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The Monsanto Years: Neil Young Plays Jones Beach, Rev. Billy Opens the Show

Food
The Monsanto Years: Neil Young Plays Jones Beach, Rev. Billy Opens the Show

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir will open for Neil Young tonight at the NYC-venue Jones Beach. Accompanying Young is the band “Promise of the Real,” with Lukas and Micah Nelson, sons of Willie Nelson.

The concert is featuring Young's new album, “The Monsanto Years,” which includes songs directed against Monsanto, Walmart, Chevron and Starbucks, which Young urged his fans to boycott last year for its part in trying to stop Vermont’s GMO labeling law. Starbucks officials say they are not part of that effort. However, Young insists that the company is involved through the Grocery Manufacturers Association trade group.

I had the chance to interview Reverend Billy on the eve of the big show. Here's what he had to say:

Spear: Wow, very exciting to be opening for Neil Young. Can you share with me how this gig came about?

Rev. Bill: Neil Young is breaking an American taboo, which is that famous celebrities do not name corporations who are criminal. Neil Young with his companion Daryl Hannah is naming Monsanto, Starbucks and Walmart and their Earth-killing behavior, as we in the Church of Stop Shopping have for many years. We are gratified that they have invited us onto their stage. Earthalujah!

Spear: I know you've been working on a campaign against Monsanto for years. How did that start?

Rev. Bill: The Stop Shopping Choir are singing activists who began their life doing things like singing against the hordes of consumers at Macy's front door on Black Friday, the doorbuster ritual. We see the religions of consumerism as, obviously, an ethical problem. But it is also a spirit-sucking zombie system. Monsanto's Roundup is everywhere, and it causes cancer, birth defects and is a persistent toxin in our soil. Its toxin, glyphosate, is in our body tissue and blood. I think that anyone opposing the predations of retail companies based in the USA would eventually find their way to this criminal enterprise.

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir.

Spear: What do you think about Bill Nye's change of heart on GMOs?

Rev. Bill: Nye says he's in love with Monsanto. Well, he also made his name working for Disney. So as a pastor I have to say "be careful of the Devil." Bill Nye the Science Guy needs to go back to science and spend less time with show biz. The wildness of the biosphere is more complex and sexy than NPR. Go back to wildness, Bill. Go back to that wildness that Monsanto calls "weeds" and "pests." There is spiritual deliverance in that non-cash crop. Go back to where the science starts, Science Guy.

Spear: Do you think Americans are becoming more conscious of the food they eat and support the labeling GMOs?

Rev. Bill: We have continued to demand truth in labeling. That seems to be a locked-in intuitive position. Nothing Monsanto or Starbucks argues in court against the state of Vermont or any other truth-in-labelling entity will stop this commons sense. We should know what we eat and we think of it as a part of our First Amendment rights.

Spear: Anything else you'd like to tell EcoWatch readers?

Rev. Bill: There is a feeling in the air with this tour "The Monsanto Years." It's different when you have that engagement in the world, risky, high energy politics. From the road, Young put up $100,000 to oppose Monsanto and Starbucks in the battle of truth-in-labelling in Vermont. And he's hilariously debating Donald Trump, of course. Daryl Hannah invited radical Earth groups to greet ticket buyers at the lobby of the arenas—they call it an Eco-Village. She engaged Charris Ford to invite the First Nations activists at Idle No More, young farmers at the Greenhorns, Institute for Responsible Technology, Earth Island Institute, Move to Amend and many more. Rock matters again!  Music can create the feeling of change like nothing else.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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