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Dust From Factory Farms Carries Drugs, Poop Bacteria, and Antibiotic-Resistant Genes Far and Wide

| Tue Jan. 27, 2015 6:00 AM EST
Does what's deposited onto the feedlot floor stay in the feedlot? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.

Ever approached a feedlot teeming with thousands of cattle? Unlike industrialized hog and chicken farms, where huge enclosed buildings trap at least some of the smell, cattle feedlots are open-air—as anyone who has driven Highway 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco can testify. Turns out, when you inhale the aroma, you're not just getting a blast of ammonia and other noxious fumes. You're also probably breathing in tiny particles of antibiotics, bacteria from cows' "fecal matter and gut flora," and antibiotic-resistant gene sequences. That's the conclusion of a new study from Texas Tech researchers, who analyzed air samples taken just downwind of ten cattle feedlots in Texas and states to the north, each containing between 20,000 and 50,000 cows.

The team placed portable air samplers 10-20 yards upwind and downwind of feedlots in the fall and winter months, when temperatures are mild and wind is moderate, and analyzed the particulate matter. Monenisin, an antibiotic growth promoter widely used on beef and dairy feedlots, turned up in 100 percent of samples, at much higher rates downwind (mean: 1,800 parts per billion) than upwind (below the level of measurement.) Now, monenisin isn't used in human medicine, meaning that it doesn’t directly contribute to antibiotic resistance that affects us. But tetracycline antibiotics—used commonly to treat urinary tract infections and pink eye—showed up in 60 percent of the downwind samples and 30 percent of the upwind samples, again at much lower levels upwind.

Levels of antibiotics in the air outside of feedlots were similar to those typically found within large enclosed hog operations.

To put these findings in perspective, the authors note they found antibiotics in the air outside of these feedlots at levels similar to those typically found within large enclosed hog operations—meaning that finding yourself 20 yards from a giant cattle lot is a lot like being inside a hog house.  

They also found bacteria "common to fecal matter and gut flora" at significantly higher levels downwind than upwind, including several that can cause human infections, including including corynebacterium, Leptospira, Clostridia, Bacteroides, and Staphylococcus.

And they picked up gene sequences that confer resistance to tetracycline at rates ranging from 100 to more than 1,000 times higher downwind than upwind. And get this: Those tetracycline-resistant genes appeared at much higher rates than those typically found in the liquid manure lagoons that build up in beef feedlots—meaning that wind may be even more prolific than water at spreading antibiotic-resistant genes from the farm to the surrounding region.

So how is all this nasty stuff moving from the feedlot to the surrounding air? The authors offer a simple explanation: The ground in feedlots "consists primarily of urine and fecal material," the study notes. In the morning, all of that … stuff is relatively stable, held more or less in place by moisture from humidity. But after hours of sunlight, the floor material "becomes dry and brittle, thus becoming source material for fugitive dust."

So what does this all add up to? The study doesn't comment on whether the particles the researchers found are at high enough levels to directly cause human harm. But that's not the main concern—most of us don't spend much time near massive concentrated cattle operations. (Feedlot workers are another story.) The larger issue is those antibiotic genes, traces of antibiotics, and fecal microbes that are being scattered far and wide. The authors note that of the nation's 2,100 large-scale (1000 head or greater) cattle feedlots, more than three-quarters are in the region of area study, the southern Great Plains (a swath stretching from northern Texas through parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado)—the very region with the "highest frequency of dust storms in the United States." The region's semi-arid conditions—as well its its propensity for prolonged droughts—provides an ideal environment for the "wind scouring of dry soils," and "aerial transport and deposition" of feedlot particles into "surrounding soil surfaces, water surfaces, vegetation, and other living organisms."

And that's under calm weather conditions. "Fronts and other major weather patterns frequently sweep through this region, and are often associated with exceedingly high wind velocities which themselves transport significant masses of particulates into the atmosphere and across the region and continent," they add. And once in the environment, resistance genes can jump from bacteria that don't pose a threat to humans to ones that do, the authors note.

