2010 - %3, August

Heavy Artillery and the Wisdom of Strangers

| Mon Aug. 2, 2010 8:10 AM EDT

Ferriday, Louisiana—Ever since we jettisoned our trebuchet somewhere outside Murfreesboro, we've been traveling a little light in the way of high-powered weaponry. If pressed, our first line of defense would probably be a bag of fried pig skins (impulse buy), but even at their most potent, those would take a few decades to kill you. We're toast, basically—as strangers we've met have been quick to point. Here's some sage advice we received—entirely unsolicited—from the two employees of a one-room diner in Natchez, the first a thirtysomething male named (I think) Marsaw, and the second a woman a few decades his senior.

"You're going through Texas!," says Marsaw. "What kinda gun you got?"

"Just our fists."

"You mean you're not carrying a gun?" Marsaw's incredulous.

"We like to think we're pretty intimidating people."

The woman laughs, which I'll just assume is her defense mechanism. We get that a lot.

"My dad always said, 'Always have a flashlight and a gun wherever you go,'" says Marsaw. "'That way if you need to stop and fight you won't get shot in the back.' You can pull out the .22. Protect yourself."

The flashlight seems kind of superfluous in that scenario, but okay.

The woman jumps in: "Well you can just use the tire iron [she makes a violent thwacking gesture]. You know, it's legal to put the tire iron in the glove compartment in Mississippi, from the trunk. You can just do that."

"Well they should get the .22, too."

"Yeah, but if they don't have a .22 they gotta use the tire iron."

"Yeah, .22 and a tire iron."

Done and done. Of course, if you buy a .22, you'll probably want a concealed-carry permit to go with it. Utah, anyone?

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Chamber of Commerce Goes After Climate Dissenters In Its Ranks

| Mon Aug. 2, 2010 6:30 AM EDT

A new split over climate policy is brewing within the ranks of the US Chamber of Commerce as a breakaway group of local chambers is getting ready to publicly split with the business lobby's hardline stance against climate legislation. The new climate coalition, known as the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE), will press Congress to take stronger action on climate and energy issues. It has already signed up about a dozen chambers and will officially launch later this year.

The US Chamber is already working behind the scenes to discredit the new group. After it caught wind of the effort last month, it fired off a letter to local chamber leaders, discouraging them from joining CICE, which it claimed was "established by the Natural Resources Defense Council." The letter, written by US Chamber board member Winthrop Hallett, the president of Alabama's Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, states that the new group's "indirect purpose appears to be undermining the U.S. Chamber's and the business community's leadership on" climate issues. 

The claim that CICE is little more than a front group for the NRDC is "outrageous" and "really just pissed me off," says Steve Falk, the president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which has been organizing the independent climate coalition. Hallett's letter, which has not been posted publicly but which Mother Jones has seen, does not explain the alleged connection between CICE and the NRDC. Hallett and a spokesman for the US Chamber did not respond to requests for comment.

Gangstagrass, and Other Hip Hop Hybrids

| Mon Aug. 2, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

You've heard songs from hip hop artists who sample other musical genres: From the unfortunate evolution of rap metal (think Papa Roach) to Danger Mouse's controversial and crafty mashup of Jay-Z and The Beatles, the practice of intertwining multiple musical roots is widespread in hip hop. You may have also heard bands who reappropriate rap tracks and perform them in their own genres, like The Gourds' popular country version of Snoop Dog's "Gin and Juice." Then there's the surprising collage of hip hop and bluegrass music: Gangstagrass, an experiment that proves, at least to me, that hillbillies and emcees can get along swimmingly.

Is Coconut Water Really Better Than Sports Drinks?

| Mon Aug. 2, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

As a runner, I always considered sports drinks a necessary evil: While I never loved the taste, I held my nose and downed my Gatorade for the sake of proper hydration. But last year, a friend handed me a little box of coconut water, which, she told me, had just as many electrolytes as Gatorade. I took a sip, loved the mild taste, and found myself regularly shelling out as much as $3 for 11 oz. of the stuff. That is, until it disappeared from my local supermarket earlier this summer.

