Weekend Coffee: September 6

Weekend Coffee: September 6 September 6, 2014


• This week, Bob McDonnell, a.k.a Virginia’s former “Governor Ultrasound“, was convicted by a jury on multiple counts of corruption. The schadenfreude-y part is that McDonnell ran for office as a religious-right, pro-marriage, Christian-family-values candidate, whereas his defense at trial basically consisted of arguing that his own marriage was a shambles and that everything he said on the campaign trail was a lie.

• In weird and cool biology news: two unclassifiable animal species – belonging to no known phylum – were discovered on the ocean floor off the Australian coast. The creatures, placed in the new genus Dendrogramma, resemble tiny, free-drifting mushrooms and have curious similarities to the Ediacaran life forms that flourished just before the Cambrian explosion. Frustratingly, the methods used to preserve them mean that we can’t sequence their DNA. (You can read the full paper in PLoS One.)

• There’s a new line in our cosmic address: scientists have determined that the Milky Way is part of a newly mapped, 520-million-light-year-wide galactic supercluster which they’ve dubbed Laniakea, Hawaiian for “immeasurable heaven”.

• Take the long view: Margaret Atwood, along with dozens of other writers, is taking part in a conceptual-art project to write a book that no one will be able to read for a hundred years.

The Economist publishes, and then hastily retracts, a review of a book on American slavery by Edward Baptist which argued that Baptist wasn’t “objective” because he was biased against the slaveholders. Yes, in 2014.

• After a long string of court losses, the religious right has finally found a single federal judge willing to uphold a ban on marriage equality. Less auspicious for them is that this judge apparently doesn’t know what the Fourteenth Amendment says.

• Nigerian “witch hunter” Helen Ukpabio, an extraordinarily evil woman who encourages parents to abuse their own children, is trying to silence criticism by filing spurious libel suits against British humanist organizations.

• To understand what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri, you need to read this lengthy but essential piece of journalism by Radley Balko.

To summarize: The outlying land around St. Louis is a patchwork of tiny municipal fiefdoms, shaped by decades of white flight and segregation, which fund their local governments through predatory law enforcement that seizes on every excuse imaginable to fine and jail their mostly poor, mostly black residents. The anger and resentment this treatment engenders has been building for a long time, until it boiled over in response to the shooting death of Michael Brown.

For our democracy to thrive, we need media-literate citizens. News literacy is a vital skill, combining equal parts critical thinking and civic engagement, but can it be taught? An investigative piece by my friend Lindsay Beyerstein.

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