Posts made in February 2021

Baarack, a sheep found in the wild, loses 78 pounds of fleece in a much-needed shearing

Febraury 26, 2021

The pandemic lockdown has been hard on many of us, who have not been able to get a professional haircut in 12 months or more. Bu just imagine the relief—and the “shear” joy—of one plucky sheep who recently got his first trim in what could have been many, many years.

The wild and struggling animal was found in a forest in Australia with a fleece that was so overgrown he could barely see, reports Sky News. When it was fully remove, his fleece weighed more than 78 pounds—or about half his body weight.

The sheep, which has been named Baarack, was found by a member of the public who contacted the Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary near  

 

Lancefield, Victoria, about 37 miles north of Melbourne.

Above, Baarack actually was quite thin underneath all of that fleece. (Photo source: Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary)

“It would appear Baarack was once an owned sheep,” said the Mission’s Kyle Behrend.”He had at one time been ear-tagged, however these appear to have been torn out by the thick matted fleece around his face.

“Sheep need to be shorn at least annually otherwise the fleece continues to grow and grow, as happened here,” said Behrend,

adding, “Whilst [Baarack’s] hooves were in great condition from running over the rocks in the forest, he was in a bit of a bad way. He was underweight, and due to all of the wool around his face he could barely see.”

Baarack is now settling in with other rescued sheep at Edgar’s Mission.

Behrend told Sky News,  “It all goes to show what incredibly resilient and brave animals sheep really are and we could not love them any more if we tried.”

Research contact: @SkyNews

Heads up! Mr. Potato Head is getting a rebrand for the 21st-century

Febraury 26, 2021

Next fall, you’re cordially invited to Mr. Potato Head’s wedding. He’s marrying his partner of many years, another Potato Head. And they promise it’s going to be the party of the year, with—you guessed it—plenty of spuds on the menu.

The Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based toy giant Hasbro is rebranding its iconic Mr. Potato Head toy by dropping the “Mr.” from the name, reports Fast Company.

On the surface, it may seem like a subtle shift, but it is designed to break away from traditional gender norms, particularly when it comes to creating Potato Head families—which is how toddlers frequently play with the toy, according to Hasbro’s research. But when the new brand is unveiled, kids will have a blank slate to create same-sex families or single-parent families. It’s a prime example of the way heritage toy brands are evolving to stay relevant in the 21st century.

Hasbro launched Mr. Potato Head in 1952 for the princely sum of $0.98 (or $10 in today’s currency). Back then, families had to supply their own real potato, which kids could then turn into little people thanks to plastic pieces in the box, such as hands, feet, and eyes, and accessories such as a pipe, and felt pieces that were meant to be mustaches.

The following year, Mrs. Potato Head launched with feminized accessories, such as hair bows and red high heels. The Potato Heads were the first toys to be marketed directly to kids, that strategy worked like gangbusters: More than one million kits were sold in the first year.

The enduring success of Potato Head comes down to its sheer silliness, Kimberly Boyd, an SVP and GM at Hasbro who works on the Potato Head brand told Fast Company. The idea of a potato person with an enormous mustache is universally hilarious, particularly to the sensibilities of small children. But after that initial laugh, Boyd says that kids continue to engage with the toy because it provides a canvas onto which they can project their own experiences.

“The sweet spot for the toy is two to three years old,” she says. “Kids like dressing up the toy, then playing out scenarios from their life. This often takes the form of creating little potato families, because they’re learning what it means to be in a family.”

Over the decades, the Potato Head brand has explicitly played into this tendency to create families. It has sold Mr. Potato Head family sets, with a male and a female character, along with smaller potato children. In 2012, Hasbro celebrated the 60th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head with a boxed set featuring the couple.

But eight years later, the brand wants to stop leaning so heavily into this traditional family structure. “Culture has evolved,” she says. “Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists—with the “Mr.” and “Mrs.”—is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”

The brand’s solution is to drop the gendered honorific title altogether. This means the toys don’t impose a fixed notion of gender identity or expression, freeing kids to do whatever feels most natural to them: A girl potato might want to wear pants and a boy potato might wear earrings.

