Posts made in March 2021

‘Church Lady’: This woman, 82, dresses to the nines each Sunday for virtual worship

April 1, 2021

She may be the most pious and primped up “Church Lady” ever—surpassing even Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey, who always wore a matching blue and purple sweater-dress set, visible knee-high stockings, and a pair of cat’s eye horn-rimmed glasses.

It’s been more than a year now since churchgoers started watching virtual streaming Sunday services on their cellphones and computers during the pandemic. Many have made a habit of tuning in while wearing cozy sweatpants or pajamas.

But not La Verne Ford Wimberly of Tulsa—who never misses a service or a chance to gussy up, The Washington Post reports.

.The 82-year-old retired educator decks herself out head to toe every Sunday; then — to the delight of fellow parishioners at Metropolitan Baptist Church— posts a selfie on Facebook after the service.

Since March 29, 2020, she has taken photos of herself from her living room in 53 different color-coordinated outfits — each one carefully selected from the burgeoning closets, jewelry boxes and neatly stacked hat boxes that have satisfied her love of making a grand entrance since she was a young schoolteacher in the 1960s.

She hasn’t decided what she’ll be wearing this Easter Sunday, but those who know Wimberly said the odds are good that she’ll make a big splash. “She never skips a beat with the hats, the clothes, and all that beautiful jewelry,” Robin Watkins, 54, the church’s executive office assistant, told the Post.

“If anyone is feeling downtrodden, they just look at her [Facebook] page and immediately feel uplifted,” she said. “Her heart is as beautiful as each outfit she has shared with us.”

“In the 20 years I’ve been going to church there, I’ve always had my little routine that I learned from my mother as a girl,” she said. “I’d pick out a nice outfit and hat and lay it out the night before, so that I could be prepared and look presentable.”

When she learned last year that Metropolitan’s service would be streamed on March 29 due to the coronavirus threat, Wimberly said she couldn’t imagine wearing her bathrobe and slippers while tuning in from her living room, even if she was by herself.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I can’t sit here looking slouchy in my robe,’ ” she said. “I didn’t want to sit around alone and feel sorry for myself, so I decided, ‘You know what? I’m going to dress up anyway.’ ”

Wimberly got up early to style her hair and put on some lipstick, then she slipped into a favorite white dress trimmed with eyelet, a sheer white ruffled hat, matching shoes and a beaded turquoise and gold necklace.

After she posted the photo and a Bible scripture for her friends, she was inundated with positive responses, she told the Post.

“For years, everyone had known to look for me in the last row, section two, dressed to the nines,” Wimberly said. “People always looked forward to seeing what I was wearing. So when I posted that photo, everyone told me it boosted their spirits.” And a star was born.

Wimberly is hopeful that she’ll be back in her pew by late spring or early summer, she said.

Of course, she’ll then face a dilemma: “What will I wear? That will be determined by the season and the weather,” said Wimberly. “Maybe something purple with black and white. You can’t go wrong there.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

 

Gone to pot: New York legalizes recreational weed; expects to collect $350M in taxes annually

April 1, 2021

On March 31, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation  (S.854-A/A.1248-A) passed by state lawmakers the night before to legalize adult-use cannabis in New York State, CNBC reports.

That makes New York the 15th state, along with the District of Columbia, to have legalized the drug for recreational use by adults. Legalization is effective immediately— but legal recreational sales are not expected to begin for one or two years.

 “This is [an] historic day. I thank the Leader and Speaker and the tireless advocacy of so many,” Cuomo wrote on Twitter after signing the legislation.

According to a press release from Cuomo’s office, the bill establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to implement a comprehensive regulatory framework that covers medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp. The bill also expands New York State’s existing medical marijuana and cannabinoid hemp programs.

The legislation provides licensing for marijuana producers, distributors, retailers, and other actors in the cannabis market, and creates a social and economic equity program to assist individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis enforcement that want to participate in the industry.

