On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.Many insects, such as the beautiful and familiar monarch, are completely dependent on a single native plant, a situation that puts them at shocking peril in a world of monospecies agriculture and lawns filled with stubbornly mowed (and fertilized and pesticided and herbicided and fetishized) grass.
This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.
“It does not look good,” said Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch expert at Sweet Briar College.
It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.
Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.
That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.
Another major cause is farming with Roundup, a herbicide that kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it.
As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, and another found 90 percent was gone. “The agricultural landscape has been sterilized,” said Dr. Brower.
Frank Bruni pulls out his best "these kids today" (or is it "these parents today"?) in defense of Common Core education standards.
[Education Secretary Arne] Duncan, defending the Common Core at an education conference, identified some of its most impassioned opponents as “white suburban moms” who were suddenly learning that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good.”Bruni's initial anecdote in this piece is fairly pointless, and Arne Duncan's profile really is gratuitous, but--based on the single data point which is my wife's thirty year career in teaching--there does seem to be a continuing trend of parents demanding less and less of their children and expecting more and more of their school. The "why" of that trend would be worth exploring.
It was an impolitic bit of profiling. Gratuitous, too. But if you follow the fevered lamentations over the Common Core, look hard at some of the complaints from parents and teachers, and factor in the modern cult of self-esteem, you can guess what set Duncan off: a concern, wholly justified, that tougher instruction not be rejected simply because it makes children feel inadequate, and that the impulse to coddle kids not eclipse the imperative to challenge them.
The Common Core, a laudable set of guidelines that emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization, has been adopted in more than 40 states. In instances its implementation has been flawed, and its accompanying emphasis on testing certainly warrants debate.
What’s not warranted is the welling hysteria: from right-wing alarmists, who hallucinate a federal takeover of education and the indoctrination of a next generation of government-loving liberals; from left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats.
Maureen Dowd is also back in school, but studying a particular subject.
Even sitting in an M.I.T. classroom made me feel smarter.I'm sure that's a question that's occurred to many members of our own species, not all of them women.
But I was still struggling with the difference between meiosis and parthenogenesis.
Dr. David Page, the zippy evolutionary biologist teaching a class Wednesday called “Are Males Really Necessary?,” had helpfully laid out some props to illustrate gene swapping — bananas, apples and heads of lettuce arranged on a table covered with a flowery white tablecloth.
“Since only females can give birth, why is it of any advantage to the species to have a second sex?” he asked. “Why should nature bother with males?”
Mary Lou Jepson isn't arguing in the abstract, she's describing an unwanted experiment that took place with her own body--and mind.
In my early 30s, for a few months, I altered my body chemistry and hormones so that I was closer to a man in his early 20s. I was blown away by how dramatically my thoughts changed. I was angry almost all the time, thought about sex constantly, and assumed I was the smartest person in the entire world. Over the years I had met guys rather like this.Her thoughts on the how hormones and other chemicals define the essential "us" makes this well worth reading. And there is a an important political dimension.
I was not experimenting with hormone levels out of idle curiosity or in some kind of quirky science experiment. I was on hormone treatments because I’d had a tumor removed along with part of my pituitary gland, which makes key hormones the body needs to function.
I spend an average of 10 hours a month nudging, charming, name-dropping, fulfilling requirements and at times getting angry to try to persuade a chain of people to let me get the neurochemicals that I need at whatever the price. I usually spend between $100 and $1,000 per month on these chemicals, depending on what health insurance I have had at the time. On occasion it has run $5,000 per month. Sometimes health insurance has covered all the cost except a standard co-pay, sometimes very little.Lawrence Jacobs describes an experiment in the political space.
Without the ability to fine-tune my hormones and neurochemicals I believe I would have been trapped as a near-imbecile, wheelchair-bound, in my mother’s basement for an abbreviated and miserable adult life.
But with this ability I have reached the top of my field. Still, the health care system hinders my access to the chemicals I need to live. I am far from alone in this situation. It’s time we changed the system.
Minnesota and Wisconsin share much more than bone-chilling winters: German and Northern European roots; farming; and, until recently, a populist progressive tradition stretching back a century to Wisconsin’s Fighting Bob La Follette and the birth of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.Should I make you wait for the results? Ehhh... no.
But in 2010 these cousin states diverged. By doing so they began a natural experiment that compares the agendas of modern progressivism and the new right. Wisconsin elected Republicans to majorities in the Legislature and selected a bold and vigorous Republican governor, Scott Walker. Minnesotans elected one of the most progressive candidates for governor in the country, Mark Dayton of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
Which side of the experiment — the new right or modern progressivism — has been most effective in increasing jobs and improving business opportunities, not to mention living conditions?
Obviously, firm answers will require more time and more data, but the first round of evidence gives the edge to Minnesota’s model of increased services, higher costs (mostly for the affluent) and reduced payments to entrenched interests like the insurers who cover the Medicaid population.The results of this experiment should be repeated again and again... but then the right has never been swayed by silly things like facts and evidence.
Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth. Mr. Walker’s defenders blame the higher spending and taxes of his Democratic predecessor for these disappointments, but according to Forbes’s annual list of best states for business, Wisconsin continues to rank in the bottom half.
The New York Times discusses another political experiment, one whose outcome has already been demonstrated again and again.
Ohio’s Republican-controlled Legislature is aiming to enact a Stand Your Ground gun law, despite pleas from urban government leaders that this would only compound the risks in inner-city neighborhoods where gun mayhem hits hardest. The measure, approved by the Ohio House and sent to the Senate, would eliminate the traditional requirement that a person prudently retreat in the face of danger before resorting to deadly force. It would make Ohio the latest of more than a score of other states following the foolhardy lead of Florida — where the first Stand Your Ground law has proved to be rife with risks to public safety and effective law enforcement.Remember that thing about facts and evidence? Yeah.
Leonard Pitts provides a follow up lecture on that topic.
With George Zimmerman out on bail last week after his latest run-in with police, it seems an opportune time to discuss the second killing of Trayvon Martin.David Ignatius earns points as the only pundit at the WP not still cracking Obamacare jokes or proclaiming the death of the left.
The first, of course, has been discussed ad infinitum since Zimmerman shot the unarmed 17-year-old to death last year. But then Trayvon was killed again. The conservative noise machine engaged in a ritual execution of his character and worth, setting out with breathtaking indifference to facts and callous disregard for simple decency to murder the memory of a dead child.
Geraldo Rivera blamed him for his own death because he wore a hooded sweatshirt — in the rain, yet. Glenn Beck’s website suggested he might have been an arsonist, kidnapper or killer. Rush Limbaugh made jokes about “Trayvon Martin Luther King.”
One woman forwarded a chain email depicting a tough-looking, light-skinned African-American man with tattoos on his face. It was headlined: “The Real Trayvon Martin,” which it wasn’t. It was actually a then-32-year-old rapper who calls himself The Game. But the message was clear: Trayvon was a scary black man who deserved what he got.
I sent that woman an image of Trayvon from the Zimmerman trial. It shows him lying open-eyed and dead on the grass. “ This is the real Trayvon,” I wrote.
It was a waste of time. “They’re both pictures of Trayvon,” she insisted. So deeply, bizarrely invested was she in the idea of Trayvon as thug that she could not distinguish between a fair-skinned man with tattoos, and a brown boy with no visible markings. Literally, they all look alike to her.
And once again, a conservative movement which argues with airy assurance that American racism died long ago, disproves its thesis with its actions.
If there’s a fog of war, there can also be a fog of peace — in which even the negotiators aren’t sure of the consequences of what they’ve done. Some of that murkiness surrounds the bargaining in Geneva to limit Iran’s nuclear program. There’s sharp disagreement among observers about the potential risks and benefits of this seeming breakthrough between Iran and the West after 34 years of hostility.The Middle East has so many variables, you'd have a hard time making predictions with a room full of Einsteins. But let's leave it on a hopeful note.
As the Iran deal has taken shape, a backstage brawl is developing with Israel and Saudi Arabia, two countries crucially affected by the deal. The unrelenting attacks on the agreement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which are the culmination of four years of mistrust between him and President Obama, are rumbling the bedrock of the U.S.-Israeli relationship — a consequence neither country wants.
But there’s an intriguing upside: The Israeli-Saudi mutual dislike of the Iran nuclear deal, and their de facto alliance against it, may weirdly prove one of the “silver linings” of this negotiation. Indeed, if the Israelis become a protector and defender of the Sunni Muslim countries, that could have lasting security benefits for Israel and might even open the way for progress on the Palestinian issue — without the usual American mediation.
William Saletan goes into deepest, darkest territory--the minds of conspiracy theorists.
To believe that the US government planned or deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks, you'd have to posit that President Bush intentionally sacrificed 3,000 Americans. To believe that explosives, not planes, brought down the buildings, you'd have to imagine an operation large enough to plant the devices without anyone getting caught.Yeah, of course that's what they want you to believe.
To insist that the truth remains hidden, you'd have to assume that everyone who has reviewed the attacks and the events leading up to them - the CIA, the Justice Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, scientific organisations, peer-reviewed journals, news organisations, the airlines, and local law enforcement agencies in three states - was incompetent, deceived or part of the cover-up.
And yet, as Slate's Jeremy Stahl points out, millions of Americans hold these beliefs. In a Zogby poll taken six years ago, only 64 per cent of US adults agreed that the attacks "caught US intelligence and military forces off guard". More than 30 per cent chose a different conclusion: that "certain elements in the US government knew the attacks were coming but consciously let them proceed for various political, military, and economic motives", or that these government elements "actively planned or assisted some aspects of the attacks".
How can this be? How can so many people, in the name of scepticism, promote so many absurdities?
The answer is that people who suspect conspiracies aren't really sceptics. Like the rest of us, they're selective doubters. They favour a world view, which they uncritically defend. But their worldview isn't about God, values, freedom, or equality. It's about the omnipotence of elites.