Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

A senior editor at Mother Jones, Kiera covers health, food, and the environment. She is the author of the new book Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever (University of California Press).

 

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Raleigh Man Chooses To Retire Instead of Honoring Helms

| Thu Jul. 10, 2008 3:40 PM EDT

A 51-year-old employee of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture chose to retire rather than lower a flag to half mast in honor of the late former senator Jesse Helms, reports the Charlotte Observer.

And it wasn't like L.F. Eason III, a registered Democrat, hadn't lowered other flags during his 29-year tenure at the lab where he worked:

...Eason said he had no problems lowering the flag for former Sen. Terry Sanford or President Ronald Reagan. But he remembers wondering whether he would be able to lower the flag after President Richard Nixon's funeral.

Wonder whether Eason had mulled this protest over beforehand, or if it was a game-time decision. Given the fact that Helms was in the senate even before Eason got his job at the lab, he certainly had time to think about it.

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Glacier Growth Caused by Climate Change?

| Thu Jul. 10, 2008 2:05 PM EDT

shasta150.jpg
As we already know, most of the world's ice is melting fast. Not so on California's Mt. Shasta, where glaciers are actually growing because of global warming.

Here's how it works: The Pacific Ocean is warmer now than in years past. Warmer temperatures mean more moisture, which in turn means more snowfall on Mt. Shasta.

This is not the case for other nearby mountain ranges. The Sierra Nevada range, which is just 500 miles south of Mt. Shasta, is losing ice—in fact, it has lost about half its ice over the past 100 years.

Like Antarctica's increasing sea ice, the Mt. Shasta glaciers are another piece of evidence that global warming is a little more complicated than most of us think.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons.

What's the Most Polluting Car?

| Thu Jul. 10, 2008 1:20 PM EDT

suv.jpgForbes.com has published a list of the ten dirtiest cars. Or more accurately—vehicles, since all but a few are SUVs and trucks. (And surprise! The Hummer isn't number one).

The list order is mostly based on the EPA's air pollution rankings, but to break ties, Forbes.com also took into account vehicles' carbon footprints. The nadir of the coverage is in their "Tips for Polluting Less":

Experts say that realizing even minor improvements in fuel economy among the worst polluters on the road is the most efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall. For example, choosing a base GMC Yukon with a 5.3-liter V8, which gets 16 mpg overall, instead of the high-end Denali version and its 14-mpg 6.2-liter V8 would save more than 130 gallons of gasoline per year for the typical driver, and eliminate 1.7 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, says Therese Langer, transportation program director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Langer then goes on to say that "achieving the same savings through improvements to a 42-mpg Honda Civic Hybrid would require a 25-mpg boost, to 67 mpg."

So let's get this straight: Consumers should feel good about choosing a Yukon SUV over a hybrid, since the Yukon is way more efficient than the Denali? That's kind of like trying to lose weight by eating a ho-ho instead of a ding-dong.

Full top ten list after the jump.

Warm, Fuzzy Satanists

| Wed Jul. 9, 2008 4:30 PM EDT

satanist150.jpgSome divorced couples argue over whether their kids should have dessert. Some over homework.

And some argue over whether their kids should be brought up Satanist.

From the Chicago Tribune comes the story of an Indiana mom who wants a court to make her Devil-worshiping ex-husband take her kids to Christian church. Long story short, Satanists are not exactly the role models she had in mind for her offspring. But the Beelzebub fans themselves say she's got them all wrong. From a related Trib blog post:

"Some of your readers might wonder what exposure to Satanism might do to a developing child," Gilmore said. "I recognized myself as a Satanist at age 13 and was subsequently the valedictorian of my high school class in 1976, being quite open about my religion."

Uh, yeah, Gilmore? Chris Kattan wants his material back.

Making Fake Stuff Look More Real

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 6:00 PM EDT

pleather%20couch%20150.jpgBad news for snobs and aesthetes the world over: Scientists are working hard to make synthetic material look "more natural."

Researchers at the National Physical Laboratory in England have set up an experiment to determine what tips our brains off that a substance is the real deal, and not an impostor:

The physical characteristics of a surface, such as its colour, texture and surface roughness, are being linked to what is happening in a person's brain when they see or touch the surface. Once this is understood it should be possible to accurately predict what we will perceive as natural, and manufacturers will be able to design synthetic products to meet this expectation. The results could have a great impact on materials such as wood, animal skin and furs, marble and stone, plants and even prosthetics.

Offended though your rarefied tastes may be, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Ostensibly, these fakester materials of the future will be a far cry from Naugahyde. Ultimately, if we get to the point where we can (sustainably and non-toxically) make faux ivory so convincing it's indistinguishable from the actual elephant product, well, I know a few elephants who probably wouldn't have too many aesthetic complaints. I've never known an old-growth forest to call fake mahogany tacky, either.

Photo by Flickr user Somaamos

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