Author Archives: Sheeritwern

FEMA director calls San Juan mayor’s concerns ‘political noise.’

Sorry to ruin the party, but a report from the Food Climate Research Network casts doubt on recent suggestions that pasture-raised cattle could sequester massive amounts of carbon in the soil.

By nibbling plants and stimulating new root growth, the old argument goes, cows can encourage deeper root networks, which suck up more carbon. Proponents of grass-fed meat have embraced these findings, saying that pasture-raised livestock could mitigate the impact of meat consumption on the environment.

The new report — cleverly titled “Grazed and Confused?” — acknowledges that pastured cattle can be carbon negative, but this depends on the right soil and weather conditions. In most places, according to the report, grazers produce much more greenhouse gas than they add to the ground. It is an “inconvenient truth,” the authors write, that most studies show grass-fed beef has a bigger carbon footprint than feedlot meat. “Increasing grass-fed ruminant numbers is, therefore, a self-defeating climate strategy,” the report concludes.

Fortunately, grass-fed beef is not the only solution being bandied about: Research shows that a small dose of seaweed in livestock feed could drastically reduce methane emissions. And if you really want to reduce your impact on the climate you could, you know, stop eating meat.

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FEMA director calls San Juan mayor’s concerns ‘political noise.’

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Charles Murray Still Convinced That Whites Are Smarter Than Blacks

Mother Jones

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I didn’t realize that Charles Murray was still talking about his belief that African-Americans are genetically less intelligent than whites. But he is. Over at Vox, Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett report on a two-hour podcast he did recently with Sam Harris:

The consensus, he says, is that IQ exists; that it is extraordinarily important to life outcomes of all sorts; that it is largely heritable; and that we don’t know of any interventions that can improve the part that is not heritable. The consensus also includes the observation that the IQs of black Americans are lower, on average, than that of whites, and — most contentiously — that this and other differences among racial groups is based at least in part in genetics.

I’ve read The Bell Curve, so I’m not just talking out of my ass about it. And it’s a weird book. The vast bulk of it is about the first five bolded items above, which really are part of the scientific consensus. You can argue the details, but it’s safe to say that intelligence is real; it’s important; it’s partly genetically heritable; it’s difficult to change; and blacks score lower on IQ tests than whites. The evidence in The Bell Curve on these scores is fine. But then the book gets to a couple of chapters about the genetic basis of the black-white IQ gap, and suddenly the evidence gets very, very fuzzy. In fact, I want to share a brief boxed item included on page 310:

The German Story

One of the intriguing studies arguing against a large genetic component to IQ differences came about thanks to the Allied occupation of Germany following World War II, when about 4,000 illegitimate children of mixed racial origin were born to German women. A German researcher tracked down 264 children of black servicemen and constructed a comparison group of 83 illegitimate offspring of white occupation troops. The results showed no overall difference in average IQ. The actual IQs of the fathers were unknown, and therefore a variety of selection factors cannot be ruled out. The study is inconclusive but certainly consistent with the suggestion the B/W difference is largely environmental.

In one sense, I applaud Murray and his co-author for including this. At the same time, they spend no time engaging with it in the text of the book. But they should: it’s only one study, and as they suggest, it has some missing pieces. Still, it’s one of the very few studies of African-American and white American children raised in middle-class environments outside of America. The fact that it shows no difference between black and white children is pretty significant—especially since it’s highly unlikely that any of these children received any kind of special treatment.

I don’t want to pretend that this study is definitive. It’s not. But a single disconfirming case is all you need to demonstrate that the black-white IQ gap is entirely non-biological, and this one is pretty close.

It’s not impossible that there’s a biological difference in intelligence between blacks and whites. That’s fundamentally a scientific question, and it hasn’t been conclusively proven one way or the other. But the effect of American culture on blacks is so toxic that it’s all but impossible to believe that any conclusions drawn in a study of Americans can ever be free of environmental contamination. After all, the Irish used to have low IQs. Jews used to have low IQs. And everyone was quite sure it was due to biology. But when anti-Irish and anti-Semitic animus died out, their IQs increased to normal levels. Amazing, isn’t it?

