Posts made in April 2020

‘Betty the Weathercat’ is a TV star in Indiana

April 30, 2020

When TV meteorologist Jeff Lyons of Channel 14 News in Evansville, Indiana, set up a green screen at home during the coronavirus lockdown in order to do his 10 p.m. live report, he didn’t know that, out of adversity, a star would be born, reports The Washington Post.

Three weeks into his new routine, things were going pretty smoothly when Betty—Lyons’ 11-year-old cat— showed up for her closeup: Shortly before Lyons’s three-minute weathercast on April 13, Betty sauntered out from beneath the dining room table for a little attention from her owner.

Is that your cat?” the news director asked Lyons. “You should put her on the air.”

Lyons wasn’t sure that was a great idea, he told the Post. “But I did it,” he said. “I held the cat up and on it went from there.”

He cradled his gray and white longhair feline in both arms and introduced her to his viewers. Betty lazily looked at the camera and twitched her tail. That’s all it took for the station’s viewers to fall in love.

The next morning, Lyons posted a screen shot to his Facebook page of him holding Betty in front of the weekly Evansville forecast. “I didn’t think much of it,” he told the news outlet, “but then I got a text from my nephew. He said, ‘My God, you’re trending on Reddit.’”

That was his first inkling that Betty was becoming a celebrity. But Lyons had no idea just how famous she would become. She is now so popular that she has her own Instagram page and is on the Channel 14 weather segment most nights with her own “Betty the Weathercat” graphic.

Lyons built a small “throne” for her next to his green screen, and he uses computer-animated graphics of Betty as a catalyst for his forecast. (An umbrella on her tail means that rain is on the way, while sunny skies usually get a paws-up.)

Viewers regularly leave comments for Betty, along with snapshots of their own cats.

“I think she will need a raise soon,” wrote one fan. “That 1 can of tuna is just not gonna cut it.”

“So long Jeff, it has been great watching you over these past years!” posted another. “Betty has taken over! She is a purrrfect meteorologist!”

Lyons, who has worked at Channel 14 for the past three decades, said he learned a long time ago to have fun while doing the weather. “When the weather is threatening, you have to be serious, but for the rest of the time, it’s important to be happy,” he said. “My sense is that people want a diversion right now during this horrible pandemic. They’re looking for something that’s kind of fun. So at least for now, doing the forecast with Betty fits right in.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

State DOC rejects 4,600 face masks for inmates donated by Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware

April 30, 2020

Following weeks of refusal by the Delaware State Department of Correction (DOC) to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to prison inmates; on April 30 , Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware (CPBD) denounced the state in a press release for rejecting its donation of 4,600 face masks.

After distributing 10,000 masks to frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable populations throughout Delaware;  CPBD secured an additional 4,600 face masks, which the group immediately offered to the DOC in the wake of the first inmate death from the virus at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center for men near Smyrna, Delaware, earlier this week.

After initially accepting CPBD’s offer, the DOC reversed its decision and rejected the masks just four hours later—after agency officials informed the office of DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis, a political appointee of Governor John Carney, who has been criticized by CPBD for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

CPBD castigated the state’s rebuff, saying: “The DOC’s rejection of the PPE comes as the agency has still failed to provide face masks to all 4,200 inmates in its facilities, despite updated Centers for Disease Control guidelines that recommend wearing face coverings to slow the spread of the virus.

“With prisons across the country emerging as vectors for transmission of the deadly coronavirus, civil rights organizations including the ACLU and the NAACP have urged state officials to take steps like providing masks to mitigate the risk of coronavirus in correctional facilities.

“Delaware’s prisons are disproportionately filled with people of color, and racial breakdowns of the state’s coronavirus cases show that Black and Hispanic Delawareans are being infected with the coronavirus at a drastically higher rate than white residents.”

