Blogs

Seriously Exciting New Sounds From Brit Band Evans the Death

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Evans the Death
Expect Delays
Slumberland

If she'd been around four decades ago, Katherine Whitaker might have become a tender chanteuse in the tradition of Brit-folk greats Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) or Maddy Prior (Pentangle). But the other three members of London's Evans the Death have different ideas, matching her sweetly melancholy voice to rougher, unlikely textures, producing seriously exciting sounds.

"Terrified" and "Enabler" are grubby, rumbling rock and roll that turns profound unease into an exhilarating raveup, while "Don't Laugh at My Angry Face" captures the tortured howl of grunge without succumbing to tired '90s nostalgia. Even the jangly, more traditional title track boasts enough offbeat touches to feel fresh. While the band may take its name from the gravedigger in Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood," this stellar sophomore album is bursting with noisy vitality.

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Factlet of the Day: Mutual Funds Suck

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 2:50 PM EDT

Jeff Sommer summarizes the results of actively managed mutual funds over the past five years:

If all of the managers of the 2,862 funds hadn’t bothered to try to pick stocks at all — if they had merely flipped coins — they would, as a group, probably have produced better numbers.

I am not an investment advisor, so do whatever you want to do. But if you're smart, you'll invest in a few low-fee index funds and then just leave them alone. That is the path of wisdom.

Ides of March Catblogging - 15 March 2015

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 1:25 PM EDT

Et tu, Hopper? A few days ago I featured Hilbert draped over my sister, so I figured that turnabout is fair play: here's Hopper draped over me to make up for the lack of normal Friday catblogging. Hopper is a Daddy's girl, and will sit on no one's lap but mine. Nor will she even do that very often. But once or twice a day she suddenly gets in the mood and plonks herself into the crook of my arm for an hour or so, purring loudly the whole time. Unlike the tubby Hilbert, Hopper weighs a svelte 11 pounds (up from nine when we first got her), so she's no trouble at all to handle. A relaxing time is had by all.

Chart of the Day: Even the Rich Think the Middle Class Is Getting Screwed

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 11:56 AM EDT

A couple of weeks ago Pew did a poll about government policies during the recession, but I've been too sick to blog about it. However, it's stayed safely in my Saved Stuff folder awaiting my recovery, so here it is today. It's really two charts. Here's the first one:

Nothing too surprising about this. Generally speaking, people think the government did a lot to help out banks (bingo!), large corporations, and the wealthy. The poor and the middle class pretty much got nada. Since any poll like this is going to be dominated by the sheer number of poor and middle class respondents compared to wealthy respondents, this is about what you'd expect.

But now take a look at this table:

That's amazing. Even those with high incomes agree that wealthy people benefited the most from government policies and that the poor and middle class got bupkis. Even Republicans largely agree that this has been the case.

This is Stockholm Syndrome writ large. Everyone—rich, poor, Republican, Democrat—agrees that in the wake of the greatest financial disaster since the Great Depression, the government mostly turned its largesse on banks, big corporations and the wealthy. Nonetheless, Republicans—the longtime party of banks, big corporations and the wealthy—have done increasingly well over the past six years. For an explanation, take your pick:

  • Most voters don't understand Republican economic priorities.
  • Most voters don't think Democrats would do any better.
  • Most voters think this is just the way the world works and there's no point voting based on economic promises in the first place.

Whatever the reason, only about 20 percent of middle-class voters think government policies benefit the middle class. The first party to figure this out and embrace it wholeheartedly has a huge electoral opportunity ahead of it. But first, they're going to have to ditch the rich. Can either of them ever do that?

Pi Day Health News

| Sat Mar. 14, 2015 11:38 AM EDT

Well, a miracle happened. Last Monday, the 2nd, I fell off a deep cliff. For no apparent reason, I was sleeping very poorly and I spent entire days in a miasma of lethargy so great I was nearly debilitated. Twice things got so bad that I went to the ER.

Then, yesterday, suddenly I climbed back on the cliff. I woke up feeling perfectly normal. A little tired, perhaps, but that's normal for post-chemo recovery. In all other respects, I'm human again.

So what happened? Theory 1: We'll never know. Stuff happens for mysterious reasons. Theory 2: It was depression, and it eventually worked its way out of my system. Theory 3: My physician prescribed a different set of sleep meds on Thursday, and I slept better that night.

It's all very weird, and hopefully it will last. In another week or two the Effexor should kick in, and hopefully that will boost my mood (and improve my sleep) as well. The timing is welcome, since I have a busy few weeks of tests and procedures ahead of me.

So that's that. I'm still not in tip-top condition or anything, but I'm basically OK for the first time in two weeks. It's amazing.

POSTSCRIPT/BLEG: My new sleep meds work better than the old ones, but they still aren't ideal. My doctor mentioned the possibility of trying a med like Lunesta, which I gather is a time-release formulation. Does anyone with moderate-to-severe insomnia have any experience with this? Does it really keep you asleep for a full night? Any personal experiences welcome.

Will Obama's Ag Chief Wimpify the 2015 Dietary Guidelines to Please Big Meat?

| Sat Mar. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Should the new Dietary Guidelines—the advice the federal government issues every five years on what constitutes a healthy diet—include recommendations about what makes for a healthy planet? The meat industry sure doesn't think so.

The industry started flipping out when it saw some of the language in the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's February report: "Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods...and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with a lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average US diet."

Big Meat takes issue with two main things:

1) That the committee's scientists dared to comment on environmental sustainability issues in a nutrition report.

2) That the report said (elsewhere) that a healthy diet should be lower in red and processed meats.

