2011 - %3, July

11 Patriotic Songs That Don't Suck

| Sat Jul. 2, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Happy Independence Day! (Last month it was Flag Day! Flag Day!) Whether you're roasting a whole pig as the Founders intended, or just throwing some veggies—or peaches—on the grill, no July 4 barbecue is complete without a corresponding playlist.

Alas, America's birthday has been held hostage for eons by the dull, repetitive compositions of John Philip Sousa. We'll give the man his due, but after years of hearing it over and over again, "Stars and Stripes Forever" has begun to feel as interminable as the name suggests. He also famously predicted that the arrival of recorded music would cause people to stop creating new music altogether, and that "the vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."

So we thought we'd try something new: We asked you on Facebook for your favorite patriotic tunes. They didn't have to be jingoistic—in fact, the best one aren't. Just something that gives you a little bit of a pride in place when you hear it. And you responded—about 250 times, actually.

Here are 11 of our favorites:

Pavement, "No More Kings": This adaptation of the Schoolhouse Rock classic tells the story of how a plucky band of patriots broke away from the cackling, purple-lipstick-wearing tyrant King George III—and did so with just four fingers on each hand.

Marvin Gaye, "Star Spangled Banner": How to take a frequently butchered, oft-criticized anthem that's set to an old drinking tune, and turn it into a classic: Step 1: Add Marvin Gaye. Step 2: There is no step 2. (Apologies to Jimi Hendrix.)

Bruce Springsteen, "4th of July, Asbury Park": With an assist from the late, great Clarence Clemons.

Lee Greenwood, "God Bless the USA": Via MoJo Facebook commenters Larry, Heather, and Brandon (who prefaces it with an "Ok, I admit..."). We won't judge, Brandon! One mitigating factor here is that Greenwood went on to write a nearly identical song called "God Bless Canada," which strikes us on some level as patriotic bigamy.

James Brown, "Living in America": Because like it or not, most of us are.

Titus Andronicus, "A More Perfect Union": This one mixes Abraham Lincoln quotes, Harriet Beecher Stowe verses, independent-league baseball references, and an homage to Bruce Springsteen. If it were any more American, it would have to be deep-fried.

Johnny Horton, "The Battle of New Orleans": In which a band of American misfits teamed up with a band of actual pirates (!!) and, apparently, alligators, to score an ultimately meaningless victory. We'll take it.

Woody Guthrie, "This Land is Your Land": Look. We know. Woody Guthrie was none too happy with what was going on in America when he wrote this song. But we're pretty damn proud to be a part of a country that produces such powerful and aspirational expressions of discontent—and more generally, produces badasses like Woody Guthrie—and, ahem, Mary Harris Jones.

Funkadelic, "One Nation Under a Groove": Gettin' down, just for the funk of it.

Steve Goodman, "City of New Orleans": Goodman looks visibly nervous during all of this, which only serves to make the song even more endearing. Trains! Morning! Working people! Rust belt scenery! America!

Ray Charles, "America the Beautiful": A good note to close on. One of the classics, performed by one of the greats.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [22]

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 8:36 PM EDT

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

Attack of the Cookie Cutter Shark!

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 7:46 PM EDT

Ouch. All bite and no bark.

The first ever recorded instance of a human bitten by a cookie cutter shark is described in a paper now online in early view in Pacific Science.

An unfortunate human swimmer on a 47.5 kilometer/29.5 mile haul across the Alenuihaha Channel between the Hawaiian islands of Hawai‘i and Maui got nailed twice by this fearsomely ninjalike denizen of the deep, Isistius sp.

If you've spent any time at sea outside polar waters, chances are you've seen the toothwork of this gnarly little predator. It leaves deep round scars on whales, dolphins, tuna, billfishes, squids, and other larger marine life.

 

(Two cookie cutter shark bites in a pomfret. Credit: PIRO-NOAA Observer Program via Wikimedia Commons.) 

