2013...mewhat-popular - %2

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 19, 2013

Thu Dec. 19, 2013 10:58 AM EST

A handmade Christmas tree welcomes Marines with 1st Marine Division to the Division (Forward) headquarters field mess aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms during Exercise Steel Knight 14 Dec. 14, 2013. The field mess served two hot meals each day during Steel Knight, which enabled 1st Marine Division to test and refine its command and control capabilities by acting as the headquarters element for a forward-deployed Marine Expeditionary Force.

(U. S. Marine Corps photo by CWO3 Benn Barr/Released)

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Study: Pretrial Detention Creates More Crime

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 10:31 AM EST

Detaining certain defendants before trial makes them more likely to commit a new crime, according to a recent report.

Many pretrial detainees are low-risk, meaning that if they are released before trial, they are highly unlikely to commit other crimes and very likely to return to court. When these defendants are held for two to three days before trial, as opposed to just 24 hours, they are nearly 40 percent more likely to commit new crimes before their trial, and 17 percent more likely to commit another crime within two years, according to a report released last month by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a private foundation that funds criminal justice research.

"The primary goal of the American criminal justice system is to protect the public," the authors of the report say. "But…the pretrial phase of the system is actually helping to create new repeat offenders."

The report—based on studies of both state and federal courts—also found that the longer low-risk detainees are held behind bars before trial, the more likely they are to commit another crime. Low-risk defendants who were detained for 31 days or more before they had their day in court offended 74 percent more frequently before trial than those detained for just one day. The study found similar results for moderate-risk defendants, though for these offenders, the rate of increase in new criminal activity is smaller. When it comes to high-risk offenders, the report found no correlation between pre-trial detention time and recidivism.

The report noted that recidivism could be curbed if judges made an effort to distinguish between low-, moderate-, and high-risk offenders. "Judges, of course, do their best to sort violent, high-risk defendants from nonviolent, low-risk ones," the report says, "but they have almost no reliable, data-driven risk assessment tools at their disposal to help them make these decisions." Fewer than ten percent of US jurisdictions do any sort of risk-assessment during the pretrial stage.

Not only does unnecessary pretrial detention create repeat offenders, it costs taxpayers a lot of money. Pretrial detainees represent more than 60 percent of the total inmate population in the country's jails. The cost of incarcerating defendants pretrial is about $9 billion.

Science Says: Cocktails Could Protect You From Getting Sick

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 7:00 AM EST
Science!

With the onslaught of holiday parties upon us, a bad case of the sniffles could threaten your merrymaking. Luckily science has swooped in with the jolliest solution of all: You can boost your immune system, a new study claims, by drinking that spiked eggnog.

The moderate drinkers demonstrated an enhanced immune response—better even than the teetotaling control group.

A team of researchers from Oregon Health & Science University trained 12 rhesus macaques—chosen for the similarity between their immune system and ours—to drink a 4 percent ethanol cocktail. They vaccinated the monkeys against small pox and divided them into two groups: one that had access to the cocktails and one to sugar water. (Both groups were also given food and regular water.)

Over the course of the 14-month study, the researchers found that the monkeys in the booze cage drank varying amounts—some got stewed all day, clocking blood ethanol concentrations higher than 0.08, while others kept their intake moderate, between 0.02 and 0.04. "Like humans," lead author Ilhem Messaoudi said, "rhesus macaques showed highly variable drinking behavior."

After drinking for seven months, the macaques received another booster shot, and their reactions were remarkably different. The immune systems of the bad monkeys that drank too much failed to produce the antibodies the body usually makes in response to a vaccine. The moderate drinkers, on the other hand, demonstrated an enhanced immune response—better even than the teetotaling control group. The researchers can't yet fully explain the results, but one possible explanation is that modest amounts of alcohol stimulate the immune system.

