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Most Soccer-Related Brain Trauma Isn’t From Heading the Ball

Mother Jones

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Since February, when a New York Times article linked heading soccer balls to the possibility of brain injury, the media—eager for a new angle on the 2014 World Cup—has fixated on the dangers of headers. The Boston Globe, Slate, and Fox News have all warned of that heading the ball might cause serious damage to players’ brains.

Scientific studies have shown that rates of concussions and head injury in soccer are comparable to football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and rugby. But news stories that focus on the danger of heading have it all wrong. It’s not the ball that soccer players should be worried about—it’s everything else. Player-to-player, player-to-ground, and player-to-goalpost collisions are soccer’s biggest dangers, explains Robert Cantu, a professor at Boston University who has researched the issue. An opponent’s head, foot, or elbow is much more dangerous than a one-pound soccer ball. It’s true that “the single most risky activity in soccer is heading the ball,” Cantu says—but that’s because contact with other players, the goalposts, or the ground is so much more likely when a player goes up for a header.

Government data supports the idea that contact with other players is a much bigger problem than contact with the ball. Most of the 24,184 reported cases of traumatic brain injury in soccer reported in a 2011 Consumer Products Safety Commission study resulted from player-to-player contact; just 12.6 percent resulted from contact with a ball. Head-to-head, head-to-ground, and head-to-goalpost injuries are all more common than head-to-ball injuries in US youth leagues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recent speculation about the damage done by headers on the brain has centered on the case of Patrick Grange, a 29-year-old forward for the Chicago Fire‘s development league team who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, sometimes known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2012. Scientists who studied Grange’s brain after his death found evidence of chronic trauma encephalopathy, a disease previously found only in the brains of deceased boxers, NFL players, and military veterans. CTE, which some researchers believe is linked to repetitive head trauma, can cause memory loss, dementia, aggression, confusion, and depression. But often, symptoms don’t show up for years after the initial brain trauma, and for now, doctors can only diagnose it after death.

Christopher Nowinski, the author of Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis from the NFL to Youth Leagues, which focuses on head trauma in football, has linked Grange’s death to heading the ball, calling him a “prolific header.” But scientists do not fully understand the link between brain injuries and concussions and the act of heading a soccer ball. Current studies of soccer, heading, and brain trauma have small sample sizes; many don’t account for dementia, mental-health issues, previous concussions, or other brain injuries or diseases, such as Grange’s ALS.

The New York Times, for example, reported that Grange’s parents said he had suffered several concussions in his youth, including a fall as a toddler, as well as concussions playing soccer before advancing to the Fire’s developmental team. The more concussions a person suffers, the more likely he is to sustain future, more severe brain injuries. The science suggests that headers have something to do with brain injury in some cases, but the connection is not clear yet.

What is clear from the science, however, is that collisions with players, goalposts, or the ground can be extremely dangerous. Take Thursday’s Uruguay-England World Cup match, for example. Fighting for the ball, Uruguayan defender Álvaro Pereira took a knee to the head and was knocked out on the pitch. Still, Pereira immediately returned to play, going directly against last year’s recommendations from the American Academy of Neurology: “If in doubt, sit it out.” (FIFA, international soccer’s main organizing body, has a similar suggestion on its website but has no hard rules regarding concussions and required time off the pitch.)

Uruguayan defender Álvaro Pereira takes a knee to the head. Juan Carlos Colin/Vine

Goalkeepers, who spend their games diving into the ground and colliding with other players, are arguably the most vulnerable to brain injury. Their risk for injury to the head and cervical spine is comparable to that of skydivers and pole vaulters, according to a 2000 study Cantu coauthored. FIFA has published an article on its website warning that goalkeepers are constantly “subjected to direct trauma” resulting from contact with the ground, the goalposts, and other players.

In April 2010, Briana Scurry, who played goalkeeper for United States Olympic and World Cup teams, was in her second season with DC’s Washington Freedom when she collided head-on with a striker. Scurry began getting severe headaches and feeling depressed—symptoms she later attributed to a concussion and neck injury. “All my career, my success has been based on my mentality. It all starts with my mind,” Scurry said later. “And so, for me, my brain was broken.”