Hasbro also will sell boxed sets that don’t present a normative family structure. This approach is clever because it allows kids to project their own ideas about gender, sexuality, and family onto the toy, without necessarily offending parents that have more conservative notions about family.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Trump’s tax returns and related records turned over to Manhattan district attorney

February 26, 2021

Former President Donald Trump has been forced to put his money where his mouth is. After years of braggadocio about his billions, his real estate deals, and his penchant for “winning,” the “former guy” now has handed over years of tax and business records to the Manhattan district attorney, CNN reports.

Prosecutors obtained the records—which Trump tried to keep secret for years—on Monday, just hours after the US Supreme Court denied Trump’s last-ditch effort to keep the records private, a spokesperson for District Attorney Cy Vance told the cable news network.

The millions of pages of documents, sources say, contain Trump’s tax returns spanning from January 2011 to August 2019; as well as financial statements, engagement agreements, documents relating to the preparation and review of tax returns, and work papers and communications related to the tax returns.

Although the documents handed off from Trump’s long-time accounting firm Mazar’s won’t be released to the public because they’re subject to grand jury secrecy rules, their delivery caps off an extraordinary 17-month quest by the former President and his lawyers to block investigators from obtaining the records.

New York District Attorney Cy Vance is investigating whether Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in tax fraud, insurance fraud and other schemes to defraud, including potentially providing false information to financial institutions or banks about the value of certain buildings and assets.

With the records now in hand, Vance and his fellow prosecutors will be able to dig deeper into investigative theories, pursue interviews with key witnesses, and determine whether they believe any state laws have been violated CNN notes.

In addition to the records from Mazars, Vance’s office has been seeking a slew of other documents. They subpoenaed records and interviewed employees at Deutsche Bank, one of Trump’s creditors, about loans given to him, and insurance broker Aon, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. Deutsche Bank has loaned Trump more than $300 million.

Prosecutors have also subpoenaed Ladder Capital, which has loaned the Trump Organization over $100 million, and the Trump Organization for records relating to fees paid to consultants, including Ivanka Trump, these people said.

Mazars’ spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Research contact: @CNN

Mars Perseverance rover’s giant parachute carried secret message

Febraury 25, 2021

It’s not exactly a message in a bottle, but it did travel 292.5 million miles from Earth before its message was read and spread to the rest of humanity. The huge parachute used by NASA’s Perseverance rover to land on Mars contained a secret message, thanks to a puzzle lover on the spacecraft team, SFGate reports, courtesy of AP.

Systems Engineer Ian Clark used a binary code to spell out “Dare Mighty Things” in the orange and white strips of the 70-foot (21-meter) parachute. He also included the GPS coordinates for the mission’s headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Clark, a crossword hobbyist, came up with the idea two years ago. Engineers wanted an unusual pattern in the nylon fabric to help them determine how the parachute was oriented during descent. Turning it into a secret message was “super fun,” he said Tuesday.

Only about six people knew about

the encoded message before Thursday’s landing, according to Clark. They waited until the parachute images came back before putting out a teaser during a televised news conference Monday.

It took just a few hours for space fans to figure it out, Clark said. Next time, he noted, “I’ll have to be a little bit more creative.”

“Dare Mighty Things” — a line from President Theodore Roosevelt — is a mantra at JPL and adorns many of the center’s walls. The trick was “trying to come up with a way of encoding it but not making it too obvious,” Clark said.

As for the GPS coordinates, the spot is 10 feet (3 meters) from the entrance to JPL’s visitor center.

Another added touch not widely known until touchdown: Perseverance bears a plaque depicting all five of NASA’s Mars rovers in increasing size over the years — similar to the family car decals seen on Earth.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace promises more so-called hidden Easter eggs. They should be visible once Perseverance’s 7-foot (2-meter) arm is deployed in a few days and starts photographing under the vehicle, and again when the rover is driving in a couple weeks.

“Definitely, definitely should keep a good lookout,” he urged.

Research contact: @SFGate

New USPS delivery vehicle with more headroom, safety features, and AC coming in 2023

Febraury 25, 2021

Few things have changed less during the course of this century than this nation’s fleet of postal delivery vehicles.

The familiar squat, box-like vans—produced from 1987 through 1994, and in service ever since— have a steering wheel on the right, to make it easier for drivers to reach out and put mail in curbside mail boxes. They have few creature comforts—certainly not air conditioning.

Overall, they were designed to be rugged, not flashy. They have lived up to their name, the Grumman LLV, for long lasting vehicle.