The study is yet another reminder that the massive amounts of waste generated on factory farms don't stay on factory farms. (Here's a 2011 paper from North Carolina State and Kansas State researchers showing that cockroaches and flies carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria from large hog facilities; and a 2014 one from Johns Hopkins and University of North Carolina researchers finding that resistant bacteria leave the farm in the noses of workers.)

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Scott Walker Is the Winner in 2016's First Republican Campaign Cattle Call

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 5:05 PM EST

Rep. Steve King (R–Tea Partyville) held his big annual Republican confab in Iowa this weekend, and most of the 2016 wannabe candidates for president were there. But I know you're all busy people who don't care about the details. Youjust want to know who won. Take it away, Ed Kilgore:

The consensus winner (first announced by National Review's John Fund, but echoed by many others) was Scott Walker, who did exactly what he needed to do: show he could twist and shout with the best of them despite his "boring" image, and make an electability argument based on the fruits of confrontation rather than compromise. This latter dimension of his appeal should not be underestimated: at a time when MSM types and (more subtly) Jeb Bush and Chris Christie continue to suggest Republicans must become less feral to reach beyond their base, here's Walker saying he won three elections in four years in a blue state by going medieval on unions, abortionists and Big Government. So Walker's passed his first test in the challenge of proving he's not Tim Pawlenty, and that's a big deal given his excellent positioning in the field.

Kilgore's "Tim Pawlenty" comment is a reference to Midwestern boringness, which has generally been seen as Walker's chief shortcoming. You can judge for yourself if you watch his 20-minute speech in Iowa, but I'd say he still has some work to do on this score. He wasn't terrible, but he never sounded to me like he really struck a connection with the crowd. He knew the words but not the tune—and even his words were a little too stilted and lifeless. Anytime you deliver an applause line and nothing happens, your words still need some work. And anytime you deliver an applause line, fail to wait for applause, then interrupt yourself to tell the crowd "you can clap for that, that's all right"—well, your delivery needs some work too.

I'm on record saying that I think Walker is the strongest candidate in the Republican field. He's got the right views, he's got a winning record, he's got the confrontational style tea partiers love, and he doesn't come across as a kook. But yes, he needs to work on the whole charisma thing. If he gets serious about that, I still like his chances in the 2016 primaries.

Here's How Much You Should Tip Your Delivery Guy During A Blizzard

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 3:45 PM EST
A delivery cyclist battles through mounting snow in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood in New York City last February.

As you may have heard, a blizzard is about to destroy life as we know it on the Eastern seaboard. Your children, your children's children, their children's children will all learn of this snowfall in stories. If a normal snowstorm is, as the wise men used to say, "God shedding a bit of dandruff," then what we are about to experience can only be described as, well, God shedding...a lot of dandruff? An avalanche of dandruff? One or two revelations of dandruff? We're going to be knee-deep in God's dandruff, is what I'm saying.

If, like mine, your fridge is bare of everything but the essentials (Tabasco, old Bloody Mary mix, a few jars of pickles) then you're probably hoping to make it through this thing via one of two ancient ways: 1) master-cleanse or, 2) Seamless. Assuming you take the second door, the question becomes: What do you tip a delivery man during a blizzard? What is morally acceptable?

Let's first dispense with the question of whether or not it is ever acceptable—regardless of gratuity—to order delivery during a blizzard. Leave that to the poets and the ethicists. It doesn't matter in the real world. People order delivery more during bad weather. Them's the facts. You are going to order delivery in bad weather.

During really bad weather like blizzards and apocalypses, a lot of restaurants nix their delivery offerings altogether—and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has banned all non-emergency vehicles, including delivery bikes, after 11pm Monday night. But the ones that manage to stay open—and in this case are willing to deliver on foot well into the night—reap the benefits of constrained supply. If this were Uber, it would result in surge pricing to get more restaurants delivering. But since GrubHub and its parent company Seamless don't do that—and they shouldn't unless there is some way of ensuring that the increase goes to the delivery person and isn't pocketed by the owner—we're thrown into this sort of state of moral worry. You know in your bones that the guy who brings you pizza in sub-zero weather should get more than the guy who brings you pizza when it's 68 degrees and sunny. But how much more?