Maybe eventually Murray will find his long-sought gene complexes for cognitive ability, and will be able to show that there really is a genetic difference between blacks and whites. But I doubt it. The evidence just doesn’t point in that direction. Maybe in ten or twenty years we’ll know for sure.

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Charles Murray Still Convinced That Whites Are Smarter Than Blacks

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Jessica Chastain Hits Back at Russell Crowe’s Denial of Hollywood’s Ageism Problem

Mother Jones

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Jessica Chastain is firing back at comments made by actor Russell Crowe, after he attempted to explain why there aren’t enough roles for women over the age of 40 by blaming unrealistic, female desires to only play the hot young thing.

Crowe’s controversial comments came during a recent interview with Australian Women’s Weekly:

The best thing about the industry I’m in – movies – is that there are roles for people in all different stages of life. To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that (the roles have dried up) is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21 year old.

In response to Crowe’s victim-blaming away Hollywood’s well-documented ageism problem, Chastain told reporters, “Russell keeps getting his foot stuck in his mouth!”

“There are some incredible actresses in their 50s and 60s that are not getting opportunities in film, and for someone to say there are plenty of roles for women that age, that is not someone who’s going to the movie theater,” she added.

Riding to Crowe’s defense, however, is 18-time Academy Award nominee Meryl Streep:

I read what he said — all of what he said. It’s been misappropriated, what he was talking about. He was talking about himself. The journalist asked him, ‘Why don’t you do another ‘Gladiator,’ you know, everybody loved that.’ He said, ‘I’m too old. I can’t be the gladiator anymore. I’m playing parts that are appropriate to my age. Then the conversation went on to actresses. So that was proving a point, that he was talking about himself, as most actors do. That aside, I agree with him. It’s good to live in the place where you are. You can put old age on; it’s a lot harder to take it off.

But as Jezebel points out, Streep is not dismissing the charge that Hollywood lacks roles for older women—she has spoken out against both sexism and ageism in the film industry on numerous occasions. Streep is suggesting actors in general play their own age. Chastain is saying that many great actresses aren’t given that opportunity.

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Jessica Chastain Hits Back at Russell Crowe’s Denial of Hollywood’s Ageism Problem

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Obama Ratchets Up Sanctions on Russia

Mother Jones

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From the New York Times:

President Obama on Thursday announced he would expand sanctions against Russia, targeting individuals who support the government and a bank with ties to these associates, delivering on his warning earlier this week that it would ratchet up costs on Russia if it moved to annex the breakaway province of Crimea.

….Mr. Obama also said he had signed a new executive order that would allow him to impose sanctions Russian industrial sectors, presumably including its energy exports — a step that would dramatically tighten the economic pressure on Russia.

I expect we’ll quickly get a pro forma response about how weak and vacillating this is from Bill Kristol, John McCain, and Charles Krauthammer. I can’t quite get straight precisely what they want, but whatever it is, it’s something higher on the belligerence scale than whatever the appeaser-in-chief is offering up.

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Obama Ratchets Up Sanctions on Russia

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10 DIY Green Cleaning Recipes

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10 DIY Green Cleaning Recipes

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Why Ben Affleck Is Qualified to Testify Before the Senate on Atrocities in Congo

Mother Jones

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On Thursday, John Hudson at Foreign Policy reported that actor Ben Affleck is set to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Wednesday to testify on the mass killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Affleck’s inclusion among the experts scheduled to testify invited some predictable skepticism and ridicule. In response to the news, Washington Post digital foreign editor Anup Kaphle tweeted, “zzzzzz…” National Review correspondent Jim Geraghty joked, “If a Congressman asks about his qualifications as a Congo expert, Ben Affleck should simply answer, ‘I’m Batman.'”

“People serious about resolving problems—especially problems related to life and death—want to have serious conversations with experts and leaders in the field; not celebrities,” a Republican aide at the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Foreign Policy‘s “The Cable.” (House Republicans reportedly declined to hold a similar, Affleck-inclusive event.)

