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Forty inch long rare coprolite from the Miocene era. (Courtesy of I.M. Chait)

An Animal Makes A $10,000 Deposit, But Not At The Bank

Jul 23, 2014

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A detail of the coprolite. Argentavis magnificens vs. a human.

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Robert Krulwich

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It's a highly specialized category to be sure: "Longest." But that's what the auctioneer is selling. According to the catalog of I.M. Chait Gallery, in Beverly Hills, "This truly spectacular specimen is possibly the longest example of coprolite ever to be offered at auction."

Coprolite is fossilized fecal matter. This specimen is roughly 20 million years old. For the guy who has everything (and who has occasionally looked below to see what he's produced in the porcelain bowl), here's a souvenir worth bragging about. "Mine is from the Miocene and it's the "longest," he can say (ignoring the slippery word "possibly.") The auctioneer is looking for a bid of $8,000 to $10,000.

Its other attributes? "It boasts a wonderfully even, pale brown-yellow coloring and terrifically detailed texture to the heavily botryoidal surface across the whole of its immense length," the catalog says.

Botryoidal? I looked it up. It means clumpy, from the Greek for a "bunch of grapes." Like when you see undigested bits and think, "that's the stale part of the fruitcake I had to eat at my aunt's house yesterday."

Who Made It?

What the coprolite's producer had eaten, we don't know. What sort of animal it was, we can't say. "The passer of this remarkable object is unknown," says the catalog, but "it is nonetheless a highly evocative specimen of unprecedented size, presented in four sections, each with a heavy, black-marble custom base, with an eye-watering 40 inches in length overall."

Forty inches! That's big, no? It's certainly big if you're a 5-foot-8-inch human. Upright, it would reach to your shoulders. Had the producer of this string been a dinosaur — one of those superlong plant-eaters with a long neck that could stretch for 90 feet (1080 inches) — then this chain of poop would be only 1/26, or so, of its body length. That's nothing. You probably know somebody who has produced a similarly scaled achievement in modern times. (Maybe that somebody is you).

But because this specimen comes from the Miocene — a fairly recent era, after the dinosaurs had vanished — maybe this "release" is impressive. I looked up animals from the Miocene and found most to be modest in size. The most dramatic non-marine giant was an Argentine bird bigger than anything we have today, called Argentavis magnificens (literally "magnificent Argentine bird"). This will give you a sense of its scale ...

It had wingspan of 23 feet, but a body not much bigger than most human bodies. If this bird was the pooper, a release of this length would indeed have been an eyebrow raiser (if anyone back then had eyebrows). So maybe coprolite is, as the catalog says, "a truly spectacular specimen." I don't know. More knowledgeable folks than I will be bidding next week when it comes up for sale. I will report the results on this page when (and if) there's a winning bid.

The auction starts at 1 p.m. on July 26.

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Forty inch long rare coprolite from the Miocene era. (Courtesy of I.M. Chait)

Ukraine Says 2 Military Jets Shot Down Over Rebel-Held Area

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 23, 2014

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Less than a week after a commercial jetliner was shot down, Ukraine says two of its military planes were downed over a rebel-held area in the eastern part of the country.

Bloomberg reports:

"Rebels downed two Su-25 fighters over the village of Dmytrivka in the Donetsk region, a Defense Ministry spokesman, Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky, said by phone. Another ministry spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, later told reporters in Kiev the planes were flying at an altitude of 5,200 meters (17,000 feet) when they were brought down by a "powerful" anti-aircraft missile. The pilots ejected and their whereabouts are unknown, the ministry said on Facebook."

Reuters reports that Ukraine's Security Council claimed the missiles were fired "from the territory of the Russian Federation."

The New York Times adds that Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council in Kiev said that the central government was continuing its operations against separatists and that it had retaken control of two cities in Luhansk.

The paper adds:

"Officials said rebels had blown up a road bridge, a railroad bridge and train tracks in the city of Gorlivka, and they reported continued fierce fighting along a section of the border with Russia that remains porous. Ukrainian forces are increasingly desperate to seal that border to prevent resupplies of weapons or new fighters from entering Ukraine.

"A Ukrainian military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said Russia had strengthened its troop presence along the border and cross-border gunfire had increased.

"The reported downing of the two fighter jets was a serious blow to the Ukrainian military, which has limited air power."

Just a reminder: The government in Kiev is fighting against Russian separatists in the east. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was flying over the restive area when it was hit by a missile.

An assessment by the U.S. found the plane was likely downed by pro-Russian separatists using a Russian-made SA-11 anti-aircraft missile.

That incident further inflamed tensions between Russia and the West.

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Intrauterine devices can be used immediately after a woman has given birth to prevent future pregnancies. (iStockphoto)

States Help New Mothers Get Birth Control Through Medicaid

by Dana Farrington
Jul 23, 2014

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A detail of the coprolite. Argentavis magnificens vs. a human.

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A woman is about to give birth. It will be her second child, and she's not looking to have a third anytime soon. She doesn't want to take birth control pills while she's breast-feeding. And condoms aren't as error-proof as she'd like.

There are a couple of alternatives that are safe, effective and could work for years: an IUD or an implant. She'll need a doctor to get those.

Here's the catch: Her Medicaid plan won't pay for contraception if she tries to get it while she's still at the hospital.

New York has just joined five other states in making it easier for our fictional mom to have access to the kind of family planning options she was seeking without worrying about the price tag.

At first glance this is a technical issue about Medicaid reimbursements. But it is also about postpartum contraception and which women have access to it.