GrubHub Seamless crunched the numbers on tips during last year's polar vortex and found that residents in some zip codes increased their tips by as much as 24 percent, but on the whole, New Yorkers raised their normal tipping amount by a meager 5 percent. In the Midwest, however, where the temps dipped especially low, gratuities rose higher, to 14 percent in Chicago and 15 percent in Detroit and Minneapolis. Maybe the stereotypes are true and Midwesterners really are the nicest people in the country.

So, more. Tip more. How much should you tip a delivery man in a blizzard? More. More than you usually tip. Whatever you usually tip, tip better. Are you a good tipper normally? Become a great tipper. Are you an awful tipper? Become a just-bad tipper. (Also, you're a very bad person, and no one likes you very much.)

Want a strict system? Don't trust your heart to lead you to the right amount? New York magazine can help. Last year they spoke to Adam Eric Greenberg, a UC San Diego Ph.D. who co-authored an empirical analysis on the relationship between weather and tipping. Here's what he told them:

When the weather is bad, be a bit more generous by tipping 20 to 22 percent. If it's raining outside, tip 22 to 25 percent. If there's any snow accumulation, add a dollar or two on top of what you'd tip if it were raining. Having to work as a delivery guy during a blizzard is similar to getting stuck with a party of 20 as a restaurant server, so if you hear weather forecasters promising a "polar vortex, " a 30 percent tip is not outrageous.

So, there you have it: 30 percent. Anything under 25 percent and you go to Hell.

Does the Internet Really Make Dumb People Dumber?

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 1:55 PM EST

I don't normally get to hear what Bill Gates thinks of one of my ideas, but today's the exception. Because Ezra Klein asked him:

Ezra Klein: ....Kevin Drum, who writes for Mother Jones, has a line I've always thought was interesting, which is that the internet makes dumb people dumber, and smart people smarter. Do you worry about the possibility that the vast resources the internet gives the motivated, including online education, will give rise o a big increase in, for lack of a better tterm, cognitive or knowledge inequality that leads to further rises in global inequality?

Bill Gates: Well, you always have the challenge that when you create a tool to make activity X easier, like the internet makes it easier to find out facts or to learn new things, that there are some outliers who use that thing extremely well. It's way easier to be polymathic today than it was in the past because your access to materials and your ability if you ever get stuck to find people that you can engage with is so strong.

But to say that there's actually some negative side, that there actually will be people that are dumber, I disagree with that. I mean, I'm as upset as anyone at the wrong stuff about vaccination that's out there on the internet that actually confuses some small number of people. There's a communications challenge to get past.

But look at IQ test capability over time. Or even take a TV show today and how complex it is — that's responding to the marketplace. You take Breaking Bad versus, I don't know, Leave it to Beaver, or Combat!, or The Wild, Wild West. You know, yeah, take Combat! because that was sort of pushing the edge of should kids be allowed to watch it.

The interest and complexity really does say that, broadly, these tools have meant that market-driven people are turning out more complex things. Now, you can say, "Why hasn't that mapped to more sophistication in politics or something like that?" That's very complicated. But I don't see a counter trend where there's some group of people who are less curious or less informed because of the internet.

I'm sure that was said when the printing press came along and people saw romance novels and thought people would stay indoors and read all the time. But I just don't see there being a big negative to the empowerment.

Unsurprisingly, Gates agrees that the internet can make smart people smarter. By analogy, the printing press also made smart people smarter because it gave them cheap, easy access to far more information. Since they were capable of processing the information, they were effectively smarter than they used to be.

It's equally unsurprisingly that he disagrees about the internet making dumb people dumber. It's a pretty anti-tech opinion, after all, and that's not the business Bill Gates is in. But I think his answer actually belies his disagreement, since he immediately acknowledges an example of precisely this phenomenon: the anti-vax movement, something that happens to be close to his heart. Unfortunately, to call this merely a "communications challenge" discounts the problem. Sure, it's a communications challenge, but that's the whole point. The internet is all about communication, and it does two things in this case. First, it empower the anti-vax nutballs, giving them a far more powerful medium for spreading their nonsense. On the flip side, it makes a lot more people vulnerable to bad information. If you lack the context to evaluate arguments about vaccination, the internet is much more likely to make you dumber about vaccinating your kids than any previous medium in history.

