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Man Tells Joke

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 10:34 PM EDT

Ebola in NYC! Chaos! Doom! Hysteria! Hashtags!

Late Thursday, New York City officials confirmed that a doctor recently returned to the city from treating Ebola patients in West Africa has tested positive for the virus. The internet, a place where serious things are not taken seriously and unserious things are taken very seriously, was a bit confused about how to react. On the one hand, panic! On the other hand, #ironic #detachment!

Into this whirlwind jumped Nick Muzin, Sen. Ted Cruz's deputy chief of staff:

The internet was unsure if this not very funny joke was a joke or not and ran with it as though it were serious because the truth is conservatives do seem to blame quite a lot on Obamacare, but then the tweet was deleted and followed up with:

I would personally like the record to reflect that though I wasn't sure if it was a joke and didn't find it particularly funny, I'd die for Nick Muzin's right to tweet his joke.

Have a great night.

 

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New York City Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 4:38 PM EDT

The New York Times reports Craig Spencer, a Doctors Without Borders physician who had recently been to West Africa to help treat Ebola patients, has tested positive for the disease. Spencer is the first person in New York to be diagnosed.

As Spencer's identity had been confirmed late Thursday afternoon, it became known he had been bowling in Brooklyn on Wednesday, traveling via an Uber ride to and from Manhattan.

"Ebola is very difficult to contract, being on the same subway car or living near someone with Ebola does not put someone at risk," de Blasio told reporters at a news conference Thursday evening.

Since coming back to the United States on October 14th, the city's health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, confirmed Spencer used the subway's A, 1, and L lines and bowled at The Gutter in Williamsburg. Bassett said the city has been preparing for the possibility of an outbreak for the past few weeks, with Cuomo emphasizing healthcare workers have been well-trained for such an event.

Earlier Thursday, Spencer was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan after suffering from Ebola-like symptoms, including a 100.3 fever and nausea. The health department's initial report Spencer had a 103 degree fever was corrected on Friday.

The New York City Health Department released a statement indicating Spencer had returned to the United States within the past 21 days.

The patient was transported by a specially trained HAZ TAC unit wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  After consulting with the hospital and the CDC, DOHMH has decided to conduct a test for the Ebola virus because of this patient’s recent travel history, pattern of symptoms, and past work. DOHMH and HHC are also evaluating the patient for other causes of illness, as these symptoms can also be consistent with salmonella, malaria, or the stomach flu.

The New York Post first identified Spencer, who returned from Guinea on October 14 and reported his fever this morning.

CNN producer Vaughn Sterling tweeted the following:

Reminder, refrain from panicking. This post has been updated throughout.

Students at a Nebraska High School Can Now Pose With Guns in Their Senior Portraits

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 2:14 PM EDT

Seniors at Broken Bow High School in Nebraska have been granted their God-given right to pose with guns for their upcoming senior portraits, just as long as the photos are taken off campus and done "tastefully."

“The board, I believe, felt they wanted to give students who are involved in those kinds of things the opportunity to take a senior picture with their hobby, with their sport, just like anybody with any other hobby or sport,” Superintendent Mark Sievering explained to local paper, the Omaha World-Herald.

One would think such a bizarre proposal would prompt some level of debate, a modicum of sane opposition! After all, we're talking about mere teenagers eerily striking poses with weapons in their adolescent hands. Alas, the idea was met with a unanimous yes by all members of the Broken Bow school board.

“For me as a sportsman, I think the policy’s important because it allows those kids who are doing those things a chance to demonstrate what they’re doing and to celebrate that. I think that’s important and fair in our country," board member Matthew Haumont said.

As for the "tasteful" requirement, that means classy poses only folks: no photos with weapons pointed at the camera, no brandishing of weapons, and no "scantily clad girls."

 

Elizabeth Warren's Latest Comment About Running For President Is the Most Cryptic Yet

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 1:59 PM EDT
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

With 106 weeks until the next presidential election, speculating about a potential Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) candidacy is like going on a long car ride with a six-year-old. "Are you running?" No. "How about now?" No. "Now?" No. "Now?" No. "What about now?" No. "Are you running?" No. "Are you running?" [exasperated sigh] "Aha!"

But Warren does continue to do the things people who are considering a run for president tend to do—flying to Iowa to rally the troops on behalf of Rep. Bruce Braley, for instance, and going on tour to promote a campaign-style book. Her latest venture, a sit-down interview in the next issue of People magazine, isn't going to do much to quiet the speculation, even as she once more downplayed the prospect of a run:

[S]upporters are already lining up to back an "Elizabeth Warren for President" campaign in 2016. But is the freshman senator from Massachusetts herself on board with a run for the White House? Warren wrinkles her nose.