The benefits of moderate drinking are well documented, from reduced risk of Alzheimer's to improved cardiovascular function. But while a glass or two of wine with dinner might promote health, the researchers emphasized that excessive alcohol consumption is deleterious to immune function, no matter how merry one may feel.

Now Scammers are Trying to Make Money off Mandela's Death

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 7:00 AM EST

It's officially a tradition: When something bad happens to the international community, email scammers attempt to exploit it. There was Hurricane Katrina. There was the 2005 tsunami. There was the Haiti earthquake. And now there's Nelson Mandela's death. Here's an email Mother Jones received from an emailer purporting to represent the late South African president's charitable organization, the Nelson Mandela Foundation:

Good Day,

I hope my mail finds you well. This is my second email to you without any
response. I am Maeline Engelbrecht Nelson Manuela's Donor relations manager. For
couple of years we have been in a global approach in fighting the pandemic, and
emphasizes the importance of strengthening relationships with UNICEF, Save the
Children Fund and other governments. Giving Aids to orphans. In 2002 the Fund
raised 34-million Dollar through donations, programmed funding and fundraising
initiatives locally and internationally. The continual growth of the Fund has
led to the establishment of offices in the United Kingdom, United States,
France, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and now Spain. For more details you
can read from the link below, although, there are a lot of reforms for security
purposes.
http://www.southafrica.info/mandela/mandelachildrensfund.htm#.UO5dq1LEPMw

OR

http://www.looktothestars.org/charity/nelson-mandela-foundation

Due to deteriorating situation of Mandalas' health, He has suggested that the
fund allocated to his organization from the UK Based Anglo American mining
Company should be directed to a responsible and a reliable hand not here in
South African but other country as well, as this is one of his struggles in
life. On this basis I have contacted you for assistance to have it operated and
monitored by you in your country. Please We have created a good reputation in
the past and would not want anything to dent our image so if you cannot handle
this foundation in your country I suggest you ignore the email. On the contrary
get back to us for a way forward.

Please Reply us here:nelsonmandelaf@safrica.com  OR
maelineengelbrecht@hotmail.com

Regards
Maeline Engelbrecht
Mandela's Donor relations manager"

This isn't the first time a scammer has attempted to use the name Engelbrecht—who left the foundation in 2008—to make money off of Mandela. In January, the Nelson Mandela Foundation published a warning about a nearly identical email: "Any such messages received should be viewed as fraudulent and reported to the Centre of Memory."

Don't get scammed, kids.

5 Surprising Things We Feed Cows

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 7:00 AM EST

In addition to the old standbys of corn, soy, hay (and, uh, drugs), "there's a lot of stuff which the general public might not think of as feeds which are actually quite common," says Cory Parsons, a livestock nutrition expert at Oregon State University. For example:

Sawdust: Decades ago, when Bob Batey, an eastern Iowa entrepreneur, observed cows gobbling up sawdust hosed down from his paper mill, he had an idea: Why not make the stuff into a commercial cattle feed? Sawdust is made largely of cellulose, a carbohydrate, but it's bound together with a compound called lignin, which makes it hard to digest. To strip the lignin, Batey soaked some of the stuff in nitric acid, and voilà! The cows were ready to chow down. "They like it," he says. "It's good for them. It's economical. And it's green." 

But it was only after a 2012 drought laid waste to local hay and grass that Batey put his idea into action. He teamed up with local feed producers to devise a mix of sawdust, corn, vitamins, and minerals. While ranchers have not yet widely adopted the sawdust feed, Byron Leu, a regional beef specialist at Iowa State University, said with corn prices high, the stuff could catch on "pretty fast." The Iowa City Gazette noted that in tests, the cows ate the stuff "like candy." Speaking of which…

Candy, wrapper and all: Ranchers report feeding their beef steers and dairy cows a variety of bulk candy, including gummy worms, marshmallowshard candysprinkles, chocolatecandy corn, and hot chocolate mix. Candy provides sugar that cows would usually get from corn, giving them more energy and making them fatter. When corn prices skyrocketed, the practice became popular: In fall 2012, one candy supplier who sells farmers and ranchers "salvage" chocolate—that's imperfect and broken chocolates—said the price of the stuff had recently doubled.