Indeed, says CNN, this ubiquitous fleet of 200,000 vehicles has been around longer than such common features of modern life as smartphones, online shopping, social media, streaming services, or Google. About 70% of them are between 25 and 32 years old.

But their days are finally numbered. A contract with Oshkosh Defense, a unit of Oshkosh Corp. Under the contract between 50,000 and 165,000 new postal trucks will be produced over a period of ten years. Oshkosh initially will receive $482 million to initiate engineering efforts to finalize the production vehicle design, and for tooling and factory build-out activities that are necessary prior to vehicle production.

The amount of the contract to actually purchase the production version of the vehicles has not yet been set—but it will almost certainly be a multi-billion dollar deal.

As for the design of the new van, it has a low engine compartment and hood; and a very high windshield. It looks like a duck’s head, complete with bill. The back is tall enough for a letter carrier to stand in.

It also has safety features missing from many of the current vehicles, including — believe it or not — airbags, which are standard features in virtually all motor vehicles today.

They also will have back-up cameras, front collision warnings, automatic front and rear braking, blind spot detectors and, to the relief at last of letter carriers come summer, air conditioning.

And, according to CNN, the vehicles will have more cargo space than current vehicles—enabling USPS to deliver more packages, a growing and profitable part of its business, rather than traditional letters, a segment that’s shrinking.

Many but not all of the Next Generation Delivery Vehicles(NGDVs) will be electric vehicles. With electric vehicle changing at a fast pace and the vehicles designed to last decades, the contract calls for the electric versions to able to be retrofitted to keep pace with advances.

The rest will be what the USPS says will be high efficiency traditional gasoline engines. The precise mix between EVs and internal combustion engines has not been set. But the mix has already elicited criticism from environmentalists.

“The USPS NGDVs should be electrified as a matter of urgency,” Robbie Diamond, president of Securing America’s Future Energy, or SAFE, told CNN. “This contract is a golden opportunity to stimulate the domestic EV market and supply chain, and a commitment to electrifying the NGDV would provide a clear incentive for further domestic EV industry development.”

The vehicles have also been in the works for years. USPS has been working on the project with potential suppliers since 2016.

Research contact: @CNN

In a volte-face, Mitch McConnell will back Merrick Garland for attorney general

February 25, 2021

He gave him the cold shoulder in 2016, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said Tuesday that he would back the nomination of Merrick Garland to be the next U.S. attorney general, the HuffPost reports.

Politico asked the Kentucky Republican if he supported Garland’s nomination, even after he refused to allow a hearing on his nomination to the Supreme Court five years ago.

“I do,” McConnell told the publication. He declined to elaborate.

President Joe Biden tapped Garland—a former federal prosecutor who led the investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing—to be his attorney general shortly after his inauguration last month. He has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997.

McConnell refused to consider Garland’s nomination by then-President Barack Obama in 2016 following the February 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia—arguing that a vacancy in an election year should be decided by the American people. Donald Trump won that election and nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench in 2017.

When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last year—just months before the election that saw Biden elevated to the presidency, the HuffPost notes—Republicans quickly moved to fill her seat with Amy Coney Barrett before Election Day.

McConnell called his unprecedented efforts to block Garland the “most consequential thing I’ve ever done” and the peak achievement in his effort to reshape the nation’s judiciary.

At his confirmation hearing this week, Garland vowed to restore independence to the Justice Department and tackle growing domestic issues. He said the ongoing investigation into the deadly riot at the Capitol will be a priority, as will the growth of domestic extremism.

“I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone,” Garland told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. He added that the “attorney general represents the public interest,” a subtle jab at his predecessors who have been criticized for politicizing the role.

Other top Republicans have already announced their support for Garland, including Senators. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Thom Tillis (North Carolina). McConnell’s backing could lead to other GOPers voting in favor of Garland’s nomination.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on his nomination on March 1, and his final confirmation vote in the full chamber could take place sometime in the next week.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen collaborate on new Spotify podcast series, ‘Renegades’

February 24, 2021

Last year, Bruce Springsteen sat down for an in-depth conversation with former President Barack Obama that has become the crux of a new eight-part podcast —the first two episodes of which debuted this week on the audio streaming app Spotify, ABC-TV’s Good Morning America reports.