The development of an adult-use cannabis industry in New York State under this legislation has the potential to create significant economic opportunities for New Yorkers and the State. Tax collections from the adult-use cannabis program are projected to reach $350 million annually. Additionally, there is the potential for this new industry to create 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs across the State.

He elaborated in a statement Tuesday night after passage of the bill. “For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences; and, after years of hard work, this landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he supports the legislation on the basis of racial equity. “I think this bill goes a long way. I think there’s more to do after, but it goes a long way,” de Blasio said, according to WDTV ABC 11.

The decision to legalize weed comes after neighboring state New Jersey recently legalized the plant. Lawmakers’ goal was to pass the bill as part of the state budget before the April 1 deadline.

According to CNBC, legalization is expected to eventually rake in billions of dollars in revenue for the state and for New York City in particular, with a hefty 13% tax, which includes a 9% state tax and a 4% local tax. The measure also includes a potency tax of as much as 3 cents per milligram of THC, the natural psychoactive component of marijuana that delivers the plant’s high.

The measure allows for possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana and 24 ounces of marijuana concentrate and allows for the growth of up to six plants at home.

The legislation also creates equity programs to provide loans and grants to people—including small farmers who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

The bill will expunge the criminal records of tens of thousands of people, has a goal of 40% revenue reinvestment into communities of color, and will grant 50% of adult-use licenses to social equity applicants and small businesses.

The bill also is meant to establish “a well-regulated industry to ensure consumers know exactly what they are getting when they purchase cannabis.”

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Research contact: @CNBC

Two U.S. Capitol Police officers sue Trump over January riot

April 1, 2021

Two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were on duty during the deadly January 6 insurrection at Capitol formally filed suit on March 30 in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia against former President Donald J. Trump—saying he was responsible for the physical and emotional injuries they had suffered as a result of the day’s events.

The plaintiffs, James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby,  said in their filing that former President Donald J. Trump “inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, and aided and abetted” the Capitol Riot, according to a report by The New York Times. The complaint also cited the former president’s January 6 speech and other conduct—including what it said was his failure that day to “take timely action to stop his followers from continued violence.”

Each of the plaintiffs is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, plus punitive damages. The lawsuit is the first to be brought against the former president by Capitol Police officers.  The force has more than 2,000 officer, the Times notes.

Supporters of Trump overran the Capitol with an intention to stop the Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November presidential election. Before the incursion, Trump spoke at a nearby rally, where he urged his supporters to “show strength” and “fight like hell.”

Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the mayhem. Trump was later impeached by the House of Representatives on a single charge of “incitement of insurrection,” but was acquitted in February after a brief Senate trial in which few Republicans broke ranks to vote guilty.

During the attack, Officer Hemby, an 11-year veteran of the Capitol Police, was outside the building,—crushed against the side and sprayed with chemicals that burned his eyes, skin and throat, the complaint said. One member of the mob screamed that he was “disrespecting the badge.”

Officer Hemby remains in physical therapy for neck and back injuries that he sustained on January 6 and “has struggled to manage the emotional fallout from being relentlessly attacked,” according to the complaint.

Officer Blassingame, a 17-year veteran of the force, suffered head and back injuries during the riot, the complaint said; and experienced back pain, depression. and insomnia afterward.

“He is haunted by the memory of being attacked, and of the sensory impacts—the sights, sounds, smells and even tastes of the attack remain close to the surface,” the complaint said. “He experiences guilt of being unable to help his colleagues who were simultaneously being attacked; and of surviving where other colleagues did not.”

Lawyers for the officers and for the former president could not be reached for comment early Wednesday, the Times said. Trump has previously denied responsibility for the attack.

The Capitol and Metropolitan Police departments have said that at least 138 of their officers were injured during the riot. The injuries ranged from minor bruises to concussions, rib fractures, burns, and even a mild heart attack.