As Kramer used to say: Nature, she is a mad scientist... and never more so than with the hunting technique devised by the cookie cutter shark. Here's how FishBase describes it:

 

The cookie cutter shark has specialized suctorial lips and a strongly modified pharynx that allow it to attach to the sides of it prey. It then drives its saw-like lower dentition into the skin and flesh of its victim, twists about to cut out a conical plug of flesh, then pull free with the plug cradled by its scoop-like lower jaw and held by the hook-like upper teeth.

  

Cookie cutter sharks live in the mesopelagic zone and below and swim to the surface to feed at night. Credit: Nicholas Felton via Mother Jones.Cookie cutter sharks live in the mesopelagic zone and below and swim to the surface to feed at night. Credit: Nicholas Felton via Mother Jones.

Cookie cutter sharks spend the daylight hours below the cusp of darkness—that is, below 1,000 meters/3,280 feet. They migrate to or near the surface at night, travelling 2,000-3,000 meters/6,560-9,840 feet on a diel cycle. That's nearly two miles a day for a fish that maxes out at 56 centimeters/22 inches in length.

They ascend and descend alongside a massive community of marine life known as the deep scattering layer. (I wrote extensively about this community in my Gulf of Mexico oil piece in Mother Jones last year called The BP Cover-Up.) 

 

(Scars on a dead Gray's beaked whale, Mesoplodon grayi, possibly from cookiecutter shark bites. Credit: Avenue via Wikimedia Commons.)

But here the mad-scientist design gets even madder. The skins of cookie cutter sharks glow strongly bioluminescent—reported to radiate light for as long as three hours after death—part of their underwater camouflage wherein they hide among schools of glowing squid. 

And no one likes squid better than many cetaceans. When whales and dolphins attack squid, cookie cutter sharks ambush the ambushers, darting out to steal a plug of flesh, then disappearing back into the bioluminescent background

The human swimmer off Hawaii was attacked at night when the stern deck lights from the escort boat were lit and shortly after the escort kayak lit red and green bow lights. Here's what the Pacific Science paper says:

About ten minutes after the kayak's bow light was turned on, the victim was bumped by a squid. Over the next twenty minutes he was bumped by squid two or three more times in the shoulder and side areas at irregular intervals. At 2003 hrs, the victim suddenly felt a very sharp pain on his lower chest, and assumed it was a triggerfish bite. The sensation was instantaneous and localized, like a pin prick, and felt like a bite from a very small mouth. The victim yelped and swam over to the kayak, turned off the bow light, and was in the process of getting into the kayak with his legs vertical and "egg-beatering" to maintain position when he felt something bite his left calf. The time interval between the two bites was less than 15 seconds. The sensation of the bite to the leg was slightly more prolonged (but still very quick, less than a second), involved some pressure, and was less painful than the chest bite.

You can see images of these wounds at my blog Deep Blue Home. You can read the whole paper here.

Seems like FishBase will have to amend their listing for cookie cutter sharks. Currently it reads:

Not dangerous to people because of its small size and habitat preferences.

The Pacific Science paper concludes:

Humans entering pelagic waters at twilight and nighttime hours in areas of Isistius sp. occurrence should do so knowing that cookiecutter sharks are a potential danger, particularly during periods of strong moonlight, in areas of manmade illumination, or in the presence of bioluminescent organisms.  

 

Belly Buttons Have 1,400 Strains of Bacteria

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 7:28 PM EDT

I have to admit, I've always been a little jealous of those who found belly button lint. Never had any myself. But from now on I'll definitely keep my fingers away from belly buttons since scientists just found a whopping 1,400 strains of bacteria there. The research is part of North Carolina State University's Bellybutton Biodiversity Project (yes, it's a real thing). The project already looks fairly successful because it's identified 662 microbes that are unclassifiable, suggesting they are new to scientists. Seems that biologists have been too busy to spend much time navel-gazing.

Kansas Judge Blocks Abortion Clinic Regs

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 6:51 PM EDT

A judge in Kansas has blocked the state's strict new regulations on abortion providers from taking effect, a move that will allow all three clinics in the state to continue offering services, the Kansas City Star reports.

