Rebecca Cohen

Rebecca Cohen

Editorial Fellow

Rebecca Cohen is a Mother Jones fellow who has previously written for Slate, The Washington Post, and McClatchy News Service. You can follow her at @rebeccatcohen and email her at rcohen@motherjones.com.

 

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It’s Like Yelp For Cops: Teens Make App To Rate Police

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 7:01 PM EDT
An app created by siblings Ima, Asha, and Caleb Christian (shown with their brother Joshua) helps users track police behavior.

Three teens in Georgia just made a mobile app they hope will help prevent the next police shooting of an unarmed young person.

It's called Five-O, after the slang term for police, and it's the brainchild of siblings Ima, 16, Asha, 15, and Caleb Christian, 14, who live in a suburb of Atlanta. Here's how it works: After interacting with a cop, users open the app and fill out a Yelp-like form on which they can grade the officer's courtesy from A to F, check a box if they were verbally or physically abused, and add details about the incident. They can view ratings on other cops and police departments across the country, participate in community forums, and check out a Q&A titled "Know Your Rights."

Ima Christian says their parents encouraged them to think about how they could respond productively to incidents like Brown's death. "One of the things they really stress is that we focus on finding solutions," she told Mother Jones. "We really hope that Five-O will be able to give every citizen a voice when interacting with the police."

But the Christians say Five-O isn't just for outing bad cops; they hope it will help also highlight good policing. "We want people to be able to document if the police are very courteous or if they save your cat or something," Ima says.

"You’re never too young to learn, and you're never too young to make a difference," Caleb told Business Insider. A similar app made in London to track "stop and search" incidents earned a human rights award in 2012.

The siblings have been honing their coding skills since elementary school by participating in the MIT programs +K12, Scratch, and App Inventor, and they've also taken programming classes at Georgia Tech and Emory, all with encouragement from their parents. They've started their own app development company, Pine Tart, Inc., and they're currently working on two other projects: Froshly, which will help incoming college freshmen meet their classmates, and Coily, which will review hair-care products for black women.

Here's a preview of Five-O:

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Shorter Trees Could Make Peaches Cheaper

| Fri Aug. 8, 2014 7:18 PM EDT
Millions of peaches, peaches for me.

When it comes to peach and nectarine trees, bigger isn't necessarily better. An orchard worker can spend as much as half of his or her day lugging around the ladders required to reach the branches of a typical 13-foot tree. Plus, the danger of climbing the ladders drives up the cost of workers' compensation insurance—growers of peaches and nectarines pay about 40 percent more for it than growers of low-lying fruit like grapes.

Now scientists at the University of California are trying to shrink the cost of labor on peach and nectarine farms by shrinking the plants themselves. In a 4-acre orchard south of Fresno, researchers are growing trees that they expect to max out at seven or eight feet. They say the shorter trees, which would not require a ladder to harvest or prune, could cut down on worker injuries and slash labor costs by more than 50 percent. If cultivated correctly, the mini-trees could be as fruitful as their taller counterparts.

If the experimental orchard works, it could have environmental perks too. In comments to UC Davis, one farmer estimated it costs him $1,400 an acre to thin his 250-acre peach and nectarine farm. Because of the high cost of ladders, many of his fellow growers are switching to almonds, he said. And almonds, as we've said before, are sucking California dry.

"Confused Cats Against Feminism" Is the Purrfect Response to "Women Against Feminism"

| Tue Jul. 29, 2014 6:26 PM EDT
A confused cat against feminism.

The Tumblr Women Against Feminism has inspired scores of think pieces decrying its misuse of the term "feminist." Yet when David Futrelle saw the collection of photos of women holding handwritten signs like "I don't need feminism because I am not a victim," it reminded him of his cats.

"It just seems like cats never know what's going on," Futrelle says. "If anyone would get really confused about feminism and announce their opposition to it, it would be cats. They have the right combination of myopicness and solipsism."