Said Pastor Dale Dennis II of Hoyt Memorial CME Church in Wilmington, “People of color make up over 60% of Delaware’s prison population—but less than 40% of our residents. We know that black and brown folks have been the victims of historic, systemic injustices at the hands of our criminal justice system, but the coronavirus crisis has put those that are incarcerated at a different level of vulnerability. I am joining the calls from many Pastors across the State for the DOC to provide the care that they would want to receive and protect our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers housed in their correctional care.”

Research contact: @ProBusinessDE

#FireChrisHayes trends after MSNBC host covers Biden sexual assault allegations

April 30, 2020

The host of MSNBC’s show “All-In,” Chris Hayes, sparked backlash from the left when he became the first prime time host on the network to cover a former aide’s sexual assault allegations against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. As a result, the hashtag #FireChrisHayes began trending on Twitter, The Hill reported on April 30.

Hayes welcomed New York Magazine Writer-at-Large Rebecca Traister to his program Wednesday night, April 29, after she penned an essay, entitled “The Biden Trap,” which was critical of the former vice president for not addressing Tara Reade’s allegations in any interviews—and, thereby, leaving Democratic women supporting his candidacy to answer questions about the allegations for him.

“What this is creating is a perfect storm … where women are being asked … to answer for these charges,” Traister told Hayes. “In part because of the vacuum created by Joe Biden who is not yet really directly answering these questions, and certainly, not doing what I wish he would, which is to say: ‘Please direct your questions about these allegations to me, and not the women that are out there offering their support to my candidacy.”

Biden has conducted dozens of national and local interviews in recent weeks, but has yet to be asked about the allegations, The Hill said. His campaign denied the allegations in a statement on March 28.

However, Reade said last month that Biden sexually assaulted her in a secluded part of Capitol Hill when he was a senator in 1993. She was backed up by a former neighbor, her mother, and her brother. She was one of several women who came forward last year to say that Biden’s public touching had made her uncomfortable. He later said he would adjust his behavior.

“The man in question, the nominee, the former vice president, is going to have to address [the allegations],” Hayes argued during the segment. “And not have [former Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate] Stacey Abrams or anyone else, or [Senator] Kirsten Gillibrand [D-New York] do that.”

Abrams is reportedly on a list of candidates Biden is considering to be his running mate. She told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday night that she believed Biden while citing a New York Times investigation written earlier this month, before more corroboration of Reade’s allegations was reported.

“The New York Times did a deep investigation and they found that the accusation was not credible. I believe Joe Biden,” Abrams said.

The Times later pushed back on the assertion that it had cleared Biden of any wrongdoing, The Hill reports. “Our investigation made no conclusion either way,” a Times spokesperson said in a Wednesday statement.

Several journalists praised Hayes for covering the story while knowing the potential for backlash from some on the left.

Reade has said that she confronted Biden’s aides, but the aides Reade listed have gone on the record to say that they were never confronted about the allegation.

Reade also says she filed a complaint with the human resources office in the Senate about the allegations of inappropriate touching. Media outlets, however, have not been able to track down the complaint, according to The Hill.

Reade did not file a police report at the time. She filed one with the Washington, D.C., police last month.

Research contact: @thehill

The Library of Congress needs a few Citizen DJs

April 30, 2020

The Library of Congress is celebrating its 220th birthday this year with a present for music-makers and music-lovers everywhere—a chance to play with Citizen DJ, a groundbreaking project that invites the public to make hip hop music using the library’s public audio and moving image collections.

In the process of embedding these materials in hip hop music, listeners may discover items in the library’s vast collections that they likely would never have known existed, the library said in an April 24 news release.

The Library of Congress—which is the largest library on Earth—is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and is the de facto national library of the U.S.A.. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States.

Citizen DJ is an open-source web-browser application created by Library of Congress 2020 Innovator in Residence Brian Foo in partnership with LC Labs. Using some of the Library’s free-to-use audio and moving image collections, Citizen DJ enables users to select short samples to create their own beats and sound mixes.

While the project is scheduled to officially launch in the summer of 2020, Foo—who is an artist and computer scientist—believes that building a tool that is useful, educational and inspiring to everyone requires public testing early in the design process so users can help shape the final product.

