Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

Kiera answers your green questions every week in her Econundrums column. She was a hypochondriac even before she started researching germ warfare.

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Kiera has written about the environment, arts and culture, and more for Columbia Journalism Review, Orion, Audubon, OnEarth, Plenty, and the Utne Reader. She lives in Berkeley and recently planted 30 onions in her backyard.

Former Polygamist on Polygamy

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 5:26 PM EDT

yearning200.jpgIt's been five days since authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a compound outside Eldorado, Texas owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Tipped off by a phone call from a 16-year-old girl who said she had been repeatedly "beat and hurt" by her middle-aged husband, the cops stormed Yearning for Zion and took 419 children into custody, accompanied by 139 of their mothers, into custody.

To be sure, Yearning for Zion sounds like a horror show. But is it polygamy's fault? I mean, "the principle" seems to work okay on Big Love, right? I wanted a plural marriage expert to weigh in. After an admittedly quick Internet search, I decided on John Llewellyn, a retired Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lieutenant who has been involved with a bunch of polygamy investigations. Once he started talking, though, it was clear that Llewellyn had some pretty strong opinions about plural marriage, and with good reason: He used to be a polygamist himself.

At the beginning of his career with the Salt Lake City Sheriff's Department, Llewellyn and his young family became active in Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mitt Romney kind of Mormons; they will be the first to tell you that they have noting—they said NOTHING—to do with polygamy). A young single mother asked him to be her children's godfather, and somehow that turned into a request to be his second wife. To Llewellyn's surprise, his first wife acquiesced, and thus began his involvement with the Apostolic United Brethren. He quickly discovered that polygamy wasn't for him—he didn't like how it pitted women against each other. Twenty years later, he left the church with his second wife. (His original wife, he says, chose to be "the fifth wife in a more affluent family.")

Since then, Llewellyn has written several books about life in polygamist communities. These days, he's made it his mission to spread the word about the evils of plural marriage, which he calls "a barbaric custom...to accept it is like going back to the Middle Ages." And he's given up church life, too. "I don't want anything to come between me and God," he says. "If there is a God, I'll handle my own salvation. I don't need a pope or a prophet to come between me and God." I asked Lewellyn a few questions about the Yearning for Zion raid, and, uh, he didn't mince words. Q&A after the jump.

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Global Warming for Fun and Profit

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 5:41 PM EDT

Sick of frittering away your hard-earned wages on March Madness? How about betting on melting ice instead?

An annual contest to guess the exact moment the ice breaks on the River Tanana, 300 miles north of Anchorage, is attracting global interest, both as a chance to win a $300,000 (£151,000) prize and as one of the world's most precise scientific indicators of the effects of global warming.

Betting closes at midnight on April 5, and tickets are sold throughout Alaska.

Drilling Making Alaskans Sick

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 3:00 PM EDT

offshore200.jpgBy now, most of us have heard about how oil and gas drilling does a number on ecosystems. But it's no good for people, either. By way of the British Columbia online magazine the Tyee comes the story of Nuiqsut, a coastal community of 523 people in northern Alaska, about 100 miles west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Back in the late '90s, the oil and gas companies wooed the local Inupiat tribe with promises of jobs and minimal environmental impact—just 14 acres of tribal land would be affected by offshore and land drilling, they said. But now, 14 looks more like 500, and the community is a whole lot worse for the wear, says Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of Nuiqsut and also a health-care worker:

Are Genetically Engineered Organics the Future of Farming?

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 5:12 PM EDT

corn200.jpg This past weekend in the Boston Globe, Pamela Ronald, a U.C. Davis plant pathologist, tackled the debate over genetic engineering in organic farming. Without mincing words.

It is time to abandon the caricatures of genetic engineering that are popular among some consumers and activists, and instead see it for what it is: A tool that can help the ecological farming revolution grow into a lasting movement with global impact.

Bold, to be sure. But are these fightin' words? Probably.

"Kristen" Is a Blameworthy Slut? Yawn.

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 5:30 PM EDT

Today in a Salon video post, Farhad Manjoo calls the MySpace dimension of the Eliot Spitzer scandal "interesting and kind of fascinating and cool."

Really? I'm not so sure MySpace makes this scandal any different than the old ones. At the end of the day, the media is doing exactly what they always do: backhandedly blaming the object of a politician's lust for bringing about his downfall with her sluttiness.

At the risk of alienating my friends in the Facebook Generation, here's the thing: I could give a crap about the "true identity" (if that's what a MySpace page is) of the young woman whom Eliot Spitzer paid for sex, let alone the fact that she once sang "Respect" in the shower at her boyfriend's house.

And now, as Feministing points out, we're also supposed to believe that she's into it. That Dupre is under the impression that this turn of events is going to make her into the superstar she's always wanted to be.

Simmer down, Kiera, commenters will undoubtedly say. Who wouldn't want to know about the sordid details of an admittedly beautiful woman involved in a high-class prostitution ring? Well, I think it's more complicated—and insidious—than that.

When I read the New York Times piece about Dupre, my first thought was, she sounds totally annoying. I found myself blaming her for her irritating narcissism ("I am all about my music and my music is all about me. It flows from what I've been through, what I've seen and how I feel"), and her delusions of grandeur. This girl sounds insufferable, I thought.

And all of a sudden I had forgotten a key point: Dupre didn't do anything wrong. Spitzer did.


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