The rest of Gates' argument doesn't really hold water either. Sure, IQ scores have been rising. But they've been rising for a long time. This long predates the internet and has nothing to do with it. As for TV shows, he picked the wrong example. It's true that Breaking Bad is far more sophisticated than Leave it to Beaver, but Breaking Bad was always a niche show, averaging 1-2 million viewers for nearly its entire run. Instead, you should compare Leave it to Beaver with, say, The Big Bang Theory, which gets 10-20 million viewers per episode. Is Big Bang the more sophisticated show? Maybe. But if so, it's not by much.

In any case, the heart of Gates' response is this: "I don't see a counter trend where there's some group of people who are less curious or less informed because of the internet." I won't pretend that I have ironclad evidence one way or the other, but I wouldn't dismiss the problem so blithely. I'm not trying to make a broad claim that the internet is making us generally stupider or anything like that. But it's a far more powerful medium for spreading conspiracy theories and other assorted crap than anything we've had before. If you lack the background and context to evaluate information about a particular subject, you're highly likely to be misinformed if you do a simple Google search and just start reading whatever comes up first. And that describes an awful lot of people.

Obviously this has been a problem for as long humans have been able to communicate. The anti-fluoridation nutballs did just fine with only dead-tree technology. Still, I think the internet makes this a more widespread problem, simply because it's a more widespread medium, and it's one that's especially difficult to navigate wisely. Hopefully that will change in the future, but for now it is what it is. It doesn't have to make dumb people dumber, but in practice, I think it very often does.

The Pentagon Is Holding an Essay Contest to Honor Saudi Arabia's Brutal King. Here's Our Entry.

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 12:29 PM EST

Shortly after Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, the 90-year-old king of Saudi Arabia, died last Friday, the Pentagon and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, paid their respects by inviting college students to participate in a "research and essay competition" in the late monarch's honor. No prize has been announced, but the Pentagon issued a press release about the contest listing the deceased monarch's considerable accomplishments: "the modernization of his country's military," his "lifetime" support of Saudi Arabia's alliance with the United States, his support of "scholarly research," and what Dempsey called the king's "remarkable character and courage." Although, as a woman, I wouldn't be recognized as a full human being by the king, here is my essay contest submission:

On women's rights:

Amnesty International, December 11, 2014: Saudi Arabia: Two women arrested for driving.

Human Rights Watch, April 20, 2008: Male guardianship laws forbid women from obtaining passports, marrying, studying, or traveling without the permission of a male guardian.

Human Rights Watch, December 2, 2014:

The informal prohibition on female driving in Saudi Arabia became official state policy in 1990. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, female American soldiers were permitted to drive on military bases in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi women organized a protest demanding the right to drive in Saudi Arabia as well. Dozens of Saudi women drove the streets of Riyadh in a convoy to protest the ban, which then was just based on custom. In response, officials arrested them, suspended them from their jobs, and the Grand Mufti, the country’s most senior religious authority, immediately declared a fatwa, or religious edict, against women driving, stating that driving would expose women to “temptation” and lead to “social chaos.” Then-Minister of Interior Prince Nayef legally banned women’s driving by decree on the basis of the fatwa.

On migrant worker's rights:

Human Rights Watch, December 1, 2013: Hundreds of thousands of workers were arrested and deported, some reporting prison abuses during their detentions. No standard contract for domestic workers was ever drafted. Human Rights Watch interviewed migrant workers about the arrests:

One of the Ethiopians, a 30-year-old supervisor at a private company, said he heard shouts and screams from the street, and left his home near Manfouha to see what was happening. When he arrived near Bank Rajahi on the road to the Yamama neighborhood, west of Manfouha, he saw a large group of Ethiopians crying and shouting around the dead bodies of three Ethiopians, one of whom he said had been shot, and two others who had been beaten to death. He said six others appeared to be badly injured.

He said he saw Saudis whom he called shabab (“young men” in Arabic), and uniformed security forces attack the Ethiopians who had gathered. The shabab were using swords and machetes, while some of the uniformed officers were beating the migrants with metal police truncheons, and other officers were firing bullets into the air to disperse the crowd. He said that he narrowly escaped serious injury when a Saudi man swung a sword at his head. It missed, but hit his arm, requiring stitches to close the wound. 