“My goal is to develop a simple way to discover and use public domain audio and video material for music making so that generations of artists and producers can use it to maximize their creativity, invent new sounds, and connect listeners to materials, cultures and sonic history that might otherwise go unremembered.

“That’s what Citizen DJ is all about – an easy to use tool that unlocks the amazing treasures in the Library of Congress for music makers and their audiences,” Foo said. “I’m excited to say that we’ve built a tool that aspires to meet these goals. Now we need help from everyone to ensure that it does.”

The sound collections available in Citizen DJ were specially curated by library staff, and all of them are free-to-use with no special permission needed to create songs for personal or commercial purposes.

The library says, “While some of the sounds are over 100 years old and others come from the past decade, all of them are unique, compelling; and in many cases hold deep historical and cultural relevance. The sounds come from musical performances, theater productions, interviews, speeches, oral histories, ambient sound recordings and many other holdings in the Library’s collections. Foo is continuing to work with staff to see what other collections can be added before its summer launch.

“It’s my hope that digital projects like Citizen DJ can offer musicians ample new creative material at no cost and can continue to engage and inspire all Americans from home,” Foo said.  He added that as the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, “it’s fitting to remember that music is something that has the power to bring all people together, even when we physically need to be apart.”

The public can experience Citizen DJ and provide feedback by visiting the test site and following the prompts. The demo takes about 15 minutes to complete. User testing is open until May 15. To stay up-to-date on Citizen DJ when it goes live, visit labs.loc.gov or subscribe to the LC Labs Letter.

Find more ways to celebrate the Library’s 220th birthday and engage with the national library at loc.gov/engage.

Research contact: @librarycongress

Denny’s launches make-at-home meal kits and expanded grocery delivery services

April 30, 2020

Denny’s, a chain of 1,700 diner-style restaurants that operates nationwide in the United States, as well as globally, has found a way to offer more meal options to Americans who are sheltering in place during the COVID-19 lockdown—and at the same time, boost its own revenue stream.

In an April 29 press release, the  South Carolina-based company announced, “The Denny’s Market is open and available for your at-home meal solutions.  Participating Denny’s locations throughout the country will now be offering Make-at-Home Meal Kits that include all the ingredients for a family meal with simple assembly instructions.”

With prices starting at $12.99,  meal kits include the following:

  • Complete Breakfast:Serves 4-6 and includes bacon strips, eggs, milk, biscuits or English muffins, grapes, strawberries, assorted jelly packets, and Signature Diner Blend Coffee with a variety of sweeteners;
  • Picnic Sandwich Serves 4-6 and includes deli shaved turkey, deli shaved ham, swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, one loaf of 7-grain bread, green leaf lettuce, whole tomatoes, red onion, mayo and mustard packets
  • Chicken & Rice Dinner: Serves 4 and includes chicken breasts, swiss cheese, mushrooms, onions, broccoli and whole grain rice packets
  • Slow-Cooked Pot Roast:Serves 6-8 and includes pot roast and gravy, broccoli, mashed potatoes, hoagie rolls and garlic spread
  • Apple Crisp Dessert:Serves 4-6 and includes one oven-ready tray of apple crisp, a quart of vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce

Additionally, at select locations across the country, the Denny’s Market is offering grocery staples such as bread, assorted meats and cheese, eggs, and toilet paper. Orders for pick-up or delivery can be placed online, through the Denny’s On Demand app or by phone. 

“Denny’s is committed to finding new and innovative ways to continue to feed our communities, especially during this time when we’re practicing social distancing and staying at home,” said John Dillon, chief brand officer for Denny’s. “We hope that our Denny’s Market meal kits and grocery program helps alleviate the need to go to overcrowded grocery stores and make mealtime a little easier.”

Research contact: @DennysDiner

Trump signs executive order to keep meat processing plants open

April 30, 2020

Without stringent safety and sanitation measures and testing in place, the United Foods and Commercial Workers International Union worries that its 1.3 million members nationwide will be “dead meat,” following President Donald Trump’s executive order this week.