"I don't think so," she tells PEOPLE in an interview conducted at Warren's Cambridge, Massachusetts, home for this week's issue. "If there's any lesson I've learned in the last five years, it's don't be so sure about what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could open."

She just doesn't see the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue being one of them. Not yet, anyway. "Right now," Warren says, "I'm focused on figuring out what else I can do from this spot" in the U.S. Senate.

"Amazing doors"; "I don't think"; "right now"—what does it all mean? Warren's not really saying anything we haven't heard from her before. But after then-Sen. Barack Obama's furious denials about running for president eight years ago, no one's ready to take "no" for an answer. At least not yet, anyway.

Watching This Porcupine Taste a Pumpkin Is Why the World Is Going to Be Okay Today

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 12:06 PM EDT

Imagine if we were all as happy as this adorable porcupine, enjoying the seasonal harvest with this much gusto. (You really need to wait until he takes his first bite—the sounds he makes are amazing). This video was posted to YouTube by Zooiversity, a traveling animal education company in Texas, last year, and appears to be enjoying an encore seasonal run this week, as the nation heads into full-on pumpkin madness. (H/t to the website Unwindly, where I first saw it).

Teddy Bear, an 11-year-old male North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), is something of a YouTube star at this point, it seems. According to Zooiversity's website, he's raked in 11.5 million views from 16 viral videos and enjoys a following from over 19,000 Facebook fans. 

He's even...a movie star. Yes. A movie star. According to Zooiversity, Teddy gave voice to Sebastian the hedgehog in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. He's come a long way since his days as an abandoned newborn found by a rancher in West Texas.

Yet More Housekeeping

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 12:00 PM EDT

How much detail do you want about my medical woes? Well, I'm bored, so you're going to get more.

By the time you read this, I should be sedated and ready for a something-plasty, a procedure that injects bone cement into my fractured L3 lumbar vertebra. In other words, I will become a low-grade Wolverine in one teeny-tiny part of my body. According to the doctors, the cement dries instantly and should relieve my back pain almost completely. It sounds too good to be true, and of course it's always possible that I have some other source of back pain in addition to the compression fracture. But this should help a lot.

There is more to this story, and hopefully tomorrow will wrap everything up as all the rest of the test results come back. I'll keep you posted.

On a related subject, I have to say that the Irvine Kaiser hospital is excellent. I have a very nice little single room with good visiting accommodations. It features all the usual annoyances of a hospital, some of which have made me grumpy, but everyone has been very nice and professional. They've made my stay about as nice as it could be under the circumstances.

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Canada's Coverage of the Ottawa Shootings Put American Cable News to Shame

| Wed Oct. 22, 2014 5:28 PM EDT
Police set up a perimeter near Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Canada.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation today gave a master class in calm, credible breaking-news reporting.

Anchored by the unflappable Peter Mansbridge, news of the shootings in Ottawa unfolded live on the CBC much like they do here in the United States: lots of sketchy details, conflicting reports, unreliable witnesses, and a thick fog of confusion. All of that was familiar. What was less familiar was how Mansbridge and his team managed that confusion, conveying a concise and fact-based version of fast-moving events to viewers across Canada and the world.

This live bit of level-headed reporting by Mansbridge, from around 11:10 a.m. Wednesday, should be given to journalism students around the country. It basically contains everything you need to know about why CBC did its audience proud:

MANSBRIDGE: And so, the situation is, as we say, tense and unclear. And it's on days like this—we keep reminding you of this and it's important—it's on days like this, where a story takes a number of different pathways, a number of changes occur, and often rumors start in a situation like this. We try to keep them out of our coverage, but when they come, sometimes from official sources, like members of Parliament, you tend to give them some credence. But you carefully weigh it with what we're also witnessing. It's clear that the situation is not over. It is clear the police are in an intense standby situation and continue to be on the lookout, and until somebody blows the all-clear on this we will continue to stay on top of it and watch as the events unfold.

Watch below, courtesy of the CBC:

The broadcast was deliberative and deferential to the facts even when they were sparse. Exacting and painstaking, but never slow or boring, Mansbridge weighed the credibility of every detail, constantly framing and reframing what we knew and, most crucially, how we knew it. He literally spoke the news as it happened, using his experience not to opine nor fill the gaps in his knowledge, but to provide the necessary support for his team's reporting.

Getting things wrong during fast-moving live coverage is, of course, common. Coverage of the Washington Navy Yard shooting last year got the details wrong early and often: It misstated the perpetrator's name, age, and how many guns he had. Following the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, there was false coverage about the identity of the bombers, and anonymous sources leading journalists to nonexistent bombs and arrests. On the Media's handy "breaking news consumer's handbook" is a great roundup of the reporting errors that get repeated every time there is a mass shooting.