Xi Shui/ZUMA

Scurry isn’t alone—goalkeepers have fallen victim to traumatic brain injuries for decades. In 1933, Jon Kristbjornsson, a goalkeeper for the Icelandic soccer team Valur Reykjavik, died of brain trauma after colliding with another player. The rule in soccer forbidding players from kicking the ball once the goalkeeper has possession was the result of the death of keeper Jimmy Thorpe, who perished after being kicked in the head and chest in a game in 1936. In 2006, Petr Cech, the goalkeeper for Chelsea, needed skull decompression surgery after colliding with a midfielder in the penalty box. He now wears safety headgear when he plays. Last year, Boubacar Barry, an Ivorian keeper, hit the goalpost while making a save and fell unconscious, missing the rest of the season. In April, a keeper from Gabon died because a striker accidentally stepped on his head after he saved a shot and was lying on the ground.

Soccer headbands and headgear may offer a partial solution. A study published in 2003 by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in coordination with the National Institutes of Health found a significant reduction in peak force of impact on soccer players’ heads with three different marketed headbands, and a 2006 McGill University study that tracked 278 adolescent soccer players over a season found that using headgear was associated with cutting concussion risk in half. Players who didn’t wear headgear were twice as likely to get concussions. Despite these and similar findings, FIFA does not require or recommend the use of headgear for soccer players—including goalkeepers—at any age level.


Most Soccer-Related Brain Trauma Isn’t From Heading the Ball

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Anti-Hunger Advocates Put Pressure on Lawmakers Over Food Stamp Bill


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Anti-Hunger Advocates Put Pressure on Lawmakers Over Food Stamp Bill

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Shell Says Shale Oil Reserves “Difficult to Find and Develop”

Mother Jones

Here’s an interesting tidbit from today’s Wall Street Journal:

Royal Dutch Shell PLC on Thursday posted a 60% drop in second-quarter profit, largely because the oil and natural-gas giant wrote down the value of its North American shale assets by more than $2 billion after tax, highlighting the difficulties that energy companies face in finding new oil they can pump at a profit.

….Shell cited disappointing drilling results at its North American shale assets, which it said turned out to contain less oil than it had hoped. Even excluding the charge on those assets, Shell’s earnings fell well short of analysts’ expectations as the company struggled with production declines and rising costs.

I wouldn’t make too much of a single report like this, but it does fall in line with other evidence suggesting that although North America has a lot of shale oil, it probably doesn’t have quite the gargantuan quantities that some people think. What’s more, the shale oil we do have has turned out to be fairly expensive to get at. Plus shale oil deposits tend to deplete rapidly. Bottom line: don’t get too caught up in the shale oil hype.

POSTSCRIPT: Keep in mind that we’re only talking about oil here. Natural gas fracking from shale is a different story. There’s probably some hype there too, but it’s of a different kind.

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New Report: The State Department’s Anti-Hacking Office Is a Complete Disaster

Mother Jones

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The State Department has plenty of important secrets—classified cables, foreign policy directives, embassy plans, and more. It also has a department (with a nine-word name) responsible for protecting those secrets from hackers: the Bureau of Information Resource Management’s Office of Information Assurance. Yet according to an unusually scathing new report from the State Department’s inspector general, this “lead office” for cybersecurity is so dysfunctional and technologically out-of-date that Foggy Bottom may be open to cyberattack.

The IG’s audit of the cybersecurity office, which took place earlier this year, concluded that the office “wastes personnel resources,” is unequipped to monitor $79 million in contracts, “has no mission statement,” and “is not doing enough and is potentially leaving Department systems vulnerable.” The report notes that department employees usually cannot find the head of the bureau because he’s often not in the office, and as a result, they don’t know what their work priorities are. The IG report notes that because of these problems, other parts of the department have to pick up the slack.

“This report reads like a what-not-to-do list from every policy, program, and contracting perspective,” says Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project On Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group where I used to work. “With stories about foreign entities hacking US government systems and questions about non-authorized access to classified information, this latest IG report causes major concerns about the State Department’s ability to protect government systems.”

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New Report: The State Department’s Anti-Hacking Office Is a Complete Disaster

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Afghanistan’s Future Now Belongs to the Afghans

Mother Jones

The New York Times reports today that animosity between the United States and Afghanistan has finally gotten so bad that President Obama is seriously thinking about pulling out completely next year, without leaving behind even a small residual force:

A videoconference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai designed to defuse the tensions ended badly, according to both American and Afghan officials with knowledge of it. Mr. Karzai, according to those sources, accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with both the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan’s fragile government exposed to its enemies.

