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This GOP House Candidate Is Running for Office So His Daughter Won’t Have to Learn About Evolution

Mother Jones

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Minnesota Republican congressional candidate Aaron Miller’s gripe with Washington is personal. Speaking at the district convention on Saturday, Miller, an Iraq War vet who won the nomination to challenge four-term Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, explained that he was running for office in part to ensure that his daughter won’t have to learn about evolution at her local public school. Per the Mankato Free Press:

He also called for more religious freedoms. He repeated his story about his daughter returning home from school because evolution was being taught in her class. He said the teacher admitted to not believing in the scientific theory to his daughter but told her that the government forced him to teach the lesson.

“We should decide what is taught in our schools, not Washington D.C.,” Miller said.

Miller has declined to provide any more information to verify his story.

This isn’t the first time Miller has recounted this tale—it’s a staple of his stump speech. The comments were first flagged by Minnesota blogger Sally Jo Sorensen, who points out that Minnesota’s biology standards are set by Minnesota, not DC. Miller has the endorsement of the district’s 2012 GOP nominee Allen Quist, a longtime conservative activist in the state who wrote an educational curriculum supplement postulating that “people and stegosaurs were living at the same time.”

The first district, which President Obama carried by a point in 2012, is one of just a handful of red-leaning congressional districts represented by Democrats. But Walz, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, remains popular in the district. It probably doesn’t hurt that the local GOP keeps nominating candidates like Quist and Miller, either.

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Did Astronomers Just Find the First Moon Outside Our Solar System?

Jupiter’s moon Io in orbit around the gas giant. Io is casting a dark shadow on Jupiter’s atmosphere. Photo: Cassini / NASA

As ever more advanced telescopes have shown that our Earth is similar to at least 17 billion Earth-like planets, astronomers have also been looking for something else—a moon in orbit around one of these exoplanets. An exomoon. And now they might have found one.

The potential moon, says Ian O’Neill for Discovery News, is half the size of Earth and in orbit around a planet four times bigger than Jupiter.

The candidate exomoon is around 45 million kilometers (0.13 AU) from its host exoplanet. As a comparison, Jupiter’s most distant satellite (S/2003 J 2) orbits over 30 million kilometers from the gas giant, so such an extreme orbit around a larger planet is certainly feasible.

The potential discovery was announced in a preliminary research paper, says Nature, and is definitely still up for debate: “After sifting through detailed observations of this event, astronomers proposed that the intervening object could be either a smallish star with a Neptune-sized planet orbiting it, or a largish planet with a moon orbiting it.”

If the latter possibility is confirmed, it would be the first ever detection of an exomoon. The problem is that there is no way to repeat the observation and know for sure.

“It’s kind of a shame because we’ll probably never know what the answer is,” says David Kipping, an astronomer at the Harvard‒Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the research.

No one is really surprised by the idea of exomoons. After all, moons are incredibly common in our solar system. Yet, finding the first known exomoon would be a big discovery, so the scientists are taking the more conservative interpretation, says Discovery News.

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You Can’t Throw a Rock in the Milky Way Without Hitting an Earth-Like Planet
This Is an Actual Photo of a Planet in Another Solar System

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Did Astronomers Just Find the First Moon Outside Our Solar System?

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The Weirdest Pearl Harbor Tribute You’ll See All Weekend

Mother Jones

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Saturday is the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the surprise strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which left more than 2,400 Americans dead and forced the United States to enter World War II.

This is how the SpaghettiOs Twitter feed marked the occasion:


Weird, right? For what it’s worth, @SpaghettiOs celebrated Thanksgiving in a far more tasteful manner.

The Campbell Soup Company did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the backlash to this bizarre canned-spaghetti-product Pearl Harbor tweet.

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The Weirdest Pearl Harbor Tribute You’ll See All Weekend

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Entire Texan town evacuated after pipeline explosion

Entire Texan town evacuated after pipeline explosion


A Texas town an hour’s drive from Dallas was a ghost town over the weekend. Plumes of smoke hung ghoulishly over its sky, visible from more than 25 miles away.

