2008 - %3, February

Vote Your Genes

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 7:03 PM EST

istockphoto_3887591_democrat_vs_republican_on_white.jpg Fire the pundits. Cancel the debates. According to an emerging idea in the social and political sciences, political positions are substantially determined by biology and can be stubbornly resistant to reason. New Scientist follows the trail of evidence:

Twin studies suggest that opinions on a long list of issues, from religion in schools to nuclear power and gay rights, have a substantial genetic component. The decision to vote rather than stay at home on election day may also be linked to genes. Neuroscientists have also got in on the act, showing that liberals and conservatives have different patterns of brain activity… People who scored highly on a scale measuring fear of death, for example, were almost four times more likely to hold conservative views. Dogmatic types were also more conservative, while those who expressed interest in new experiences tended to be liberals. [This] review also noted research showing that conservatives prefer simple and unambiguous paintings, poems and songs.

Finally, an explanation for Thomas Kinkade, "God Bless America," and flag fetishes.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Arizona Republic Forgets About McCain's "Volcanic Temper"

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 5:49 PM EST

This is what Arizona Republic's editorial board had to say about John McCain:

Arizona Sen. John McCain has staked much of his claim to the presidency on his character: his status as war hero; his service to his country; his commitment to a cause, his country, bigger than himself.
These are legitimate claims to support by McCain, and worthy of voter attention and consideration.
But there are other aspects of McCain's character, less flattering, also worthy of voter attention and consideration....Many Arizonans active in policymaking have been the victim of McCain's volcanic temper and his practice of surrounding himself with aides and allies who regard politics, in the words of his paid Arizona chairman, state House Speaker Jeff Groscost, as a "bloodsport."

Friday? Hi Guy, It's Music News Day

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 5:05 PM EST

Music News


  • NASA is planning to transmit the Beatles song "Across the Universe" towards the North Star, Polaris, on Monday, to mark the 50th anniversary of NASA and the 45th anniversary of their Deep Space Network. Polaris is 431 light years away, so they should be receiving it about the same time Beatles tracks show up on iTunes. I wonder if they're broadcasting it with DRM?

  • Members of TV on the Radio and The Roots are set to cover a civil rights-era freedom song for an upcoming documentary. The film, Soundtrack for a Revolution, is being produced by Danny Glover. No word on a release date.
  • U2 may be considering a record-setting residency at London's O2 Arena later this year. Prince played a run of 21 shows at the venue last summer, but the Irish combo are reportedly planning an even longer set of dates.
  • The deluxe edition reissue of Beck's classic 1996 album Odelay was released with screwed-up lyrics in the booklet. The LA-based musician issued an apology for the mishap, which reportedly was due to a designer grabbing un-proofed lyrics from a lyrics website. But as Rolling Stone points out, "she's alone in a new dilusion" (sic) may actually be an improvement.
  • Evaluating the Senate Stimulus Plan

    | Fri Feb. 1, 2008 4:25 PM EST

    The Senate stimulus package released this week is a solid improvement over the House/White House compromise plan. The primary reason is that the Senate proposal, tailored by Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, provides low- and moderate-income working families with rebates that are the same size as the rebates going to families at higher income levels. The House package gave low- and moderate-income families smaller rebates than their wealthier counterparts.

    Senator Baucus also raised the ceiling on the rebates. Whereas the House plan capped eligibility for the full rebate at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples, Baucus puts the caps at $150,000 for individuals and $300,000 for couples. The rebates themselves are slightly smaller, however. The House plan gave individuals a maximum of $600 and couples a maximum of $1,200. The Senate rebates max out at $500 and $1,000.

    According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

    Dying for a Lawyer: Life on Alabama's Death Row

    | Fri Feb. 1, 2008 4:08 PM EST

    The nation's de facto death penalty moratorium continued last night when the U.S. Supreme Court intervened one hour before Alabama death row inmate James Callahan was scheduled to die. Since the high court decided to review lethal injection—the southern state's primary capital punishment method—in September, every scheduled execution has been stayed.