Research contact: @nytimes

Fowl play: Ravens snatch groceries from Alaska Costco customers

March 30, 2021

While Edgar Allen Poe described the raven as an “ungainly fowl” in his famous poem, shoppers in Anchorage, Alaska, would say that these birds are both nimble and light-fingered.

Indeed, according to a report by HuffPost, a growing number of Anchorage-based Costco shoppers are reporting that ravens have stolen their groceries in the store’s parking lot.

Matt Lewallen said he was packing his groceries into his car in the parking lot of the Anchorage Costco when ravens swooped in to steal a short rib from his cart, the Anchorage Daily News reported on March 26. “I literally took ten steps away and turned around, [when] two ravens came down and instantly grabbed one out of the package, ripped it off and flew off with it,” Lewallen said.

Lewallen said the piece of meat was about 4 inches by 7 inches large—providing a sizable meal for a strapping bird.

“They know what they’re doing; it’s not their first time,” Lewallen said. “They’re very fat so I think they’ve got a whole system there.” And once he got back home, he noticed that one of the ravens had taken a poke at another rib but did not rob it.

“I cut that meat out and started marinating it and my wife said, ‘That’s gross, we should take it back,’ ” Lewallen said. “Costco actually took it back even after we had started marinating them and gave us a full refund.”

Additional raven thief sightings have emerged on social media. “My parents were minding their business after a shop and made it home with one less steak!” Kimberly Waller wrote on Facebook. “The bird snatched it right out of the pack in the parking lot.”

Anchorage resident Tamara Josey replied to Waller’s post and referred to the ravens as “calculating.” She said ravens “ hovered” over her in an attempt to steal her groceries.

“I had two ravens, one that was on the car next to me and he kept squawking really loud,” Josey said. “He would sit on the car and stare at me, then hop next to the bed of the truck on the other side, and he kept going back and forth. The other raven was on the ground. He kept trying to pull — I had those little mini-melons you have in the mesh baggies — he kept trying to grab the netting and pull my melons off the cart.”

A raven started to fly in a circle around Josey until she got them to scram. “He was waiting for another opportunity to grab the melons off the cart, but they never were deterred,” she said. “They just stayed posted, waiting for their next opportunity to steal something out of my cart.

“They are very dedicated to their mission,” she added.

A manager at an Anchorage Costco declined to comment to the newspaper about the raven thieves.

The Anchorage Audubon Society tallies the raven population every December. The group reported 923 common ravens in 2018, 621 in 2019; and 750 birds in 2020.

Rick Sinnott, a former wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said hundreds of ravens fly to Anchorage in the winter for food. After winter turns to spring, most of the ravens leave, Sinnott said.

But before they do, the ravens stick around to pluck assorted meats, fruits, and vegetables.

“For years, decades, they’ve watched people in parking lots of grocery stores with all this food,” Sinnott said. “They know what a piece of fruit looks like in a grocery cart because they’ve seen it on the ground or seen it in a garbage can.”

Research contact: @HuffPost

Watt a concept: Volkswagen preps to change name to ‘Voltswagen’ in U.S.A.

March 30, 2021

The iconic Volkswagen brand is preparing to change its name to “Voltswagen” in the United States, in order to highlight its massive investment in electric vehicles.

The German automaker’s announcement about the name change appeared briefly on its media website on March 29 before it was yanked; it was apparently released too soon, reported USA Today. Officials were mum about the premature announcement; but a source confirmed to that newspaper, CNBC and other media including the HuffPost, that the statement was accurate.

“More than a name change, ‘Voltswagen’ is a public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility,” said the statement before it was pulled.

The name change was supposed to happen in May.

“The new name and branding symbolize the highly-charged forward momentum Voltswagen has put in motion, pursuing a goal of moving all people point-to-point with EVs,” the release said.

Electric models will reportedly carry the name, “Voltswagen,” while gas-powered vehicles will retain the standard “VW” identification. To preserve elements of Volkswagen’s heritage, the company plans to retain the dark blue color of the VW logo for gas vehicles and will use light blue for the new “EV-centric branding.”