Which company ruined the weekend of the entire town, condemning its residents to crappy nearby hotel rooms? Chevron.

One of the company’s pipelines exploded early Thursday as a Chevron crew was working on it, triggering a long-burning fire and the nearby town’s evacuation. No injuries were reported. From a CNN report on Saturday:

Police required all residents of Milford, which has an estimated population of 700, to leave, after the underground pipeline exploded early Thursday, sending up orange flames stories high, said spokesman Malcolm Ward.

The Chevron oil company asked that the safety measure be taken, the company said in a statement Friday. A jet black plume of smoke has been billowing up towards the clouds. The statement mentioned not wanting to risk exposing residents to possible effects on air quality in Milford.

Most of the residents were allowed to return to their homes on Sunday, but the four families who lived closest to the explosion were required to spend at least one more night away from home. That’s because the fire was still burning — three days after the explosion. Meanwhile, crews were working to ignite residual petroleum gas left in the isolated stretch of pipeline to deprive the flames of fuel.

Texas oil pipeline fire causes evacuation of town near Dallas, CNN
Four homes still evacuated near Milford gas explosion, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Entire Texan town evacuated after pipeline explosion

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Sports Teams Go to Bat for the Environment

The Cincinnati Reds’ stadium, the Great American Ballpark, adheres to green practices. Photo: Cincinnati Reds

When Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds, opened in 2003, the Reds unveiled a stadium that was more energy-efficient than its previous stadium — and that was just the beginning. Since then, they have launched their sweeping Red Goes Green initiatives to become one of the greenest teams in Major League Baseball.

Starting with energy conservation through reduced power usage and lighting efficiency, they also unveiled a comprehensive recycling plan that collected everything from grass clippings to cooking oil. Their efforts have continued, and they’re now collecting and recycling more than 96 tons of cardboard, cans, bottles, metal, cooking oil and grass clippings in a single season. They also host special recycling events, such as e-waste recycling drives featuring current and former players.

“Our overall mission is to be good stewards of the environment,” explains Michael Anderson, public relations manager for the team. “We owe it to our fans and taxpayers to operate [the ballpark] in a manner that is efficient, fiscally prudent and environmentally friendly.”

The Reds aren’t alone in their efforts; in fact, a growing number of professional sports teams are taking responsibility for their environmental impact and making drastic changes to reduce their carbon footprint. In 2010, the formation of the nonprofit Green Sports Alliance provided green-minded teams, venues and leagues with solutions and support to improve their environmental performance. When it made its national debut in 2011, the GSA had just 11 teams on board; today, it represents more than 170 teams and venues from 16 different pro and college leagues. Most recently, AEG — the behemoth worldwide concert promoter and one of the largest sports and entertainment companies in the world — joined the GSA, pledging to maintain green initiatives at its venues.

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Sports Teams Go to Bat for the Environment

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Yet Another Study Shows How Lead Exposure Can Produce More Violent Crime

Mother Jones

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The LA Times reports today on the latest study from the lab of Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist who investigates the roots of violent and antisocial behavior:

It began with a casual question that neuroscientist Kent Kiehl posed to a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory who had been conducting brain scans on New Mexico prison inmates. “I asked, ‘Does ACC activity predict the risk of reoffending?'” Kiehl recalls, using the scientific shorthand for the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain structure associated with error processing.

The postdoctoral fellow, Eyal Aharoni, decided to find out. When he compared 96 inmates whose brains had been monitored while they performed a test that measures impulsiveness, he discovered a stark contrast: Those with low ACC activity were about twice as likely to commit crimes within four years of being released as those with high ACC activity.