It’s pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the one-time Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn’t some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities. Here’s his 2008 report from the country for ABC’s Nightline, in which he discusses mass rape, war, and survival:

ABC Entertainment News|ABC Business News

Affleck previously testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the humanitarian crisis in the African nation. That same year, he made the media rounds with Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) to discuss renewed violence in Congo. In 2011, he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee. In 2010, Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, an advocacy and grant-making 501(c)(3) organization. On top of all that, he made this video this month (in which he and Matt Damon humorously trade insults) to help raise money for the Initiative.

So, are there experts who know more about the Democratic Republic of the Congo than Ben Affleck? Of course—and some of them will also testify before the Senate committee next week. But celebrities testifying before Congress, or heading to the Hill to make their case, isn’t exactly new. Harrison Ford has swung by the House and Senate to talk about planes, and Val Kilmer visited Capitol Hill last year to push for the expansion of Americans’ ability to claim religious exemptions to Obamacare’s health insurance mandate.

With Affleck, you get testimony from a famous person who has really done his homework.

Click here to check out our interactive map of celebrity humanitarian efforts in (and the “celebrity recolonization” of) Africa.

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Why Ben Affleck Is Qualified to Testify Before the Senate on Atrocities in Congo

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The Abortion Rate Hits a 30-Year Low

Mother Jones

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The abortion rate fell by 13 percent between 2008 to 2011, according to a new study.

The study, released by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights think tank, concluded that nearly 1.1 million abortions took place in the United States in 2011, some 700,000 fewer than in 2008. That’s the equivalent of 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women between 15 and 44. During the same time, the number of abortion providers fell by 4 percent and the number of abortion clinics fell by 1 percent.

“The national abortion rate appears to have resumed its long-term decline,” conclude researchers Rachel K. Jones and Jenna Jerman. The rate of abortions in the United State has decreased almost every year since 1981, when, according to Guttmacher spokeswoman Rebecca Wind, there were 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women. The decline halted from 2005 to 2008. As of 2011, the abortion rate not only began to drop again, it also hit its lowest point since 1973.

The authors did not investigate the reasons for the decline. However, since rates of abortion fell consistently across almost all states, and the time period covered by the study predates the surge of state-level antiabortion laws, the overall decline is likely not the product of new restrictions, the study notes. A few states, however, may have experienced declines related to new restrictions. Missouri’s abortion rate dropped 17 percent between 2008 and 2010, the authors note, perhaps reflecting the impact of a 2009 state law requiring women to seek in-person counseling before getting an abortion. Still, Jones and Jerman write, “It is crucial to note that abortion rates decreased by larger-than-average amounts in several states that did not implement any new restrictions between 2008 and 2010, such as Illinois (18%) and Oregon (15%).”

The increased use of contraceptives is thought to have played a role by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies—in particular among women living in poor economic circumstances who may have used birth control more consistently during the recession and the sluggish recovery period that followed.

Declines in abortions were steepest in Midwest and Western states, and all but six states—Alaska, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Wyoming, some of which had lower-than-average abortion rates to begin with—experienced decreased rates of abortion.

The loss of providers and facilities which performed abortions may have also had something to do with the drop in abortions. Jones and Jerman also surveyed the accessibility of abortion providers, finding that 38 percent of reproductive-aged women lived in a county without an abortion clinic—some 90 percent of all counties. Abortions induced by medication accounted for nearly 25 percent of all non-hospital abortions in 2011, up from 17 percent in 2008.

Jones and Jerman note that while the drop in abortion providers and facilities—4 percent and 1 percent, respectively—may seem negligible, the caseloads of different facilities can vary widely. Abortion clinics, for example, account for only 19 percent of the facilities that offer abortions, but provide 63 percent of abortions.

Nearly 50 abortion clinics closed from 2008 to 2011—and the drop in clinics was more pronounced than that for other types of facilities that offer abortions. Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Vermont each lost one clinic. “While these states lost only one clinic each, they had few to begin with, so the loss of even one may have affected access to services,” the authors write. “The closure of a clinic may have contributed to the larger-than-average declines in abortion incidence in Kansas and Oklahoma.”

As of 2011, North Dakota, Mississippi, and South Dakota had only one abortion clinic.