No newscast, especially live news, is immune to mistakes, and during the initial haze of leads and counterleads, it's easy to point fingers. But for the six-some hours of CBC broadcasting I watched off-and-on (mostly on) today, I never once felt lost in the wall-to-wall speculation that has characterized so many recent breaking-news broadcasts in the United States.

It seems like others on Twitter agree that CBC did pretty damn well today:

Map: The Most Popular NFL Teams Everywhere in America—According to Twitter

| Wed Oct. 22, 2014 3:39 PM EDT

For now, even after all the concussions, the domestic violence, and the still-horribly named team from Washington, DC, Americans still love their pro football. Twitter took a stab at measuring the popularity of every NFL franchise by looking at the official Twitter handle for each team and then counting followers of those teams in each county. It's an imperfect measure, for sure, but it's a nifty interface and a lot of fun! Take a look:

Fox News Thinks Young Women Are Too Busy With Tinder to "Get" Voting

| Wed Oct. 22, 2014 3:09 PM EDT

Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, a woman, shared some advice for us feeble-minded young ladies out here: Let's not burden ourselves with voting! After all, we're far too busy swiping for a man on Tinder to cast an educated vote in the midterm elections, or any election for that matter.

"It's the same reason why young women on juries are not a good idea," Guilfoyle explained to her approving co-hosts. "They don't get it!"

"They're not in that same life experience of paying the bills, doing the mortgage, kids, community, crime, education, health care. They're like healthy and hot and running around without a care in the world," she added.

But what to do with all of our overabundant, perky energy?! Guilfoyle says not to worry–just "go back on Tinder or Match.com" and all will be right in the world.

Sigh. For a more detailed look into what a war on voting looks like, check out our coverage here.

The Midwest's Vast Farms Are Losing a Ton of Money This Year

| Wed Oct. 22, 2014 2:57 PM EDT
A bin-busting harvest.

Think you have it tough at work? Consider the plight of the Midwest's corn and soybean farmers. They churn out the basic raw materials of our food system: the stuff that gets turned into animal feed, sweetener, cooking fat, and even a substantial amount of our car fuel. What do they get for their trouble? According to a stunning analysis (PDF) by Iowa State ag economist Chad Hart, crop prices have fallen so low (a bumper crop has driven down corn prices to their lowest level since 2006), and input costs (think seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) have gotten so high, that they're losing $225 per acre of corn and $100 per acre of soybeans.  So if you're an Iowa farmer with a 2,000-acre farm, and you planted it half and half in these two dominant crops, you stand to lose $325,000 on this year's harvest.

If you're an Iowa farmer with a 2,000-acre farm, and you planted it half and half in corn and soy, you stand to lose $325,000 on this year's harvest.

Over on Big Picture Agriculture—the excellent blog that alerted me to Hart's assessment—Kay McDonald wonders: "Is organic corn the way to go next year?" She points out organic corn receives a large premium in the market, and key input costs—seeds, fertilizers, and insecticides—are much lower, making the economics better.

Another possibility is one I've been banging on about for years: why not take some of the Midwest's vast stock of farmland—say, 10 percent?—and devote it to vegetable and fruit production? And take another slice of it and bring it back to perennial grass for pasture-based beef and pork production? Both vegetables and pastured meat deliver much more income pre acre than commodity corn and soybeans, once the systems are up and running and the infrastructure in place. And considering how much of our produce comes from drought-stricken California, that would likely be a wise move from a food security standpoint.

Alas, none of this is likely to happen, at least not anytime soon. That's because crop subsidies, enshrined by the farm bill signed in February, will likely wipe out much of the huge gap between farmers' costs and what the market gives them. According to Bloomberg, taxpayers are set to pay "billions of dollars more to subsidize farmers than anticipated just months ago," before crop prices plunged.

I don't begrudge federal support for farming. As I argued in a post last year, large-scale commodity farming is a vicious business—farmers are caught in a vice between a small handful of buyers (Archers Daniels Midland, Cargill, Bunge) that are always looking to drive crop prices down, and a small handful of input suppliers (Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, etc) always looking to push the price of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides up. It's no wonder, as Iowa State's Hart has shown, that the "long run profitability" of such farming is "zero."

But as it's structured now, the subsidy system keeps farmers chugging along on the corn-soy treadmill. Meanwhile, transitioning to organic ag and diversifying crops to include vegetables and pastured meat would also require much more hands-on labor and a new set of skills for Midwestern farmers, who have been operating in a corn-soy-chemical system for decades. It would also require the rebuilding of infrastructure—small-scale slaughterhouses, canneries, cold storage, etc.—that were dismantled as corn and soy came to dominance. Supporting such a transition, and not propping up an unhealthy food system suffused with cheap corn and soy, seems like a good use of the billions of federal dollars that are about to be spent.