Attentive readers will know why this caught my eye. The following passage comes from my story about the connection between lead and crime a few months ago. It’s about a pair of MRI studies performed at the University of Cincinnati:

A second study found that high exposure to lead during childhood was linked to a permanent loss of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain associated with aggression control as well as what psychologists call “executive functions”: emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility. One way to understand this, says Kim Cecil, another member of the Cincinnati team, is that lead affects precisely the areas of the brain “that make us most human.”

Although I used “prefrontal cortex” as shorthand here, the precise part of the brain implicated in these studies was the anterior cingulate cortex. Cecil and his team found that lead exposure in children leads to a permanent loss of gray matter in the ACC, while Kiehl’s team has discovered that low ACC activity increases the risk of recidivism. This linkage isn’t surprising, given what we know about the functions of the ACC, but it’s an unusually clear result that links ACC deterioration to criminal activity. Just thought I’d pass it along.

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Yet Another Study Shows How Lead Exposure Can Produce More Violent Crime

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10 Vintage Bathing Suits We Love

Judy S.


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10 Vintage Bathing Suits We Love

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Yes, Disability Payments Are Up, But It’s Nothing to Act Surprised About

Mother Jones

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Last week I blogged about a Planet Money story on the steady increase in Social Security disability payments over the past couple of decades. The story was more nuanced than I think its critics gave it credit for, but there’s no question that the big takeaway for most people was the notion that lots of workers with only minor disabilities are being allowed into the program simply because the economy is bad and they probably can’t find work after they’ve been laid off.

Friday night this was a topic of discussion on the Chris Hayes show. One of the guests was Michael Astrue, a former commissioner of the Social Security Administration, and it’s fair to say that Astrue was pretty exasperated about the whole affair. One of the points he made was this: Nothing has skyrocketed. Nothing has suddenly spiraled out of control. The program today is spending exactly as much as it was forecast to spend back in 1994, the last time Congress revised the disability law.

That struck me as a pretty strong argument. If we really are exactly in line today with the predictions made 20 years ago, then obviously nothing is out of control. So I checked. I pulled up the 1995 trustees report and the 2012 trustees report and compared the 1995 forecast with the 2012 reality. Here’s what it looks like:

Astrue is pretty much correct—though not entirely. In 2012, there were about 10 percent more people receiving disability than was forecast in 1995. Total outlays were about 18 percent higher than forecast.

That’s not nothing, but it’s not a lot, either. There are two things going on. First, ever since 2000 the number of beneficiaries has been growing slightly faster than the original 1995 forecast. Second, there was a small extra spike starting in 2009, probably due to the Great Recession. This partly vindicates the Planet Money story, which suggested that (a) standards had loosened a bit over time, and (b) people who otherwise might have gutted it out and returned to work in better times decided to go on disability instead when jobs became scarce.

However, it doesn’t vindicate it very much. These factors have been responsible for only a small extra blip in the number of people approved for disability payments. The blip in outlays is a bit bigger, but that’s mostly a mirage: the recession reduced taxable income below forecast, which artificially inflates the outlay figure because it’s calculated as a percentage of income. By far the majority of the growth in the disability program has been due to simple demographics (as the boomer generation ages, more of them go on disability), and it was baked into the forecast two decades ago. We shouldn’t act shocked now that the forecast is coming true.

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Meet The Agent Who Protected Presidents, the Popemobile, And the Factual Accuracy of "Olympus Has Fallen"

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In Olympus Has Fallen (FilmDistrict, 118 min.), highly trained and well-armed North Korean terrorists storm the White House, murder nearly every Secret Service agent in Washington, DC, and take the president hostage in the underground command center. The terrorists explode large chunks of the White House, tear down its American flag in particularly heinous fashion, kill a lot of innocent civilians, and knock over the Washington Monument in the process. And a lone agent (played by Gerard Butler) is the only one who can save the day, mostly by using sharp objects, assault weapons, and Die Hardemulating trash-talk.

Given that the real-life White House is fairly well protected—maybe with lasers—and hasn’t been burned down since the British invaded in 1814, this film isn’t going to win awards for realism. (The assumption of North Korean military competence is also really, really funny.)

