Author Archives: John Graham

The Scary Law That Allowed Pharmacists to Deny This Woman the Drugs She Needed After Her Miscarriage

Mother Jones

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When Brittany Cartrett lost her pregnancy in March, her doctor prescribed Misoprostol to help her complete the miscarriage. The drug, which would allow her to avoid a more invasive surgical procedure, is the same one used to induce many abortions. Which is why, Cartrett suspects, two different pharmacies in central Georgia refused to fill her prescription.

Cartrett slammed one of those pharmacies, the Walmart in Milledgeville, Georgia, in a Facebook post published last week. When she asked the pharmacist why she wouldn’t fill her prescription, Cartrett claims, “She looks at me over her nose and says, ‘Because I couldn’t think of a reason why you would need that prescription.'” Cartrett says she then explained that she’d had a miscarriage, and the pharmacist replied, “I don’t feel like there is a reason why you would need it, so we refused to fill it.”

Cartrett is blaming the incident on a law, passed 15 years ago, that guarantees pharmacists the right to refuse to provide contraceptives or abortifacients on religious or conscientious grounds. Georgia is one of six states with such a law on the books. Six other states have broad “refusal clauses,” as they are known, that don’t specifically mention pharmacists but would likely protect them in the event of legal action, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion-rights think tank.

Walmart, however, disputes that its pharmacist refused to fill the prescription on principal. She refused, says Brian Nick, a company spokesman, because the prescription did not follow FDA guidelines.

“The customer had a specific theory as to why the drug wasn’t filled, which gets into what some call the conscience clause,” Nick told Mother Jones. “The reality at the store level is that the pharmacist had a professional judgment call against filling the prescription, not any other reason. They’re well within their rights, the pharmacists, to not agree that a specific prescription should be filled.”

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The Scary Law That Allowed Pharmacists to Deny This Woman the Drugs She Needed After Her Miscarriage

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Luis Suárez’s World Cup Bite Was Really Dangerous. Here’s Why.

Mother Jones

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FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, has officially banned Uruguay striker Luis Suárez from the remainder of the World Cup for his alleged bite of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini this week. And for good reason: Not only is biting another player incredibly unsportsmanlike and just plain dirty; it’s also extremely dangerous.

Of all the bites you can get—nearly 1 percent of emergency room visits are due to mammalian bites of various kinds—the human one is “particularly notorious,” as one study puts it, due to the risk of subsequent infection. Ten percent of human bites that break the skin become infected, quite a high number in comparison with infection rates generally. For example, in a recent study of 297 emergency room patients with lacerations, the infection rate was only 3.4%.

That’s because, to put it bluntly, we have pretty dirty mouths. Human saliva contains some 50 species of bacteria—and 100 million microbes of them per milliliter. There are even reports in the scientific literature of serious diseases resulting from human bites and their subsequent infections, including hepatitis, herpes, and tetanus. (There is even one report of a patient contracting HIV from a bite to the lip.)

The placement of Luis Suárez’s bite was relatively rare: the shoulder. More than half of human bites are on the hands and fingers; only about 18 percent are to the head and neck. One of the most common bite scenarios: One person punches another in the mouth, connects with his teeth, and ends up with a hand wound. One 2003 study found that of emergency room patients arriving with infected human bites, 70 percent were young men, and fifty-six percent of the bites were “clenched fist injuries.”

These so-called “fight bites,” says another 2002 study, are “notorious for being the worst of human bites.” That’s because they can infect certain hand tendons and joints that have “a very limited ability to fight infection.” The authors warn that “significant morbidity can result from late presentation or inadequate initial management” and that “the emergency physician needs to remain vigilant for complications associated with the closed fist injury.”

The research literature also notes that “patients with bite injuries are often intoxicated, making the process of obtaining a reliable history and conducting a thorough examination difficult.” Luis Suárez does not appear to have been drunk, though; and FIFA has a lot of videotape. It does not look like his bite broke Chiellini’s skin, but if it did, let’s hope he gets some very careful medical care.

We discussed the science of the human bite in more detail on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast:

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Luis Suárez’s World Cup Bite Was Really Dangerous. Here’s Why.

