenson concludes that the changes make the cups slightly less appealing. But, he reassures readers, the newly designed cups work just as well for drinking games.

Monster Truck Mamas: Who knew that crushing junk cars is an excellent part-time job for working mothers?” by Margaret Eby. Forget the PTA. Cool working moms drive monster trucks in their spare time, Eby writes. In this piece, Eby heads out to the racetrack and hears firsthand from the female pioneers of a sport that has long been known for its hyper-masculine culture and mostly male drivers. One of the few obstacles for mothers, Eby learns, is that it’s tough transitioning back to the carpool lane after driving over junked minivans all day.

Go Ahead, a Little TV Won’t Hurt Him: Why doctors’ prohibitions on screen time for toddlers don’t make sense,” by Farhad Manjoo. If you’re a parent who feels guilty letting the TV baby-sit  every now and then, you should go easy on yourself—especially if your kid is watching educational programs, Manjoo writes. Although some research indicates that excessive tube watching is harmful to children’s attention spans, the science is hazy on whether a moderate amount of television for kids is also a bad idea.  

Are Americans Secretly Homesick? According to a new history, we were never a nation of rugged individualists. We were—and still are—nostalgic homebodies,” by Libby Copeland. Americans are famous for their rootlessness. Our national heroes are revered for bravely setting out into uncharted territory. But as Copeland notes in her review of Susan J. Matt’s new book, Homesickness: An American History, the tradition of homesickness on the frontier was just as potent as the pioneering spirit.  In one story in Matt’s book, two sisters venture off to a nearby farm, only to discover they miss the familiarity of home. They eventually head back and are relieved to find that nothing on the homestead has changed: “the scent of flowers and the sound of ice tinkling in the milk-pitcher, the raspberries and sponge cake on the tea table, their mother dressed in white.”

Go Slow To Go Fast: Why highways move more swiftly when you force cars to crawl along at 55 mph,” by Tom Vanderbilt. You’ve been there before. You’re on the highway in the fast lane and in a hurry. But there’s a slowpoke in front of you who’s interfering with your urge to press on the gas pedal. You might want to keep your frustration in check, Vanderbilt writes, because several new experiments in Colorado suggest that when all the cars on the highway go more slowly, everyone gets to where they want go faster. Does this sound impossible? Read Vanderbilt’s article and find out why it might not be.

Water, Water Everywhere: What’s the best-tasting kind of water?” by Julia Felsenthal. These days, shopping for bottled water is like shopping for a pair of designer jeans. You’re inundated with choices, and it can be tough to know which brand to settle on. Felsenthal decided to solve this problem by organizing a bottled water taste test, which she carried out with the help of Slate staffers. The results are in and the reviews are telling. One well-known luxury water found itself on the less favorable end of the spectrum: A staffer compared the taste to the liquid that’s “wrung out from sweaty socks.” Ouch.