Mysteries of the Universe Revealed and Other News in Brief

Short takes from Utne Reader's alternative press library
by David Schimke
January-February 2005
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Before and after the 2004 election, countless stories were written about how independent, grassroots organizations such as, classified as nonprofit “527 committees,” would continue to wield influence over the legislative process whether their preferred candidates won or lost—primarily because of a demonstrated ability to raise money and motivate progressives. A lesser known fact, reported on the Center for Public Integrity’s website ( in November, is that in the final three weeks of the campaign, 527s supporting President Bush spent nearly $30 million on broadcast ads—triple the amount spent by similar groups supporting Senator John Kerry.

Since Clear Channel is owned by Bush friend and financial backer Lowry Mays, there’s long been a perception that the nation’s largest radio chain, which has benefited mightily from deregulation, would always throw its weight behind the GOP. But Reason (Dec. 2004) found out that, in this case at least, profit trumps nepotism. Of the 36 stations that broadcast the liberal network Air America (starring Al Franken), over a third are owned by the Texas-based company.

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases a new version of the food pyramid later this year, it’s likely that adults will be told to down not two but three glasses of milk a day to keep the doctor away. But according to Alternative Medicine (Nov.-Dec. 2004), some experts think such a recommendation would be dangerous, because of research linking excess dairy consumption to cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest also points out that some researchers working for the USDA have ties to the National Dairy Council.

The staff at the trivia magazine mental_floss (Nov.-Dec. 2004) have unearthed answers to “The 25 Most Important Questions in the History of the Universe.” A number of these soon-to-be classic conundrums caught our eye: “Which came first, the can opener or the can?” “Why can’t you tickle yourself?” “Why does Hawaii have Interstate highways?” And finally the answer to the oldest conundrum of all—“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” —was worth the subscription price. While a woodchuck can’t actually chuck wood, one scientist calculated that given how well a woodchuck chucks dirt, it could chuck 700 pounds of wood if it could.

From 2001 to 2002, thanks to a bit of bad publicity, the CEO-to-worker wage gap had narrowed slightly to 282:1. Data collected by Multinational Monitor (Sept. 2004) shows that as corporate scandal dropped off the media’s radar, the discrepancy widened again in 2003 to 301:1. What’s more, “if the minimum wage had increased as quickly as CEO pay since 1990,” it would be $15.76 an hour, rather than $5.15.

According to Sierra (Nov.-Dec. 2004), if the Bush administration has its way, the so-called “roadless rule,” passed by the Clinton administration to protect wild areas in and around our national forests, will be repealed (with little fanfare) to allow for logging, drilling, and mining. Environmental groups are rallying members to register their objections with the Forest Service before the tracts of wilderness near parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone are choked with exhaust.

The Henry L. Stimson Center
, a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution in Washington, D.C., devoted to enhancing international stability (, has just published a book focusing on peace in a post-9/11 world. Instead of promoting more weapons systems or fewer civil liberties, though, Policy Matters: Educating Congress on Peace and Security argues that the best way to prevent conflict and build alliances is to promote ‘soft security’ concerns—such as women’s education, democratic participation, and an open, independent media around the globe. As a first step toward accomplishing these goals, the book educates readers on how to affect real change domestically, by mobilizing citizens and lobbying elected representatives.

Even at a time when libraries can be stored on the head of a pin, photos of this big blue ball we call Earth can still inspire dreams. Participants in the EarthSeeds Project ( want to make sure that we all, and especially children, have this powerful picture stored in our subconscious when we’re interacting with the environment. The goal is to provide images of spaceship Earth to every classroom, camp, and church by 2020, so that students feel as though they’re crew members with a stake in its future. “Seeing Earth as it truly is—small, round, blue, and beautiful—positively affects the lives and perspectives of children and adults worldwide,” says Robert Bogatin, program director of the new campaign.


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