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Bees Love Nicotine, Even Though It's Killing Them

| Wed Apr. 29, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

If a ubiquitous class of pesticides called neonicotinoids harms bees and other pollinators—as many scientists think they do—why don't those buzzing insects just avoid pollen and nectar that contains them?

That's the question posed by a new study published in Nature by a team of UK researchers. Champions of these chemicals, the authors note, often argue that bees can simply choose not to forage on neonic-laced plants—an entomological twist, I guess, on the personal-responsibility creed often employed by the food industry to defer blame for the harmful effects of junk food.

Far from avoiding neonics, foraging honeybees and bumblebees tend to prefer food laced with it.

What the research team found is remarkable: Far from avoiding neonics, foraging honeybees and bumblebees tend to prefer food laced with it—even though it causes them harm. To test how pollinators react to traces of neonics, the team created controlled environments over 24 hours for both bumblebees and honeybees and gave them two food choices: a straight sugar solution or a sugar solution laced with neonics at levels found in farm-field nectar.

According to the researchers, bees make food choices based on "gustatory neurons in hair-like sensilla" in their mouths. Potential food that's toxic and/or non-nourishing normally triggers spikes in "bitter"-sensing neurons, alerting the bee to stop eating and move on top something else. The neonic-laced sugar water didn't generate that reaction for either the bumblebees or honey bees, and so they consumed it freely—and tended to take in more of it than the neonic-free solution.

Why the preference? Here's how Geraldine Wright, the study's lead author and a professor at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, put it in the press release accompanying the study (ScienceDaily): "Neonicotinoids target the same mechanisms in the bee brain that are affected by nicotine in the human brain." In other words, while neonics don't register as toxins, the do give bees the same buzz (so to speak) that people get from a cigarette. Thus the poisons "may act like a drug to make foods containing these substances more rewarding," Wright added. (Neonics are synthetic versions of of nicotine, and thus chemically similar.

And just as human smokers court all manner of health trouble, the neonic-loving creatures of the study ate less than control groups that didn't have access to the fun stuff. Cutting calories may sound great for a 21st century American, but it's not good for beehives relying on well-fed foragers.

Just as human smokers court all manner of health trouble, the neonic-loving creatures of the study ate less than control groups that didn't have access to the fun stuff.

Because bees evidently seek out neonics, the authors argue, strategies to limit their exposure by planting pesticide-free nectar and pollen sources along roadsides and whatnot—a key element of President Obama's "Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators"—might not by enough. "Instead," they write, "long-term changes to policy that include reducing their use may be the only certain means of halting pollinator population decline."

Another recent Nature study, this one by Swedish researchers, provides yet more reason for concern. The team tracked how wild bee populations and honeybee hives fared in 16 fields planted with rapeseed (canola)—half of which had been sewn with neonic-treated seeds, half of which hadn't. The result: Populations of two kinds of wild bees—bumblebees and the solitary bees—dropped in the treated fields compared to the control ones. They found greatly diminished reproductive success in solitary bees in the treated fields. And bumblebee hives in treated fields showed slower growth and produced fewer queens than their control counterparts—both signs of diminished health.

As for honeybees, the insecticide seed treatment "had no significant influence on honeybee colony strength," the authors report. That finding is consistent with previous studies suggesting that "honeybees are better at detoxifying after neonicotinoid exposure compared to bumblebees," they write. But they note that their research took place over a short time—several weeks in summer when canola plants flower—and the "lack of short-term effects does not preclude the existence of long-term effects" on honeybees. And their conclusion is hardly comforting: Neonics "pose a substantial risk to wild bees in agricultural landscapes, and the contribution of pesticides to the global decline of wild bees may have been underestimated."

Responding to similar research, the European Commission placed a moratorium on most neonic use back in 2013. But here in the United States, the chemicals remain ubiquitous. This spring, US farmers will likely plant 174 million acres of corn and soybeans—a combined swath of land about equal to the state of Texas. The majority of it will likely be with seeds that have been treated with neonics, which are then taken up by the crops and present in plant tissue, nectar, and pollen, ready to poison any creatures that munch (except humans—neonics aren't  considered toxic to us).

As the chart below chart—taken from a recent paper by Penn State entomologists Margaret Douglas and John Tooker—shows, US neonic use has exploded since treated seeds first hit the market in 1994. That may mean lots of pleasant neural sensations for bees, if the UK study has it right; but it should make any species that depends on pollination for sustenance—like us—think twice.

