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The West Gets 500% Dustier

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 10:41 PM EST

dustbowl.jpg The west wasn't always so dusty. It got a whole more so in the past 200 years, 500 percent more so—thanks to American expansion, complete with trains, ranches, and livestock. Sediment records from dust blown into alpine lakes in southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains over millennia indicate the sharp rise in dust deposits beginning in the middle of the last century. "From about 1860 to 1900, the dust deposition rates shot up so high that we initially thought there was a mistake in our data," said geologist Jason Neff of the University of Colorado Boulder. "But the evidence clearly shows the western U.S. had its own Dust Bowl beginning in the 1800s when the railroads went in and cattle and sheep were introduced into the rangelands. There were an estimated 40 million head of livestock on the western rangeland during the turn of the century, causing a massive and systematic degradation of the ecosystems." The 1934 Taylor Grazing Act imposed restrictions on western grazing lands, and the deposits show a coinciding decrease in dust that continues to this day.

Another reason to bring back the bison.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, 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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Black Immigrants, 'Model' Minority? Plus: Don Imus

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 9:38 PM EST

In my interview with Don Imus last Wednesday, I finally got around to talking about something I rarely get to - black immigrants. More on that in a minute.

It's amazing how much we fawn over Senator Obama's being 'black' without displaying any interest in that blackness, as if being a half-Kenyan mostly ex-pat tells us all we need to know about him. All that's interesting. That's what I was trying to get at generally in my book, The End of Blackness, and in this infamous piece. I finally got to it on, of all places, the Don Imus show.

That interview with Imus was so unbelievable, you simply have to listen to it. Here's part 1 and part 2.

Study: Anything With a Beat Causes Sexism

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 7:36 PM EST

mojo-photo-eminem.jpgVia AllHipHop.com, it's a study that appears to connect hip-hop to sexism, but not in the way you'd expect. Political science professors at North Carolina State University placed male and female students in three groups. One listened to Eminem's "Kill You" (representing the "misogynist" team: "Slut, you think I won't choke no whore/ 'til the vocal cords don't work in her throat no more?"), the second listened to the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" (representing absence of misogyny: "I'm-a set it straight, this Watergate") and the third group "was not exposed to rap music." So did they play them Josh Groban, or just sit them in a quiet room? It doesn't say. Anyway, the study concluded that hip-hop music made people more sexist, no matter what the lyrics were about:

Romney Redux?

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 5:15 PM EST

No, the prodigious Romney spawn are not running for office. Romney himself is thinking about getting back in!

That's according to Josh Romney, the elder Romney's son, who says it is "possible" his father may rejoin the race for the White House, due to John McCain's stumbles.

As hilarious as that would be (I miss the good old days, when the Republican race was completely FUBAR), it wouldn't do Romney much good. According to the AP's delegate count, Romney's former victories gave him just two more delegates than Mike Huckabee currently has. It's commonly acknowledged that it is mathematically impossible for Huckabee to win the nomination. The same goes for Romney.

Mitt, listen. To paraphrase Jay-Z, you got money stacks bigger than John McCain. Enjoy your retirement. Or, make like John Edwards after 2004 and start campaigning in Iowa now.

Update: Josh Romney proves me wrong! He is considering running for Congress!

Kimmel's "F***ing Ben Affleck" Video: Homophobic?

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 5:14 PM EST

mojo-photo-kimmelaffleck.jpgThere's a bit of a comments war raging at gay-oriented blog Towleroad over an elaborate sketch from last night's Oscars after-show. The video in question was the latest installment in a running joke on Kimmel's ABC late-night show: recently his girlfriend Sarah Silverman brought in a video in which she announced she's "f***ing Matt Damon," with the Bourne star himself providing backup vocals. Kimmel scoring (with) Affleck was the only logical response, of course, but they really stepped up the production values, recruiting a slew of stars in a "We Are the World"-style sing-along: Robin Williams, Huey Lewis, Josh Groban?! It wasn't quite as funny as Silverman's bit (which twirled wildly through a pastiche of pop culture and musical references) and relied mostly on the shock value of its guest cameos, but some viewers are also finding that certain parts of the video crossed the line into homophobia. Kimmel and Affleck are dressed in ridiculous outfits that include skimpy jean shorts and a metallic green t-shirt, and they paint their toenails at what appears to be a gay tiki bar. While late-night comedy sketches aren't exactly, you know, hate-crimes legislation, and I typically side with comedians rather than the easily-offended, this one does bring up the question of how to tell when stereotypes are being mocked and when they're being exploited. Watch both Silverman/Damon's and Kimmel/Affleck's after the jump, and then commenters, rant away: are we watching a troubling bit of subtle gaysploitation, or should the PC police chill out and realize that laughing at stereotypes defuses them? And in general, how many times funnier is Sarah Silverman than Jimmy Kimmel?

Democratic Governor of Alabama Railroaded?