The North American Meat Institute, a massive trade association, retaliated this week with a "Hands Off My Hot Dog" petition on Change.org, a flurry of tweets about saving the Ruben sandwich, and this short film, starring plastic-wrapped packages of raw beef:

The film focuses on the health merits of meat, arguing that it trumps other foods because, unlike plants, "animal proteins are considered complete proteins, or ideal proteins." Never mind that plenty of other accessible and cheap vegetarian foods, including rice and beans, or buckwheat, also provide complete proteins.

One calorie of beef requires 18 times the amount of fuel to produce as one calorie of grain.

But the video does not try to refute the notion that meat's environmental footprint is cause for concern—the UN argues, for instance, that livestock produce 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Dietary Guidelines' committee points out that producing one calorie of beef requires 18 times as much fuel as producing one calorie of grain.

It's no coincidence that the committee chose to flag the carbon footprint of our food: The guidelines are ultimately about people's relationship with food, and the deterioration of the environment's health is a blow to our food security. "Meeting current and future food needs," the committee notes, will depend on changing the way people eat and developing agricultural and production practices "that reduce environmental impacts and conserve resources."

So will the Dietary Guidelines retain this responsible language when they are officially published this fall by the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture? On Wednesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he could not rule out the chance that the final version will mention sustainability, but he implied that he would steer clear of doling out environmental advice. He told the Wall Street Journal:

"Our job ultimately is to formulate dietary and nutrition guidelines. And I emphasize dietary and nutrition because that's what the law says. I think it's my responsibility to follow the law."

The law or the money? The AP has reported that meat processing and livestock industries spent $7 million on lobbying and donated $5 million to members of Congress during the last election cycle.

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Key Obama Adviser: "There’s Never Been a Time When We’ve Taken Progressive Action and Regretted It"

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 5:33 PM EDT

Here to jump start your weekend is a "Quote of the Week," taken from Jonathan Chait's interview with longtime Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer, who worked closely with president from the 2008 campaign until his resignation last week. Their conversation focused on the president's embrace of liberalism in the face of a staunch GOP-controlled Congress. Pfeiffer's choice quote:

Whenever we contemplate bold progressive action, whether that’s the president's endorsement of marriage equality, or coming out strong on power-plant rules to reduce current pollution, on immigration, on net neutrality, you get a lot of hemming and hawing in advance about what this is going to mean: Is this going to alienate people? Is this going to hurt the president's approval ratings? What will this mean in red states?

There's never been a time when we’ve taken progressive action and regretted it.

Happy Friday!

Why a German Court Just Ordered A Vaccine Skeptic to Pay $100K

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 4:39 PM EDT

Four years ago, vaccine-skeptical German biologist Stefan Lanka posed a challenge on his website: Prove to him that measles is, in fact, a virus. To the first person who could do that, he promised a whopping 100 thousand Euros (about $106,000).

Despite loads of long-standing medical evidence proving the existence of the measles virus, Lanka believes that measles is a psychosomatic disease that results from trauma. "People become ill after traumatic separations," he told a German newspaper.

German doctor David Barden took him up on the challenge. Barden gathered six separate studies showing that measles is indeed a virus. Lanka dismissed his findings.

But today, a district court in southern Germany found that Barden's evidence provides sufficient proof to have satisfied Lanka's challenge. Which means Lanka now has to cough up the promised cash.

This issue has taken on new urgency due to a measles epidemic in Berlin that began in October. Health officials announced last Friday that 111 new cases had been reported in the previous week, bringing the total number to 724. The majority of those affected are unvaccinated; last month an 18-month-old died of the disease.

Lanka said he plans to appeal the court's decision.  

This Arizona Lawmaker Bravely Revealed Her Sexual Assault to Fight a Restrictive Abortion Bill

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 2:18 PM EDT

Arizona state Rep. Victoria Steele (D) revealed during emotional testimony Wednesday that she was molested by a male relative when she was a young girl. Steele, who was speaking against a bill that would make it harder for women to elect abortion coverage in plans bought through the Affordable Care Act, hadn't planned to talk about her past abuse, she explained later. But when committee chair Kelly Townsend asked her whether she felt abortion was a medical service, she felt compelled to share her experience.

"When I was a child, I was molested for years by one particular person," Steele testified. "This is health care. Having the ability to get an abortion. This is health care. And that's why I see this as necessary."

Steele said she later found out there were multiple victims, one of whom told her their molester had told her he would "stick a pencil up there and take care of it" if she ever ended up pregnant.

After Steele's testimony, a state House committee approved the bill by a 5-3 party-line vote. The bill now faces a vote before the full House.

In an editorial for Cosmopolitan published on Friday, Steele said she expected the bill to survive further debate, but explained why she thinks it's  dangerous for women's rights:

I was sexually abused by an adult over a period of years when I was a young girl. My immediate family didn't know about this until long after I had grown up and left home. When I was a child, I thought I was the only one. Then I found out that this person had many victims.

What I want, what I'm really hoping will come of all of this is that people will realize that this bill will cause women who have been raped recently, who are now pregnant as a result of their rape, to have to tell their insurance panel, or even their insurance agent, about one of the most horrific things that can happen to a person in order to get the exception that this bill will allow.

Friday Hummingbird Blogging - 13 March 2015

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

My physical collapse this week prevented me from taking any new cat pictures, and today I have a full day of workups in preparation for stage 2 of chemo. However, I did snap a new picture of our hummingbird babies yesterday. They seem to be growing nicely.

In the meantime, if you need a cat fix, my sister recommends this Daily Mail article about a human-cat translation device. Spoiler alert: it didn't go well.