The company is about to debut the ID.4, its first long-range electric SUV, in the United States. It’s part of a new lineup of Volkswagen’s ID electric vehicles, including the ID Buzz, a rerun of its microbus. That’s expected to roll out next year in Europe and in America the following year, CNET noted.

The automaker expects that more than 70% of its brand’s European sales and 50% of sales in the U.S.A. will be electric vehicles by 2030, reported CNBC.

Research contact: USATODAY

Rights and wrongs: Congress prepares for heated battle over massive voting rights bill

March 30, 2021

Congress is preparing for a heated battle over the way Americans vote, with the two parties set to clash over proposed federal election standards versus Republican-led state restrictions, NBC News reports.

At issue is the fate of the For the People Act, which would that would modify the rules for American elections from start to finish. The bill would expand access to the ballot box by:

  • Creating automatic voter registration across the country and offering same-day registration for federal races;
  • Restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated;
  • Enforcing the time allotted for early voting to at least 15 days in every state nationwide;
  • Providing universal access to mail-in voting;
  • Modernizing America’s voting infrastructure; and
  • Making Election Day a national holiday.

The House measure passed 220-210, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The divisions between the two parties are sharp, NBC notes. President Joe Biden and Democrats say federal intervention is needed to stop Republicans from reviving racist Jim Crow-style restrictions that make it harder for minorities to vote. Republicans say Democrats are executing a power grab to remove necessary protections on the voting process and usurp authority from states.

Where they agree: This is about the future of democracy.

According to the network news outlet, the fight is sure to touch raw nerves in a country that saw its Capitol attacked just months ago by a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters—who were egged on by groundless claims that rampant fraud had stolen the election from their candidate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has promised a Senate vote on the House bill after the committee process, along with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which empowers the federal government to review discriminatory voting laws.

“This Senate will once again be the forum where civil rights is debated and historic action is taken to secure them for all Americans,” Schumer said in a letter to senators. “Each of these bills will receive full consideration in committee and eventually on the Senate floor.”

The bill, known as H.R.1 and S.1, got a hearing on March 26 in the Senate Rules Committee that featured rare sparring on the panel between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), signaling the commitment on each side to their irreconcilable positions.

McConnell criticized the bill as “a grab-bag of changes” that go beyond voting rights. He highlighted a provision to restructure the Federal Election Commission, calling it a ploy to make it more partisan. He called the campaign finance restrictions an assault on free speech and a gift to “cancel culture.”

“ The S.1 bill is highly unlikely to win the minimum ten Republicans needed to break a filibuster. And Democrats have yet to unify their 50-member caucus to secure a majority.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Return of the ‘dad-bod’: Survey finds 75% prefer a softer male body type

March 30, 2021

Do most women prefer a man with muscles, or one with a few “soft spots”—including one for them?

Some 75% of respondents to a survey conducted by Dating.com said that they preferred the soft and round male body type to a more toned torso, The Guardian reports.

The term “dad bod” was first popularized in the mid-2010’s to harshly critique the beach bodies of actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Chris Pratt , as well as  non-traditional Hollywood shapes of actors such as Jason Segel and Seth Rogan. The term never quite fell out of favor: Last year Zac Efron was body shamed online for lacking a “cut” physique.

The Dating.com survey—conducted among 2,000 respondents—found that 20% of participants claimed that bod shape did not matter at all when it came to finding a partner. It also found that only 15% liked a “Barbie or Ken-like body type.”

“Very fit and in-shape bodies are seen as ideal when it comes to attracting a partner, however the users of Dating.com just proved that isn’t always the case when it comes to real-life romances,” Maria Sullivan, vice-president of the dating website, told The Guardian. “Movies and TV shows tend to promote ‘Barbie and Ken’ body types—giving people the idea they need to look similar in order to find their match. We are happy to confirm that is not how the real world world really operates.”