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Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in November

Mother Jones

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The American economy added 203,000 new jobs in November, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at 113,000. That’s about the same rate we’ve seen all year: not too bad, but not great either. We’re plowing ahead, but not really making up lost ground from the Great Recession.

Comparisons with October are tricky, since that was the month of the government shutdown. However, compared to September, the labor force shrank by 265,000 while the number of unemployed shrank by 348,000. That produced a drop in the headline unemployment rate to 7.0%. However, a good chunk of that was due to the shrinking labor force, so it’s only partially good news.

So….it’s sort of a Groundhog Day jobs report. The good news is that that job growth is steady despite the sequester and other austerity measures. The bad news is that people are still dropping out of the labor force in significant numbers, and we aren’t really seeing any acceleration in the job market. We’re still treading water.


Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in November

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Has the World Reached Peak Chicken?

Mother Jones

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On Wednesday, the Northern California animal sanctuary Animal Place will airlift—yes, you read that right: airlift—1,150 elderly laying hens from Hayward, California, to Elmira, New York, in an Embraer 120 turbo-prop.

The pricetag? $50,000.

Right. So obviously, this isn’t the most efficient way to spend your chicken-helping money. It didn’t take me very long to think of some alternatives: For example, you could couple all 1,150 hens off and buy each pair its own home. You could feed 758 chickens fancy organic food for an entire year. You could feed 157 people the very fanciest, most coddled, free-rangest, organic-est eggs ever for a year. You could buy flocks of chicks for 2,500 farmers in the developing world through the charity Heifer International.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that I think that these soon-to-be-airborn hens don’t deserve a better life. They come from an undisclosed California battery cage egg operation, and as most people know by now, that is no picnic. Animal Place’s Marji Beach explained to me that once laying hens reach the age of about 18 months, their egg production slows, and it’s no longer economically feasible for egg operations to keep them around. The result is that each plant has to get rid of thousands of “spent” hens every year. What happens to those hens? In most cases, they don’t end up in your chicken soup broth, or even in your cat or dog’s food. That’s because most slaughterhouses don’t accept them—they have too little meat on their bones to turn a profit. Instead, egg producers often kill spent hens with highly concentrated carbon dioxide gas. (That probably costs far less than flying the hens across the country, but it doesn’t appeal to Animal Place, whose website urges visitors over and over again to go vegan.)

When a few other Mother Jones staffers and I heard about all those spent-hens problem, it got us wondering: Has the world reached peak chicken? Considering the fact that Americans eat 79 billion eggs a year, that’s an awful lot of laying hens. And that’s to say nothing of the so-called broiler operations that make chickens for supermarket shelves and fast-food sandwiches and nuggets.

According to UC Davis professor and poultry expert Dr. Rodrigo Gallardo, there are several reasons why the world is eating more chicken than ever these days. “If you think about several years ago, most people at beef or pork because there was more availability and because it was cheaper,” Gallardo says. But chickens have become more attractive as options over time: they’re lean, they’ve been bred over time to produce more meat, and raising them takes up much less land than raising cows or pigs.

That’s not to mention eggs. “If you think about eggs, eggs are cheap, they are easy to consume, they are fun—people can cook them in different ways,” Gallardo explains. “Kids always like them, and they are the cheapest protein you can get from an animal source.”

Exactly how many chickens does the world have these days? we wondered. The answer, we found, is a whole lot—and it’s increasing. Here are a few charts that will give you a sense of the scale of the chicken explosion:

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Has the World Reached Peak Chicken?

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Alison Lundergan Grimes: I Need $26-30 Million to Beat Mitch McConnell

Mother Jones

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Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in next year’s election, is wasting no time beating the bushes for campaign cash. On Saturday, she “wowed” attendees at a Democratic Party private fundraising retreat on Martha’s Vineyard. She’ll need to wow a lot more donors, and fast: McConnell is a master fundraiser, and Grimes will need a whole lot of cash to defeat one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress.

