Blogs

Almost All the Books People Say Influenced Them Were Written for Children

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 3:40 PM EDT

Recently, a status update ran around Facebook asking people to "List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes, and don't think too hard. They do not have to be the 'right' books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way." Facebook's data scientists went though 130,000 responses and came up with a list of the 100 most common entries.

It should be noted that though the books may not have had to be the "right books" or "great works of literature," human nature being what it is, most of the titles on the list are, in fact, the 'right books,' by which i mean, books you can proudly define yourself as a reader of. ("I am the type of person who was affected by To Kill A Mocking Bird." "I am the type of person whose political opinions were formed by 1984.")  No one is listing Fifty Shades of Gray. They are listing books that they think say something complimentary about who they are as a person.

Almost all of these books are YA. They may not be in the YA section at Barnes & Noble, but children and adolescents are their primary audience. On the one hand, duh: People are most open to being affected by books when they're young. Also, duh duh: Most people probably stop reading much fiction when they leave high school and are no longer required to. On the other hand, one of the books that probably affected me when I was growing up was the forgettable crime novel Silent Witness by Richard North Patterson. I read it when I was about 10 because my father was reading it and I wanted him to like me and for us to have something to talk about. That's not to say you too were influenced by Silent Witness, but that, I think, that phenomenon—reading books aspirationally for social reasons—is pretty common and I'm surprised there aren't more straightforward adult titles on this list.

One other fun fact: There are no Ayn Rand books on this list.

Without further ado, here are the top 20 along with what percent of responses included the title:
1. Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling - 21.08%
2. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - 14.48%
3. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - 13.86%
4. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - 7.48%
5. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - 7.28%
6. The Holy Bible - 7.21%
7. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 5.97%
8. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins - 5.82%
9. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - 5.70%
10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - 5.61%
11. 1984 by George Orwell - 5.37%
12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - 5.26%
13. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - 5.23%
14. The Stand by Stephen King - 5.11%
15. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - 4.95%
16. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - 4.38%
17. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - 4.27%
18. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis - 4.05%
19. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - 4.01%
20. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - 3.95%

Head on over to Facebook for the full 100 titles and some neat data visualizations.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Climate Change News Just Keeps Getting Worse and Worse

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 3:08 PM EDT

The World Meteorological Organization announced today that global levels of carbon dioxide reached their highest point ever in 2013. No surprise there. They also announced that the growth rate of CO2 reached its highest point ever. Brad Plumer provides the details:

There are two possible reasons why the amount of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is growing so rapidly. One is obvious: Humans  continue to emit more and more carbon-dioxide from power plants, cars, and factories each year.

But the other reason is a bit more surprising: According to the WMO, early data suggests that the world's oceans and forests are now absorbing less of our extra carbon-dioxide than they used to — which means that more of it ends up in the atmosphere, where it traps heat and warms up the planet.

The amount of CO2 absorbed by the oceans is cyclical in the medium term, which probably helps explain why global temperatures periodically stabilize for a decade or so before resuming their usual upward march. But there's also a long-term trend. Oceans can't absorb CO2 indefinitely, and eventually they'll reach their limit. As that happens, more and more CO2 will be trapped in the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. And unless we do something to rein in CO2 emissions, this will happen at the same time that humans are pumping ever more CO2 into the sky. More here.

Quote of the Day: Why Republicans Don't Want to Vote on Airstrikes in Iraq

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 12:48 PM EDT

From Republican congressman Jack Kingston, explaining why no one wants to hold a vote to approve military action in Iraq:

A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later.’ It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.

I guess that's refreshingly honest. Or something.

Should Liberals Support OTC Access to Oral Contraceptives?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 12:35 PM EDT

There's been a mini-boomlet lately in Republican candidates supporting over-the-counter access to birth control pills. This is great! There's very little medical reason to require a prescription for oral contraceptives, and OTC pills are far more likely to be used regularly than prescription pills. It's nice to see Republicans on the side of good science. But Rebecca Leber warns that not all is as it seems:

There’s a catch. Doctors aren’t the only hurdle between women and contraceptive access. For low-income women, cost can be what’s most prohibitive. Under the Affordable Care Act, the pill and other forms of contraception count as preventative care, which means insurance covers them completely—without any out-of-pocket expenses. This is not a position the Republicans have endorsed. On the contrary, none of the candidates have changed their position on the law more broadly, including their opposition to the mandate covering preventative care like birth control, writes Paul Waldman at the Washington Post. They still want to transfer the costs for other forms of contraceptives, like IUDs and the morning-after-pill, to women directly.