Mr. Karzai had made similar accusations in the past. But those comments were delivered to Afghans — not to Mr. Obama, who responded by pointing out the American lives that have been lost propping up Mr. Karzai’s government, the officials said.

The option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 was gaining momentum before the June 27 video conference, according to the officials. But since then, the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario — and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai — to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul.

I won’t say I’m thrilled about how or why this is happening, but I like the end result. It’s long past time to pull out of Afghanistan completely, and a residual force would serve little purpose except to make itself a target if and when the Afghan state implodes. We’ve now been in Afghanistan for more than a dozen years, and the plain truth is that if they can’t stand on their own now, they never will.

And they might very well not. I can fully sympathize with Karzai’s impossible position here, regardless of what I think of him more generally. He’s got limited tribal support, no real control of the country much outside Kabul, a woefully undertrained military and police force, and the Taliban ready to restart its civil war at the first opportunity. And on top of this, he gets the blame every time we Americans do something to inflame the population. It’s impossible.

But it’s no less impossible with us around—unless, of course, Karzai wants us around for the next 50 years, which is probably how long it would take for Afghani politics to stabilize. But he doesn’t, and neither do we. So it’s time to cut the cord. For good and ill, we’ve done everything we can. Afghanistan’s future is now up to the Afghans.

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Afghanistan’s Future Now Belongs to the Afghans

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Blame Canada: Greedy for oil money, the country is turning into a rogue petrostate

Blame Canada: Greedy for oil money, the country is turning into a rogue petrostate

Forest Ethics

When I recently interviewed Canadian artist Franke James, whose outspoken appeals to her government for climate action landed her on Ottawa’s shit list, I was taken aback to hear her casually refer to her country as a “petrostate.” I knew Canada’s been spending gobs of federal money to promote its tar-sands agenda, but I didn’t realize our mild-mannered northern neighbor was approaching the ranks of Saudi Arabia and Nigeria in its single-minded embrace of oil as the nation’s lifeblood.

An unforgiving article in the latest Foreign Policy magazine lays out how conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been aggressively pursuing development of the Alberta oil sands and remaking the country in the political image of the George W. Bush-era United States:

Over the last decade, as oil prices increased fivefold, oil companies invested approximately $160 billion to develop bitumen in Alberta, and it has finally turned profitable. Canada is now cranking out 1.7 million barrels a day of the stuff, and scheduled production stands to fill provincial and federal government coffers with about $120 billion in rent and royalties by 2020. More than 40 percent of that haul goes directly to the federal government largely in the form of corporate taxes. And the government wants even more; it’s pushing for production to hit 5 million barrels a day by 2030. …

Unsurprisingly, Ottawa has become a master at the cynical art of greenwashing. When Harper’s ministers aren’t attacking former NASA scientist and climate change canary James Hansen in the pages of the New York Times or lobbying against Europe’s Fuel Quality Directive (which regards bitumen as much dirtier than conventional oil), his government has spent $100 million since 2009 on ads to convince Canadians that exporting this oil is “responsible resource development.” Meanwhile, Canada has bent over backward to entice Beijing. Three state-owned Chinese oil companies (all with dismal records of corporate transparency and environmental sensitivity) have already spent more than $20 billion purchasing rights to oil sands in Alberta.

Harper, elected in 2006, is risking his country’s political and ecological security by exploiting what Foreign Policy calls “the world’s most volatile resource.” Mining operations in Alberta have already generated 6 billion barrels of toxic sludge, enough to flood Washington, D.C., and an area of forest six times the size of New York City could be excavated if approved projects proceed. Meanwhile, a secret document leaked to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last fall reveals a sinister foreign-policy strategy: “To succeed [in becoming an energy superpower] we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align.”

For all of this to pay off, Canada is counting on a global market for its oil. Exports to the U.S., its biggest customer, have declined, and fighting over the Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t help. So, per that leaked memo, Canada is setting aside human-rights concerns in favor of trade deals with China. (Most bizarre detail in the article: “And, perhaps to warm Canadians’ hearts to the Chinese, the government recently lobbied to rent two traveling pandas at a cost of $10 million over the next 10 years.”)