In March, the newly slim actor Jonah Hill spoke out on Instagram about how it felt to have his beach body discussed in the media.

“I don’t think I ever took my shirt off in a pool until I was in my mid-30s,” he wrote, “[It] probably would have happened sooner if my childhood insecurities weren’t exacerbated by years of public mockery about my body by press and interviewers.”

Body diversity has been a hot topic in fashion. Last year, Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty featured its first plus-size male model, Steven G, US size 2XL, modeling boxer briefs. “Big men, just like women, are hardly represented,” he told The Guardian.

But the picture in the fashion industry remains mixed. The women’s spring and summer fashion shows last year featured historic plus-size firsts. Versace featured three plus size models, Precious Lee, Jill Kortleve and Alva Claire, for the first time. Meanwhile, Paloma Elsesser was Salvatore Ferragamo’s first curvy model.

But, according to a report from The Fashion Spot, body diversity representation was actually down overall during the shows. There were only 19 plus size models on the catwalks, compared to 34 during the last autumn and winter 2020 season.

Research contact: @guardian

A tree frog named Betty has been named the 2021 Cadbury ‘bunny’

March 30, 2021

When you think about it, frogs and bunnies aren’t that different. They both hop and they are both Easter icons—at least this year, USA Today reports.

Hershey announced this week that Betty—an Australian White’s Tree Froghas won the Easter brand’s third-annual Cadbury Bunny Tryouts.

Betty is set to star in the Cadbury Clucking Bunny nationwide TV commercial this spring, the company said in its news release.

“Betty’s been a great addition to our home and we are so glad we get to share her with the rest of the world!” said Kaitlyn Vidal, Betty’s owner, of Suart, Florida. “She has been a wonderful companion at college and thanks to the support of my friends, family, and the amphibian community, I know she’ll make Cadbury proud as she inherits the bunny ears.”

The frog beat over 12,000 entries nationwide—including a donkey, a miniature horse and a goat. Betty takes over the mantle from last year’s winner: Lieutenant Dan, a two-legged coonhound.

And Hershey isn’t the only company that’s in the Easter spirit. Oreo cookies brought back the Oreo Easter Cookies to U.S. Target stores for a limited time;and Pepsi recently announced its partnership with the marshmallow brand Peep to launch the limited-edition PEPSI x PEEPS beverage.

Research contact: @USATODAY

Biden Administration works with industry to develop COVID-19 vaccination ‘passports’

March 30, 2021

Along with private technology and travel companies, the Biden Administration is working to develop credentials—referred to as passports, health certificates or travel passes—showing proof of vaccination as individuals and businesses emerge from lockdown, The Washington Post reports.

The effort has gained momentum amid President Joe Biden’s pledge that the nation will start to regain normalcy this summer; and with a growing number of companies—from cruise lines to sports teams—saying they will require proof of vaccination before opening their doors again.

The Administration’s initiative has been driven largely by efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services, including an office devoted to health information technology, said five officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort. The White House this month took on a bigger role managing government agencies involved in the work, led by Coronavirus Coordinator Jeff Zients, with a goal of announcing updates in coming days, said one official.

 “Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” Zients said at a March 12 briefing.

According to the Post, the passports offer a glimpse of a future after months of COVID-19 restrictions. Officials say getting vaccinated and having proper documentation will smooth the way to travel, entertainment and other social gatherings in a post-pandemic world. But it also raises concerns about dividing the world along the lines of wealth and vaccine access—creating ethical and logistical issues for decision-makers around the world.

“A chaotic and ineffective vaccine credential approach could hamper our pandemic response by undercutting health safety measures, slowing economic recovery, and undermining public trust and confidence,” reads one slide at a March 2  conference prepared by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

There are several private-sector initiatives creating passports. Among them is the trade group for global airlines, the International Air Transport Association, which is testing a version it calls Travel Pass.

It is not clear, however, whether any of the passports under development will be accepted broadly around the world, and the result could be confusion among travelers and disappointment for the travel industry.