On peaceful protest:

Human Rights Watch, December 18, 2013: Authorities arrested and charged many peaceful protestors for "sowing discord" and challenging the government.

Amnesty International, December 4, 2014:

On 6 November, the authorities sentenced Mikhlif al-Shammari , a prominent human rights activist and an advocate of the rights of Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a Muslim community, to two years in prison and 200 lashes on charges related to his peaceful activism. In a separate case, on 17 June 2013 Mikhlif al-Shammari had already been sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) to five years in prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban, on charges related to his peaceful activism. The court also banned him from writing in the press and on social media networks, and from appearing on television or radio.

Human Rights Watch, January 10, 2015:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia should overturn the lashing and prison term for a blogger imprisoned for his views and immediately grant him a pardon. Saudi authorities lashed Raif Badawi 50 times on January 9, 2015, in front of a crowded mosque in Jeddah, part of a judicial sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for setting up a liberal website and allegedly insulting religious authorities.

On torture:

The Washington Post, November 19, 2004:

A federal prosecutor in Alexandria made a comment last year suggesting that a Falls Church man held in a Saudi Arabian prison had been tortured, according to a sworn affidavit from a defense lawyer that was recently filed in federal court in Washington.

The alleged remark by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon D. Kromberg occurred during a conversation with the lawyer, Salim Ali, in the federal courthouse in Alexandria, according to Ali's affidavit.

The document was filed Oct. 12 in connection with a petition by the parents of the detained man, Ahmed Abu Ali, who are seeking his release from Saudi custody.The lawyer stated in the affidavit that he asked Kromberg about bringing Abu Ali back to the United States to face charges so as "to avoid the torture that goes on in Saudi Arabia."

Kromberg "smirked and stated that 'He's no good for us here, he has no fingernails left,' " Salim Ali wrote in his affidavit, adding: "I did not know how to respond [to] the appalling statement he made, and we subsequently ceased our discussion about Ahmed Abu Ali."

In conclusion, from Human Rights Watch:

For [Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz's half-brother and successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz] to improve on Abdullah’s legacy, he needs to reverse course and permit Saudi citizens to peacefully express themselves, reform the justice system, and speed up reforms on women’s rights and treatment of migrant workers.

ANWR Proposal Shows That Obama's Power to Set the Agenda Is Alive and Well

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 11:59 AM EST

Here's the latest salvo in President Obama's flurry of executive activity following the 2014 election:

President Obama proposed designating 1.4 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as protected wilderness, drawing cheers from environmentalists but setting off a bitter new battle Sunday with the Republican-controlled Congress over oil and gas drilling in pristine areas of northern Alaska.

The plan would permanently bar drilling and other forms of development in the 19.8-million-acre refuge’s coastal plain, a narrow strip between the Brooks Range mountains and the Arctic Ocean where caribou give birth. The area, estimated to hold 10.3 billion barrels of oil, is home to more than 200 species, including polar bears, wolverines, musk oxen and thousands of migratory birds.

Now, technically this is meaningless. ANWR has been a battleground for years, as much symbolic as anything else. The amount of oil it could produce isn't really huge, but then again, the environmental damage that a pipeline would produce probably isn't that huge either.1 In any case, the Interior Department already bans drilling in ANWR, and there's no way that a Republican Congress is going to pass a bill to make a drilling ban permanent. So what's the point of Obama's proposal?

It's simple: once again he's using the agenda-setting power of the presidency. Basically, he's making ANWR something that everyone now has to take a stand on. Talking heads will fulminate on one side or the other, and Republicans will respond by introducing legislation to open up ANWR to drilling. This isn't something they were planning to spend time on, but now they probably will. Their base will demand it, as will the Republican caucus in the House and Senate. Nothing will come of it, of course, but it will eat up time that might otherwise have been spent on something else.

And that's why Obama is doing this. It also lays down a marker and lets everyone know that Democrats are the party of natural beauty while Republicans are the party of Big Oil. It can't hurt to make that clear. Still, that's not the main goal here. The main goal is to toss some sand in the gears of Republican plans for the 115th Congress. Obama is proving once again that even with the opposition in control of Congress, he still has the power to decide what people are going to talk about.