But how much? Between $26 million and $30 million, according to a Democratic strategist who recently spoke with Grimes. Even with Election Day still 17 months away, Grimes has been busy courting DC politicos to raise funds, name-dropping the Clintons in her conversations. Grimes’ father, Jerry, a former director of the Kentucky Democratic Party, is friends with Bill Clinton, who reportedly urged Grimes to run against McConnell. (Grimes spokesman Jonathan Hurst did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Even by the standards of today’s big-money politics, Grimes’ $26-30 million target is a staggering sum of money. It’s almost three times more than the average winning Senate race in 2012. Only four Senate candidates—Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, David Dewhurst of Texas, and Linda McMahon of Connecticut—raised more than $26 million during the 2012 election season. And Grimes’ fundraising goal does not include outside groups—super-PACs, dark-money nonprofits, etc. Depending on how competitive the Kentucky race is, tens of millions more in outside money could pour in.

Grimes’ impressive showing at the Martha’s Vineyard event could help donors and party loyalists forget her campaign’s rocky start. Her kick-off event started half an hour late, with no banner or signs even mentioning the US Senate. Instead, an “Alison Lundergan Grimes: Secretary of State” banner hung behind her. A roll of toilet paper propped up one of the microphones she used make her announcement. At the time of her campaign launch, she had no website, no Facebook page, and nowhere for people to donate money.

McConnell, meanwhile, has been in campaign mode since literally the day after the 2012 elections, when he held his first 2014 fundraiser. In the second quarter of 2013, McConnell raised $2.2 million, more than any other Republican running for reelection. His campaign currently has $9.6 million in the bank.

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Alison Lundergan Grimes: I Need $26-30 Million to Beat Mitch McConnell

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China’s Massive Algae Bloom Could Leave the Ocean’s Water Lifeless

Algae in the Yellow Sea near Qingdao in 2008. Photo: MODIS Rapid Response Team / Earth Observatory

It’s become an annual affair, the rafts of green algae washing up on the shores of Qingdao, China. Since 2007, massive algae blooms in the Yellow Sea have been fueled, scientists think, by “pollution and increased seaweed farming” south of Qingdao. The mats of photosynthetic phytoplankton aren’t dangerous to people (unless you count ruining a day at the beach as dangerous), but the return of these massive algae blooms year after year could be troubling for the marine creatures living in the Yellow Sea.

“The carpet on the surface can dramatically change the ecology of the environment beneath it,” says the Guardian. “It blocks sunlight from entering the ocean and sucks oxygen from the water suffocating marine life.”

Vast blooms of algae can cause the water to become “hypoxic,” to have the concentration of oxygen in the water drawn down so low that it makes it uninhabitable for many marine creatures. A strong case of hypoxia can further lead to something called a “dead zone.” And, by drawing down the oxygen levels and messing with the chemistry of the water, algae blooms can temporarily amplify ocean acidification. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains how algae blooms lead to dead zones:

Such recurring, annual algae blooms like the one in Qingdao aren’t limited to China’s Yellow Sea, either. According to Scientific American, there are at least 405 dead zones around the world. One of the worst in the world is the one in the Gulf of Mexico, where this year researchers with NOAA expect around 8,000 square miles of the Gulf to be oxygen depleted—a patch of ocean about the size of New Jersey, says National Geographic. If the bloom lives up to expectations, this year’s would be the largest dead zone in the Gulf on record.

So while China’s algae problem may be making a mess for swimmers, it’s the life beneath the waves that may be hurting the most.

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China’s Massive Algae Bloom Could Leave the Ocean’s Water Lifeless

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Batteries Are Now Unbelievably Tiny

One day, these will be laughably large. Image: dean j

Add this to the growing list of awesome stuff 3D printers make: a group from Harvard and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana figured out how to print tiny batteries, no bigger than a grain of sand.

From Discovery News:

“To create the microbatteries, researchers used a custom-built 3-D printer to stack electrodes — each one less than the width of a human hair — along the teeth of two tiny gold combs. The electrodes were contained within a special ink, extruded from the printer’s narrow nozzles and applied to the combs like toothpaste being squeezed onto a toothbrush. The electrode inks, one serving as a cathode, the other as an anode, hardened immediately into narrow layers, one atop the other. Once the electrodes were stacked, researchers packaged them inside tiny containers and added an electrolyte solution to complete the battery pack. This novel process created a battery that could one day help power tiny medical implants as well as more novel electronics, like flying, insect-like robots. Such devices have been in development for some time, patiently awaiting an appropriately sized power source.”