On Friday afternoon, U.S District Judge Carlos Murguia granted a request from two clinics—Aid for Women in Kansas City and the Center for Women's Health in Overland Park—to grant temporary relief from the new rules, which took effect July 1. The clinics were denied a license to continue operating after the state issued new rules on June 17 that would have required both clinics to make major changes to their facilities. A third clinic, owned by Planned Parenthood, was granted a license to continue operating on Thursday.

The injunction will remain in place until the court hears the formal challenge to the state's regulations.

"This is a tremendous victory for women in Kansas and against the underhanded efforts of anti-choice politicians to shut down abortion providers in the state," said Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup, which joined with the clinics in filing the legal challenge to the law, in a statement Friday evening. "The facts were clear—this licensing process had absolutely nothing to do with patient health or safety and everything to do with political shenanigans."

The Kansas legislature passed a new law in April creating a new designation for abortion providers under the state's licensing system, and directed the Department of Health and Environment to issue new rules. The department issued 36-pages of rules on June 17 (though the clinics did not receive copies until June 20), mandating things like the size of waiting and recovery rooms, the number of bathrooms, and the required temperatures for each room in the facility. Clinic owners argued that it was impossible to meet the new standards, given that they were released just two weeks before the clinics were required to comply. Moreover, they argued, the rules had little to do with protecting patients and were designed to shut down the clinics.

This type of law, often called "targeted regulation of abortion providers," or "TRAP" laws, isn't exactly new or unique, but Kansas' would have gone farther than others in actually shutting down abortion providers.

Languishing in Solitary, Pelican Bay Inmates Launch Hunger Strike

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 4:00 PM EDT
The X-shaped building cluster is Pelican Bay's special housing unit.

As Americans gear up to celebrate Independence Day, several dozen inmates languishing in solitary confinement at California's Pelican Bay State Prison are standing up for their rights the only way they can think of—by refusing to eat. The prisoners, who are being held in long-term or sometimes permanent isolation, launched a hunger strike Friday and have sworn to continue it until prison authorities improve conditions in Pelican Bay's special housing unit (SHU).

Built in 1989, Pelican Bay is the nation's first supermax prison built for that purpose, and remains one of its most notorious. About a third of its roughly 3,100 inmates live in the X-shaped cluster of buildings known as the SHU. NPR's Laura Sullivan, one of few reporters granted entry to Pelican Bay, described the unit in a 2006 report:

Everything is gray concrete: the bed, the walls, the unmovable stool. Everything except the combination stainless-steel sink and toilet. You can't move more than eight feet in one direction...The cell is one of eight in a long hallway. From inside, you can't see anyone or any of the other cells. This is where the inmate eats, sleeps and exists for 22 1/2 hours a day. He spends the other 1 1/2 hours alone in a small concrete yard...Twice a day, officers push plastic food trays through the small portals in the metal doors...

Those doors are solid metal, with little nickel-sized holes punched throughout. One inmate known as Wino is standing just behind the door of his cell. It's difficult to make eye contact, because you can only see one eye at a time. "The only contact that you have with individuals is what they call a pinky shake," he says, sticking his pinky through one of the little holes in the door. That's the only personal contact Wino has had in six years.

When conditions at Pelican Bay were challenged in a 1995 lawsuit, the judge in the case found that life in the SHU "may press the outer borders of what most humans can psychologically tolerate," while placing mentally ill or psychologically vulnerable people in such conditions "is the equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe." Yet since that time, the number of inmates in the SHU has grown, and their sentences have lengthened from months to years to decades. Hugo Pinell, a former associate of George Jackson who is considered by some a political prisoner, has been in Pelican Bay's SHU for more than 20 years.

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Tim Pawlenty's Weak Fundraising Haul

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 3:57 PM EDT

In the 2012 presidential money race, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty's second quarter haul was disappointing, to say the least. His campaign reeled in just $4.2 million, a disappointing sum compared to the $20 million that Mitt Romney, seen by many as the GOP frontrunner, is thought to have raised in the past three months. (Romney is due to announce his fundraising numbers after the holiday weekend.)