 

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How Many Like Baltimore's Freddie Gray Have Been Killed in Police Custody?

| Wed Apr. 29, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
A protester at a Baltimore PD building on April 21

For many in Baltimore, Freddie Gray's death was shocking but came as little surprise. It was only a matter of time, some said, before Baltimore erupted the way Ferguson, Missouri, did last summer. While no one knows exactly how many Americans die in police custody each year, limited data gathered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics starts to give some sense of scale: At least 4,813 people died while in custody of local and state law enforcement between 2003 and 2009, according to the latest available report, published in 2011. Sixty-one percent of those deaths were classified as homicides.

As I reported last August in Mother Jones, the BJS collects data on what it calls "arrest-related deaths" that occur either during or shortly after police officers "engage in an arrest or restraint process." The agency reports that 41.7 percent of those who were deemed to have been killed by police while in custody were white, 31.7 percent were black, and 20.3 percent were Hispanic. (Others died from intoxication, suicide, or by accidental, natural, or unknown causes.)

But you could be forgiven for suspecting that's not the full picture: There were an estimated 98 million arrests in the United States by local, state, and federal law enforcement from 2003 to 2009, according to FBI statistics. Fifteen states, plus the District of Columbia, did not consistently report deaths in police custody during that period—and Maryland, along with Georgia and Montana, didn't submit any records at all.

In other words, as the turmoil in Baltimore continues, what the data seems to tell us at this point is just how much we still don't know.

Nigeria Says It's Rescued Nearly 300 Women and Girls From Boko Haram

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 6:20 PM EDT

Two-hundred girls and 93 women have been rescued from a Boko Haram stronghold in the Sambisa Forest, the Nigerian Armed Forces said Tuesday. They could not immediately confirm if the girls rescued were among those captured in Chibok last year—TIME is reporting that, indeed, they are not—however, writing on Twitter, the NAF said only, "the freed persons are now being screened and profiled. We will bring you details later."

In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 250 girls from the Chibok boarding school in northern Nigeria, sparking global outrage and the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Dozens of the girls have escaped since their capture—telling of horrors including rape and forced marriage—while the rest have remained in captivity.

Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group whose name in the local Housa language translates loosely to "Western education is forbidden," has terrorized northern Nigeria with bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings since 2009 and recently pledged allegiance to ISIS. According to an Amnesty International report released this month, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 2,000 women and girls since the beginning of 2014 and has killed at least 5,500 civilians.

 

New Bud Light Tagline Wants to Remove "No" From Your Vocabulary

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 5:20 PM EDT

"The perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night."

This is the very real tagline the tone-deaf marketers at Bud Light have slapped onto beer bottles as a part of the company's #UpForWhatever campaign. That initiative looks like this:

The slogan, which was captured in a photo and posted onto Reddit Monday, sparked a wave of anger from social media users who took to Twitter to blast the language for promoting a culture of rape.

Bud Light has already issued an apology, saying they merely "intended to encourage spontaneous fun." But think about it: Bud Light is a very large company. It's therefore safe to assume any new catch phrase attached to their widely distributed, watered-down brews would go through a number of gatekeepers before it was greenlighted. How this bad idea became a worse reality may turn out to be the perfect reason for removing Bud Light from your vocabulary every night.

"Violence Is Not the Answer": Baltimore Icon Ray Lewis Calls For Peace

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 4:10 PM EDT

Athletes and celebrities have taken to social media to call for an end to the Baltimore riots that flared overnight after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody having suffered a spinal cord injury.

Ray Lewis, who played for the Baltimore Ravens for 17 years before retiring in 2013, posted this fiery speech to residents on Facebook on Tuesday, asking for peace: "Young kids, you gotta understand something. Get off the streets. Violence is not the answer. Violence has never been the answer." (Ray Lewis was charged with murder in 2000 after a brawl in Atlanta, but those charges were later dropped.)

I've got a message for the rioters in Baltimore. #BaltimoreRiots

Posted by Ray Lewis on Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Professional basketball player and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony delivered this message to his hometown.

 
 

We all want Justice. And our city will get the answers we are looking for. My deepest sympathy goes out to the GRAY Family. To see my city in a State of Emergency is just shocking. We need to protect our city, not destroy it. What happens when we get the answers that we want, and the media attention is not there anymore? We go back to being the same ol Baltimore City again. If not yourself, then Think about the youth. How this will impact them. Let's build our city up not tear it down. Although, we want justice, let's look at the real issues at hand. For example, When was the last school built in Baltimore? That's just one example. I know my community is fed up. I'm all about fighting for what we believe in. The anger, the resentment, the neglect that our community feels right now, will not change over night. Continue, fighting for what you believe in. But remember, it takes no time to destroy something. But, it can take forever to build it back up. Peace7. #Thisonehitshome #BeMore #LetsNotFallForTheTrap "Please Understand What State Of Emergency Mean"(Destroy and Conquer) #StayMe7o

A photo posted by @carmeloanthony on

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce also denounced violence, recalling the Los Angeles riots after the 1992 beating of Rodney King by police, which he witnessed as a teenager in Inglewood, California:

Comedian Cedric The Entertainer, who was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, linked the upheaval to what happened in Ferguson (near his hometown), after the death of Michael Brown, a young unarmed black man shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson.