Pretty great stuff, although if those insect-like robots are modeled after mosquitoes, we are happy to keep waiting patiently for their arrival, thank you very much. (Their real-life counterparts are irritating enough.)

These microbatteries join a long line of recent power-storage revolutions that have happened in just the past few years. None of these have made it to commercial-scale use yet, but it’s likely just a matter of time.

In 2011 researchers at Stanford announced they had developed a transparent and flexible battery, which they hoped would give rise to transparent and flexible electronics like phones.

Last summer, researchers at Rice University announced that they’d developed a spray-paint battery, able to be applied to household items, turning everyday objects into the next wave of power-carrying devices.

This year, that same Rice lab published a paper about using graphene nanoribbons (a single atom thick) to improve battery life.

Also last summer, engineers at the University of South Carolina figured out how to turn an ordinary t-shirt into a battery, hoping that one day it would be able to recharge electronics like phones and tablets.

Scientists at Oak Ridge are using water as a greener alternative to the solvents traditionally used in lithium ion batteries.
And the University of Maryland is also going green, using wood and tin to create batteries.

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This Stretchable Battery Could Power the Next Generation of Wearable Gadgets

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Batteries Are Now Unbelievably Tiny

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Anti-Defamation League, Mayor of Culver City Respond to JCPenney’s Hitler Teakettle Billboard

Mother Jones

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It’s not quite summer, but the silly stories have started, and you may have heard about a certain JCPenney billboard located east of the 405 freeway in Culver City, California. It looks like this:

Bill Burman/Reddit

And it reminded a lot of people of…

Bill Burman/Reddit ; German Federal Archive

The kettle was designed by architect and New Jersey Hall of Famer Michael Graves, who has a long history of designing consumer products that do not resemble a saluting Hitler, including this teakettle from 1984. After the Hitler-kettle story went viral, JCPenney took to Twitter to reassure the public there was no intended connection between the product and the Nazi leader. Here’s one of JCPenney’s damage-controlling Tweets:


JCPenney elected to stop selling the item on its website, and took down the billboard on Tuesday—but not before all the Hitler hoopla caused a sales spike in the now notorious kettles.

Still, Jeffrey Cooper, the Democratic mayor of Culver City, remains upset at JCPenney for not initially noticing the resemblance. “I am disappointed JCPenney actually put the billboard up in the first place and more outraged that they actually attempted to defend it,” he says in an email. “As a Jew, I am offended, and as an elected official, I am mad that the city I represent is linked to this.”

Others were more forgiving. “JCPenney did the right thing by responding to public concerns and removing the tea pot from their product line,” the Anti-Defamation League, one of the major groups that monitors anti-Semitism, says in a statement sent to Mother Jones. “We take JCPenney at their word that any resemblance to the Nazi dictator was completely unintended.”

Michael Graves did not respond to a request for comment.

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Anti-Defamation League, Mayor of Culver City Respond to JCPenney’s Hitler Teakettle Billboard

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Mold responsible for Irish potato famine may be gone for good

Mold responsible for Irish potato famine may be gone for good


Scientists used modern genetic sequencing and rotten old museum samples to peer back in time at the cause of the potato blight that led to more than 1 million deaths in Ireland in the 1840s.

The fungus-like water mold that ravaged the country’s potato crop sent hungry Irish survivors fleeing for far-flung new countries — which is why so many people now justify getting wasted every St. Patrick’s Day, saying they’re sure they have an Irish ancestor somewhere in their family tree.

What the scientists found was a strain of Phytophthora infestans that is different from similar water molds that are still ravaging the world’s crops. From the BBC:

Researchers in the UK, Germany and the US analysed dried leaves kept in collections in museums at Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, UK, and Botanische Staatssammlung Munchen, Germany.

High-tech DNA sequencing techniques allowed them to decode ancient DNA from the pathogen in samples stored as early as 1845.