1Please address all hate mail regarding this assertion to my editors. Thanks.

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It's Time for Greece to Decide If It's Leaving the Euro

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 11:17 AM EST

As expected, the Syriza party won power in Sunday's election in Greece. Their platform is pretty simple: the austerity forced on Greece after the 2008 financial collapse is no longer tolerable. The Greek economy is in shambles, growth is negative, and unemployment is above 25 percent. Europe needs to forgive its loans to Greece and allow the Greek economy to grow again. Here is Europe's response so far:

“The Greeks have the right to elect whoever they want; we have the right to no longer finance Greek debt,” Hans-Peter Friedrich, a senior member of [Angela] Merkel’s conservative bloc, told the daily newspaper Bild on Monday. “The Greeks must now pay the consequences and cannot saddle German taxpayers with them.”

In other words: Screw you. The loans need to be repaid no matter the cost. This has been the German position for some time1, and the German position is the de facto European position. So we have a standoff.

It's unclear what will happen next. There will be negotiations, of course, but the truth is that Syriza doesn't have much leverage. They can threaten to unilaterally default and leave the eurozone, but that's about it. A few years ago, that would have meant something because everyone was afraid that if Greece defaulted, perhaps Spain and Italy and Portugal and others would follow suit. This could well have destroyed the euro. Today things are exactly the opposite. Nobody is really afraid that other countries would follow Greece in leaving the euro, but they are afraid that if they make serious concessions then other countries will want their debt forgiven too. And that's simply not on the German agenda.

So is Syriza serious? Will they really default if they don't get what they want? Leaving the euro would be no easy task and would cause immense economic pain. The only question is whether the pain would be worth it in the long run. It might be, but it's hardly an easy call, and it would take real guts for Syriza to call Germany's bluff and leave the euro. The practical problems alone—how fast can you create new physical currency and coins to replace euros?—are nearly insurmountable. The economic problems of capital flight and being shut out of the international loan market would be colossal. Greeks would take an instant hit to their standard of living, perhaps as large as 50 percent.

But it still might be worth it. The Greeks may calculate that in the medium term, exiting the euro and adopting a devalued currency would allow their economy to become competitive and finally start growing again. Without that, they could be looking at a decade or more of pain and stagnation.

So there's the question: which road would leave Greece better off in 2025? Years more of stagnation followed by a slow, painful recovery? Or a huge hit now followed—maybe—by a robust recovery? It's not an easy question.

And of course, there's also the purely emotional aspect of all this. The Germans are tired of the whining Greeks. The Greeks are tired of living under the German jackboot. It may simply be time for a divorce, consequences be damned. The next few months will be a time of high tension for Europe.

1Ironically, this was the position of the allies toward German reparation debt following World War I, and we all know how that turned out. But no one is afraid of Greece starting a new world war, so no one cares about the irony.

This Is Not a Drill: 29 Million Brace for Massive, Historic Snowstorm

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 11:10 AM EST

Update: Monday, January 26, 6:35 p.m. EST: This was the scene outside our office this afternoon. Yikes!

Update: Monday, January 26, 6:00 p.m. EST: From our friends at Climate Central, here's a little background on the weather forces behind the storm and how they relate to man-made climate change:

The low pressure area at the heart of the storm is tracking along the East Coast in a way that lets it exploit the contrast between the cold air over land and the warmth of the oceans, which are running more than 2°F warmer than normal along much of the coast, said Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The warmer ocean waters mean more moisture in the atmosphere for the storm to suck up; the cold air over the continent ensures that moisture falls as snow.

Update: Monday, January 26, 5:00 p.m. EST: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to put a "hard stop" on the region's public transit later tonight in preparation for worse snow conditions starting in the early hours of Tuesday:

New Yorkers were piling into the subway ahead of the evening rush hour:

Heading into the Union Square subway entrance Monday afternoon. Tim McDonnell

Update: Monday, January 26, 2:45 p.m. EST: Even just after a couple hours of snow dumped by the strengthening blizzard, New York City's landscape is white-washed for the first time this season:

