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.

Do You Live in a Wal-Mart State or a Starbucks State?

| Tue Mar. 11, 2008 4:50 PM EDT

starbucks.jpg

By way of Columbia University via the all-things-rural blog Daily Yonder come these interesting (albeit unsurprising) maps showing Wal-Mart and Starbuck density, state by state. (The darker the state, the higher the number of stores per capita.) Not too many surprises here. As you can see, the Southeast has the highest concentration of Wal-Marts, while Starbucks are dense on the West Coast. Also unsurprising is the red state/blue state correlation. As Daily Yonder points out:

Blue states don't have many Wal-Marts (except for New Hampshire). Red states don't have many Starbucks (except for Colorado).

But is it really a fair comparison? Sure, both are giant chains, but one sells coffee and the other sells, uh, everything. The Northeasterner in me thinks it'd be a whole lot more interesting to compare Starbucks to its regional arch-nemesis, Dunkin' Donuts.

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Less Golf, More Water?

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 1:05 PM EST

golf100.jpgNumber one on the New York Times' most-e-mailed list today is a story about the mass exodus from American golf courses. No one knows exactly why corporate America is abandoning its erstwhile favorite sport. Not enough time? Too lazy?

Whatever the reason for the shift, there's at least one good thing about it. Golf courses are notoriously thirsty, and developers have a nasty habit of putting them in the darnedest (driest) places. If our newfound apathy about golf translates into fewer courses built over the long haul, [insert corny golf metaphor—a la "that's a hole in one for the environment"— here].

Then again:

To help keep the Great Rock Golf Club afloat, owners erected their large climate-controlled tent near the 18th green last summer. It sat next to the restaurant, Blackwell's, already operating there.

The next question: How far into the depths of unsustainability will golf-course owners sink to win back customers?

An-My Le: War on American Soil

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 7:50 PM EST

small%20wars%20200.jpgYesterday at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, throngs of school vacationers made a beeline for the much-hyped Olafur Eliasson exhibit. I didn't quite have the wherewithal to spend 20 minutes on line waiting to see trippy mirrors or whatever, so instead I left the under-10s behind and headed downstairs, where I was happy to find myself in a room with, like, four decidedly sedate adults. This was a good room for me not only because of my misanthropic tendencies, but also because of the photography series I found there: An-My Lê's "Small Wars" and "29 Palms."

Both series are about something we're not used to seeing—war in an American landscape. Not real combat, but rather reenactment and rehearsal: "Small Wars" (1999-2002) chronicles Vietnam war reenactors' staged battles in Virginia, while "29 Palms" (2003-present) focuses on soldiers training for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Twentynine Palms military base in California. On a purely technical level, this is impressive work. The black-and-white photographs are full of texture and nuance, and the composition—from vast landscapes to detailed tableaus—is impeccable.

Does War Make Iraqi Teens More Self Confident?

| Thu Feb. 7, 2008 1:05 PM EST

iraq%20teens%20150.jpgIraqi teens have relatively high levels of self esteem, according to a University of Cincinnati study. Not only that, but "the higher the perceived threat of the war, the higher the teens reported their self-esteem."

The researchers say that though this finding may seem counterintuitive, it supports their theory that during a war, individuals' sense of self is tied to their sense of national identity:

"In the presence of conflict-related trauma one generally observes lower levels of psychological well-being (e.g., PTSD, grief reactions), and sometimes lower self-esteem," write the authors. "Our results, however, are consistent with a body of theory and research that predicts self-esteem striving and higher self-esteem among the individuals who face indirect threats to central components of their social identities (rather than directly facing traumatic war-related events). In other words, in a situation where we observe a broad social context involving the presence of foreign forces ( a clear violation of Muslim principles) combined with general violence throughout Baghdad and Iraq, we also observe a heightened sense of self, at least to the extent that one's self is tied to one's nation."

Campaign Ad Factoids

| Mon Feb. 4, 2008 5:26 PM EST

obama150.jpgPolitical Punch has an interesting little collection of facts about candidate advertising. Among the most interesting:

* Mitt Romney was the No. 1 advertiser in both parties—35,000 ads—and spent as much as all of his GOP opponents combined—and almost four times as much as John McCain in Florida

* Barack Obama led the Democratic pack with almost 30,000 ads, worth almost $23 million; Hillary Clinton aired more than 25,500 ads, worth well over $18 million.

* Who did the talking? Barack Obama narrated nearly 83% of his own TV ads, while Hillary Clinton narrated fewer than half (43 percent) of hers.

* McCain used images of the American flag more than any other leading candidate, with 77% of his TV ads displaying the Stars and Stripes…compared with 40% of Obama's and 33% of Clinton's.

Another interesting fact: Obama was the only candidate to air an ad during the Super Bowl. Take a look:

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