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The Abortion Rate Hits a 30-Year Low

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The Outrage Continues: An Alabama Man Who Raped a Teen Still Won’t Do Prison Time Under His New Sentence

Mother Jones

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The Alabama man who was allowed to walk free after being convicted of rape has had his probation extended by two years, but he still won’t have to serve prison time under a new, supposedly stiffer sentence handed down this week.

In September, a jury in Limestone County, Alabama found 25-year-old Austin Smith Clem guilty of raping his teenager neighbor, Courtney Andrews, three times—twice when she was 14, and once when was she was 18. County Judge James Woodroof theoretically sentenced Clem to 40 years in prison. But Woodroof structured the sentence so that Clem would only serve three years probation, plus two years in the Limestone County corrections program for nonviolent criminals, which would allow Clem to work and live in the community. Only if Clem violated his probation would he be required to serve the prison time.

Clem’s lenient sentence touched off a national outcry, and Andrews eventually appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC show to call for tougher punishment. In early December, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found that the sentence was illegal and ordered Woodroof to mete out a stiffer penalty. But Clem’s new sentence, which Woodroof handed down Monday, only extends Clem’s probation from three to five years. And if Clem violates the terms of his probation, he will only have to serve 35 years in prison—less than he would have under his initial sentence.

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The Outrage Continues: An Alabama Man Who Raped a Teen Still Won’t Do Prison Time Under His New Sentence

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Ditching the Redskins, Once and for All

Mother Jones

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Over at Slate yesterday, editor David Plotz wrote about the site’s decision to never again refer to Washington’s professional football team as the Redskins. In explaining the change, Plotz argued that although the franchise’s (racist) first owner, George Preston Marshall, likely chose the name in an effort “to invoke Indian bravery and toughness, not to impugn Indians,” ultimately “the world changes, and all of a sudden a well-intentioned symbol is an embarrassment.”

It is an absolute embarrassment—for the NFL, for the nation’s capital, and for nanny-underpayer/owner Dan Snyder, who has stubbornly vowed never to change the team’s name, even in the face of common decency and a federal trademark suit.

And so, in an admittedly small gesture, Mother Jones is also tweaking our house style guide, joining Slate and a group of other publications, from The New Republic to Washington City Paper. From here on out, we will refer to the team online and in print as “Washington” or “Washington’s pro football team” or, if we get sassy, “the Washington Redacted.”

For those of you who come to Mother Jones for your breaking NFL news…never mind, I can’t even.

There is a chance, however, that the term will end up back on our pages. We certainly won’t strike it from a quote. And if we end up writing a post or two about how Snyder still hasn’t changed the name, despite increasing scrutiny, we reserve the right to use it again—if only to highlight how incredibly out-of-touch and backward the Washington football team’s owner truly is.

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Ditching the Redskins, Once and for All

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For Once, the Public is a Winner in a Bureaucratic Turf War

Mother Jones

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While all the rest of us are fretting over the NSA’s mind-bogglingly wide surveillance powers, it turns out that the rest of the intelligence community is fretting that they aren’t quite wide enough. The New York Times reports:

Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement complain that their attempts to exploit the security agency’s vast resources have often been turned down because their own investigations are not considered a high enough priority, current and former government officials say.

….At the drug agency, for example, officials complained that they were blocked from using the security agency’s surveillance tools for several drug-trafficking cases in Latin America, which they said might be connected to financing terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.

….The security agency’s spy tools are attractive to other agencies for many reasons. Unlike traditional, narrowly tailored search warrants, those granted by the intelligence court often allow searches through records and data that are vast in scope. The standard of evidence needed to acquire them may be lower than in other courts, and the government may not be required to disclose for years, if ever, that someone was the focus of secret surveillance operations.

Needless to say, this is precisely what a lot of us are concerned about: that every drug investigation in the world will suddenly become linked to “financing of terrorist groups,” and therefore authorized to trawl endlessly through NSA’s information pool and take advantage of rubber-stamp FISA warrants that cover anyone who meets a certain profile. For now, at least, I think we can be grateful that bureaucratic turf wars have apparently kept that under tight control.

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For Once, the Public is a Winner in a Bureaucratic Turf War

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