This reckless pursuit of oil wealth requires a heavy dose of climate denial. The Harper government has eliminated or drastically reduced funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the national park system, the CBC, and the Health Council of Canada; it disbanded Environment Canada’s Adaptation to Climate Change Research Group, eliminated the position of chief science advisor, and gutted the Fisheries Act. Reporters must have questions approved before they can speak with any federal scientists. Oh, and Harper called the Kyoto Protocol a “socialist scheme” — before pulling his country out of the accord altogether.

So if Keystone XL is approved and built and ends up leaking dirty oil into the Ogallala aquifer, if the climate becomes fucked even faster thanks to all that tar-sands oil being burned, we can blame Canada.

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

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Why Microwaving Water for Tea Is a Bad Idea

Image: CR Artist

Making tea might seem pretty easy; you just heat up some water and add some tea leaves. But apparently there are a lot of things us novice tea makers are doing wrong. A big one is using the microwave to heat up our water.

It seems like no big deal. Tea requires hot water. Microwaves make things hot. What’s the problem?

It turns out that tea requires certain types of hot water. That is, water at a certain temperature. Green tea, for example, should be steeped at 176º F; herbal tea requires 210º F. When you stick your mug in the microwave, you have no idea how hot your water is. Tea kettles, on the other hand, are designed to heat tea to 212º F, according to Slate.

There are a lot of other theories about why nuking your mug isn’t the best. Slate says that the microwave will result in unevenly hot water:

Microwave ovens shoot tiny waves into the liquid at random locations, causing the water molecules at those points to vibrate rapidly. If the water isn’t heated for long enough, the result is isolated pockets of very hot or boiling water amid a larger body of water that’s cooler. Such water may misleadingly exhibit signs of boiling despite not being a uniform 212 degrees. For instance, what appears to be steam rising from a mug of microwaved water is only moist vapor evaporating off the water’s surface and condensing into mist on contact with cooler air—it’s the same principle that makes our breath visible on frigid days.

But Lifehacker says that this isn’t quite right:

That’s not true—after all, microwave wavelengths are about 4-inches, so unless you have a really huge teacup, you’re getting pretty even heating, especially if you remember to put it on the edge of the carousel, so we don’t think that’s much of a problem, especially if you stir after heating.

The two do agree though, that the right temperature of water is really important. Overheating your water can make your tea taste bitter and weird, says Slate. But those without a kettle shouldn’t despair just yet: as long as you’re willing to drink only green tea, the microwave is the way to go.

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Why Microwaving Water for Tea Is a Bad Idea

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Take a photo of a glacier — it’ll last longer

Take a photo of a glacier — it’ll last longer

ShutterstockGlaciers, such as this one in Argentina, are melting and releasing their reserves of water.

Farewell, great lakes of ice and frozen rivers.

Scientists used satellite images and gravity measurements to peer more closely than ever before at the torturous drip-drip-drip from the world’s glaciers. What they discovered is not really much of a surprise: Ice Age glaciers have been methodically chiseled away by the warming effects of fossil fuel burning.

Global warming and black carbon are working fast: Glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are collectively losing an estimated 571 trillion pounds worth of ice annually, the researchers reported in a paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

Glaciers? Icesheets? Potatoes, potatoes, you say. Here’s the difference: The world’s ice sheets cover vast swaths in Greenland and Antarctica. Meanwhile, glaciers are rivers and lakes of slow-moving ice. You can find them at high altitudes in alpine regions around the world, and you’ll find them in lower elevations (including on and around ice sheets) as you approach the poles.

Although these glaciers contain just 1 percent of land ice reserves, they contribute about as much to the rising seas as the major stores of ice. The individual contributions of glaciers to the rising seas may be relatively small, but the cumulative impacts of their melts are substantial.

The researchers concluded that melting glaciers are causing the oceans to surge by 0.03 inches yearly, which works out to 30 percent of the total annual rise in recorded sea levels.

From a press release by NASA, which provided the data to the researchers from its Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE):

Current estimates predict all the glaciers in the world contain enough water to raise sea level by as much as 24 inches (about 60 centimeters). In comparison, the entire Greenland ice sheet has the potential to contribute about 20 feet (about 6 meters) to sea level rise and the Antarctic ice sheet just less than 200 feet (about 60 meters).