Renegades: Born in the USA was produced by Obama and wife Michelle’s new Higher Ground Productions company. The podcast features the politician and the rocker—both of them, cultural icons—discussing a wide range of topics, from family to race, to marriage, to fatherhood, to the current state in which America finds itself.

According to GMA, the preview, available on Spotify’s YouTube channel, includes a scene in which Springsteen and Obama discuss some issues they had with their fathers.

“My father was silent most of the time. He was not communicative,” Springsteen says. “I grew up thinking, you know, my father was, like, ashamed of his family. That was my entire picture of masculinity.”

Obama then shares, “So my father leaves when I’m two, and I don’t meet him until I’m ten years old, when he comes to visit for a month. I have no way to connect to the guy. You know…he’s a stranger who’s suddenly in our house.”

In another segment, Springsteen recalls that he bought his first guitar for $18, and that he then started learning some Beatles songs.

When Obama asks him how his parents reacted, the legendary singer-songwriter says, mimicking them, “Turn it down!”

Research contact: @GMA

Parsons School of Design, WWD, and Yellowbrick team up to launch online fashion business program

February 24, 2021

The School of Fashion at The New School’s Parsons School of Design—in collaboration with WWD, a leading source of news for the fashion, beauty, and retail industries; and the New York-based education platform Yellowbrickannounced on February 23 the availability of a new online certificate program called Fashion Business Essentials.

According to the press release from the three organizations, “The program will offer a deep exploration into the innovation and changes happening across the Fashion business—including effective uses of information technology, strategic business planning, decision-making, planning management, brand development, and effective communications within organizations.”

Learners who complete the program will earn a non-credit Completion Certificate from Parsons and will gain a full understanding of key roles, skills, and functions to be successful in the fashion industry. All course materials and instruction will be provided online, enabling students to complete lessons at their own pace and fit the course into their daily lives.

The program offers more than 15 hours of instruction and project time offered across five modules” “Entrepreneurship and the Fashion System,” “Managing Fashion Production,” “Fashion Branding,” “Marketing Strategies,” and “Retailing and Distribution.”

Instruction will come from Parsons faculty, along with fashion insiders and experts. Instructors include Keanan Duffty, director of Fashion Programs, Parsons; Khary Simon, VP at The Premiere Group, Parsons Faculty; Jasmine Young, VP of Operations at Ami Colé; Sydney Price, founder & CEO, The Knew Purpose, Parsons Faculty; Rick Helfenbein, Retail & Fashion Industry Consultant, former president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association; and many more.

“The fashion industry has endured many challenges over the past year and we see its recovery as an opportunity to bring more diverse voices into the ranks,” said Ben Barry, Dean of the School of Fashion at The New School’s Parsons School of Design. “In this program, we’re building opportunities for talent who hail from non-traditional backgrounds in the fashion industry, and we’re furthering our mission to change the fashion education experience for the better.”

“WWD has been covering the Fashion industry since 1910, and few if any years have been more disruptive to the industry than 2020 was. However, where there’s disruption, there’s opportunity,” added Amanda Smith, president of Fairchild Media. “This is a chance for a whole new generation of talent to join us in reimagining the industry in bigger and better ways. By partnering with Parsons and Yellowbrick, we’re helping educate the next generation and we’re excited to tap our staff’s extensive knowledge in providing that education.”

“Fashion occupies a special place among creative industries, as expressed to us by the thousands of learners who have come through our Fashion and Streetwear programs,” said Rob Kingyens, president and CEO of Yellowbrick. “For learners who are dedicated to learning all they can, we wanted to create a next-level educational experience that highlights the intricacies of this massive and inspiring industry. By tapping the passion and expertise of Parsons and WWD staff, we’re now able to help fashion professionals and businesses advance in this exciting industry.”

Beginning February 23, visitors to www.yellowbrick.co/FashionBusiness can sign up for an exclusive preview of the program. The first group of students will be admitted to Fashion Business Essentials later this month.

Research contact: @ParsonsSchool

Why President Biden can’t make states vaccinate teachers—or anyone else for that matter

Febraury 24, 2021

Although President Joe Biden wants to vaccinate teachers in order to speed school reopenings, more than half the states are not making either of those actions a priority—highlighting the limited powers of the federal government, even during a devastating pandemic.

“I can’t set nationally who gets in line, when, and first—that’s a decision the states make,” Biden said while touring a Pfizer plant in Michigan on Friday, February 19, reports NBC News. “I can recommend.”