This is all true. But Republican opposition to Obamacare isn't going to change no matter what, so that hardly matters. What matters is whether Obamacare covers the cost of contraceptives, and that's what's causing liberal angst over a cause that we've all supported in the past. We're afraid that if oral contraceptives become available OTC, Obamacare will no longer pay for them.

But is it necessarily true that Obamacare wouldn't cover the cost of OTC contraceptives? After all, this isn't an issue that will be resolved by Congress, so there's no chance of some terrible bill passing that trades OTC contraceptive availability for an end to the Obamacare mandate. The FDA makes the call about whether contraceptives can be sold OTC, and HHS regulations specify which contraceptives are covered by Obamacare. Those regs currently cover "FDA-approved" contraceptive methods, and if the FDA approves OTC contraceptives then HHS will have to modify its regs to make it clear whether those are covered too. There's no reason they couldn't choose to mandate coverage of OTC pills that are FDA-approved. Alternatively, they could simply require insurers to continue paying for prescriptions for OTC oral contraceptives, as they do currently for OTC products like spermicides and sponges that are prescribed by a doctor. This would be a good deal for insurance companies since OTC contraceptives would almost certainly be cheaper than prescription versions of the same pills.

So let's join the Republican cause on OTC oral contraceptives. It's good science and good policy. And let's continue to oppose any efforts in Congress to weaken the contraceptive mandate. That's also good policy.

Or am I missing something here?

Is It Time For Yet Another War?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 10:33 AM EDT

Dave Weigel sums up the recent American reaction to ISIS:

On August 18, the airstrikes helped Iraqi forces take back the Mosul dam from ISIS. The next day, ISIS released a video of captured journalist James Foley being beheaded by one of their men.

The video, surely meant to sow fear and breed over-reaction, succeeded magnificently. The panic showing up in polls, in which the number of Americans favoring airstrikes in Iraq and Syria has surged, has been matched by a return of panic-first politics....The long Democratic dream, from Kerry to Obama, of reducing terrorism from an existential threat to a managable nuisance, is just not an election-winner.

This is, sadly, not surprising at all. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that Americans are weary of war, and the conventional wisdom is largely correct. At the same time, it's always been obvious that Americans remain easily susceptible to the same kind of bloody-shirt waving that got us into the Iraq war in the first place. The only thing that's saved us is the fact that President Obama isn't a bloody-shirt waver. Even when he's initiated military action, his public persona has been quiet and reluctant.

But now we're seeing just how easy it is to whip Americans into a war frenzy yet again. Even with Obama striking his usual no-drama pose, the public is becoming increasingly belligerent. All it took was a carefully stagecrafted beheading video and the usual gang of conservative jingoists to exploit it. For now, the lack of presidential blood lust is holding back the tide—barely—but that's a thin reed. If Obama wanted to go to war, it would be the work of a moment to whip up a war frenzy in a solid majority of the country.

And just think about how tempting it must be. A full-blown military assault on a loathsome enemy like ISIS would almost certainly be a big campaign winner for Democrats this fall.

War weary? Sure, as long as the president keeps a low profile. But if he decides to change his mind, the American public will back him up. After all, Americans have historically gotten a little restless if they don't have a new war every four or five years, and it's been about that long since we pulled out of Iraq. Maybe we're due.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 9, 2014

Tue Sep. 9, 2014 9:52 AM EDT

A US Navy sailor plots the ship's movement on a position chart in Japan. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Raul Moreno Jr.)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Video: What We Saw Before Being Kicked Out of the SWAT Convention

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

This weekend, my colleague Prashanth Kamalakanthan and I attended Urban Shield, a first-responder convention sponsored by more than 100 corporations and the Department of Homeland Security. The five-day confab included a trade show where vendors display everything from armored trucks to sniper rifles to 3-D printable drones. (We documented a few of the more remarkable offerings here.) It also involved the largest SWAT training exercise in the world. Some 35 SWAT teams competed in a 48-hour exercise involving 31 scenarios that included ambushing vehicles, indoor shootouts, maritime interdiction, train assaults, and a mock eviction of a right-wing Sovereign Citizens group. The teams came from cities across the San Francisco Bay Area, Singapore, and South Korea and included a University of California SWAT team, a team of US Marines, and a SWAT team of prison guards.