“Because the global glacier ice mass is relatively small in comparison with the huge ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, people tend to not worry about it,” said study co-author Tad Pfeffer, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “But it’s like a little bucket with a huge hole in the bottom: it may not last for very long, just a century or two, but while there’s ice in those glaciers, it’s a major contributor to sea level rise.”

The largest glacial losses during the study period from 2003 to 2009 were recorded from Arctic Canada, Alaska, coastal Greenland, the southern Andes, and high-mountain Asia. That’s pretty much all the major glacial regions, the exception being in Antarctica, where loss was minor.

So, there’s some good news for Antarcticans: Glacial melt is not as bad there as everywhere else.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who


, posts articles to


, and

blogs about ecology

. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:


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Take a photo of a glacier — it’ll last longer

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Yet Another Benghazi Nothingburger Today

Mother Jones

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Well, the big Benghazi hearings have finished up for the day, and as near I can tell we learned…..nothing. We heard testimony about the following:

The Pentagon didn’t dispatch fighter jets to patrol Benghazi following the initial attack.
A 4-man special ops team was stationed in Tripoli, but wasn’t dispatched to Benghazi the morning after the attacks to help with rescue and evacuation.
In interviews on the Sunday after the attacks, Susan Rice said things that contradicted Libyan President Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf.

None of this is even remotely new. The Pentagon has said before that they believed it was best for the Tripoli team to stay in Tripoli.1 General Carter Ham has testified that he didn’t think deploying F-16s over Benghazi would be helpful, and he still doesn’t. And Rice’s interviews were litigated to death long ago. If you actually review the evidence, it turns out that her language was careful; it was based on CIA talking points; there was (and still is) evidence that the “Innocence of Muslims” video played a role in the attacks; and al-Magariaf was almost certainly wrong about whether the attacks were a long-planned operation. Details here.

All of this stuff is arguable. Maybe the Pentagon was wrong about both the Tripoli team and the fighter jets. Maybe Rice should have said something slightly different on the Sunday shows. Maybe the State Department should have beefed up security in Libya months before the attacks. Maybe the infamous talking points got sanded down a bit too much by the interagency review process. That’s all possible.

Was Benghazi mishandled? Maybe. Are there lessons to be learned? Probably. Is there a scandal or a coverup? There’s never been any evidence of it, and there still isn’t. This is a show that goes on and on without end, but it never delivers a payoff. Issa and his colleagues need to start paying more attention to stuff that actually matters, and give up on the Fox-friendly conspiracy theories that never pan out. Enough’s enough.

1Hold on. I might be thinking of something else here. It’s not clear if the Pentagon has addressed the deployment of this particular team before. Regardless, this is solely about a tactical decision made after the attacks. A different team from Tripoli was dispatched earlier and arrived in Benghazi shortly before the final mortar attack.

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Yet Another Benghazi Nothingburger Today

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America Is Filling Empty Battlefields

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Chalmers Johnson’s book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire was published in March 2000—and just about no one noticed. Until then, blowback had been an obscure term of CIA tradecraft, which Johnson defined as “the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people.” In his prologue, the former consultant to the CIA and eminent scholar of both Mao Zedong’s peasant revolution and modern Japan labeled his Cold War self a “spear-carrier for empire.”

After the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, he was surprised to discover that the essential global structure of that other Cold War colossus, the American superpower, with its vast panoply of military bases, remained obdurately in place as if nothing whatsoever had happened. Almost a decade later, when the Evil Empire was barely a memory, Johnson surveyed the planet and found “an informal American empire” of immense reach and power. He also became convinced that, in its global operations, Washington was laying the groundwork “all around the world… for future forms of blowback.”

Johnson noted “portents of a twenty-first century crisis” in the form of, among other things, “terrorist attacks on American installations and embassies.” In the first chapter of Blowback, he focused in particular on a “former protégé of the United States” by the name of Osama bin Laden and on the Afghan War against the Soviets from which he and an organization called al-Qaeda had emerged. It had been a war in which Washington backed to the hilt, and the CIA funded and armed, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists, paving the way years later for the Taliban to take over Afghanistan.

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