Here's the Washington Post's "Fix" blog on Pawlenty's numbers:

Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant confirmed the number, adding that the governor "begins the third quarter with more available cash-on-hand than the Republicans who won the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary had in July 2007." Conant offered no specifics about Pawlenty’s cash on hand total. He did note that Pawlenty’s fundraising total did include general election money that he would not be able to spend unless and until he becomes the party’s nominee.

At the end of June 2007, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had $437,000 in the bank while Arizona Sen. John McCain had $3.2 million on hand as well as $1.8 million in debt. Huckabee won Iowa, McCain New Hampshire. McCain went on to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2008.

Spin aside, the number is somewhat disappointing for Pawlenty who had been hoping to emerge as the clear pick for people not enamored with Romney by posting a strong number in the second fundraising quarter.

A Pawlenty aide said the number was "slightly off" the campaign’s goal of raising $4.5 million for the quarter but added: "There are a lot of people waiting on the field to prove themselves."

Super-Patriotic Grab Bag, July 4th Edition

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 3:49 PM EDT

Just in time for your Fourth of July festivities, here's a collection of scenes, rants, and polemic that are dripping with patriotic verve and swagger. We're running the flag-waving gamut from South Park to Bruce Springsteen oratory.

Be sure to enjoy with cold beer and an extreme love of one's country.

Gem of the Week: Peer Pressure Makes False Memories

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 3:18 PM EDT

In a study trial lawyers are sure to find of interest, Israeli scientist Micah Edelson has found that people's recollections of recent events can be altered by peer pressure. The study (published in Science this week) asked participants to view a movie in small groups. Directly after the movie, participants were questioned individually about it. Some participants were very sure their answers to interviewers' questions about the movie were correct.

Four days later, the interviewers asked participants about the movie again (especially on the items the participant felt strongly they had answered correctly). However, this time, the interviewers presented the participants with false information about the film, allegedly provided by the other people in the participant's viewing group. Edelson found that in nearly 70% of cases, the participant changed his or her correct memory about the movie to match the group's incorrect memory. And in nearly half of these cases, the participant's memory switch was long-lasting, meaning they might no longer remember their own, individual, correct version of the movie: instead, it had been replaced with the group's inaccurate memory.

There has been research before showing people's willingness to change their stories (even if they knew they were true) under social pressure. What makes Edelson's research unique is he used an MRI scanner while people were answering interviewer's questions. Edelson found that participants' hippocampi and amygdalas showed activity only when people changed their answers to match their viewing groups. If they changed their answer because a computer told them they were wrong, the hippocampus and amygdala didn't light up. The hippocampus is linked with memory and the amygdala with emotion.

"Our memory is surprisingly susceptible to social influences," Edelson said during a recent podcast. This can be a source of concern to some, he noted, since "studies have show that... [witnesses] often discuss crime details with each other before testifying, and this can definitely have an influence on court cases." As Edelson's recent paper shows, a crime witness who's had his or her true recollection of an event altered by some one else's faulty recollection may lose their initial memory of the event forever. It's neurologically possible for a witness's (or a juror's) memory of an event to truly change under social pressure.

Makes you wonder what effect the hippocampus and amygdala have on people who continue to believe crazy things (cough! Obama's a Muslim!) even in the face of conflicting facts. Maybe their communities have actually changed their memories of events and they actually remember a different reality than others. Or maybe it doesn't so much matter what you believe, as long as you think someone else believes it too.

Friday Big Cat Blogging - 1 July 2011

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 2:52 PM EDT

On the left, this is how Inkblot imagines himself when he's snoozing on the lovely, warm patio soaking up the summer heat. He is, in his imagination, King of the Jungle, lord of all he surveys. (Except perhaps for the Queen of the Jungle, biding her time outside the frame of the photo.)

This particular king was photographed in his natural habitat, a savanna in the wilds of southern New York state, aka the Bronx Zoo. On the right is a next-door peacock, because — well, why not? Peacocks are pretty creatures. I wish we had some around here. They couldn't possibly make any more noise than the damn crows, and at least they spruce up the joint a bit while they're screeching.

Inkblot and Domino are fine, just taking the week off from their exhausting catblogging duties. They'll be back next Friday.