The president signed an executive order on April 28, compelling the nation’s meat packing plants—many of which have closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks among workers—to stay open as part of “critical infrastructure” in the United States, administration officials told ABC News.

The five-page order is two-pronged, the network news outlet said—quoting a senior administration official who commented, “from a [Defense Production Act] standpoint, it mandates that critical food supply operations stay open” and second, “from a liability standpoint, we will issue guidance coming from (the Department of Labor) that will provide additional liability protections.”

ABC said it was unclear what the liability protections might involve.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday he would be signing the order, but didn’t provide many details.

“We’re going to sign an executive order today, I believe. And that will solve any liability problems where they have certain liability problems,” the president said. “And we’ll be in very good shape. We’re working with Tyson, which is one of the big companies in the world. And we always work with the farmers. There’s plenty of supply, as you know. There’s plenty of supply. It’s distribution. And we will probably have that today solved. It was a very unique circumstance, because of liability.”

Trump was referring to Tyson Food, which suspended operations of its largest pork production plant last week. Smithfield Foods, Inc. also suspended operations at some of their plants.

Government officials in the Midwest had been urging the administration to use the Defense Production Act to deem the plants critical.

Senator Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican who rarely spurs the administration to take action, wrote to the president Monday to push him to invoke the Defense Production Act to address the “on-farm and on-ranch livestock emergency” in order to “help keep food production plants open safely.”

However, according to a press release Tuesday from the United Foods and Commercial Workers International Union, at least 20 meatpacking and food processing workers have been confirmed dead and “at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly impacted by the virus.”

The union wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence last week urging the White House coronavirus task force to prioritize the safety of grocery workers and those workers in meat processing plants.

“At the same time, we have heard both federal and state elected leaders refer to these workers as essential, yet they are not being provided the essential protections they need to do their jobs safely. For the sake of these essential workers’ lives, and the safety of our food supply, this must change immediately, and we must prioritize the safety and protection of all grocery workers and workers in meatpacking and food processing plants,” the letter said.

An administration official told ABC News that they were considering providing some guidance for those workers who are most at risk from severe complications from COVID-19.

“For example, for a processing plant worker that is over 65, or one that has pre-existing health conditions that put them at a greater risk, we would work with the Department of Labor to issue guidance strongly suggesting they stay at home,” the official said.

Research contact: @ABC

They’re here: Pentagon releases videos shot by Navy pilots that document interactions with UFOs

April 29, 2020

On April 27, the Pentagon formally released three unclassified videos taken by Navy pilots that have circulated for years. The tapes show interactions with “unidentified aerial phenomena—also known as “unidentified flying objects” (UFOs), CBS News reports.

One of the videos depicts an incident that took place in 2004; the other two were recorded in January 2015, according to Sue Gough, a Maryland-based Defense Department spokesperson. The videos became public after unauthorized leaks in 2007 and 2017, and the Navy previously has verified their authenticity, the network news outlet says.

“After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems, and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena,” Gough said.

The 2004 incident occurred about 100 miles out in the Pacific, according to The New York Times, which first reported on the video in 2017. Two fighter pilots on a routine training mission were dispatched to investigate unidentified aircraft that a Navy cruiser had been tracking for weeks.

The Navy pilots found an oblong object about 40 feet long hovering about 50 feet above the water (see photo above), and it began a rapid ascent as the pilots approached before quickly flying away. “It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” one of the pilots told the Times. 

The pilots left the area to meet at a rendezvous point about 60 miles away. When they were still about 40 miles out, the ship radioed and said the object was at the rendezvous point, having traversed the distance “in less than a minute,” the pilot told the Times.

The two other videos of incidents in 2015 include footage of objects moving rapidly through the air. In one, an object is seen racing through the sky and begins rotating in midair.

“Dude, this is a f–king drone, bro,” a pilot exclaims on the video. Another person says “there’s a whole fleet of them.”

“They’re all going against the wind. The wind’s 120 knots to the west. Look at that thing, dude!” the first person says. “It’s rotating!”

