2012 - %3, March

New Bill Aims to Repeal Louisiana's Anti-Evolution Law

| Sat Mar. 10, 2012 7:01 AM EST

Karen Carter Peterson, a state senator in Louisiana, wants to make sure evolution is taught in science classes. Last week, Peterson introduced a bill that would repeal a four-year-old state law that encourages teachers to critique science such as evolution and global warming. The repeal effort, the second one in the state in the last year, represents the latest in a broader pushback against anti-evolution laws passed since 2008.

Louisiana's Science Education Act, passed in 2008, was the first of its kind to be approved in a state legislature. It claims to promote "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." Attempts to pass similar legislation, which are often called "Academic Freedom" bills, have failed in a number of other states including Iowa, Florida, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire. My colleagues James West and Tim McDonnell have reported on parents' and teachers' efforts to push back against climate-change deniers in the classroom in Vermont, Washington, and Connecticut.

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Is Your Fierce Wardrobe Starving People?

| Sat Mar. 10, 2012 7:00 AM EST

On the Guardian Sustainable Business blog, Pamela Ravasio caused a stir with a post called "Does fashion fuel food shortages?" 

Ravasio points out, correctly, that cotton production, like the growing of crops for biofuel, diverts farmland to non-food uses at a time of high global food prices. To make her case, she came up with a statement I've seen quoted on several blogs: "the plantations of the three largest cotton growers—the US, China and India—alone account for 50 million acres, 42% of all agricultural land."

The wording is a little vague, but Ravasio seems to be saying that 42 percent of all global agricultural land is devoted to cotton; or maybe her number relates to farmland in the US China, and India. In either case, it would would be shocking if that proportion of land were essentially growing clothes instead of food. But either way, the 42 percent number is wildly inflated.

Chart of the Day: Half of All Outside Campaign Spending is From Undisclosed Donors

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 9:45 PM EST

Via Rick Hasen, here's a year-old chart from the Center for Responsive Politics showing the rise in campaign spending by undisclosed donors over the past six years. In 2006, less than 10% of spending by outside groups came from undisclosed donors (blue line + part of red line). By 2010 it was up to 47%. This year it's almost certainly even higher. Full set of slides here.

Mitt Romney's Spotify Playlist is Actually Kind of Great

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 7:14 PM EST

On Friday, in an attempt to demonstrate once more that he's a totally normal humanoid with wide-ranging cultural interests, Mitt Romney published a playlist of his favorite music from the campaign trail. The mix, which you can find on his Facebook page and the music app Spotify, includes a mix of country, oldies, top-40, and whatever you'd call Kid Rock.

It also includes "The M.T.A.," a song by the Kingston Trio that has likely never appeared within a 40-track radius of Kid Rock. It goes a little something like this:

This was one of my favorite songs growing up, with the unintended consequence being that I developed an acute and highly irrational fear of subway turnstiles (something I'm sure Romney and I have in common). The thought of Romney blasting the Kingston Trio's rendition of "M.T.A." on his campaign bus, feet tapping, head bopping, over and over and over again, actually makes him seem kind of—what's the word here—human.

I'd just add that "M.T.A." (otherwise known as "Charlie on the M.T.A.") is a song about a Boston man who embarks on what is supposed to be a smooth and uneventful ride, gets in over his head, becomes trapped, and is forced to have his wife try to bail him out. She fails and he's then doomed to spend the rest of his life trapped in an endless loop, eating sandwiches. So there's that.

Update: Here's the full mix.

I am a Man of Constant Sorrow — The Soggy Bottom Boys

Read My Mind — The Killers

December, 1963 (Oh What a Night) — Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

Ring of Fire — Johnny Cash

Somebody Told Me — The Killers [Ed note: Mitt is apparently friends with singer Brandon Flowers. Right?]