Turns out I'm not the only one with a new coconut water addiction. Although the beverage has been popular for centuries in countries where coconuts grow, it has only recently been marketed in the US. Vita Coco, currently the country's biggest coconut water company, was founded in 2004, and according to spokesperson Arthur Gallego, sales skyrocketed from $4 million in 2007 to $20 million in 2009. The past 6 months have been Vita Coco's busiest yet. "Typically Vita Coco would keep 45 days of inventory, but that has all been blown through," says Gallego. "People used to buy by the unit, now they are buying in bulk by the box." 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 2, 2010

Mon Aug. 2, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

 

A group of Army Reserve Best Warrior Candidates participate in the 10km road march at the 2010 Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition at Fort McCoy, Wis., on July 28, 2010. Photo via the US Army.

Our Upcoming Disaster

| Sun Aug. 1, 2010 11:38 PM EDT

Shorter Paul Krugman: Within a couple of years we'll have combined the worst aspects of America and the worst aspects of Europe into a single monumental disaster. USA! USA!

I have an epically gloomy post on this general subject all queued up in my brain and ready to go. It will never see the light of day, but it's there. For a few bits and pieces of what it's about, however, check out Ed Luce in the Financial Times this weekend. He puts together several of the pieces.

The only good news I can think of is that if the French could revolt in 1789, maybe we can too — minus the guillotines and invasions of Russia, I hope. Maybe.

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When the End Comes

| Sun Aug. 1, 2010 3:26 PM EDT

In the New Yorker this week, Atul Gawande writes about how badly we manage end-of-life medical treatment. Toward the end of his piece he mentions a study Aetna did with hospice care. In one study, Aetna allowed people to sign up for home hospice services without giving up any of their other treatments. Result: lots of people signed up for hospice care and ended up consuming less traditional care. In the second study, more traditional rules applied: if you signed up for home hospice care you had to give up on traditional curative treatments. Result: pretty much the same.

What was going on here? The program’s leaders had the impression that they had simply given patients someone experienced and knowledgeable to talk to about their daily needs. And somehow that was enough — just talking.

The explanation strains credibility, but evidence for it has grown in recent years.

I guess maybe I'm just weird, but this explanation doesn't seem to strain credibility in the least. It's exactly what I'd expect. Obviously there are lots of different people in the world and they have lots of different dispositions, but I'd guess that there's a huge chunk of them who are basically just scared when the end comes and mostly want to understand what's happening. Having someone take the time to explain — to really explain, so that they really understand — probably goes a hell of a long way toward making them feel better. And once they understand that what they're feeling is, under the circumstances, fairly normal, a trip to the ICU doesn't really look so inviting anymore. What's so hard to believe about that?

MoJo Writer Imprisoned in Iran: 365 Days is Too Long

| Sun Aug. 1, 2010 3:04 AM EDT

As we enjoy a summer weekend with friends and family, it bears remembering that, for the families and friends of Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, this weekend marks a milestone of misery: As of Saturday, it had been exactly one year since the three were arrested while hiking in the scenic border region between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran. Theories differ on exactly how the arrest took place: the three may have accidentally crossed the border, or they may have been snatched while inside Iraq. (Their traveling companion, Shon Meckfessel, who stayed behind that day because he had a cold, sent us a wrenching account of the last call he got from his friends.) 

This much is for sure: They were not spies for the United States, as Iran has alleged (so far without pursuing the charge in its own courts). Bauer is a talented, muckraking journalist whose most recent story for Mother Jones looked at how the US government was using construction and other contracts to pay off corrupt ex-warlords in Iraq. (He also worked with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and New America Media.) Shourd--who became engaged to Bauer while in prison in Iran--was teaching English to Iraqi kids in Damascus, where she lived with Bauer prior to their arrest. Fattal had worked at a sustainability center in Oregon and taught overseas. All of them have been held in near-isolation (Shourd is being held by herself, while the two men share a cell), without access to the Iranian lawyer their family has hired to them or the rest of the outside world. Their only contact with their families came in May, when the mothers were allowed to visit; both Shourd and Bauer have reportedly struggled with illness while in prison.

It's no surprise that the three are being used as pawns by the Iranian government—that's a trick just about every country has used. But a year is enough, especially for three people who have committed no offense except being insufficiently paranoid in exploring a tourist region world-renowned for its beauty. Nothing good can come from their languishing behind bars, whereas once released, they would likely go back to their work for truth and human rights. We hope that day comes soon.

There are vigils and protests throughout this weekend seeking the hikers' release; you can follow the Free the Hikers campaign on Twitter and Facebook. Even President Obama has weighed in. Read his statement after the jump.