NYC's heroic fleet of food delivery cyclists soldiered on as snow came down in Manhattan. Tim McDonnell
Almost as soon as it started, the snow was coming down in sheets. Tim McDonnell
In Midtown, so begins the long battle to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice. Tim McDonnell
Stay warm, little guy! Tim McDonnell
Central Park quickly turned into a winter wonderland. Tim McDonnell

Update: Monday, January 26, 2:15 p.m. EST: As the blizzard begins to hit New York City, my colleague James West ventured out to capture some Brooklyn street scenes, in super-slow motion (flick the player to HD for some fun snow-falling prettiness):

After a few months of mild weather, today and tomorrow the East Coast is in for one hell of a snowstorm. Twenty-nine million people from New Jersey to Maine are under a blizzard alert. Here's the latest snow forecast for the Boston region from the National Weather Service:

And New York:

 

The range shown for New York here—up to two feet dumped on the city by Wednesday—is at least down from yesterday's estimates, when, as our friend Eric Holhaus at Slate reported, meteorologists were warning that it could be the largest blizzard in the city's history. Still, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told residents "to prepare for something worse than we have seen before." The worst of the worst is expected starting Monday afternoon and through Tuesday.

Stay tuned here for more updates, as well as images from inside the storm. 

In This Hopeful New Video, UNICEF and Electronic Artist RL Grime Tackle the Horrors of Child Marriage

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 9:00 AM EST

Every year around the world, more than 14 million girls are wed, typically to much older men, before they turn 18. The child brides, who more often than not are forced into these marriages by their parents, find themselves socially isolated and more likely than older wives to be beaten by their husbands or in-laws. In Chad, where nearly 70 percent become child brides, girls are more likely to die in childbirth than attend secondary school.

RL Grime
"Before UNICEF approached me, I was unaware of this epidemic," RL Grime told me. Andi Elloway

This new video, a collaboration between UNICEF and the electronic music producer RL Grime, tells the story of a child bride who meets a sad end—but with a twist. Featuring Grime's haunting new song "Always," the video will be used in the African Union's #ENDChildMarriageNOW campaign to highlight how children and communities suffer when girls marry too young. It "transmits a very strong message because it shows a too common reality in the life of many young girls," says UNICEF's Chad representative. "The video, at the same time, also shows an alternative story full of hope. It portrays the crucial role education can play in empowering girls and the collective change needed in the society to end child marriage."

According to UNICEF, giving girls better access to education, offering economic incentives and support for families, and implementing legislation to restrict child marriage are all crucial to solving the problem. But the first step is simply to make people aware of it.

RL Grime, whose real name is Henry Steinway, and whose tracks have clocked millions of listens on YouTube and SoundCloud, was happy to help. "Before UNICEF approached me, I was unaware of this epidemic of child marriage that is plaguing Chad and other places globally," he writes in an email. "So when they came to me with the opportunity I was happy to be involved and help shed light on a very real world topic."

He picked "Always," the opening track from VOID, his first full-length album, because he felt it evokes both the gravity of the problem and the idea of hope. "I think it's a somber yet uplifting track," he writes. "The lyric 'I feel better when I have you near me' really meshed well with the overall theme of the video, which to me hits on this sense of community."

The video has been officially endorsed by the First Lady of the Republic of Chad, who will present it to other leaders at the Summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa later this month.

The Go-Betweens, Expert Edition

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Go Betweens

Led by gifted singer-songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, Australia's Go-Betweens were a jangly folk-rock combo that compiled an impressive body of work from the late '70s to late '80s, broke up, and then reunited for another strong run in the early 2000s—until McLennan suffered a fatal heart attack in 2006. While comparisons to the Velvet Underground and R.E.M. are not implausible, the band was really its own unforgettable creature, suggesting a punk group trying to play nice pop songs, but not quite getting things right. Sometimes sweet, often astringent, the duo's songs never felt pat or predictable (or truly finished), creating the sensation of hearing riveting first takes of future classics.

Compiled by Forster, G Stands for Go-Betweens contains four vinyl discs, including their first three albums and a compilation of early singles, and four CDs that offer a whopping 70 rarities, including an electrifying '82 live show. It's not for beginners—either of the early albums Before Hollywood or Spring Hill Fair makes a good starting point—but anyone who's already joined the cult will find this imposing package irresistible.