At least 15 police officers were injured in Monday's riots. On Tuesday morning, about 2,500 residents responded, sweeping debris throughout the city left in the wake of buildings destroyed by fires and looted businesses.

Chipotle Says It's Getting Rid of GMOs. Here's the Problem.

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 4:08 PM EDT

Chipotle announced this week that it will stop serving food made with genetically modified organisms. The company wants you to think the decision is "another step toward the visions we have of changing the way people think about and eat fast food," apparently because GMOs are regarded with at best suspicion and at worst total revulsion by lots of Americans.

There's data to support that notion: A Pew poll released earlier this year found that less than 40 percent of Americans think GMOs are safe to eat.

Here's the thing, though: GMOs are totally safe to eat. Eighty-eight percent of the scientists in that same poll agreed. As longtime environmentalist Mark Lynas pointed out in the New York Times recently, the level of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs is comparable to the scientific consensus on climate change, which is to say that the disagreement camp is a rapidly diminishing minority. Lynas also made the equally valid point that so-called "improved" seeds have a pretty remarkable track record in improving crop yields in developing countries, which translates to a direct win for local economies and food security. (Although there is evidence that widespread GMO use can lead to an increased reliance on pesticides.)

But there's an even more important reason why Chipotle's announcement is little more than self-congratulatory PR, even if you think that GMOs are the devil. As former MoJo-er Sarah Zhang pointed out at Gizmodo:

For the past couple of years, Chipotle has been getting its suppliers to get rid of GM corn and soybean. Today’s "GMO-free" announcement comes as Chipotle has switched over to non-GMO corn and soybean oil, but it still serves chicken and pork from animals raised on GMO feed. (Its beef comes from pasture-fed cows.) A good chunk of the GM corn and soybeans grown in America actually goes to feed livestock, so a truly principled stance against GMOs should cut out meat from GM-fed animals, too.

The same caveat applies to soda, which is also made mostly from corn.

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Genetically Engineered Happiness Probably Doesn't Mean Fewer Geniuses

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 2:39 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias says that becoming a new father has changed his mind about genetic engineering:

The main thing is that I now have an instinctive, gut-level understanding of what it is I want for my kid as a parent. And the main thing is that my parental aspirations are very asymmetrical. You want the kid to grow up to be basically happy and healthy. Anything beyond that in terms of genuinely noteworthy achievements would be nice, but honestly not that much nicer than "basically happy and healthy." By contrast, falling significantly short of "basically happy and healthy" would be really bad.

....Long story short, while I used to think of genetic engineering as primarily about making future generations "better" on average, with my dad-glasses on I think it would be largely about making them more mediocre. You would curtail the left end of the distribution curve, but also the right end. Fewer tortured geniuses and alienated, awkward loners who push the boundaries of society and technology.

The image of the tortured genius is rife in Western literature, but in real life it's basically a myth. Are there tortured geniuses among us? Sure. Vincent van Gogh was famously tortured. Kurt Cobain. Georg Cantor.

But the boring truth is that geniuses, on average, are about the same as everyone else aside from being geniuses. Einstein was perfectly well adjusted. Ditto for Shakespeare, Edison, Picasso, Maxwell, Newton, etc. They all had their own quirks and foibles, and were maybe a bit more driven than average, but fell well within the usual norms for healthy and happy. Historical studies of geniuses have all confirmed this. Being unhappy just doesn't have any effect on being a genius.

So no worries on that score, though there are plenty of other things to worry about in the brave new world of human genetic engineering—including the fact that not all parents share Matt's value system in the first place.

Besides, my guess is that trying to engineer geniuses is a dead end anyway. Artificial intelligence will get there first. By the the time we've finally figured out how to reliably produce the next baby Einstein, the machines will just be tittering at us behind our backs.

Rand Paul Blames the Baltimore Riots on Absentee Fathers

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 2:15 PM EDT

As one of a growing number of GOP 2016 wannabes, Sen. Rand Paul has tried to sell himself as the best Republican candidate to reach out to African-American voters. He's talked about the need for criminal justice reform. During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, he called for demilitarizing police forces. Yet his response to the riots in Baltimore show that he has a long way to go. During an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday, the Kentucky senator blamed the turmoil not on the police brutality that resulted in the death of Freddie Gray, but on absentee fathers and a breakdown in families.