There are a number of reasons why states would want women who have just given birth to have access to birth control. For one, waiting longer before having another baby is healthier. Plus, studies have shown that paying for birth control is cheaper in the long run.

The "bottom line priority" is to remove barriers to contraception, says Deborah Kaplan, New York City's assistant health commissioner.

A relatively small group of people is directly affected by the policy change announced by New York state and city health officials on July 17. It relates only to women in the Medicaid fee-for-service program who have just given birth.

With a fee-for-service plan, health care providers get money from Medicaid so that low-income people can get the care they need without the cost.

There are rules, of course, about what the plan will pay for. In most states, for example, Medicaid will not reimburse the doctor for delivering a baby and giving a woman an IUD in the same visit.

If the mom waits six weeks for a postpartum appointment, she can get an IUD and her doctor will get money from Medicaid.

But women are much less likely to get contraception at that point, says Kaplan.

So New York has changed its Medicaid reimbursement rules. Now, women with fee-for-service plans can get an IUD or implant immediately after giving birth.

IUDs and implants are not popular with women in the U.S., despite being among the most effective methods of birth control. Women's health advocates are trying to convince more women to consider them. With the Affordable Care Act, new insurance plans should fully cover these methods, though there are exceptions.

An IUD is a T-shaped piece of plastic that is put inside the uterus by a health care provider. One type of IUD releases hormones to prevent fertilization and another uses copper to fight off sperm. The kind with hormones can stay put for 3 to 5 years; the one with copper lasts for about 10.

The hormonal implant is a flexible rod about the size of a match that goes just under the skin in the upper arm (yes, you have to go to the doctor's office for this one, too). It also uses hormones to prevent pregnancy. It works for three years.

No daily reminders or regular pharmacy trips needed with these methods. If a woman decides she wants to have a baby, she can have a doctor take out the IUD or the implant at any time.

With hormonal birth control such as the pill, there are risks to consider — particularly for women who plan to breast-feed. But the hormone found in the IUD and the implant, progestin, is regarded as safe for women who are breast-feeding.

New York is not trying to imply that IUDs and implants are the best choice for everyone, Kaplan told Shots. But the state is trying to make a point.

"We want women to have the options," she says, "and then [work] with their provider to make the best decision with all the information available."

Kaplan says New York officials are hoping that this small policy decision will persuade other states and insurance providers to look at their coverage, too.

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Bob Mould. (Courtesy of the artist)

Bob Mould On World Cafe

Jul 23, 2014 (WXPN-FM)

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Bob Mould, one of the most influential artists from '80s punk with Hüsker Dü, has a new solo album, Beauty and Ruin. It builds on his last two albums, Life and Times (2009) and 2012's Silver Age (2012), using the same rhythm section of Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster of Superchunk on drums. Since making an excursion into club music with Modulate in 2002, Mould has gotten back into the three-piece guitar driven format that is his forte. It's the sound he also used in the '90s with Sugar. Mould may have said much in his 2011 autobiography, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, but he's saved a lot for us today.

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Bob Mould. (Courtesy of the artist)

Book News: Booker Prize, Now Open To U.S. Authors, Longlists 5 Americans

by Annalisa Quinn
Jul 23, 2014 (WXPN-FM)

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The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • The 13-book longlist for the Man Booker Prize, the U.K.'s most prominent literary award, was announced Wednesday. The prize is traditionally open to writers from countries in the Commonwealth and Ireland, but this year marks the first time the award will "recognise, celebrate and embrace authors of literary fiction writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai." Five American authors made the cut: Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt, Richard Powers and Irish-American writer Joseph O'Neill, who are all critically well-regarded, if not household names. Opening the longlist to Americans sparked fears that Commonwealth authors would have a harder time making it onto the list, and indeed the list includes only one Commonwealth author — Richard Flanagan of Australia — and no authors from Africa or India. U.K. authors Howard Jacobson (who won the prize in 2010), David Nicholls, David Mitchell, Neel Mukherjee, Paul Kingsnorth and Ali Smith also were nominated. Lastly, Irish writer Niall Williams was longlisted for his novel History of the Rain. Notably, the list includes a crowd-funded novel, Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake, which is set after the Battle of Hastings and written in an invented dialect meant to give the feel of Old English. Chair of the judges A.C. Grayling said in his announcement, "This is a diverse list of ambition, experiment, humour and artistry. The novels selected are full of wonderful stories and fascinating characters. The judges were impressed by the high quality of writing and the range of issues tackled — from 1066 to the future, from a PoW camp in Thailand, to a dentist's chair in Manhattan; from the funny to the deeply serious, sometimes in the same book." The winner will be announced in October.
  • Zadie Smith has a quietly devastating short story, "Big Week," in The Paris Review: "He could not know that her mind had drifted strangely: to her stepdaughters, whom she placed now in rooms of her own design — twin aeries either side of a chimney breast — in a shingled house that sat on a bluff, over a wild beach of dunes and sea grass, in America or in Africa — in some dream combination of the two."
  • Arcadia author Lauren Groff visits the Weeki Wachee mermaids and explores their fishy charms for Oxford American: "I think the widespread ubiquity of these dangerous, capricious female figures has less to do with lust and mistaken sea creatures than with a stunning human capacity for metaphor."
  • John Cheever's house is for sale.
  • "I love Dickinson. Her edgy brilliance, the way things implode in her writing, geographies, little longings and big ones, even cosmologies. I loved her writing always, and was scared by it. The whole question of decorum, growing up as a girl, and then finding Emily." — poet Meena Alexander, in an interview in Poetry magazine.
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