Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
It's striking to realize that such a basic commodity—a substance we spoon into our coffee every day and use in almost everything we bake—may play a causative role in some of our deadliest diseases. Ever since the mid-1900s, when cereal makers realized that sugar boosts sales, America's food and beverage industries have been sweetening up their products. To buoy sugar's popularity circa World War II, producers launched what would become the Sugar Association Inc. (SAI), which later turned its attention to undermining research that suggests that it's more than cavities we need to worry about. As Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens report in "Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lies," the SAI heavily funded sugar-friendly studies, ran misleading ads, and concocted a multiprong PR campaign to convince people that sugar was harmless and could even help us stay thin. Below are highlights from Big Sugar's longstanding attempt to win America's heart—and gut. (Be patient, as the timeline may take a few seconds to load.)
The scene preceeding The Lumineers' early afternoon set at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was just about as competitive as that portrayed in local news coverage of shoppers streaming into Walmart on Black Friday. Attendants barked at twenty-somethings ducking ropes in pursuit of a view, the grass section in front of the stage held about one fan per square foot, and the aisle up through the middle of the meadow transformed into a slow-moving mosh pit. It wasn't even 3 p.m. I slinked through the crowd and miraculously landed an edge of someone's tarp.
Jeremiah Fraites, the Denver-based folk band's drummer, remembers the afternoon in much the same way: "When we actually took the stage, every single vantage point, every spot where a human being could be, there was one—surrounding us." The entire Eucalyptus-shaded hill behind the stage was covered with humanity, as were the bushes flanking the sides of the small outdoor arena. I spotted two shirtless dudes draped over tree branches, ready to soak it in. "It made us feel pretty damn good about that being our first time at Hardly Strictly," Fraites told me a few days after the performance.
Some especially persistent voters rifle through Federal Election Commission filings in their spare time, poring over the latest data dumps and tracking outside money for insight into who's influencing the vote. Luckily for those of us with less time (or patience), tech-savvy politicos have figured out ways to filter through all that info and send some of the juicier bits straight to our favorite gadgets. Now you can peel back the facade of the mysterious backer of that one issues ad or view a whole compilation of polls at a moment's notice. These six apps can make it more enticing, not to mention a lot faster, to tap into what's going on behind the scenes of the horse race.
The Political Shazam
Nearly half of the more than $500 million in political ads out as of August 2012 were funded by outside groups—committees with ambiguous sounding names like Priorities USA Action or Americans for Prosperity. Ad Hawk, from Sunlight Labs, essentially runs a background check on the constant stream of political TV and radio ads. You just let the app listen to any ad as it plays, and in less than 30 seconds it will identify the group behind the ad and its bankrollers, and tell you how much of its cash has gone to supporting (or trashing) Democrats or Republicans. Ad Hawk is especially useful for learning more about the notoriously elusive super-PACs and 501(c)s—although when I asked Sunlight Labs' Director Tom Lee to name a notable recent ad, he pointed to Harold the Cat's gag run for a Virginia Senate seat. (Free, available for iOS and Android.)
Data from 2006 except for the US, which is from 2009. Source: Guttmacher Institute
It's easy to forget, amidst the current threats to restrict access to contraception, that for much of their lives, women still face the dilemma of which type of birth control to use. My friends and I are no different: More and more of us are now choosing intrauterine devices, those hormone-emitting or copper-wrapped plastic wonders that I hadn't paid much attention to until about a year or two ago, when I decided to switch to an IUD. After one albeit painful appointment to get the tiny instrument inserted, I no longer have to remember to take a pill or worry about needing to re-up my supply every month or before traveling; lucky for me, my insurance paid for the whole shebang. (My colleagues Kate Sheppard and Stephanie Mencimer both wrote about recently landing on this option, too.)
As it turns out, we're in the minority.Although long-lasting reversible contraceptive methods (LARCs) like IUDs are pretty popular in Europe (27 percent of Norwegian female contraception users have one) and China (41 percent!), only around 8.5 percent of women in the United States choose these as their birth control method, among the lowest of any developed country, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute. But while at least half of my girlfriends now have IUDs, some of them have had to jump through hoops and even lie to convince their doctors to prescribe them one. Why has it been hard for young women in the United States to get their hands on this type of birth control?
To remedy a "journalism of public relations" in his native India, Tarun J. Tejpal cofounded a muckraking magazine whose exposés earned him an assassination attempt and six government bodyguards. In this fictional memoir, Tejpal's reporter-narrator investigates five men accused of plotting to kill him. What starts off as a repugnant protagonist's account becomes a gripping exploration of the country's underworld, from train station thugs to weapon-smuggling rings. With characters funny, flawed, and redeemable, Tejpal challenges our notions of hit man and target, and leaves us mulling over the gnarled and vibrant tapestry of modern-day India.