In the other 2015 video, an object is shown from above speeding over the ocean, prompting the pilot to excitedly remark, “What the f–k is that?”

Five Navy pilots who spotted the objects in 2015 told The Times in 2017 that they had a series of interactions with unidentified aircraft during training missions in 2014 and 2015 along the East Coast from Virginia to Florida. The episodes prompted the Navy to clarify how pilots should report experiences with “unidentified aerial phenomena,” which had been studied under a Pentagon program from 2007 to 2012.

Gough, the Pentagon spokesperson, said the department was formally releasing the videos to address questions about their veracity. “DOD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos,” Gough said. “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified.'”

Research contact: @nytimes

Artful masks let you wear the smiles of William Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale, Picasso

April 29, 2020

Even if you’ve perfected the art of “smizing”—“the expression you get by smiling with your eyes without moving the rest of your face,” as Tyra Banks calls it—the now-ubiquitous protective face mask leaves a person with a lot of blank canvas to work with below the eyes.

Now, a new fundraiser for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) called “Smile for our NHS” puts that canvas to good use, with a series of masks depicting famous artists from the nose down, Fast Company reports.

A mask that covers up facial features can be downright disorienting, since we humans rely on nonverbal cues, such as the degree to which a person smiles, when we socialize, according to Fan Liu, an assistant professor of Decision Sciences and Marketing at Adelphi University.

Industrial designer, architect, and artist Ron Arad seems to think so too. Arad designed a series of painterly masks for the NHS project that depict the smiles of William Shakespeare and Florence Nightingale, as well as grinning portraits taken from paintings by Picasso, Matisse, and Dalí.

In addition to the benefit the masks provide by reducing the spread of coronavirus, “the primary benefit of these non-medical face masks is to others: These designs turn them from something impersonal and frightening into coverings that will make people smile,” the project’s website reads. (Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder—some might find the contrast of reality and its painterly depiction downright creepy.)

The project is currently seeking new manufacturers to set up a supply chain and make the masks available to the general public—both as ready-made final products and by making the designs available for personal assembly, Fast Company says..

In reply to a comment on the charity’s Instagram feed April 26, Smile for our NHS wrote, “We are currently preparing stock and we will share our website with all the relevant information in due course.”

So why are private charities raising money for a government entity? The NHS has suffered years of budget cuts under a conservative government—and in a bit of an about-face, the public has become the safety net (although the NHS and its workers on the front lines are well-loved), Fast Company says.

Beyond the altruism of the project, Smile for our NHS is about as close as we’ll get to seeing the smiles in masterworks relatively up close for some time now. But we think there might be one that’s missing—Mona Lisa’s.

Research contact: @FastCompany

NPR poll: Conservative New Yorkers trust Cuomo more than Trump on state reopening

April 29, 2020

When President Donald Trump designated the state governors as the decision-makers on COVID-19 testing, treatment, PPEs, and lockdowns, he hoped to avoid blame—not invite comparisons.

But for the American public, it has been hard to avoid seeing the disparities between the president’s approach to the pandemic—one largely of self-interest—and that of the state leaders; many of whom are resolved to save as many of their constituents as possible.

And that divergence is evident from the result of a recent poll by Sienna College Research Institute, according to an April 27 NPR report.

In fact, New York State voters overwhelmingly trust Governor Andrew Cuomo more than they do President Donald Trump to decide when to reopen their state, according to the new findings. Specifically, respondents said they trust Cuomo over Trump by a 78%-16% margin.

In the poll, Republican and conservative voters also said they prefer the Democratic governor’s judgment on the issue to Trump’s, with 56% and 57%, respectively, favoring the governor.

“When it comes to whom New Yorkers trust more to make decisions about reopening the state and its economy—the President or the Governor—it’s not even close,” said Sienna College pollster Steven Greenberg in a press release.

The poll finds broad support for two of Cuomo’s executive orders. The governor’s extension of non-essential business closures until at least mid-May gets an 87% overall approval rating among New Yorkers. Even higher, the order that residents must wear protective masks in public has an approval rating of 92%.