"It's depressing, it's sad, it's scary. I came through the train on Baltimore last night, I'm glad the train didn't stop," Paul said, laughing at his own unfunny joke. He then pontificated of the unrest: "The thing is that really there's so many things we can talk about, it's something we talk about not in the immediate aftermath but over time: the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society. And this isn't just a racial thing, it goes across racial boundaries, but we do have problems in our country."

By the way, a week ago, Paul's 22-year-old son William was cited for driving while intoxicated after he was in a car crash.

Listen to the audio of the interview, recorded by Media Matters (hat tip to TPM):

Paul wasn't the only presidential aspirant to comment on the riots. Hillary Clinton sent out a tweet on Monday calling for peace but supporting the protestors who were upset by Gray's death.

Former Baltimore resident and likely presidential candidate Ben Carson pleaded with parents in the city to keep their children away from the disorder. "I urge parents, grandparents and guardians to please take control of your children and do not allow them to be exposed to the dangers of uncontrolled agitators on the streets," Carson said in a statement.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lamented the school closures across the city. "No man, woman, or child should fear for his or her safety in America—not in their schools, not in their neighborhoods, not in their cities—but today families are scared," the GOP contender said.

But long-shot Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley went further than just a simple statement. O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, canceled a string of paid speeches in Europe to return home.

Some Hopeful Images From Baltimore: Residents Uniting to Clean Up the City

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 12:20 PM EDT

After an evening of violent unrest, Baltimore residents emerged Tuesday morning to clean up after the destruction and prepare for what could be more chaos. On Monday, at least 15 police officers were injured and dozens of businesses were destroyed, as rioters clashed with law enforcement officials throughout most of the evening.

Residents, including children, were seen gathering around a CVS that had been looted and torched the night before. An affordable housing unit for senior citizens was also among the buildings destroyed by fires. Many businesses remain closed until further notice.

A large part of the clean-up effort was initiated by a Facebook group seeking volunteers to help amid Monday's violence. By Tuesday morning, nearly 2,500 people gathered at various meeting points throughout the city.

Monday's rioting followed the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose death after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody sparked protests. Initially, those protests were mostly peaceful; Gray's family was quick to denounce the ugliness that erupted Monday. "To see that it turned into all this violence and destruction, I am really appalled," Richard Shipley, Gray's stepfather, told NBC.

Many community members have also condemned the destruction. On Monday, one unidentified mother was seen reprimanding her son for participating in the violence.

Another protest is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

One Last Fundraising Pitch for Our Spring Drive

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 9:25 AM EDT

Editor's note: Kevin asked us to repost his message below if we thought it would help in the final days of our Spring Fundraising Drive—and we sure do, the response has been great and we want to be sure everyone sees it. Read his touching letter and pitch in a couple of bucks—or more—via credit card or PayPal if you can swing it.

Our annual Spring Fundraising Drive is wrapping up at the end of the month, but as you all know, I'll be recuperating from my final round of chemotherapy in lovely Duarte, California, right about then. But I didn't want to be left out, so I asked if I could post my note a little earlier than I usually do.

I figure if there's ever been a time when I'm allowed to get slightly more maudlin than usual, this is it. (But just slightly. I have a reputation, after all.) I've been writing for Mother Jones since 2008, and it's been such a great job that it's almost getting hard to remember ever working for anyone else. They've provided me with more freedom to write whatever I want than anyone could hope for. That's been great for me, and I hope for all of you too.

Writing for the print magazine has been a huge gift as well, and it's something I dearly hope to return to when all the chemotherapy is over and my strength is back to normal. It's been a privilege to share pages with such an amazingly talented bunch of journalists.

Truthfully, I've been blessed to have such a great editorial team over the past few months, as well as such a great readership. You guys are truly the best to go through something like this with.

So here's the ask: Mother Jones has done a lot for me and a lot for you over the past few years, and when I get back they're going to keep right on doing it. That makes this fundraising request a little more personal than usual, but if there's ever been a time for you to show your appreciation, this is it. If you can afford five dollars, that's plenty. If you can afford a thousand, then pony up, because you're pretty lucky, aren't you? Either way, when I get back I sure hope to see that my readers have really stepped up to the plate.

Readers like you are a big part of what makes Mother Jones such a unique place. Your support allows me to write about what’s truly important, rather than obsessing over whatever generates the most clicks and advertising revenue. And it's not just me. It gives all of us the independence to write about issues that other places won't touch. It means that we ultimately answer to you, our readers, and not a corporate parent company or shareholders (and you've never been shy about letting us know what you think!).

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