Under the U.S. Constitution, the powers of the federal government are far-reaching, but not all-encompassing. States historically have retained control over public health and safety—from policing crimes to controlling infectious diseases; including distribution of coronavirus vaccines that Washington helped create.

Now, as the United States leads the world in COVID deaths, criticism of the federalist system that has allowed the states to do as they please is spiking.

“There’s a pretty strong argument that the confusion we’ve created has, in fact, cost human lives,” Donald Kettl, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas told NBC News, adding, “We pay a pretty high price sometimes for letting states go their own way.”

The federal courts—not the federal government—have been able to exert their will over the states on issues from school desegregation to abortion to voting rights. But schools, abortion clinics and elections are still run or regulated by the states.

The federal government has spent the past two centuries trying to come up with creative ways to push its agenda on the states, sometimes by dangling the promise of federal funding as a carrot—and the threat to withhold it as a stick.

For instance, to build the Interstate highway system, the feds promised to foot 90% of the bill if states put up just 10%. The catch was that the roads had to abide by regulations that started small—bridges needed to be tall enough to allow tanks to pass under, to cite one requirement—but quickly grew to encompass the nationally uniform system of roads we take for granted today.

Washington pulled a similar move in 1984, NBC notes, when it forced states to raise the drinking age to 21 if they wanted highway money.

But just as often, the courts have pushed back against what they view as Washington overreach.

“When you boil it down, the delivery of public health interventions resides, really, at the state and local level,” Josh Michaud, associate director for Global Health Policy at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told the news outlet. “That’s been the model since very early on in our republic.”

So, for example, today, states can institute mask mandates, but many have questioned the constitutionality of Biden’s proposed national mandate. He ended up, instead, issuing mask mandates for federal property and interstate travel, like planes and buses, over which the courts have long ruled that the feds have authority.

Similarly, the CDC legally can’t force states to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations with any particular priority, said Sarah Gordon, an assistant professor of health law and policy at Boston University.

“They are actually quite limited in what they can do,” Gordon said. “The federalist separation of national versus local public health authority in the United States has, repeatedly, hamstrung rapid and effective pandemic response.”

The CDC has called for vaccinating all essential workers, including teachers, before moving on to those under 75. But several states have chosen to vaccinate people over 65 and those with pre-existing conditions first.

“We are going to rely on the CDC definition of an essential worker. But that’s a lot of people, including teachers,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont told the Hartford Courant‘s editorial board. “I’m not sure you move grandma to the back of the line so you can move [teachers] forward.”

Jon Valant, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies education policy, said Biden’s most effective tool to push states to vaccinate teachers might be the bully pulpit.

“What the federal government can do is mostly a combination of guidance, cover and pressure,” he said. “Teachers unions can be a lightning rod, and if you’re prioritizing teachers because the CDC or the federal government says to, it helps to protect you from critiques.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shield tax records from NY prosecutors

February 23, 2021

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch bid by former President Donald Trump to keep his financial records—including years of his tax returns—out of the hands of the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., CNBC reports.

The decision—the second time the nation’s highest court has refused to block a grand jury subpoena for those confidential records—was announced in an order with no noted dissents. The news further imperils the ex-president, who is facing investigations in New York and elsewhere.

The legal battle over Trump’s financial records, including personal and business documents dating back to 2011, comes in connection with an investigation by Vance’s office into potential tax violations involving the Trump Organization.

Vance’s probe originally appeared to have been focused on hush money payments made on Trump’s behalf to two women who have said they had affairs with him. Trump has denied their claims. But, CNBC reports, court records and news reports suggest prosecutors are now examining more serious allegations.

A court filing last summer by Vance indicated that the probe could be eyeing possible “insurance and bank fraud by the Trump Organization and its officers.” In another filing, a month later, prosecutor suggested they might be investigating Trump for potential tax crimes.

Indeed, Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, told Congress in 2019 that Trump improperly inflated and deflated the value of his real estate assets for tax and insurance purposes.

Vance’s filings appeared to reference Cohen’s testimony. One filing by prosecutors cited a  New York Times report Trump engaged in “dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud.”

In a statement, Cohen said: “The Supreme Court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law. Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his

In a statement posted to Twitter, Vance wrote: “The work continues.”

Research contact: @CNBC