Maddie Oatman

Maddie Oatman

Research Editor

Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. A proud Boulder native, she makes time for mountain climbing, stargazing, and telemark skiing.

Get my RSS |

All We Want for Christmas Is...Guns

| Sun Dec. 23, 2012 7:11 AM EST

If Black Friday shopping trends are any indication, the gift of cold, hard steel will be more popular than ever this holiday season. According to USA Today, on that day dealers called the FBI with a total of 154,873 background check requests for shoppers seeking to buy firearms. That's 20 percent more than last year's record of 129,166 calls in one day. Sixty-two percent of the Black Friday requests were for long guns like shotguns or rifles, such as the Bushmaster .223 reportedly used by the suspect in today's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (a state where you don't need a permit to carry a rifle).

The FBI doesn't keep track of guns sold—only the background requests it fields—but that number is almost certainly higher than the number of calls received, given that consumers can buy more than one firearm per request. Overall, background requests have jumped 32 percent since 2008 (PDF). As Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson reported a record number of sales for their last quarter, up nearly 50 percent from the year before. The rise in gun sales doesn't necessarily mean that there are more first-time gun owners, though: A CNN investigation in July showed that fewer people own more and more weapons. 

Gun purchases always rise as the holidays approach. This year, though, the Christmas rush might not be the only thing prompting people to buy firearms. In the weeks after President Obama won a second term, background checks spiked, just as they had after he was elected back in 2008. In a New York Times op-ed about this, columnist Charles M. Blow quoted a National Rifle Association spokesperson who said that "gun sales are undoubtedly going up because gun owners know that at best President Obama wants to make guns and ammunition more expensive through increased taxes and regulation, and at worst he wants to make them totally illegal."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Great: Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria on Your Pork Chop

| Wed Nov. 28, 2012 7:03 AM EST

It's no secret that chowing down on raw pork is probably not the best call, a point emphasized by the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new study by Consumer Reports drives this lesson home with sickening clarity: After testing 198 samples of raw grocery store pork loins and ground pork, it found that a full 69 percent of the samples harbored Yersinia enterocolitica, bacteria that can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fever for up to 3 weeks. Salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, and listeria, all potentially sickness inducing, also appeared in 3 to 7 percent of the samples. These bacteria would hypothetically be killed off if the pork is thoroughly cooked, but there's still the potential of spreading the bacteria while slaughtering, processing, and handling the raw meat.

Though this is within the realm of what the USDA considers safe (and inspectors don't test for Yersinia because illness from it is rare, though cases of yersiniosis are thought to be under reported), Consumer Reports' more worrisome finding was that much of this bacteria was resistant to common antibiotics. Over 90 percent of the Yersinia-infected samples, when exposed to antibiotics normally effective against this bacteria, proved resistant to one or more antibiotic, and over 50 percent to two or three antibiotics. Of the 14 samples that revealed staph, 13 of them were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and of the 8 samples with salmonella, 3 were resistant to five antibiotics. The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that the low-dose antibiotics fed to farm animals for growth are breeding a class of resistant mutant bugs more slippery and dangerous than their progenitors.

Election Results Maps To Make Your Brain Happier

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 10:18 PM EST

Even though by now I am 100 percent sure of who won the 2012 presidential election, looking at a traditional map of the results is unsettling. The red trumps blue, no matter how certain I am that more of the popular vote, and more electoral college seats, went to President Obama than his counterpart. See?

M. E. J. NewmanM. E. J. Newman

So it's somewhat of a relief to see these statistics represented differently. This cartogram below by Mark Newman, a physicist at the University of Michigan, scales each of the lower 48 states according to its population rather than its area.

M. E. J. NewmanM. E. J. Newman

Though the map might make you question your cocktail intake, the increase in blue over red seems a more accurate depiction of how Tuesday went down.

Newman experiments with these type of cartograms here, modeling one map as related to the number of electoral college votes per state, and another based on a proportional representation of county size. You may have seen his work before: He's been making cartograms for the last couple of presidential elections, ever since he helped create an advanced method for creating these "density-equalizing maps," drawing from physics. His software is even free for anyone to download.