Vaccine passports will be most common on international flights. Some countries already require proof of vaccination for diseases such as yellow fever, and the United States now requires a negative test for COVID-19 to enter the country.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against travel even as the agency has relaxed other guidelines for people who have been vaccinated.

The Vaccination Credential Initiative is a coalition trying to standardize tracking data of vaccination records in an attempt to speed up a return to normal, Fox News reports.

“The busboy, the janitor, the waiter that works at a restaurant, [want] to be surrounded by employees that are going back to work safely—and [want] to have the patrons ideally be safe as well,” said Brian Anderson, a physician at Mitre, a company helping lead the initiative. “Creating an environment for those vulnerable populations to get back to work safely—and to know that the people coming back to their business are ‘safe,’ and vaccinated— would be a great scenario.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Kimbal Musk’s quest to start one million gardens

March 29, 2021

While Elon Musk, age 49, is intent on reaching for the skies with SpaceX, his younger brother, Kimbal, age 48, is more concerned with the ground beneath his feet—with a goal of creating one million home gardens within the next year, according to an article first published by Rolling Stone and picked up by Yahoo.

Since 2010, the junior Musk has:

  • Launched an initiative to put “learning gardens” in public schools across America (now at 632 schools and counting);
  • Courted Generation Z into the farming profession by converting shipping containers into high-tech, data-driven, year-round farms; and
  • Spoken out vociferously against unethical farming practices and vociferously forthe beauty and community of slow food.

What’s more, this year, on the first day of spring, is kicking off a new campaign with Modern Farmer’s Frank Giustra to create one million at-home gardens in the the next 12 months.

Aimed at reaching low-income families, the Million Gardens Movement was inspired by the pandemic, during which food insecurity—and a desire to go back to nature to address the problem— have been at the forefront of so many people’s lives.

“We were getting a lot of inquiries about gardening from people that had never gardened before,” Giustra told Rolling Stone during a recent interview. “People were looking to garden for a bunch of reasons: to supplement their budget, because there was a lot of financial hardship, to help grow food for other people, or just to cure the boredom that came with the lockdown. To keep people sane—literally, keep people sane—they turned to gardening.”

The program offers free garden kits that can be grown indoors or outdoors, and will be distributed through schools that Musk’s non-profit, Big Green, already has partnered with. It also offers free curriculum on how to get the garden growing and fresh seeds and materials for the changing growing seasons.

“I grew up in the projects when I was young, in what we now call food deserts,” says EVE, one of the many celebrities who have teamed up with the organization to encourage people to pick up a free garden or to donate one. “What I love about this is that it’s not intimidating. Anyone can do this, no matter where you come from, no matter where you live. We are all able to grow something.”

Musk told Rolling Stone that, while the idea for a million gardens was not his, he was enthusiastic about it from day one” “Frank [Giustra] and his team pitched us on joining forces and doing the Million Gardens Movement. And we loved it. We thought it was a great idea.

“Because of COVID, we had been forced to pivot our model from the learning gardens because we couldn’t really teach people in the gardens anymore. And so we had done this trial of what we call little green gardens, which are round, beautiful sort of beige sacks, and you can come in and pick these up from a local school in your community. You can grow them on a windowsill as long as there’s some light. You can grow them indoors, which enables any city to be able to use them.”

He further explained, “What we would be doing with these little green gardens is inspiring people to garden and empowering them to garden. The average garden generates about $600 to $700 worth of food a year. So it provides actual food to your family. You’re having a lower carbon footprint because you’re not shipping food around. It’s great for mental health. Think about COVID and how crazy we all are. This gets you out there. It connects you to your kids. Gardening is such a beautiful thing to do for yourself, for the community, for the environment.”

He urges readers to go the Million Gardens Movement website: “If you sign up now to grow a garden AND donate $20, we will give a garden to a family in need, and send you a limited edition Million Gardens Movement bracelet!”

Research contact: @RollingStone