With DC embroiled in budget battles and April 18 fast approaching, a lot of Americans are thinking about where their federal tax dollars go. Most of us have no clue, as shown by the recent CNN survey in which respodents guessed that NPR accounts for 5 percent of goverment spending (wrong—it's more like 0.01 percent) and foreign aid gets 10 percent (try 0.6 percent).
Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?For an informative and visually interesting look at how your taxes really break down, check out the six finalists from the recent Data Viz Challenge sponsored by What We Pay For. The most creative is Budget Climb, an interactive game that uses a Microsoft Kinect motion controller so you run around a virtual world made of 26 years of budget data. If you don't want to work up a sweat, a better place to start is Anil Kandangath's Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?, a straightforward site that asks you for your income, estimates your income and payroll taxes, and then shows your personal contribution to the federal budget in an Excelerrific (functional but not pretty) pie chart.
Can I Get a Receipt With That?There's also some clever stuff in the entries that didn't make the final cut. My favorite may be Can I Get a Receipt With That?, which generates a cash-register receipt for your tax bill—and can convert the bill into alternative currencies such as Big Macs and Starbucks coffees. For example, the 2010 tax bill for a typical American family earning $50,000 comes out to about 1,752 Chipotle burritos. From that, the feds spent about 2,811 bottles of Bud Light on defense, 244 packs of cigarettes on Medicare, and 13 Red Bulls on energy spending. Unfortunately, it does not show how many decaf soy lattes went to NPR.
Ah wilderness! What better place to escape the stifling trappings of urban existence—overflowing inboxes, two-hour commutes, social-media addiction. And, of course, indoor plumbing. "Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth," the great Western author and curmudgeon Edward Abbey once exhorted car-bound city slickers. Contemplating the reasons for taking a trek down the Appalachian Trail (and aping Abbey-ish machismo), travel writer Bill Bryson mused, "I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, 'Yeah, I've shit in the woods.'"
But before you go forth and drop trou in the great outdoors, you may want to consult Kathleen Meyer's How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art. Since it was first published in 1989, it's sold more than 2.5 million copies and introduced many an outdoor enthusiast to what Meyer, a longtime river guide, calls "a skill all but lost to the bulk of the population along with the art of making soap, carding wool, and skinning buffalo." Just republished, HTSITW is packed with pro tips for going about your business (particularly pooping) in the wild as conveniently, hygienically, and unembarrassingly as possible.
Beyond tackling the practicalities of squatting and digging cat holes, HTSITW also presents a mini-manifesto on applying the Leave No Trace ethos to your bodily functions. If you're committed to minimizing your impact when you go hiking or camping, Meyer suggests, you should seriously think about treating your poop like your garbage—and that means packing it out with you. Human poop, which takes about a year to biodegrade, can be an environmental hazard. It can befoul trails and campsites, and if it's left too close to streams or watersheds, it can contaminate groundwater. Meyer maintains that human waste is a major cause of the increased prevalence of giardia in wilderness groundwater. (Not everyone shares her concerns about the diarrhea-inducing intestinal parasite, and there are differing findings on just how widespread the disease is in the backcountry and its ultimate sources.) With more than 1.7 million visitors roaming the backcountry areas of National Parks annually, there's potentially a lot of poop piling up out there.
Though it's not for the squeamish, poop-packing has been embraced by a growing number of campers and parks. Outhouses have been taken down in some wilderness areas and "Pack It Out" rules are in effect in several national parks and backcountry areas, from Denali to the Grand Tetons.
So how exactly do you take your poop with you? Meyer describes a slew of tools to assist you. There are cheap and low-tech methods, such as modified five-gallon buckets, biodegradable bags, and homemade PVC pipe Poop Tubes. And there are more sci-fi technologies, like Poo Powder, "a proprietary blend of a NASA-developed super-absorbent" that bonds with feces to form a solid, odorless block (check out the demo video here) and the SCAT Machine, a giant coin-op washer for soiled waste containers that can be found at some trailheads.
Kathleen Meyer talked more about eco-friendly wilderness evacuation from her home in Montana.
In February, Lila Rose, a 22-year-old anti-abortion activist, made headlines with a series of undercover videos that purportedly showed Planned Parenthood employees assisting pimps with getting abortions and contraception for their underage sex slaves. It came out that PP had reported Rose's phony sex traffickers to the feds, but no matter. The hoax gave new fodder to the family-planning organization's congressional opponents, and Rose still cites it as evidence that PP has "conceal[ed] statutory rape and help[ed] child sex traffickers."
Yesterday, Rose, a protegé of video-sting provocateur James O'Keefe, released a new video that she claims catches the president of PP in a major lie. Here's what she says she uncovered: In an appearance on the Joy Behar Show, PP president Cecile Richards lied when she said the following about a proposal to cut federal funding to her group:
If this bill ever becomes law, millions of women in this country are gonna lose their health care access–not to abortion services–to basic family planning, you know, mammograms.
That statement, Rose asserts, is "blatantly false" because PP does not offer mammograms. To prove this, her "investigative team" called 30 PP clinics across the country and couldn't find one that provided breast cancer screenings. Based on those surreptitiously recorded calls, Rose concludes, "This is only the latest in Planned Parenthood's abusive and deceptive activity." Andrew Breitbart, who publishes posts by Rose on his Big Government site, has dubbed PP's allegedly false claims a "mammosham."
Ever since ACORN was taken down by a bad pimp costume and a hidden camera, right-wing media mogul Andrew Breitbart and provocateur James O'Keefe have discovered that by the time their work is exposed as disingenuously edited hit jobs, the damage is done, and their brand has been boosted. As Breitbart told the AP, "I'm committed to the destruction of the old media guard. And it's a very good business model." Read the editors' note, "Why Do We Keep Falling for O'Keefe's Smear Jobs?" here. Below, their stings to date.
Glenn Beck has announced that he "intends to transition off of his daily program" on Fox News later this year. It's not clear what killed The Glenn Beck Show—perhaps it was the fleeing advertisers or the shrinking audiences. Or perhaps it was the increasingly bizarro obsessions and labyrinthine conspiracy theories, which we've attempted to catalog in this map of the inner workings of Beck's brain.