Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Zombie Ants

| Sun Mar. 13, 2011 9:18 AM EDT

One of the best things about fact-checking an article about combatting invasive pests with imported insects is that the researching process jumps back and forth so effortlessly from serious academic and scientific questions, to really crude Discovery Channel-style footage of insects eating other insects. Cutting-edge entomological research is pretty highbrow stuff. Referring to the subjects of cutting-edge entomological research as "zombie ants"? Not so much. To wit:

Story link: kxan.com

Brain-eating larvae are inherently newsworthy, but there's a broader signifance, too. As Michael Behar explains in the latest issue of Mother Jones, Texas' experiments with phorid flies are part of a relatively recent push by entomologists and land managers to combat invasive pests not with gallons upon gallons of toxic chemicals, but with something far more basic: their natural predators, imported from the home country. The process is called biocontrol, and if it works, it can save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and keep sensitive ecosystems clear of harmful chemicals. It's not an easy process—biocontrol projects regularly take decades to yield results—but it just may be man's best shot at reining in invasive pests with  names ripped out of Harry Potter (leafy spurge, tansy ragwort, cottony cushion scale) and no natural predators. As one University of Florida researcher tells Behar, "We've reached the end of our chemical rope"; maybe it's time to give the insects a shot.

Anyways, it's a fascinating topic. Check out the piece here. Read more about ants whose minds have been possessed by fungi here.

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Texas Considers Bill to Ban Almost All Abortions

| Fri Mar. 11, 2011 4:04 PM EST

 From the Texas Independent:

House Bill 2988 by state Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would prohibit abortions from being performed unless a physician determines there is a substantial risk to the woman's life or a major body function. Parker's bill comes on the heels of a bill by state Rep. George Lavender (R-Texarkana) banning abortions except in cases of medical necessity, rape or incest.

Among other things, Parker's bill makes no exception for cases of rape or incest, an exception that's long been considered untouchable even by many pro-lifers. It also explicitly prohibits physicians from considering possible impairments to mental health. A spokesperson for Rep. Parker told Mother Jones that the legislator "does intend to include [exemptions for rape and incest] if it moves through the process." But they're not included in the version that was filed on Thursday because Parker didn't actually write the bill; it was drafted at the behest of the Grass Roots Institute of Texas, an organization founded by conservative activist Bill Burch.

In February, Burch floated a similar bill in the Lone Star State that would establish that life "begins at the moment that the initial splitting of a human cell occurs during fertilization," explaining at the time that his bill "will eliminate abortion in the United States" by giving the Supreme Court a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Parker's effort is part of a nationwide effort by conservative lawmakers to scale back abortion rights. Last month, we reported on the House GOP's effort to redefine rape as part of its "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions." In South Dakota and Nebraska, legislators introduced legislation that could have provided legal justification for the murder of abortion providers. In Texas, a controversial bill requiring women to see a sonogram before having an abortion—with no exceptions for rape or incest—passed the house on Monday.

Birther Bill Author: What's a Long-Form Birth Certificate?

| Fri Mar. 11, 2011 3:01 AM EST

Courtesy of State Sen. Mae BeaversCourtesy of State Sen. Mae BeaversLast month, Tennessee state Sen. Mae Beavers introduced SB 1091, a bill that would require presidential candidates to present a long-form birth certificate in order to qualify for the ballot in the Volunteer State. Beavers, a Republican, is in good company: Nearly a dozen states have now introduced similar legislation—part of national campaign mounted by the birthers, those conservatives who believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. To date they haven't had much luck; a bill proposed in Arizona looked the most promising but was scuttled in committee; on Wednesday, New Hampshire GOPers knocked down a similar proposal.

It's a far-fetched goal, and it turns out that Beavers, who recently discussed her bill on Reality Check, a radio show devoted to debunking birther legislation, still has some research to do. From the transcript:

RC: What are the specific requirements in the bill?

MB: That they have to have the long form birth certificate.

RC: What is the long form birth certificate?

MB: Now, you're asking me to get into a lot of things that I haven't really looked into yet.

The host then asked the obvious follow-up: why put a term into the bill, if you don't know what it means? Beavers responded, "Well, we are following some of the bills that have been filed in lots of other states, and you know how it is, you file your bill and, you know, you prepare before you go to committee."

File first, understand later?

Beavers went on to state more clearly, "I'm not entirely sure what long form means." She seemed genuinely surprised by the news that not all states even print long-form birth certificates anymore. "I only know about Tennessee," she explained. As for her motives for introducing the bill, Beavers didn't declare herself as an outright birther, but she noted, "I think people have raised questions about [Obama's birth] enough to make everybody wonder." Although the state of Hawaii has produced a certificate of live birth for Obama that has been been widely distributed, Beavers said proof of Obama's citizenship must have gotten buried in her inbox: "I get emails all the time with things in them, you know; I can't honestly tell you that I read all of them, because I get so many."

Beavers' long-form slip-up fits a trend of Republican state lawmakers amping up extreme right-wing legislation with dubious supporting evidence. As we reported last month, South Dakota state Rep. Phil Jensen floated a measure banning Islamic Sharia law that would have also undone child custody protections, and another bill that could have provided an opening for the killing of abortion providers. Alabama state Sen. Gerald Allen borrowed his own anti-Sharia bill from Wikipedia, and when asked by a reporter what Sharia actually is, said, "I don't have my file in front of me." Texas state Rep. Leo Berman, who introduced both an anti-Sharia bill and a birther bill, recently explained that he got most of his political information on YouTube because "YouTubes are infallible."

Beavers did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Map of the Day: The Problem With Maps

| Thu Mar. 10, 2011 5:00 PM EST

Image Courtesy of the AtlanticImage Courtesy of the AtlanticBy now, you've probably taken a look at our (As Seen on TV!) charts on the rising income equality gap in the United States. Now the Atlantic has gotten in on the action, with this interactive map from Patchwork Nation's Daniel Chinni and James Gimpel. Look at all the pretty colors.

It's a pretty fantastic concept, conveying the complexity of the American landscape in a way that the red state-blue state map—or even a map about where you can marry your cousin—simply can't. But I've got some issues.

For one thing, it's subject to the same fundamental flaw of the electoral map: There's only room for one category per county. Colorado Springs has been called the "Evangelical Vatican," but it's not an "Evangelical Epicenter" on Chinni's map, because it's also a "Military Bastion." The two categories are of course related, but there's no room for that kind of complexity. Orange County, likewise, gave us modern the modern conservative movement and Billy Graham, but it's a "Monied Suburb" here, which puts it in the same category as certain parts of Vermont. Hispanic immigration extends far beyond the Southwest, but because it's not a defining force like it is in, say, Imperial County, the demographic shift barely registers.

A more systematic problem is simply that it's really, really tough to come up with any sort of grouping system for American places. States don't work. Congressional districts don't either. Counties have the benefit of at least being relatively small, but that's still highly variable—and in any event totally blind to population. Cook County, Illinois has 5 million residents and encompasses about half of the Patchwork categories; Brewster County, Texas has 10,000 people but takes up four times as much space. Alaska looks like one giant boomtown but in reality no one's building McMansions at Denali National Park.

This isn't a problem with Chinni and Gimpel—who've done great work here—so much as it's a problem with making maps about America.

Live Updates From Peter King's Radicalization Hearings

| Thu Mar. 10, 2011 11:29 AM EST
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