But on Sunday, at a competition site near the Bay Bridge, our coverage was cut short. A police officer confiscated our press badges, politely explaining that his captain had called and given him the order. The captain, he said, told him we had been filming in an unauthorized location, though he could not tell us where that location was. (We'd been advised earlier that it was okay to film so long as we did not go on the bridge itself.) After several phone calls from both me and my editors, no one could tell us exactly what we had done wrong, but Sergeant J.D. Nelson, the public information officer for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department (which hosts the Department of Homeland Security-funded event) made it clear that we could not have our passes back.

We'll have a more in-depth report, and a lot more images and videos, in a few days.

3 Ways the Baltimore Ravens Completely Screwed Up the Ray Rice Mess

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 4:17 PM EDT

This afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens released running back Ray Rice in response to a video released by TMZ showing Rice knocking his then-fiancée (and current wife) Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator in February. Rice has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the NFL suspended him for two games—earlier today, it suspended him indefinitely—but some had given the star running back the benefit of the doubt after he claimed he was simply defending himself. (Indeed, both Rice and Palmer were charged with assault following the incident.)

This new footage, though, clearly shows that wasn't the case, and as outrage mounted today, the Ravens had little choice but to take decisive action against Rice. But we should hardly be praising the team. If anything, the Ravens have been defending Rice and victim-blaming from the very beginning. For example:

1. In May, the Ravens decided it'd be a good idea to sit Rice and Palmer in front of the media and have them publicly address the Atlantic City incident. The result was a complete PR disaster. Rice began by apologizing not to Palmer, but to senior Ravens management and coach John Harbaugh. Rice also chose his words poorly, defining failure as "not getting knocked down, but not getting back up."

2. Even more tone-deaf than the press conference itself was how the Ravens presented it. The team had a staffer live-tweeting the spectacle, and the team's official account sent out this unbelievable tweet, straight out of Victim-Blaming 101:

 

The tweet was deleted today.

3. After Rice's two-game suspension was handed down in late July, people were outraged that occasional pot smokers got harsher punishments from the NFL. The Ravens PR machine thought it was the perfect time to start rehabilitating Rice's image, releasing a glowing dispatch from his first major public appearance after the punishment. The article, posted on the team's website, says Rice got a "standing ovation" from fans who "showed him a lot of love," even though he had been under "national scrutiny." After noting that he showed his "usual fun-loving side," the piece observed with remarkable subtlety that "Rice jerseys sprinkled the crowd, worn by both males and females."

The NFL has earned much-deserved flak for toughening its domestic-violence penalties only when the national criticism ramped up. Today's move by the Ravens should be seen in a similar light: Cutting Rice was the right decision, but it's clear the organization has never taken his offenses all that seriously. It took an even-worse leaked video to make the Ravens finally act.

Every Single Thing You Need to Know About Gerrymandering and Republicans

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 4:01 PM EDT

For some reason—boredom? coincidence? hot weather peevishness?—a bunch of bloggers today have been arguing about whether Republican control of the House is due to gerrymandering. I don't get this. Gerrymandering is what it is. The best studies I've seen suggest that it accounts for 6-8 additional Republican seats. The rest of the Republican advantage is due to the incumbency effect; self-sorting; natural Democratic clumping in urban areas; and a few other minor things.

So: Is gerrymandering responsible for Republican control of the House? No. Is it partially responsible? Yes. What's so hard about this?

A Brief Note on Texas Hospitality

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 1:44 PM EDT

Jay Nordlinger had an unusual experience with a taxi wrangler at the Dallas airport yesterday:

The man put my suitcase in a taxi’s trunk. I handed him a tip. He said, “No, no, we’re not allowed to take that.”

I have been a fair number of places over the years — and I bet I could count refusals of a tip on one hand....There is something I tell people who think they don’t like Texas: Just go there. That’ll cure you. Texas is distinctively hospitable, and the food, girls, etc., cannot be surpassed (though they can be matched).

For what it's worth, "hospitable" is not the same thing as "airport authorities don't allow employees to accept tips." The former is a trait of people who are just being nice. The latter is something that CEOs force on their low-paid employees. There's a difference.