But even the most intentionally unrealistic action movies aim to get some details right. The Core, a 2003 sci-fi disaster movie about scientists who travel to the center of the Earth to set off nukes, had its very own scientific consultant. And Olympus Has Fallen director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun) sought out a good deal of Washington and Secret Service advice on how to craft his thriller. One of the technical consultants was Dr. Joe Bannon, a former special agent with the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice in Los Angeles, where he also worked as an allied agent with the Secret Service.

Bannon now teaches presidential and heads of state protection—as well as a form of martial arts that combines “ancient Shaolin Wisdom with Modern Medical Science“—at the Bannon Institute of Martial Arts and Executive Security International in Colorado. And as brawny as that may sound, when he talks about protective services, Bannon blends religious convictions and psychological maxims. “I understand the terrorist mindset of willing to lay down their life for what they believe in,” Bannon told me. “Not that I agree with any attack on the United States or the White House, but I have to respect that value.”

In his long career as a special agent assisting the Secret Service, Bannon served on protection details for George W. Bush, the Clintons, the Gores, Ted Kennedy, Dianne Feinstein, the Saudi royal family, the first family of Kurdistan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II. “I provided close-quarter protection for the Popemobile when he gave a service at Mission Dolores in San Francisco in 1987,” Bannon said. “I helped him down the stairs of the Popemobile and he smiled at me and touched me on the shoulder. Everyone wanted to rub my shoulder after that to get, like, a blessing out of me.”

In his decades-long career in law enforcement and dignitary protection, he racked up a nice roster of honors and medals; on November 14, 2006, the mayor of San Francisco officially declared it “Joe Bannon Day.”

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Meet The Agent Who Protected Presidents, the Popemobile, And the Factual Accuracy of "Olympus Has Fallen"

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BP officially quits the solar business

BP officially quits the solar business

Remember when BP tried to rebrand itself as “Beyond Petroleum” and came up with a new logo designed to evoke solar power? Well, looks like the company might have to call in some new branding consultants. NPR’s Morning Edition reports:

“We have thrown in the towel on solar,” [BP CEO] Bob Dudley said after delivering a wide-ranging speech Wednesday.

“Not that solar energy isn’t a viable energy source, but we worked at it for 35 years, and we really never made money,” he added.

BP has been winding down its solar operations for a few years. The company now says it is “focusing on those sectors of the energy industry where we can profitably grow our business,” which means a shift to wind and biofuels. Really though, can you blame BP for being worried about money? The company only made $11.6 billion in profits last year, and it might still have to pay billions to atone for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Wah!

More from NPR:

BP’s exit from solar has more to do with a changing business than lack of will.

“The solar industry BP was involved in 10 years ago has very few similarities to the solar industry today,” says Finlay Colville, vice president of the research firm NPD Solarbuzz.

Colville says BP was one of the early companies in the solar business. Back then, the market was based on a different model — one more focused on research and development. He says now the business is all about efficient production and low prices, something more suited to the Asian companies taking a lead role in the solar panel-manufacturing business; so BP’s exit from solar doesn’t mean the industry overall is in trouble.


BP is outta here. Can Chinese companies pick up the slack?

It’s not all sunshine for those Asian companies either, though. China’s sick of losing money on its struggling solar-panel manufacturers, and is encouraging mergers amongst debt-ridden companies while also discouraging local governments from stepping in to support them. From The Wall Street Journal:

In December, China’s State Council, or cabinet, signaled it would stop funding money-losing domestic solar-panel makers, which are caught up in a global downturn for the industry …

Chen Yuan, chairman of China Development Bank, said Tuesday on the sidelines of China’s annual session of parliament that the bank would limit fresh lending to solar-panel companies.

Beijing is offering “indirect help to solar companies in the form of new policies and incentives for solar-power development and to boost demand for panels,” but the companies are probably still in for some rocky times ahead.

Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for



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