In some cases, ranchers found, the candy feed comes wrapped. Asked if he was concerned about his cattle eating plastic, one animal nutrition expert in Tennessee said he was not worried. "I think it would pass through just like excess fiber would."

Chicken shit: What's not to love about the fecal waste of America's 36-million-plus broiler chickens? It's plentiful and cheap. But according to a recent OnEarth story by Brad Jacobson, the problem may be less the poop itself than the smorgasbord of other substances it frequently comes with, including feathers, heavy metals, bacteria, antibiotics, and bits of rodents. Jacobson also notes that the practice could promote the spread of mad cow disease. 

Ground limestone: Strange as feeding rocks to cows may sound, limestone can be found in cattle troughs all over the United States. The stuff is a cheap source of calcium, and it also seems to promote growth. As one study put it, cows that ate limestone late in life "tended to have more desirable carcasses" than cows that didn't. 

Crab guts: For ranchers and feedlots near the coast, the guts and other undesirable parts of fish, crabs, shrimp, and crawfish can be an abundant source of cheap protein. Ground up into a tasty meal, seafood byproducts can be mixed into other feeds. Fish-meal cattle feed isn't a new idea; Marco Polo observed in his diary that cows ate it "without any sign of dislike." 

Let's Roll: Unraveling the Pentagon's Toilet Paper Budget

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 7:00 AM EST

They say that an army marches on its stomach, but another measure of a military's power may be how it protects its rear. The prospect of running out of government-issued TP has become a talking point against trimming defense spending. Former Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work cautioned that if sequestration was allowed to continue, "we will go back to 1975 where I'm buying toilet paper for my Marines." Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) warned of the bad old days before 9/11 when "we did not have enough money to get toilet paper for some of our soldiers." So far, budget austerity does not appear to have seriously affected strategic toilet paper reserves, though the Air Force Academy went into a temporary holding pattern when its tissue procurer was furloughed.

Click here for more on the Pentagon's bottom line.

Just how much TP the military goes through is a bureaucratic enigma. (Grunts in Vietnam were reportedly issued 19 squares a day.) According to contracting data, the Pentagon bought an average of $2 million worth of "toiletry paper products" annually between 2000 and 2010. Yet that figure jumped to $130 million in 2012. A closer look at the numbers reveals about $58 million of paper products you might conceivably wipe with, plus a ton of padding—including $2.7 million of lightbulbs and $9.6 million of canning supplies. Let's just chalk up those to the Pentagon's infamously sloppy accounting system.

So who is getting flush on the military's bathroom budget? In 2012, the Pentagon's—and the government's—biggest vendor of toiletry paper products was Georgia-Pacific, a.k.a. Koch Industries.

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New Jersey Bridge Scandal Suddenly Gets Worse For Chris Christie

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 2:54 AM EST

Last week I mentioned the peculiar story of David Wildstein, an executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who closed down several lanes of the George Washington Bridge last October in apparent retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee for not supporting Chris Christie's reelection campaign. It all seemed pretty sleazy, but I also figured it was "vanishingly unlikely" that Christie himself had anything to do with this. It was embarrassing for him, but that was all.

Today, that may have changed:

Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, former executives at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, have sought outside counsel amid an investigation into why traffic lanes leading to the nation's busiest bridge were closed, the documents showed.

....Mr. Wildstein recently hired Alan L. Zegas, a criminal lawyer from Chatham, N.J., to represent him, according to an email sent from Mr. Zegas to the state Legislature Tuesday....Mr. Baroni retained Michael Himmel, of Lowenstein Sandler LLP. Mr. Himmel works at the firm's New York City and Roseland, N.J. offices, and specializes in white collar crime, according to his biography.