These were compared with modern-day genetic types from Europe, Africa and the Americas, giving an insight into the evolution of the pathogen.

“This strain was different from all the modern strains that we analysed — most likely it is new to science,” Prof Sophien Kamoun of The Sainsbury Laboratory told BBC News.

“We can’t be sure but most likely it’s gone extinct.”

Thing is, the scientists can’t figure out what made the water mold so devastating. From an article in Nature:

[Plant Geneticist Detlef] Weigel’s team also found nothing in the nuclear genomes of the famine strains to explain their ferocity. In fact, the strains lack a gene found in modern strains of P. infestans that overcomes the plant’s resistance genes. And, surprisingly, the famine strain seems less lethal than the P. infestans strains that now cause US$6 billion in crop damage per year. “It seems rather that the potatoes were unusually susceptible,” he says.

OK, all very interesting. But given that the mold strain responsible for the Irish famine appears to have gone extinct, we have some advice for the scientists who are done analyzing the infected old potato leaves: Burn them.

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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Mold responsible for Irish potato famine may be gone for good

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Why the Government Surveillance of Fox’s James Rosen Is Troubling

Mother Jones

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On Friday, I wrote a piece for Mother Jones speculating that government spying on press communications may not be “unprecedented,” as Associated Press head Gary Pruitt put it, but simply rarely disclosed. The rules requiring disclosure of such surveillance, after all, only appear to apply to “subpoenas” for “telephone toll records”; they do not cover other secret tools deployed by federal law enforcement, such as National Security Letters. Even outside the shadowy world of intelligence, as federal magistrate judge Stephen Smith has observed, court orders granting government access to electronic communication records routinely remain secret indefinitely. I suggested that there could be quite a few other cases like the AP story that we’ve never learned about, even if the Justice Department has been scrupulously following its own rules, because such cases might not involve grand jury subpoenas for phone logs.

It is rare for someone who writes about the intelligence community to have speculation of this sort confirmed almost instantly, but a report in the Washington Post Monday has shined a spotlight on another hitherto unreported leak investigation in which the Justice Department obtained a warrant to read the e-mail of Fox News reporter James Rosen. The warrant in that case was sealed for over a year; it appears to have remained publicly unnoticed until today—nearly three years after the search of Rosen’s e-mail was authorized. Should anyone believe this is the only such instance of the government snooping into a reporter’s email that hasn’t yet come to light?

The Rosen case is especially unsettling because the warrant affidavit suggests that Rosen himself could be subject to prosecution under the Espionage Act, on the grounds that his alleged encouragement to a source to provide classified information amounted to “conspiracy.” The attempt to redefine a routine and necessary part of national security reporting as crime is unprecedented.

Whether Rosen is prosecuted or not, the Justice Department targeting a reporter as a possible “co-conspirator” is troubling. The case against National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake—who revealed massive waste in the Agency’s deals with intelligence contractors—ultimately collapsed. The information he’d revealed was embarrassing to the government, not dangerous to national security. But Drake’s life was shattered, and a clear message sent to others who might seek to embarrass the government. A similar dynamic is at play in this case. Reporters are already feeling the chilling effects of the AP leak investigation. The government may or may not succeed in jailing leakers (or, perhaps at some point, reporters), but the point is to ensure that government sources are too scared to talk to press without approval.

That might sound like a fine idea if at risk were only vital national security secrets whose publication would endanger the United States. But as even top intelligence officials have acknowledged, overclassification is rampant in government. Much basic information, without which effective national security reporting would be impossible, is reflexively classified, whether or not it poses any realistic security risks, and reporters routinely discuss such information with sources. In practice, that means the government can pick and choose which leakers to go after—and which ones to wink at, because they’re serving the administration’s interests. No doubt, the government does have an interest in—and an obligation—to protect legitimate secrets, but an aggressive campaign that targets reporters and subjects them to broad and secret intrusions (and maybe prosecutions as well) will undermine a necessary check on government power and prevent the public from learning crucial information about what is done in its name.

A version of this post was first published on Cato at Liberty.


Why the Government Surveillance of Fox’s James Rosen Is Troubling

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