So last Thursday, Futrelle posed his felines next to Women Against Feminism-style signs, snapped a picture, and launched his own Tumblr: Confused Cats Against Feminism. The cats, he said, were reluctant participants. "They did not want to cooperate at all when I started coming at them with this little sign that I'd drawn on with a very smelly Sharpie."

Almost immediately, readers began sending Futrelle photos of their own cats. Now the Tumblr has 11,000 followers, and as of Tuesday morning, Futrelle was sorting through hundred of submissions.

Cats against equal pay

The Chicago resident thinks his project taps a deep vein of exasperation among feminists that goes beyond the outrage over Women Against Feminism. "A lot of women and feminists are frustrated at trying to respond to arguments that are disingenuous or just weird and silly," he says. "Part of what's fun about the blog is to say, Look, we're just gonna respond with cats."

The most successful posts, he says, "manage to tap into cat logic" or "capture the cats' desire to be pampered and protected, which is the complaint that some people have about the Women Against Feminism blog." His favorite submission so far is a cat sprawling on its back, exposing a patch of fur the size and color of a chocolate chip cookie on its stomach. "I DON'T NEED FEMINISM BECAUSE...COOKIE BELLY," the text reads.

Futrelle says the joke wouldn't be as funny if it were Confused Dogs Against Feminism, because cats tend to be culturally coded as female. Also, "Dogs aren't as self-absorbed as cats. If you tried to do it with a dog I think the only thing you could go with is they're too stupid."

Another confused cat
"I don't need feminism because I like it when a man opens the door for me to enter a room. And then leave it again. And enter. And leave. And… enter. No wait, leave, definitely leave. Wait, I mean enter…" confusedcatsagainstfeminism.tumblr.com

This isn't Futrelle's first attempt to push back against antifeminist rhetoric. On his other blog, We Hunted the Mammoth, he's been chronicling the foibles of the men's rights movement for four years. Over time he's shifted from seeing the movement as merely misguided to realizing that it's driven by misogyny, he says. He hopes his blogging will encourage other people to respond to antifeminist overtures with humor.

"Men's rights activists have a quote that's supposedly from Gandhi that they like to recite constantly: 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,'" Futrelle says. "As they see it, they've gotten to the point where people are fighting them. I'd like to knock them back to the point where people are laughing at them."

 

Don't Believe Anything You Read About Pomegranate Juice

| Fri Jun. 13, 2014 1:28 PM EDT
"SUPER HEALTH POWERS!" Or not.

In ancient Greek mythology, pomegranates symbolized death. They were certainly a source of grief for Coca-Cola on Thursday morning, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the pomegranate juice company POM Wonderful can sue Coke for marketing a product that contains 99.4 percent apple and grape juice as "Blueberry Pomegranate."

And like many Greek myths, the Supreme Court decision is also rich with irony: POM is currently locked in a separate court battle over allegations that its own pomegranate juice marketing misleads consumers.

Both companies have relied on some pretty questionable rhetoric. Coke claimed that because the Food and Drug Administration had approved its juice label, it couldn't be sued under other trademark laws for misleading consumers. "We don’t think that consumers are quite as unintelligent as POM must think they are," Coke's lawyer Kathleen Sullivan told the Court in April—an argument that fell flat when Justice Anthony Kennedy responded, "Don't make me feel bad because I thought that this was pomegranate juice."

But as HBO's John Oliver has pointed out, POM isn't exactly a hero here. In September 2010, the Federal Trade Commission charged POM with falsely claiming that its products could prevent or treat a variety of medical conditions. According to the FTC, claims that POM juice has "SUPER HEALTH POWERS!... Backed by $25 million in medical research [and p]roven to fight for cardiovascular, prostate and erectile health" have no basis in reality.

POM has contested the FDA's complaint, but so far, judges have sided with the federal agency. The case has made its way to federal appeals court in Washington, where the judges don't seem particularly sympathetic. At a hearing in May, Judge Merrick Garland read one of POM's ads aloud and said, "I don't understand if you look at those two paragraphs how you can say that it's not misleading."