    Along with Callahan, 194 people currently live on Alabama's death row—more than any other state per capita. But what makes the situation in Alabama most dire isn't the lethal injection protocol being weighed by the Court; it's the lack of adequate legal representation available to the condemned. More than half of Alabama's death row inmates had trial attorneys whose compensation for out-of-court hours was capped at $1000, giving lawyers a financial disincentive to prepare a zealous defense. Even worse, Alabama is one of only two states in the country that don't provide legal representation for capital post-conviction appeals. Death row inmates who are indigent (and most are), don't stand a chance for relief unless they're lucky enough to get pro bono representation from groups like Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Center for Human Rights. (Full disclosure: I worked at SCHR as an investigator.) So far five innocent people have been freed from Alabama's death row. Who knows how many remain because they lack a lawyer.

    —Celia Perry

    Obama's Cool Artwork Doesn't Seem Like a Good Sign

    | Fri Feb. 1, 2008 3:30 PM EST

    mojo-photo-obamaposter3.jpgI've already mentioned how Obama's got the best font of all the presidential contenders (and, thanks to an unusually lucid commenter, we now know it's called Gotham, a typeface featured in the great little documentary Helvetica), and now he's got some of the best posters of all time. First of all, anybody watching the Los Angeles debate between Obama and Clinton might have seen these, seemingly-homemade orange-and-black posters out front:

    (photo at left from the LA Times, photo below from the NY Times)

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    Cindy for Speaker?

    | Fri Feb. 1, 2008 2:15 PM EST

    A new, quasi-political party is aiming to form a "national coalition of peace candidates for U.S. House of Representatives" who will boot out Democrats and Republicans and then elect anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan as Speaker. Sound implausible? It is. But with Ralph Nader unveiling an exploratory website for yet another presidential bid this week, it's clear that third parties on the left see an opening: popular discontent with the inability of the Democratic Congress to end the war in Iraq. Don't expect many of these candidates to pull down more than a percent or two. Still, you have to wonder whether Nader or his acolytes would fare slightly better at the polls if Hillary Clinton--the Democratic bete noir of the radical anti-war movement--is the party's nominee for President. For more on this year's third party dynamic, check out my story on Sheehan's congressional race against Speaker Pelosi.

    Ann Coulter Is Insane Over McCain, Supporting Hillary

    | Fri Feb. 1, 2008 1:39 PM EST

    Conservative elites are having their world turned upside down. They hate John McCain with a passion and yet he's their best chance to keep the White House. What do they do?

    The clip below is illustrative. Sean Hannity appears ready to swallow his long-time criticisms of McCain and vote for him in order to keep a Democrat out of the White House. Ann Coulter (I know, I know, we're not supposed to pay attention to Ann Coulter) appears ready to... vote for Hillary?

    So Clinton is more conservative than McCain, lies less than McCain, and is smarter than McCain? Is this some calculated Coulterian plot to undercut Clinton's support? Whatever. I'm just interested in Ann Coulter's head exploding on national television. Give it a month and it may actually happen.

    Update: Dennis Hastert is joining the chorus of conservative voices against McCain.

    Who Is the Real Most Liberal Senator?

    | Fri Feb. 1, 2008 1:17 PM EST

    So the National Journal's contention that Obama is most liberal member of the Senate has been pretty widely discredited across the internet. So who is the most liberal? A much more trustworthy rating system provides some answers here.

    Something Strange Happened When Manila Banned Publicly Funded Contraception

    | Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:59 PM EST

    From Salon:

    ...choosing between contraception and food for their children, multiple pregnancies after being told it would be dangerous for them to have more children, unwanted pregnancies forcing families into extreme poverty, abstinence leading to troubled marriages and divorces, backroom abortions, maternal deaths from multiple pregnancies, abortion deaths... you name it.

    And, by the way, a violation of the Philippine constitution and a coupla international treaties, since Manila's ultra-religious mayor has right to issue such a decree. While the lawsuit aimed to end the ban winds its way through the legal system, poor women, poor families, will just go paying the price for other's opinions and religious beliefs.