The MTA (The Boston Subway Song) — The Kingston Trio

Good Vibrations — The Beach Boys

Desperado (Live) — Clint Black

Crying — Roy Orbison

Only You (Long Version) — Commodores

Runaway — Del Shannon

It's Your Love — Tim McGraw

As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith

Born Free — Kid Rock

Over The Rainbow — Willie Nelson

Stardust — Nat King Cole

In Dreams — Roy Orbison

Somebody Like You — Keith Urban

All-American Girl — Kerry Underwood

Utah Follows Iowa in Factory Farm Video Ban

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 6:20 PM EST

For me, Utah conjures up visions of Mormons and dramatic canyons, not factory-scale facilities stuffed with pigs and hens. Yet the state's western half contains four counties with "extreme" concentration of such facilities, and three more that rank as "severe," according to Food and Water Watch. One of those counties, Beaver, is home to Circle Four Farms, a subsidiary of hog giant Smithfield Foods. Circle Four churns out a million pigs per year in just 40 buildings.

Perhaps emboldened by their peers in Iowa, Utah's state legislators have passed a law that would help shield such farms from scrutiny. Like the recently passed Iowa law, the Utah bill would prohibit people from getting jobs at farm facilities under false pretenses—an attempt to stop animal welfare groups from documenting conditions there.

The Iowa and Utah bills represent a new wave of attempts to protect the meat industry from the scrutiny of watchdog groups. The first wave of bills, which floated around state houses throughout farm country last year, sought to criminalize sneaking cameras into factory farms. Those bills failed because of concerns about constitutionality, Amanda Hitt, executive director of the Government Accountability Project's Food Integrity Campaign, told me.

Arizona and Kansas Pursue Laws Letting Docs Hide Information from Women

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 6:08 PM EST

Arizona advanced a bill this week that would make it legal for doctors to withhold information from pregnant women about birth defects and other health conditions that might cause them to choose an abortion. The bill barring "wrongful birth, life, or conception" claims passed in the state senate earlier this week and now advances to the house.

The legislation indemnifies medical professionals from being sued for failing to disclose information about fetal abnormalities that might lead a woman to terminate her pregnancy. Thus, a woman living in the state would no longer be able file suit against her doctor if she gives birth to a child with serious impairments.

From the Claims Journal:

Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy, which proposed the bill to Arizona legislators, said she opposes the lawsuits because they give the impression that "the life of a disabled child is worth less than the life of a healthy child."
"Public policy should reflect in Arizona that no child's life is a wrongful life," Herrod said.

It would also prevent suits stemming from a failed vasectomy or tubal ligation (often referred to as "getting your tubes tied").

The Kansas legislature is also considering a bill that would ban malpractice suits against doctors who withhold information from women in order to prevent abortions. That 68-page bill includes a number of other abortion restrictions, including barring medical residents of the University of Kansas Medical Center from providing abortions and requiring women to listen to the fetal heartbeat before undergoing the procedure..

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What Your Shampoo Bottle Isn't Telling You

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 6:04 PM EST

I'm not the most discerning shopper when it comes to buying cosmetics or household products. (Why are parabens bad for you, again?) So if I saw the chemical diethanolamine listed on the back of a shampoo bottle, or decamethylcyclopentasiloxane on a surface cleaner, it probably wouldn't stop me from buying it. But chances are I'd never see those those names, anyway.

The main reason for this, a new study in yesterday's Environmental Health Perspectives points out, is that the state of product labeling in the US is pretty poor. How poor? The study's researchers—who analyzed samples from 213 different consumer products ranging from cat litter to shaving cream, sunscreen, dishwater detergent, mascara, and vinegar—detected some 55 toxic chemicals. Many of these, they report, weren't listed on the labels of products tested.

"The study shows that we are exposed to a complex mixture of toxic chemicals simply by going through our normal routines," Andy Igrejas, who heads the group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said in a press release.

Labels are important, the study's authors write, because they help scientists determine whether (and to what degree) consumer products are responsible for toxic chemicals entering our bodies. We already know about some chemicals detected in the study (which was led by the Silent Spring Institute and partly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): Fragrances, BPA, phthalates, among others, are associated with a variety of health risks, most commonly asthma and endocrine disruption.