Read Mark Kleiman for more on just why this is such bad news for Christie. This scandal is starting to look like it has more legs than I thought.

Brazil Has No Plans to Offer Edward Snowden Asylum

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 2:21 AM EST

Edward Snowden would like Brazil to grant him political asylum. And why not? The Brazilian public was pretty ticked off over revelations that the NSA had hacked into Petrobas, and Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, was pretty ticked off when she learned that the NSA had been monitoring her email and cell phone. But apparently canceling a state trip to the United States is about as far as she's willing to go:

Brazil has no plans to grant asylum to Edward Snowden even after the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor offered on Tuesday to help investigate revelations of spying on Brazilians and their president, a local newspaper reported.

The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, citing unnamed government officials, said the Brazilian government has no interest in investigating the mass Internet surveillance programs Snowden revealed in June and does not intend to give him asylum.

In the end, no matter how annoyed they are and how much public posturing they do, very few countries are willing to risk the massive breakdown in relations that would be the likely result of harboring a wanted American fugitive. Snowden is going to have a helluva hard time finding a permanent home anywhere other than Russia.

The Origin of the War on Christmas

| Wed Dec. 18, 2013 9:57 PM EST

I'm thinking about switching to Chrome as my default browser, but first I need to check and see if I can still blog successfully using it. It's not officially supported by MoJo's tech staff, you see. So I need something to write about.

I know! How about the War on Christmas™? Dan Amira shares with us the video clip on the right, which is certainly amusing. It turns out that Fox News, which is ground zero for outrage over this stuff, airs house spots that wish everyone "Happy Holidays." Hah!

But I have a question. The conservative take on all this is that "Happy Holidays" is some kind of secular leftist plot. Or a multi-culti plot. Or something. But at least as far back as when I was a kid, we got cards wishing us "Holiday Greetings" or "Greetings of the Season," or some such. And since we were all one big Christian nation back then, and no one cared about Eid or Kwanzaa or atheists or even Hanukkah, really, I always assumed that this particular greeting was about New Year's. "Happy Holidays" meant you were including both Christmas and New Year's, not that you were including Christmas and some godless pagan festival.

Am I crazy? Or is that where it started?

POSTSCRIPT: In case you're wondering, Chrome seems to work fine, as you can see by the fact that this post exists. Oddly, though, our (supposedly) WYSIWYG editor and preview function don't display YouTube embeds in Chrome. In fact, this particular embed didn't even show up when I published the post. Then after a few minutes it finally did. But even then, it still didn't show up when I went back into editing mode. That's pretty strange.

Everything else seems to work fine, though Chrome lacks some useful features I've gotten used to. But I guess that's life.

The Big Sur Fire Is Just the Latest Sign of Longer Fire Seasons

| Wed Dec. 18, 2013 6:27 PM EST
A park ranger directs traffic along Highway 1 as fire burns nearby.

The fire currently burning in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California, isn't particularly large: As of the latest Forest Service report, it has burned 769 acres and is 20 percent contained.

Nor is it particularly damaging: So far, 22 buildings or structures have been destroyed by the fire. (One was the fire chief's home.) Compare that with the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego county, which destroyed 2,820 structures.

However, it is markedly unseasonal: The California wildfire season was pronounced over on October 31, 2013. But of course, it isn't over.

In general, western wildfire seasons are getting longer. Thomas Tidwell, chief of the US Forest Service, said so directly in recent congressional testimony, noting that "the length of the fire season has increased by over two months since the 1970s."

And of course, it doesn't help that the Big Sur area is currently experiencing drought conditions.

It is also worth pointing out that for the state of California, seven of its 10 largest fires have occurred since the year 2000, including this year's Rim Fire, the third largest in state history.

Here's a helpful infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists, showing just how much fire seasons are lengthening:

And here's a Climate Desk video on how global warming is making wildfires worse: