Wednesday, January 25, 2012 10:30 PM
Excrement is an unexpected hero. While not a subject discussed in polite company, in both medical and environmental arenas poop is coming to the rescue.
Take, for example, the positive buzz surrounding fecal transplants, which are heralded as possible cures for everything from asthma and depression to Crohn’s disease, MS, and the bacterial gut infection c. difficile.
As its name suggests, a fecal transplant is the transfer of feces from a healthy donor to an ailing patient. The transfer, explains Pagan Kennedy in The Atlantic is performed using colonoscopy instruments to squirt a diluted stool sample from the donor into the large intestine of the patient. If all goes as it should, the donor sample repopulates the recipient’s intestine with a healthy amount of good bacteria.
While it doesn’t sound pleasant, the simple procedure yields surprisingly positive results—sometimes clearing up chronic symptoms in only two days. “Lately, stories about the success of at-home fecal transplants have been spreading across the Internet,” Kennedy writes. Such DIY fecal transplants are becoming popular due to the hesitation of mainstream clinicians who have yet to embrace poop as a miracle cure. “So far,” says Scientific American, “fecal transplants remain a niche therapy, practiced only by gastroenterologists who work for broad-minded institutions and who have overcome the ick factor.”
Still, some doctors are reporting remarkable successes, Scientific American continues: “[A]bout a dozen clinicians in the U.S., Europe and Australia have described performing fecal transplants on about 300 C. difficile patients. More than 90 percent of those patients recovered completely, an unheard-of proportion.”
Our health isn’t the only thing that can be improved with feces, adds Sierra magazine’s Dashka Slater (with tongue in cheek): “In the future, poop will solve all our problems,” including environmental ones. She offers three examples of excrement’s energy prowess:
1) Dried flakes of human feces can be burned to produce energy. “The flakes, which resemble instant-coffee granules,” Slater says, “are made from dehydrated sludge, the fecal goo left behind after wastewater is treated.” Sixteen percent of the energy used by British water and sewage company Thames Water comes from human poo.
2) Elephant and panda poop contain bacteria that easily converts plants’ woody pulp into sugars. “Researchers at Mississippi State University (working with pandas) and at the Dutch technology company DSM (working with elephants) say that such bacteria could be key to producing cellulosic ethanol from biomass like wood chips, switchgrass, and corn stover.”
3) Manure on large hog farms produces high levels of methane. “Now Duke University and Duke Energy have teamed up to harness pig-poop power, using the methane from a 9,000-head hog farm in North Carolina to run an electrical turbine,” says Slater. The project produces enough energy to light up the kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms—and bathrooms—of 35 area homes.
Sources: TheAtlantic, Scientific American, Sierra
Image by macaron*macaron(EstBleu2007), licensed under Creative Commons.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011 12:13 PM
Some of the best stuff from the Twitter feeds we follow...
Talking Points Memo (@TPM): Kyle Leighton weighs in on the rejection of far-right Republican ideas shown in last night’s referendum votes around the country:
[V]oters in some key states where Republicans had made gains rejected those ideas through statewide referendums, striking not only at the party but at the very reason for electing them — their ideas. If election day 2011 tells us anything, it’s not just that overreaching in this political environment is a bad move, but it’s a spectacularly bad one.
None of last night’s roundup of referendum votes were close…
Read all of “The Hangover: One Year After Electing GOP, Voters Reject Their Ideas”
Kickstarter’s (@kickstarter) Project of the Day:
The documentary “Tomorrow We Disappear”:
For hundreds of years roaming artists traveled the Indian countryside, creating the stories, the mythological backbone that would unite a country. Before radio, film, and television, these artists helped form what we now call the Web of India.
In the 1950s the artists ended their itinerant routes and moved into vacant land beside a jungle in West Delhi. They called their new home the Kathputli Colony. The colony is now a tinsel slum, providing home to some of the world's greatest street magicians, acrobats, and puppeteers. But last year the government sold the Kathputli land to real estate developers; the slum is to be bulldozed and cleared for development.
Our film, "Tomorrow We Disappear," will take you into the world of the Kathputli Colony, to experience the last remnants of its unique culture before it's too late.
Read more about “Tomorrow We Disappear”
): Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic, on how Steve Case and his firm, Revolution, are driving the sharing economy:
A luxury-home network. A car-sharing company. An explosive deal site. Maybe you see three random ideas. Case and his team saw three bets that paid off thanks to a new Web economy that promotes power in numbers and access over ownership. The so-called sharing economy has taken off in the Great Recession, as companies like Netflix and Zipcar have allowed the exchange of DVDs, cars, clothes, couches, and even kitchen utensils. The promise of a post-ownership society is that we can do more, own less, and rent the rest with Web-enabled companies. That's a huge break for cash-strapped families in a weak recovery. Whether it's good news for companies who rely on customers to buy new thing, rather than share old purchases, is much more complicated.
Read all of “How Steve Case and Revolution Are Driving the Sharing Economy”
Etsy’s (@Etsy) Online Lab: Get Unstuck with Noah Scalin:
Stuck in a rut? I hope you’ll join us on Friday, November 18 for an Online Lab with king of creativity, Noah Scalin. You might know his Skull-a-Day project or his last book,
365: A Daily Creativity Journal.
Well, he’s at it again with his newest book called
Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work, and in Your Studio
.He’ll be joining us in the Online Labs to share tips for getting unstuck creatively. So, if you need a jolt of inspiration, tune in! You’re not going to want to miss out on this one.
Find out more about the Etsy Online Lab, “Get Unstuck with Noah Scalin”
Image from the documentary "Tomorrow We Disappear"
Thursday, September 15, 2011 4:25 PM
The data on the poor in this country announced Tuesday by the Census Bureau was not good, and due to measures already taken by Congress and those likely to come, the outlook doesn’t provide much reason for hope. Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones gives some of the “lowlights”:
The overall poverty rate has reached a record high and the number of people living in deep poverty—that is, below 50 percent of the poverty level, or $11,000 for a family of four—is the highest it’s been since 1975. Experts are predicting that things are only going to get worse in the years to come….
Median income has sunk lower than it was almost 15 years ago. The number of people living without health insurance is up slightly. The number of kids under the age of six living in extreme poverty is up to nearly 12 percent. The recession has been especially hard on women and people of color. The extreme poverty rate for women is more than 6 percent, the highest recorded in 22 years, and the poverty rate for black women is up a percentage point from 2009, to more than 25 percent.
In These Times’ David Moberg continues:
But it is especially painful because it follows what many are calling a “lost decade” for the majority of Americans. The median household income peaked in 1999 at $53,252, then dropped in most of the following years, never recovering its pre-recession high. Likewise, even during the recovery of the Bush years, poverty levels crept upwards. The big exception was the very rich, who captured most of the new income generated as productivity of the economy rose and inequality continued to grow.
All this while we learn, as associate editor Margret Aldrich wrote on her Sweet Pursuit blog last week, “Economic equality equals happiness. So suggests a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. In order for Americans to be truly blissed out, it finds, we need to close the gap between our wealthiest and poorest citizens.”
Unfortunately we see that’s not happening, leaving The Take Away this morning to ask the discouraging question, “Does America Care About Its Poor?” Though The Take Away left it up to listeners, the answer seems to be, for the most part, no. That said, Moberg at In These Times does point out that “bad as these numbers are, they would have been much worse if many government programs and policies had not been in place,” including unemployment insurance, The Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and the Obama administration’s stimulus programs. (I don’t know how many times economists and others have to point out that the only problem with Obama’s stimulus was that is simply wasn’t big enough before it will be okay to use the word “stimulus” again. But I digress.) Still, “welfare” programs aren’t what they used to be. “Evidence suggests,” writes Jarret Murphy in City Limits, “that today’s needy families are, in large measure, not getting the help to which they are legally entitled. In 1996, for every 100 families that were in poverty, 79 were on welfare. In 2010, the figure was 28, according to the CBPP [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].” LaDonna Pavetti, the vice president for family income support policy at the CBPP is quoted as saying, “It’s just truly people are not being served. And it’s not because we’ve had this incredible decline in poverty.” Point proven by the recent Census data.
But now the conversation in Washington is switching back to jobs, so everything should be just fine, right? We’ve gotten our priorities straight, so we can figure out how to fix the problem. Not so fast. Writing about the declining middle class in The Atlantic, Don Peck writes that the jobs that are coming down the pike will be low-skill, low-wage jobs, jobs like the ones highlighted a decade ago by Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed and now touted (though not in so many words) by the possible Republican presidential candidate from Texas. In short, jobs that won’t bring people up out of poverty and back into any sort of middle class. “[T]he overall pattern of change in the U.S. labor market suggests,” Peck writes,
that in the next decade or more, a larger proportion of Americans may need to take work in occupations that have historically required little skill and paid low wages. Analysis by David Autor indicates that from 1999 to 2007, low-skill jobs grew substantially as a share of all jobs in the United States. And while the lion’s share of jobs lost during the recession were middle-skill jobs, job growth since then has been tilted steeply toward the bottom of the economy; according to a survey by the National Employment Law Project, three-quarters of American job growth in 2010 came within industries paying, on average, less than $15 an hour. One of the largest challenges that Americans will face in the coming years will be doing what we can to make the jobs that have traditionally been near the bottom of the economy better, more secure, and more fulfilling—in other words, more like middle-class jobs.
Peck’s article offers a number of suggestions about how to regain a middle class and avoid further separation between those at the top and those at the bottom. Unfortunately, nothing so serious as his article seems to be on the table in Washington discussions. And it’s Americans who are paying for it.
Audio from The Take Away with guest Photojouranlist Steve Liss, director of AmericanPoverty.org:
Source: Mother Jones, In These Times, The Take Away, City Limits, The Atlantic
Image by sylvar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 08, 2011 4:03 PM
An estimated 80 percent of the world’s population considers insects a commonplace food source, and soon—as eating meat becomes increasingly costly to wallets and the environment—bugs may hit Western dinner tables, too.
In the Netherlands, the company Bugs Originals recently developed pesto-flavored bug nuggets and chocolate-covered muesli bars made from crushed mealworms, the larvae of the darkling beetle, reports Daniel Fromson for The Atlantic. Bugs Originals has also been successful in selling freeze-dried locusts and mealworms to local outlets. Fromson writes:
The company’s goal is to get consumers to embrace bugs as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional meat. With worldwide demand for meat expected to nearly double by 2050, farm-raised crickets, locusts, and mealworms could provide comparable nutrition while using fewer natural resources than poultry or livestock. Crickets, for example, convert feed to body mass about twice as efficiently as pigs and five times as efficiently as cattle. Insects require less land and water—and measured per kilogram of edible mass, mealworms generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas than pigs.
Here in the states, in an innovation and entrepreneurship competition this spring, the University of Chicago awarded $10,000 to student-conceived Entom Foods, reports Carrie Golus in The Core. The team, which won with their well-received grasshopper cookies, plans to start a for-profit business that produces insect meat as a sustainable food source. But implementation will require clearing some hurdles, Golus says:
For Western consumers, the team admitted in its proposal, “the multiple wings, the beady eyes, the slimy legs . . . all contribute to an overall ‘ick’ factor.” Entom’s brilliant solution: food processing. The shelling machines currently used for lobsters and other crustaceans could be adapted for insects, the team proposes. The wings, legs, eyes, and other gross parts would be whisked away, leaving the thorax meat, “which is nutritious and has the same consistency as more traditional meats.”
Entom has yet to decide which insect will be the focus of their venture. “One possibility is the long-horned grasshopper, which reportedly tastes like a hybrid of butter, bacon, and chicken,” Goluswrites. “Another is the giant prickly stick insect; at eight inches long, this creature could supply a lot of meat.”
But Entom is keeping American tastes in mind. “We’re obviously going to avoid the super-stigmatized insects, like cockroaches and flies,” team leader Matthew Krisiloff tells Golus. Those bugs “wouldn’t have substantive meat on them anyway.”
Sources: The Atlantic, The Core
Image by diverevan, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 08, 2011 5:10 PM
Today kicks off a four-part series on climate change at The Atlantic. Part one comes from Paul R. Epstein, co-author of the book Changing Planet, Changing Health. Epstein tells us just how changing temperatures in the oceans can lead to more severe weather in the middle of the U.S., like the calamitous tornado earlier this year in Joplin, Missouri.
So global warming is thus causing climate change, including altered weather patterns, and the engine of change is the heat building up deep inside the world's oceans. Water is warming, ice is melting, and water vapor is rising. How does this help explain tornadoes? …
It's all about contrasts and gradients. Warmer temperatures over land surfaces create low-pressure systems (since hot air rises, creating "lows"), while cold fronts from the north come with high pressures. Weather "flows downhill," as it were—from highs to lows. When temperature and pressure gradients between highs and lows increase (as they do naturally in spring), the clash can twist to form tornadoes. The greater the contrasts, the greater the force of the twisters.
This spring, especially warm and moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico met up with especially cold fronts from the north, driven by melting Arctic and Greenland ice.
Epstein cautions against assuming that any of this means a predictable increase in severe weather. In fact, the unpredictability is the point here. There may be years when severe flooding and tornadoes seem much milder than the previous year. “But,” Epstein writes, “it is clear that changing atmospheric and oceanic conditions underlie the changing patterns of weather—and that the stage is set for more severe storms, including even more punishing tornadoes.”
Keep an eye out for the other three parts in this series from The Atlantic.
Source: The Atlantic
Tuesday, April 19, 2011 4:52 PM
Ever wondered what makes the super rich lose sleep at night? A new, uniquely intimate survey conducted by Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy reveals the most personal fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams of America’s affluent, reports Graeme Wood in The Atlantic.
The evocative survey questionnaire—which asks questions like, “How would you describe the ultimate goal or deepest aspiration for your life?”—was completed by 165 respondents with an average net worth of $78 million. Among them were jet-setting world travelers, super-yacht owners, and family-fortune beneficiaries who have never, ever had to worry about making rent.
Even so, one respondent noted that “he wouldn’t feel financially secure until he had $1 billion dollars in the bank,” writes Wood.
Such complaints sound, on their face, preposterous. But just as the human body didn’t evolve to deal well with today’s easy access to abundant fat and sugars, and will crave an extra cheeseburger when it shouldn’t, the human mind, apparently, didn’t evolve to deal with excess money, and will desire more long after wealth has become a burden rather than a comfort.
Just as money fails to provide a sense of financial security, the survey also suggests it fails to provide emotional well-being. The respondents listed a host of wealth-related anxieties: that many of their relationships hinge on their wealth; that they’ll be perceived as shallow and ungrateful if they dare to bellyache about their lives; and—most commonly—that their kids will grow up to be spoiled trust-fund brats.
While the study is skewed to reveal the emotional innerworkings of only the people who took time to answer a computer survey, the results hint that those of us with less money in our wallets enjoy some things the wealthy don’t have—including the delusion that next year’s raise or winning lottery ticket just might buy us greater joy. The very rich already suspect that wealth isn’t the answer, Wood concludes:
If anything, the rich stare into the abyss a bit more starkly than the rest of us. We can always indulge in the thought that a little more money would make our lives happier—and in many cases it’s true. But the truly wealthy know that appetites for material indulgence are rarely sated. No yacht is so super, nor any wine so expensive, that it can soothe the soul or guarantee one’s children won’t grow up to be creeps.
Source: The Atlantic
Image by Tracy O, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 03, 2011 9:32 AM
Fences made of cluster-bomb casings, water-buffalo wading in pools made from bomb craters, and canoes built from fuel tanks dropped by bombers. Welcome to Laos, five decades after a U.S. bombing campaign.
Why the uprisings in the Middle East are just the first tremor in an oilquake to come.
Could you quit Sarah Palin cold turkey? One reporter for the Washington Post did...and lived to tell the story.
interview with China Miéville that explores the author’s socially nuanced, politically radical, concept-smashing, gristly urban fantasy.
This week the White House released a new report on the status of women in America. The Atlantic asks, “But then what?”
Can’t afford a trip to Barbados but longing to see the sun? Check out this awesome solar flare, recorded on video by NASA last week. You can practically feel it.
How one man thinks “congressional Republicans are badly mistaken in denouncing public radio as a contemptible source of liberal propaganda and snooty elitism that the nation would be better off without” but is all for eliminating funding for it.
The Obamas make history as the first First Family to pour homebrewed beer in the White House. Will hops be the next crop in the White House garden?
We are the frogs in the pot of boiling water that is Facebook. We never notice until it’s too late.
Monday, November 15, 2010 2:20 PM
It seems that extraverts increasingly rule the world: People tell all on reality shows, long to be the next American Idol, and rush to share everything about their lives via phone, e-mail, and the Internet. But psychotherapist and Introvert Power author Laurie Helgoe reminds us in Psychology Today that introverts haven’t gone away. We’re just quietly dealing with the demands of living in a loud, in-your-face society that doesn’t understand us—even in its insistence that it just wants us to be happy:
Scientists now know that, while introverts have no special advantage in intelligence, they do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments, interacting one on one. Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good.
As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal—they’d rather find meaning than bliss—making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture. In fact, the cultural emphasis on happiness may actually threaten their mental health. As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player, and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture.
If you’re saying “Right on!” then you too are probably an introvert, whose ranks compose a full half of the populace but whose behavior still seems suspect to many—including mental health professionals, apparently. The World Health Organization still pathologizes introversion, and the American Psychiatric Association is “considering a proposal to include introversion in the next edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5),” Helgoe wrote with Nancy Ancowitz on the Psychology Today website:
In the United States giddy and garrulous are good, and quiet and contemplative are suspect. The WHO’s definition and APA’s proposed definition of introversion align with that rigid Western bias.
It seems that things haven’t gotten a whole lot better for introverts since Jonathan Rauch wrote his short essay “Caring for Your Introvert” for The Atlantic in 2003, a deftly written manifesto that was widely circulated.
Helpfully, Psychology Today drops a few tips on what not to say to introverts:
• “Why don’t you like parties? Don’t you like people?”
• “Surprise, we’ve decided to bring the family and stay with you for the weekend.”
• Above all, says one life and leadership coach, “We hate people telling us how we can be more extraverted, as if that’s the desired state.”
Sources: Psychology Today, The Atlantic
Friday, October 29, 2010 11:36 AM
"I’m not a witch."
Kings and sons of God
Travel on their way from here
Calming restless mobs
Easing all of their, all of their fear
Strange times are here
Strange times are here
-The Black Keys
Strange times are indeed here, especially when we step back and take a look at the midterm election cycle of 2010. Here are a few stories that make us a little queasy about the state of the political process.
If the following are any indication, then apparently there is no room for peaceful assembly or freedom of the press this go-around: MoveOn.org volunteer Lauren Valle had her head stomped on by Rand Paul supporter Tim Profitt at a Paul rally. And Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger was detained by “security agents” working for U.S. Senate Republican nominee Joe Miller for doing that thing those pesky journalists always want to do: ask questions.
Then there’s the Iowa Republican Platform, which pretty much wants to abolish all parts of government except, presumably, themselves. Who knows, maybe they do want to get rid of themselves. In which case there may be more common ground out there than we think.
Speaking of crazy, The New Republic has an article called “Year of the Nutjob” that highlights the candidates vying for the Maddest Hatter at our current national Tea Party.
Hey, did you ever think you’d live to see the day when you’d hear about a candidate for Congress dressing up like a Nazi or a campaign ad that begins “I’m not a witch”? Well, that day’s here and so are you! Thank your lucky stars.
The nice folks over at The Christian Science Monitor have come up with a way for you to waste at least ten minutes of your work day: It’s “The 10 weirdest political ads of 2010”! These range from frightening to just plain old entertaining. And you got sheep, Chuck Norris, and Auto-Tune. Looking at that line-up, maybe this election season wasn’t all bad.
Ok, that’s enough. You can get sucked down a wormhole looking into this tomfoolery. Let us know some of the weirder stories from Election 2010 that we didn’t include here.
Source: New York, Alaska Dispatch, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor
Wednesday, October 27, 2010 3:48 PM
Imagine if the German government decided to use money garnered from Auschwitz tourism to construct an elaborate theme park on the site of the Treblinka extermination camp. Unspeakably offensive and inconceivable, right? Incredibly, this is essentially what the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia is doing right now: funneling money from tourist destinations like S-21—a Khmer Rouge hotbed of crimes against humanity—into a project to convert a Khmer-era town from historic site to amusement park.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Burmon explains that Cambodia is capitalizing on the recent boom in dark tourism, or thanatourism, a branch of the industry that depends on the human fascination with the macabre: places like Auschwitz, the Tower of London, Chernobyl, and the bridge over the River Kwai are visited by millions of people every year.
Specifically, the Ministry of Tourism plans to take the money reaped from thanatourism to bastardize the town of Anlong Ven, which used to be a fief run by Pol Pot and his deputy Ta Mok (fondly nicknamed “The Butcher”):
A number of sites from that era will be rebuilt as attractions, including Mok’s lakeside compound, Pol Pot’s house and the bungalow on a cliff where he was eventually imprisoned, a radio station that used to broadcast propaganda, and a munitions warehouse—complete with stockpiles of the anti-personnel mines that not infrequently still rip the legs off local farmers.
The real kicker (although I suppose this is pretty obvious by the mere existence of such a project) is that the Cambodian government doesn’t appear to see anything wrong with cashing in on their gruesome history:
Unlike other custodians of authentic tragedy and inhumanity, the Cambodian government has made little effort to endow the sites it operates with a mission more complicated than collecting cash. When I asked the Minister of Tourism, Thong Khon, whether he worried that building a theme park at Anlong Veng after cashing the checks from S-21 and the killing fields might appear callous or opportunistic, he said simply, “It is right that the government should profit from remaking this historic place.”
I wonder just how oblivious the Ministry of Tourism must be that they don’t understand how enormously insensitive and exploitative this endeavor appears to the rest of the world. Or maybe they just don’t care.
Source: The Atlantic
, licensed under
Wednesday, October 06, 2010 1:55 PM
Lobbying for the rights of the persecuted is usually considered a noble endeavor, but when the persecuted are defined as Americans sporting a handlebar, a Fu Manchu, or a pencil mustache, it might seem a little ridiculous.
And it kind of is. But it also kind of isn’t. Aaron Perlut is the chairman of the American Mustache Institute, where he “campaigns against anti-mustache discrimination across the land—he's saved jobs from threatening employers and high school careers from anti-mustache deans—and generally tries to revive the 'stache as a prominent element of American male fashion.”
During a tongue-in-cheek, but at times serious, interview with The Atlantic, Perlut described how he has saved peoples’ jobs and preserved certain rights by lobbying on their behalf. For example, a 16-year-old in the Royce City school district in Texas was removed from his high school class because of a policy banning mustaches. The AMI fought for his cause, the policy was overturned, and the kid became somewhat of a hero among his classmates.
In the end, though, it seems like the AMI is unsurprisingly about having a good laugh about the absurdity of certain facial hair fashions. Each e-mail sent out by the organization includes this disclaimer after the sign-off:
AMI supports healthy, performance enhancing-free mustaches that contain no pesticides. While the vast majority of mustache wearers have highly positive responses from friends, exotic dancers and grade school teachers, mustaches should be worn at your own risk, understanding that AMI is not responsible for mustaches that make men look like child molesters or Dave Navarro. Wearing a "Dictator" mustache may lead to repeated beatings, and women are encouraged to avoid wearing mustaches if looking for male companionship or hoping to find employment outside of waste collection.
Source: The Atlantic
Image by livingonimpulse, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010 4:59 PM
Most computer users have experienced their share of malware and spyware. Now there is a worm with characteristics that have computer whizzes scratching their heads. It’s called Conficker. “No one knows who created it. No one knows how to stop it or kill it. And no one even knows for sure why it exists,” writes Mark Bowden in The Atlantic.
In a fast-paced cat-and-mouse narrative, Bowden tracks the rise of Conficker, which has invaded 6 to 7 million machines worldwide since its arrival in late 2008.
The struggle against this remarkable worm is a sort of chess match pitting the cleverest attackers in the world against the cleverest defenders in the world, many of whom are volunteers. The good guys—who have been dubbed the “Conficker Cabal”—have gone to unprecedented lengths in this battle, and have had successes beyond anything they would have thought possible when they started.
But a year and a half into the battle, here’s the bottom line: The worm is winning.
A substantially trimmed version of the piece also appeared in The Week, which less tech-savvy readers may find more digestible than the tangential meanderings of the full piece.
Source: The Week, The Atlantic
, licensed under
Tuesday, June 08, 2010 1:22 PM
Writing for The Awl, Maria Bustillos argues convincingly against recent suggestions that the cognitive habits enforced by web browsing are making people dumb. Taking on Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (recently expanded into a book), Bustillos dismantles one of Carr’s main ideas. As she says:
Hyperlinks, the proliferation of which Mr. Carr largely blames for his mental infirmity, are in no way different from footnotes. Footnotes, too, demand “microseconds of decision-making attention.” Just as a footnote does, a hyperlink beckons you away from the main text in order to examine tangentially-related but relevant material. Exactly like a hyperlink, a footnote often has the effect of sending you down a series of rabbit holes, from which you emerge hours later, armed with a dozen other books—that is, if you want to investigate the subject in fine detail. If you don’t, then by all means, you can skip the footnotes.
So do footnotes also “sap cognitive power from the reading process”?
Heavily annotated works have been useful for centuries to students of every discipline we’ve got, and their distraction-potential, though clear, is completely eclipsed by the invaluable advantage of access to a ton of carefully-signposted material that can greatly ease the conduct of serious study. It’s well worth the extra effort of concentration; if you want the goods, you’ll put up with the cost.
Carr had addressed the comparison of footnotes and hyperlinks, noting that
[u]nlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.
But Bustillos isn’t having it:
The fogginess of this reasoning—what does this mean, ‘propel’?—is evident throughout the original essay. The means by which one navigates through text are consistent within the medium—you page through all the pages of a book, and you click through all the pages of a website. For some reason, “propulsion” is supposed to be bad for you and “pointing” isn’t, but Carr doesn’t even attempt to explain why.
Source: The Awl
Image by Anonymous9000, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010 1:12 PM
We live in a tell-all society, where people post their deepest thoughts online and political gossip is raised to an art form, while he-said, she-said scandals fill the evening news. Yet there are still some things that we simply do not talk about, burdens that we are expected to bear in solitary, stoic silence. Caregiving is one of those things.
In a quietly beautiful personal reminiscence, Jonathan Rauch of The Atlantic describes caring for his aging father, who had a neurological disorder and required more and more attention from his son. Rauch didn’t want to commit his father to a nursing home against his wishes, but he struggled to deal with the demands of his new full-time role without a support network. When he finally begins to simply talk about his worries with people he meets, he is blown away—as was I—by the stories of love, anxiety, and loneliness that he gets back:
Above all, I got stories. Some were in the past tense, but a surprising number were in the present, and they gushed forth with the same kind of pent-up pressure that I felt. Washington is a city of middle-aged careerists like me, proper and dignified and all business. Yet time and again the professional exteriors would crack open to reveal bewildering ordeals.
A lobbyist. At a reception hosted by a trade group, he asks what I am working on, and I reply “Taking care of my father.” Without missing a beat, he tells me of having spent that morning in tears, sobbing in a meeting with the staff at the care facility where his 100-year-old father now lives.
A scholar. He is working on a book about interest groups and we go out for coffee to discuss it. He asks how I am. When I tell him, our original agenda melts away and he tells me that his life’s work, now, is flying back and forth to remote Wisconsin, where he takes care of a father with Alzheimer’s. . . .
As I walked the streets, did interviews, conducted business, I took to wondering which of the middle-aged people I encountered were quietly struggling to cope with their own crisis. How many of them felt utterly out of their depth? . . . According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, about 50 million Americans are providing some care for an adult family member. I was swimming in an invisible crowd of caregivers each day.
Source: The Atlantic
Image by DeaPeaJay, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 30, 2010 5:08 PM
It’s easy to avert your eyes from disasters like the Gulf of Mexico oil rig spill, but for people willing to hold their gaze and witness our oil addiction’s worst side effects, there’s plenty of excellent media coverage of this slowly unfolding tragedy. Among our favorites:
The New York Times published an interactive map detailing the wildlife that could be at risk. Audubon’s blog The Perch also covers the wildlife angle, including not just birds but whales, turtles, and sharks.
Agence France Presse (via Grist) reports that Louisiana shrimpers have filed a lawsuit against rig operator BP, accusing it of negligence, seeking millions of dollars in damages for the catch they’re going to lose.
The Houston Chronicle reports that investigators had been noticing more oil rigs having “blowouts” during a procedure in which they cement the walls of undersea wells.
Grist has ongoing coverage—much from Agence France Presse—and commentary, including a piece by Keith Harrington speculating that the accident may lead to a better climate bill. Harrington points out that before Obama approved new drilling, “10 coastal state senators wrote a letter to their colleagues John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) pressing the trio to keep expanded offshore drilling out of their now floundering climate and energy package.”
At The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan writes, “If the Democrats do not use this disaster to advance the energy bill ASAP, they may miss a critical moment to escape the oil addiction even George W. Bush acknowledged in his final years.”
Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes thinks Sullivan has it only “half right,” though: “It is a critical moment that Democrats are insane not to use, but the KGL [Kerry-Graham-Lieberman] energy bill isn’t the plan we need—it’s the least-terrible bill that was believed to have a chance of passing in the Senate. Now, with this ongoing crisis changing the political climate, there should be an opening for a better bill.”
Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones noted that political winds were already shifting: “On Friday, environmental groups, many of which had indicated a willingness to accept some offshore drilling in a climate and energy bill in exchange for components like a price on carbon pollution and a renewable energy standard, were rallying in opposition to Obama’s plan. “We were willing to accept some new drilling, but this changes everything,” said Athan Manuel, director of the lands protection program at Sierra Club. “I can’t imagine there’s going to be any offshore drilling in this bill.”
Sources: New York Times, Audubon, Grist, Houston Chronicle, The Atlantic, Mother Jones
Monday, March 22, 2010 8:25 AM
From Jonathan Chait at the New Republic:
Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event—a war, a scandal—will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.
From Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic:
Yes, in the end, he got all the primary delegates House votes he needed. Yes, he worked our last nerve to get there. But, yes, too, this is an important victory—the first true bloodied, grueling revelation that his persistence, another critical Obama quality, finally paid off in the presidency. He could have given up weeks ago, as the punditry advised (because they seem to have no grasp of substance and mere addiction to hour-to-hour political plays). But he refused. That took courage. And relentlessness.
From John Nichols in The Nation:
The rancorous debate over President Obama’s reform proposal was portrayed by much of our historically-disinclined media as an ugly degeneration of the body politic. In fact, the fight over health care reform has been no more difficult or disturbing than past fights for needed federal interventions.
Consider the battle of the mid-1930s over Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Social Security Act, which created what is now one of the most popular federal programs.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, recalled during Sunday evening’s debate that critics of Social Security denounced the reform as “the lash of the dictator.”
“Those slurs were false in 1935. They were false in 1965. And they are false in 2010,” declared Hoyer, as he argued that the similar slurs against Obama’s health care plan will be proven equally false.
Chris Hedges at Truthdig is not moved:
This bill is not about fiscal responsibility or the common good. The bill is about increasing corporate profit at taxpayer expense. It is the health care industry’s version of the Wall Street bailout. It lavishes hundreds of billions in government subsidies on insurance and drug companies. The some 3,000 health care lobbyists in Washington, whose dirty little hands are all over the bill, have once more betrayed the American people for money. The bill is another example of why change will never come from within the Democratic Party. The party is owned and managed by corporations.
Finally, Paul Waldman at The American Prospect:
Over the course of this debate, progressives have gotten used to beginning their comments on the various reform plans by saying, “It's not everything that I'd want, but…” And of course the bill that finally passed isn't perfect, which is why we should continue working to improve it in the coming months and years. But it is something extraordinary nevertheless, The passage of health-care reform is a huge benefit to lower- and middle-class Americans; finally, there is something resembling health security for all of us. Some of the most despicable misdeeds of the insurance companies have been put to an end, and a raft of programs have been put in place to help rein in costs. And that's just a few of the legislation's achievements. Millions upon millions of American lives will be improved by what Congress and the White House just did.
Sources: New Republic, The Atlantic, The Nation, Truthdig, The American Prospect
Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:20 PM
With binge drinking and alcohol-related hospital visits ever on the rise in young people, perhaps it’s time to come up with a plan B. As professor John McCardell puts it, “Clearly state laws mandating a minimum drinking age of 21 haven’t eliminated drinking by young adults—they’ve simply driven it underground, where life and health are at greater risk.”
As part of The Atlantic’s annual ideas issue, McCardell offers up his solution to curb the prominence of underage imbibing. His first recommendation is to do away with the yanking of highways funds from states who would dare lower the legal age so we make some “adult” adjustments. With that change, he has a few suggestions for states:
They might license 18-year-olds—adults in the eyes of the law—to drink, provided they’ve completed high school, attended an alcohol education course (that consists of more than temperance lectures and scare tactics), and kept a clean record. They might even mandate alcohol education at a young age. And they might also adopt zero-tolerance laws for drunk drivers of all ages, and require ignition interlocks on their cars.
What do you think? Could initiatives like these actually make a difference?
Source: The Atlantic
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 12:04 PM
You wake to tiny red bites along your arm and panic overwhelms you: You have bedbugs. Before calling pest control, The Atlantic reports that you could consider employing a bedbug dog, trained to sniff out the critters and their eggs.
Bedbugs’ tiny size, and their ability to survive more than a year without food, make them a tricky pest to purge. Now that nasty pesticides like DDT have fallen out of favor, pest control companies are using more “environmentally sensitive”—and admittedly less mighty—methods to control the bugs. Dogs can thus save time, headache, and unnecessary treatment by accurately deciphering pest problems before taking action. In fact, The Atlantic reports that “A controlled experiment by entomologists at the University of Florida found that dogs were 98 percent accurate in locating live bedbugs in hotel rooms.”
For more on eco-friendly bug killers, read about pest control with a conscience from Utne Reader's January-February 2008 issue.
Source: The Atlantic
Image by Pink Sherbet Photography
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009 11:07 AM
The Atlantic claims your summer cocktail could benefit from gourmet ice. Are you rolling your eyes? Well, when Wayne Curtis investigated the issue, mixologist Toby Maloney clued him in: “Ice is as important to a bartender as a stove is to a chef.” He goes on to say that, “You’d never tell a chef he could have only a stove-top burner or a fryer. And I couldn’t do without at least three or four different types of ice.”
In fact, fancy ice can range in style from standard crushed ice, to chunk ice that must be chipped and shaped, to “oblong blocks that fit perfectly into a Collins glass.” Each drink, in turn, requires a different sort to suit its chilling needs. Curtis himself is clearly a convert, and performs his own experiment between a drink made with “cheater ice” and one made with the good stuff. According to him, if you’re looking for “a richer taste” and “a denser, almost velvety texture,” choose your ice wisely, friend.
Image by Jökull Sólberg Auðunsson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 29, 2009 1:24 PM
All over Iraq, American forces are striking camp and withdrawing from cities. Blogging for the Atlantic, Graeme Wood offers a snapshot of the withdrawal, with an eye for the details most news reports leave out:
The only thing uglier than a military base is a military base that is being torn down. Camp Tash is nearly gone, and it is already half landfill and all eyesore. While walking around I tallied the objects buried in the sand: a leather sandal, frayed coaxial cables, many plastic bags, scattered live 5.56mm rounds, plastic bottles galore.
And stacks of old wood are everywhere. The Marines' weapon of choice is the crowbar, with a claw-hammer for a sidearm. They crawl over SWA huts, ripping out plywood and wearing rifle vests if they rise above the berm and into the sights of potential snipers. In the middle of the afternoon, three Iraqis show up, one in a police uniform, with a truck. They scavenge as much wood as they can carry. One of them, Adnan Yusuf, is plump and huffs smoke through the gaps in his teeth. He is smiling, because there's money in that wreckage. “Business is good," he says. "I just spent three months tearing apart bases in Hit and Ramadi.”
Source: The Atlantic
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:30 AM
Reports coming out of Iran from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and various blogs are giving foreigners an unprecedented view into the ongoing political crisis in the country. The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, blogging from “a pier in Cape Cod,” has emerged as one of the major arbiters of information on the Iranian protests. Twitter and Facebook users are turning their profiles green in support of the protesters. The same technologies are giving idealists around the world the chance to engage in the crisis, both symbolically and actively. But just because people can engage, doesn’t mean they always should.
The raw, unedited nature of much of the information coming out of Iran could give every the impression that they know what’s really going on inside the country. The abject failure of cable news networks to cover the events reinforces that idea. Editor and Publisher recently admitted, “Web reports from Iranians, including Twitter feeds, have outflanked much of print and certainly cable TV.” With foreign reporters getting kicked out of the country, the reliance on social media for news will likely continue to grow.
As influential as social networking tools are in publicizing Iran’s conflict, much of that information has been unreliable. It was widely reported that opposition leader Mousavi was placed under house arrest, which was just one of many rumors that circulated and later turned out to be untrue. The best reporting, according to Kevin Drum writing for Mother Jones, may be coming from the BBC and the New York Times, and other mainstream, traditional outlets.
News from Iran has also made people “desperate to do something to show solidarity,” according to tech guru Clay Shirky in an interview with TED. Shirky said, “Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement.” This has led people to help out the protesters, according to Shirky, by offering secure web proxies to help them mask their online identities. That sense of involvement, however, has the potential to lead people astray.
Some foreigners have been moved to launch web-based attacks against the Iranian state-run media, overwhelm the state’s servers with a constant stream of requests. Tech-President advocated this “bit of cyber aggression aimed at the Iranian government” as a way to channel the considerable energies of observers outside Iran. The process is so easy that I accidentally helped launch one of these attacks by clicking on an errant link while researching this blog post.
The motivation behind the web-attacks is understandable, but they may end up doing more harm than good. Evgeny Morozov, writing for Foreign Policy, points out that these attacks from other countries actually strengthen the Iranian government’s argument that “foreign intervention” is the driving force behind the protests. And if the attacks get bad enough, there’s a chance that the government could simply pull the plug on the highly centralized internet throughout the country, cutting off the Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube videos that feed the foreign knowledge of the protests.
Sources: The Atlantic, Editor and Publisher, Mother Jones, TED, Tech-President, Foreign Policy
, licensed under
Friday, May 15, 2009 6:59 PM
Word nerds are probably familiar with Barbara Wallraff’s regular columns for The Atlantic. In her ongoing space dedicated to “Word Fugitives,” readers write in asking for a word to describe a certain experience, situation, or person. Wallraff then collects all the suggestions and presents the best.
One of my favorites originated back in November. A reader sought help to find a word for “people with absolutely no horse sense when using public transport or in crowds. You know, the ones who get off the top of the escalator and stop dead, people who swerve into your path, people who walk four abreast.”
Oh, we know. We’ve all been plagued by these pedestrian offenders. Well now you can take your pick of non-expletive things to call them: impedestrians, obliviots, bipediments, ignoraimlesses, in-the-wayfarers, and speed bumpkins all were proffered. My personal favorite though: detourists. It won’t help in getting them off the streets (or lessening our annoyance), but at least now we know who they are.
Source: The Atlantic
Thursday, December 04, 2008 1:29 PM
When photographer Jill Greenberg’s editors at the Atlantic asked her to photograph John McCain for the magazine's October issue, she swallowed her distaste and delivered the benevolent-looking images they sought. But she couldn’t cast her disgust aside, so she snapped a second set of photos that better captured her own feelings for McCain. Compared to the warm, well-lit portraits that ended up in the magazine, her alternative shots make McCain look...well...kind of evil. Greenberg posted the photos to her website, and remained unapologetic when her editors freaked out.
Were her actions ethical? A recent episode of On the Media chats with Greenberg and other photographers about the often murky question of integrity in photojournalism. Greenberg suggests that in some situations, the most ethical way to portray her subjects may not always be the most flattering. Photographer Platon, who captured Ann Coulter on the cover of Time looking, in interviewer Bob Garfield’s estimation, "like a blond praying mantis," agrees. For him, a photographer’s duty isn’t to represent subjects as they’d prefer, but to interpret them, to “pull people out of their reality and into our reality.” Greenberg further justifies unflattering photos (perhaps less convincingly) with the contention that editors sometimes demand them, even asking photographers to deliberately mislead their subjects.
You can take a look at the photos in question, along with some other great (and potentially questionable) shots in a slideshow accompanying the episode transcript.
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