Newman also brings clarity to the data by introducing shades of purple to indicate percentage of votes in each county won by the Democratic or Republican candidate, and adjusting the counties for population size. Looking at this map is starting to feel a tad Fear and Loathing:

 

M. E. J. NewmanM. E. J. Newman

If you're getting into it, NPR also has this neat video that uses cartograms to depict outside spending on political ads, especially in swing states—in Nevada, these types of groups coughed up nearly $6 per potential voter between April and October, compared to less than a cent per voter in neighboring California.

The Soda Tax Lost. Now What?

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 4:10 PM EST

Measures in Richmond and El Monte, California that would have taxed sugar-sweetened beverages at a penny-per-ounce rate failed to pass in either city yesterday. In Richmond, 67 percent of voters said no to Measure N, striking down an attempt by councilmembers such as Jeff Ritterman, the main champion of the tax, to raise funds in hopes of curbing high rates of childhood obesity in the area.

Measure N recieved opposition from some Richmond councilmembers, such as Nat Bates, who told the Contra Costa Times that the tax was an overreach. Fierce campaign spending may have also played a role in quashing passage of the tax; as I reported yesterday, soda and food industry groups, such as the American Beverage Association, poured $2.5 million to defeat the campaign, outspending supporters at a ratio of 35 to 1. That $2.5 million on campaign spending against the tax is almost as much as the $3 million Ritterman was hoping could be raised by the measure to be put towards addressing some of the city's health issues. The tax fared even worse in El Monte, where only 23 percent of voters favored the tax. There, the soda industry spent $1.3 million to counter the measure.

Though disappointed that the initiatives will have to wait for another election, Ritterman says just getting the measures on the ballot doesn't have much of a downside for cities. "If you win, you get millions of dollars to address childhood obesity," he told me. But either way, "you get a very spirited conversation about the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages that you didn't have before." Ritterman says he has seen less soda consumed at public events around the city because of the debate the tax raised, and thinks young people's soda drinking habits may have been changed by the coversations the proposed initiative sparked.

Ritterman says he believes that a statewide or nationwide soda tax would be more effective than a local one. With the Obamas' emphasis on healthy eating, he's holding out hope for national movement towards taxing soda. In the meantime, he plans to encourage 14 California cities to propose soda taxes in 2014. He also hopes people will start paying more attention to the science behind the overconsumption of sugar: in this campaign, "it was really treated as a political issue by people not taking on the science."

In the meantime, though people in Richmond and El Monte won't pay a bit more to consume sugar-sweetened drinks, the health costs of dealing with high diabetes and heart disease rates will continue to add up. Says Ritterman: "We're actually paying more money by not having the tax, but people weren't aware of that."

Wed Mar. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Sat Oct. 12, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Thu Sep. 19, 2013 2:27 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 1, 2013 5:46 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 14, 2013 3:39 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 22, 2013 5:30 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 18, 2013 7:11 AM EST
Fri Feb. 8, 2013 7:42 PM EST
Sun Dec. 23, 2012 7:11 AM EST
Fri Nov. 9, 2012 10:18 PM EST
Wed Nov. 7, 2012 4:10 PM EST
Tue Nov. 6, 2012 7:52 PM EST
Mon Oct. 29, 2012 6:03 AM EDT
Wed Oct. 17, 2012 6:03 AM EDT
Wed Sep. 26, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Sep. 3, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Tue Jun. 26, 2012 5:48 PM EDT
Tue May. 15, 2012 4:45 PM EDT
Tue Mar. 20, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 20, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Thu Feb. 2, 2012 6:10 AM EST
Mon Dec. 19, 2011 6:30 AM EST
Mon Dec. 5, 2011 7:00 AM EST
Wed Nov. 23, 2011 5:33 PM EST
Fri Oct. 28, 2011 6:48 PM EDT
Tue Jun. 28, 2011 8:49 PM EDT
Mon Jun. 20, 2011 6:20 AM EDT
Tue May. 24, 2011 1:00 PM EDT
Thu May. 19, 2011 7:00 PM EDT
Mon May. 9, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Thu Apr. 14, 2011 11:00 AM EDT
Mon Mar. 21, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Fri Feb. 18, 2011 4:30 PM EST