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Pig Farms Can Control When You Get the Flu

Mother Jones

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For a fascinating new study, Duke researchers looked at flu patterns over four years across North Carolina, a state with high concentrations of intensive hog farming in some regions, and very little on others. The idea was to determine whether living near large-scale hog farms affects the way communities experience flu—a key question, because many flu strains mutate quickly and jump easily between people and hogs. The answer, in short, is yes.

To understand the findings, it’s important to note that each flu season brings different dominant strains that infect people. Some years, pig-adapted strains proliferate among people; other years, strains that aren’t adapted to those farm beasts do. Pig-adapted flu strains became more common after 2009, when H1N1 emerged and caused a global pandemic. It has been circulating ever since, and in some flu seasons (like 2015-’16) it is the predominant strain affecting people.

Over the study period, two of the flu seasons were dominated by pig strains—and in both, the flu season peaked earlier in hog-intensive counties, measured by the number of reported cases among people. In the other two non-pig flu years, flu seasons across North Carolina’s counties showed no such pattern.

Infectious-diseases writer Maryn McKenna has an excellent explainer on FERN’s Ag Insider:

What likely happened, they the authors say, is that the virus circulating in those flu seasons was carried onto farms by workers and spread to the pigs — and as it passed from pig to pig, the virus had a chance to reproduce in a manner that would not have happened in the absence of CAFOs. That much larger amount of virus spread back out into surrounding community, spiking the number of flu cases earlier in the flu season.

The upshot, the researchers say, is that vaccine strategies should expand. Currently, public health authorities target kids, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems for flu-shot campaigns. People who work on and live near hog farms should also be encouraged to achieve “universal influenza vaccination,” they say.

Fair enough. But it also seems worth asking whether it’s a smart idea to concentrate hog farming so tightly. Every year, North Carolina’s confinement facilities churning out 10 million pigs—14.5 percent of total US production—the vast majority of which is crammed into a few eastern counties. These hyper-concentration of hogs creates what the authors call a “crucible for human influenza epidemics.”

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Pig Farms Can Control When You Get the Flu

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Here Is Rex Tillerson’s Awesome Record at ExxonMobil

Mother Jones

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Was Rex Tillerson a good CEO at Exxon? Over at Bloomberg, Vincent Piazza says Tillerson has two big claims to fame:

Number one, it’s the relationship with Russia and the expanding relationship there as well. But also the recent acquisition of XTO back in 2010. That was a major bet on natural gas that did not pan out—a $35 billion bet on natural gas that seemed to turn the other way on them.

So…a lousy acquisition and, um, Russia. The Wall Street Journal goes into more detail on that:

“I have a very close relationship with Mr. Putin,” Mr. Tillerson told students at the University of Texas, his alma mater, in February….He was successful, in part because he negotiated with Mr. Putin, who became Russian prime minister in 1999 and has run the country, either as president or prime minister, ever since. Mr. Tillerson’s ties helped him catapult past other executives to lead the company in 2006.

….At a June 2012 meeting with Mr. Putin, Mr. Tillerson said Exxon’s Arctic deal enhanced U.S.-Russian ties. “I agree, as you point out, that nothing strengthens relationships between countries better than business enterprise,” a Kremlin transcript quoted him as saying. The next year, Mr. Putin awarded him Russia’s Order of Friendship for his work.

Well, OK then. He’s chummy with Vladimir Putin and he blew $35 billion on a bad acquisition. But at least he’s a great businessman, right? Here is ExxonMobil’s performance over the past decade:

But at least they paid dividends regularly! Sounds like Secretary of State material to me.

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Here Is Rex Tillerson’s Awesome Record at ExxonMobil

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Raw Data: If Obamacare Is Repealed, 17-37 Million People Will Lose Health Coverage

Mother Jones

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As Republicans merrily head down their stated path of repealing Obamacare without bothering to replace it, here are the latest CDC numbers on the uninsured:

Let’s put that into raw numbers. There are currently 273 million people in America under the age of 65. If we abolished Obamacare and returned to the 2013 percentage of uninsured, 17 million people would lose health coverage.

And that’s optimistic. If Republican recklessness caused the insurance industry to abandon the individual market altogether, the number of people who would lose coverage is somewhere in the range of 32-37 million. That’s about 22 million people who are currently in the non-group insurance market and another 10-15 million who benefited from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Repealing Obamacare makes a great campaign slogan, but now Republicans have to actually govern. Do they really want to be responsible for 17-37 million people losing health coverage? Really?