Improved research, in turn, would help consumers like me a ton. For example: With better labeling and due diligence on my part, I might have known that using a shampoo containing diethanolamine might irritate the nose, throat, and skin. Some animal studies have linked the chemical with increased blood pressure and impaired vision. I might also have known that decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (a.k.a. D5) is a compound widely used in cleaning, personal care, and baby products that's also pretty toxic; studies have shown D5 to be potentially carcinogenic, and can harm the nervous system, fat tissue, liver, and immune system (PDF)—all things that would sway me to opt for a cleaner free of these chemicals.

But the solution isn't just about better labeling, Igrejas says. "We need the federal government to sort through the chemicals on the market and ensure they are restricted where necessary."

Until then, it'll be up to consumers to decide what products are best avoided. As a start, we've already written about what to watch out for in sunscreen and household cleaners, researched the scary world of BPA, and sought the truth behind eco-labels.

LSD Trumps Booze

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 5:35 PM EST

 

The psychedelic effects of LSD beat back the physiological effects of alcoholism, according to a new paper in the  Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The study—a meta-analysis of prior research from the groovy 1960s and 1970s—found that 59 percent of 536 participants in six trials who received LSD reported lower levels of alcohol misuse for the next three to six months, compared to 38 percent who received placebos. One dose did the trick.

This reminds me of other fascinating research from this era that showed LSD removed the fear and dread of death from terminally ill patients.

 fractal glass cycling (essence of Acid) from teamfresh on Vimeo.

I wonder what the effects might be from observing the infinitely deep math porn of a Mandelbrot set. Maybe aided by a little medical-grade weed. Check it out. 

Friday Cat Blogging - 9 March 2012

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 3:56 PM EST

On the left, Inkblot is looking soulfully into the depths of an empty wine glass. The effect is, perhaps, spoiled slightly by the fact that he's perched on top of a nice, warm pizza box, but that just shows that he's a cat of the people. Do you think Mitt Romney ever curls up with a pizza? On the right, in a picture taken earlier this morning, Domino gazes confidently into the future, secure in the knowledge that the carpet cleaning people will be finished soon. Behind her, Inkblot is holding onto Marian for dear life because he's afraid the carpet cleaners will be here forever and he'll never be able to go back into the house again. This is, unfortunately, not very presidential behavior, but no candidate is perfect.

House Considers Bill Federalizing Parental Consent Laws for Abortion

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 3:34 PM EST

The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives is considering legislation that would enact stringent new limitations on minors who seek an abortion outside of their home state. The "Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act" effectively federalizes state laws aimed at preventing women under the age of 18 from obtaining an abortion, and would impose harsh penalties on doctors or anyone else who assists the minor without first informering her parent or guardian.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced the bill in June 2011. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the measure on Thursday, a signal that it may advance in the near future. The bill requires a minor's parent or guardian to be notified in writing and a 24-hour waiting period after that notification before the young woman can obtain the abortion.

Doctors or anyone who assists the minor without first informing her parents may be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to a year for violating this law. Thirty-seven states currently require parental involvement of some type, if a minor seeks an abortion, the law is meant to prevent anyone from traveling to another state to avoid those laws. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) introduced the Senate version of the bill last June as well, declaring that it was an effort to ensure state parental laws are not "undermined and circumvented."

While the sponsors insist that the law would not apply in cases of "medical emergency, abuse or neglect," it would put the burden on the young woman to prove that she is, in fact, a victim of one of those circumstances. The Center for Reproductive Rights contends that the law would subject the young women, their doctors, and anyone who might help them to a "confusing maze of overlapping and conflicting state and federal laws—making it more difficult and more dangerous for young women to obtain abortions."

The bill, CRR maintains, "fails to consider the reasons why a teen would turn to another adult like her grandmother or aunt for support, and could force young women to instead rely on an abusive caretaker, choose to travel alone or turn to unsafe alternatives to terminating her pregnancy."