“While you cannot find a single issue that would generate unanimous support from all 12 million New York voters, Cuomo’s order that face masks or coverings must be worn in public…comes as close as any issue Sienna College has ever plled, Greenberg said.

What’s more, NPR notes, Cuomo’s favorability rating is currently up to an all-time high of 77%, according to the poll.

The governor’s daily press briefings have attracted national attention, especially in contrast to those of the president. Cuomo’s briefings garner a mixed bag of reactions on social media, but one common praise point is the New York governor’s frankness in presenting harrowing facts.

“Cuomo’s daily briefings are a case study in transparency and truth to build trust,” wrote Linda Peek Schatch, a former Carter administration official, in a piece for the Brookings Institution. “Unlike Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” Cuomo believes the American people can handle the truth.”

In contrast, Trump has been criticized for his performance at daily White House briefings—and on Monday, there was confusion over whether the president would continue to hold future briefings.

As NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe reports:”Trump has faced criticism from opponents about the way he’s handled these briefings—spending much of his time sparring with reporters and often contradicting his own medical experts. Even some of the president’s supporters have complained that the briefings detract from the administration’s message.”

Research contact: @NPR

There’s one hairstyle that’s all the buzz during the pandemic

April 27, 2020

Forget about cutting bangs. Now that they have been cut adrift from their beloved stylists during the pandemic, many Americans are taking more drastic measures to avoid several months of bad hair days.

Take, for example, Macy Leonard of Sherrystown, Pennsylvania, who usually likes her hair to be easily manageable and dyes it “funky fun” colors so frequently that she jokes she doesn’t remember her natural color anymore, according to a report by USA Today.

“I shaved away the ‘old me’ and welcomed this new version of me, the version that quarantine was teaching me to be,” she told the nationwide news outlet. “I felt empowered. I felt determined to stick to my guns and do what I said I was going to do.”

Leonard’s not alone. Searches for “buzz cut,” according to Google Trends, have skyrocketed in recent months, reaching an all-time high in the United States and worldwide.

“The one thing that people don’t want to let go of,” James Axl, head stylist at Canale Salon in Beverly Hills, California, told USA Today, “is themselves.”

Fortunately, Axl, who’s worked as a stylist for 24 years, says the process of doing an at-home buzz cut is “as easy as you think.” “A lot of people are so intimidated,” he said of people buzzing their own hair for the first time. “When the guard is on [the clipper], you can’t mess up — it’s bowling with bumpers. Once that’s on there, as long as it doesn’t pop off, it’s great.”

No matter how short you plan on going, Axl has some basic ground rules for how to buzz cut your own hair. Never start at the front of your head, he advises. In case you change your mind at the very last second, you don’t want to be stuck with a shaved-off spot in the front.

“Start behind the ear and see how short that short is really gonna be,” he said, “especially if someone’s hair is a little bit longer.”

Begin with a larger clipping guard and shave all around your head, said Axl. “That way, you know that it’s already cut the longest you want everywhere.”

Then, to tailor it up, switch to a shorter clipping guard—but make sure it’s not more than two sizes smaller. That may make the blending process more difficult.

“Start at the nape of the neck, but not following the round of the head, and use your neck as a ski slope and go up the occipital bone — where the head meets the beck of your neck,” he told USA Today. “That’s when you want to start sloping out and moving up and out and that will create a more gradual shave.”

Axl suggests practicing the up-and-out motion to ensure the cleanest shave. He also suggests having someone hold a mirror behind you.

But even if it’s not the perfect cut, Axl can relate. “Even I myself got a little screwed up and this is what I do for a living!” he said of a recent trim he gave himself. “If someone doesn’t do this for a living, that’s OK.”

If you’re afraid to bite the bullet, Leonard suggests just taking the risk.

“If the thought of shaving your head has crossed your mind, just do it!” she said. “Hair grows back. If you hate it, wigs are a thing!”

Research contact: @USATODAY