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Raw Data: If Obamacare Is Repealed, 17-37 Million People Will Lose Health Coverage

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These 15 Albums Might Actually Make 2016 Tolerable

Mother Jones

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Each year, Mother Jones‘ favorite music critic browses through hundreds of new albums and pulls out maybe a couple hundred for his weekly reviews. But only a few can make the final-final cut. Below, in alphabetical order, are Jon Young’s super-quick takes on his 15 top albums for 2016. (Feel free to heartily disagree and share your own faves in the comments.)

1. William Bell, This Is Where I Live (Stax): The tender, moving return of an underrated soul great.

2. David Bowie, Blackstar (Columbia/ISO): The Thin White Duke’s eerie, haunting farewell.

3. Gaz Coombes, Matador (Hot Fruit Recordings/Kobalt Label Services): Grand, witty megapop from the former Supergrass leader. (Full review here.)

4. Bob Dylan, The 1966 Live Recordings (Columbia/Legacy): A massive compilation of every note from his notorious tour. (Full review here.)

5. Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math (ATO): No-nonsense relationship tales that rock out with insistent verve.

6. Hinds, Leave Me Alone (Mom + Pop/Lucky Number): Frayed, rowdy femme-punk straight outta Madrid.

7. Jennifer O’Connor, Surface Noise (Kiam): Tuneful, deadpan folk-pop with a cutting edge. (Full review here.)

8. Brigid Mae Power, Brigid Mae Power (Tompkins Square): Hair-raising solo acoustic performances by an Irish chanteuse. (Full review here.)

9. Dex Romweber, Carrboro, (Bloodshot): A colorful Americana kaleidoscope from a master balladeer and rockabilly shouter. (Full review here.)

10. Sad13, Slugger (Carpark): Sadie Dupuis’ solo debut, poppier than her band Speedy Ortiz, and exuberantly feminist.

11 & 12. The Scientists, A Place Called Bad (Numero Group); and Blonde Redhead, Masculin Feminin (Numero Group): The great Chicago reissue label scores again with retrospectives devoted to The Scientists, Australian trash-rockers from the ’70s and ’80s, and Blonde Redhead’s ’90s shoegaze-noise recordings amid the chaotic New York scene. (Full review here.)

13. Allen Toussaint, American Tunes (Nonesuch): The gorgeous final works of the New Orleans R&B genius. (And here’s our recent chat with Toussaint collaborator Aaron Neville.)

14. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic): The long-overdue return, and devastating goodbye, of a hip-hop institution.

15. Various Artists, The Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe, 1970-1986 (Light in the Attic): An eye-opening survey of vintage new age music in all its oddball, unexpected glory.

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These 15 Albums Might Actually Make 2016 Tolerable

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Big Mac Followup

Mother Jones

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I got showered with comments yesterday about the Big Mac. It’s so much more than the middle bun, you cretin! Even my sister got on my case about it. My sister!

So today I went out to our newly refurbished McDonald’s and got one. My conclusion: it was fine. The special sauce was fine, the pickles were fine, and it was a perfectly good hamburger on the McDonald’s scale of hamburgers. About halfway through eating it, though, it suddenly occurred to me that…it sure had a lot of bread. But all of you Big Mac lovers like the extra bun, I guess. De gustibus.

I haven’t been to McDonald’s in a long time, and I see that they now hand out numbers like most other places. Unlike other places, however, mine has a staff that comes by and takes your number from the table without leaving any food. It took a while to sort this out, so I used the time to load Facebook on my phone. I did this because apparently blog posts with inline images (like the one on the right) don’t render very well in Facebook Instant, whatever that is. And since half our traffic now comes from mobile Facebook users, this is a problem.

So I got the Facebook app loaded and then scrolled through my feed, but there was nothing of mine there. Hmmm. I’ve never paid much attention to Facebook, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I searched for MoJo, and then liked it, figuring that might make MoJo content appear. Oddly, though, what it mostly did was make lots of Brad DeLong posts appear. What’s going on up there at Cal? I got this sorted out eventually, but it turns out the MoJo digital team has been curating the feed so that the troublesome posts don’t go up. So I still don’t know quite what’s going on. But I’ll find out soon enough when I chat with our web folks.

That was my midday. How was yours?

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Big Mac Followup

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