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 5:01 PM EST

The Don Siegelman case has been followed in some corners of the mainstream media, but has yet to generate any real outrage. It should: It appears that the Democratic governor of Alabama was thrown into prison after Republican operatives and officeholders in the state (with the help of Karl Rove) gamed the justice system. People are speaking out, including 52 former state attorneys-general of both political parties who feel Siegelman was dealt a case of twisted justice. Let's hope this 60 Minutes report draws more attention to the situation. It's a good way to learn about the case.

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One Week from Judgment Day, Clinton Steps Up the Attacks

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 1:46 PM EST

The conciliatory moment at the end of the Democrats' debate last week in Texas wasn't a sign of things to come. In fact, it was more of a head fake by Hillary Clinton, who has launched several attacks on Barack Obama in recent days, some of which are downright nasty. The remaining week before the primaries in Texas and Ohio may be a slimy one for the Democrats.

It started last week when the Clinton campaign attempted to connect Obama to two Hyde Park radicals that were part of the domestic terror group known as the Weather Underground. The pair, who are unrepentant about setting bombs in government buildings in the 1960s (possibly because they took care to avoid harming any bystanders), hosted an event at their house in the mid-1990s that Obama attended. One of them donated $200 to his state senatorial campaign. The connection is a weak one; there is no evidence Obama has a relationship with these people. What's more, Bill Clinton pardoned a different member of the Weather Underground, also unrepentant, who had served 16 years in prison on federal charges. The attack didn't get much traction in the press, but will undoubtedly be raised again by the McCain campaign should Obama win the Democratic nomination.

The Clinton assault on Obama then moved to Ohio.

Virgin Atlantic Biofuel Test a "Vital Breakthrough," Says Branson

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 1:45 PM EST

pond-scum-virgin-air.jpg

I wrote last month of Sir Richard Branson's conversion to the cause of environmentalism and his quest to develop a biofuel to power Virgin Atlantic's fleet of commercial aircraft. The much-hyped test flight of a Boeing 747 between London and Amsterdam finally went off over the weekend. Despite widespread speculation as to the type of fuel to be used (more than 20 different feedstocks were considered, everything from canola oil to pond scum), the flight relied on a blend of oils extracted from Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts to provide 20 percent of the test flight's power.

Branson proclaimed the flight to be a resounding success and a huge step forward in cleaning up the world's skies. "This pioneering flight will enable those of us who are serious about reducing our carbon emissions to go on developing the fuels of the future," he said.

MoJo on Oscars' Picks (and a Truly Awesome Oscars Moment, for "Once")

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 12:36 AM EST

A pretty weighty Oscars bill this year. So no surprise that a slew of our picks were nominees. Check out these tidbits: a revealing interview with Iranian exile Marjane Satrapi, the artist behind Persepolis; an inside look at War/Dance; and our review of tonight's winner in the best documentary feature category, Taxi to the Dark Side.

And the feel-good story of the night? Hands down, best-song winners (up against two Alan Mencken powerhouses) Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who won for "Falling Slowly" from the way-Indy film Once. Irglova, who faced music before she had her chance to get a word in, was later granted time to speak. And she took eloquent advantage: "Fair play to those who dare to dream, and don't give up. This song was written from the perspective of hope, and hope, at the end of the day, connects us all, no matter how different we are."

See Once (and skip Atonement). And like Hansard said: Make Art, Make Art.

If the Army Had Wanted You to Have a Family, it Would Have Issued You One, Soldier!

| Sun Feb. 24, 2008 10:16 PM EST

That's the kind of thing our hard-nosed superiors used to say to us when we bitched about how duty interfered with our lives (took me twice as long to get a BA, what with all the traveling). Some things cross a line though: military motherhood in a time of war without end might just be one of them. It was one thing, having to put my BA (and MA) on hold. I once had eight days to pack up my entire life in Maryland and report to Texas. Eight days, after waiting nearly a year for those orders. But, I was single, no kids. I managed. It would have been quite something else to wave bye bye to my newborn, as it turns out so many military moms are having to. Things just get worse and worse from our troops and our war.

Time away from family is the top reason given for troops not re-upping, a problem which affects the mothers of infants in a special way. The Army only gives new mothers six weeks of maternity leave and a four month delay in deployments. Unsurprisingly, women's willingness to serve in the Army has dropped faster even than the men's; from 10% to 4% according to the Army's youth surveys. Washington Post: "Other services grant longer exemptions, and all have generally shorter deployments: The Navy exemption is 12 months, and the Marine Corps's is six months, and deployments average seven months for both. The Air Force has a four-month exemption, but its deployments average only four to six months." Nearly 40% of women on active duty have children

You have to read the Post piece to make yourself dizzy getting behind the gestational math couples have to master to time getting pregnant at exactly the right moment between/during or after deployments. In the case of dual career military couples, infants end up spending the first year or so of their lives with grandparents or other more attenuated guardians. There went breastfeeding.

The military life isn't for everyone, but this is the kind of thing that the Pentagon brass had better do some serious thinking about. Potential recruits, and the mid-career types we're losing in droves, certainly are.