Posts made in May 2021

Whiz kid: Toddler with IQ of 146 is now the youngest member of American Mensa

June 1, 2021

Kashe Quest is a two-year-old with a bright future ahead of her. The toddler from Los Angeles is now the youngest member of American Mensa—a group of highly intelligent people who have scored in the top 2% of the general population on a standardized intelligence test, People magazine reports.

“Kashe is certainly a remarkable addition to American Mensa,” Trevor Mitchell, executive director of American Mensa, recently told People in a statement. “We are proud to have her and to be able to help her and her parents with the unique challenges that gifted youth encounter.”

While most toddlers should be able to recite some numbers by the time they’re two, Kashe’s mother, Sukhjit Athwal, told KTTV her daughter is able to count to 100. Kashe also knows more than 50 signs in sign language—an impressive feat.

“We started to notice her memory was really great. She just picked up things really fast and she was really interested in learning,” Athwal told the outlet. “At about 17, 18 months, she had recognized all the alphabet, numbers, colors, and shapes.”

Adding to her many milestones, Kashe is learning Spanish and can point out all 50 U.S. states by their shape and location.

Her IQ is 146, according to Athwal, which is far above the average American IQ of about 98.

But, as Athwal noted, Kashe is still a typical child in many ways: “At the end of the day, she’s in that toddler stage,” Athwal told KTTV. “She very much is still a normal 2-year-old where we have negotiations, we have tantrums, we have everything and it’s different because the way we communicate with her, it has to be different because she’s able to understand just a little bit more.”

“I think one of the biggest things with me and [my] daughter [is] making sure she has a childhood and we don’t force anything on her,” she added. “We’re kind of going at her pace and we want to just make sure that she is youthful for as long as she can be.”

Research contact: @people

Home team: Gap and Walmart partner to introduce a new brand of home essentials

June 1, 2021

Gap and Walmart have announced a strategic partnership to introduce Gap Home—a new brand of home essentials available exclusively at Walmart, they announced on May 27.

With this launch, two of the world’s most iconic brands have come together to bring Walmart’s scale and Gap’s brand heritage to life through signature style in a new product category for the first time, Walmart said in a joint press release. 

Available to shop beginning June 24 exclusively on Walmart.com, the Gap Home launch collection will feature more than 400 items across home décor, tabletop, bedding, and bath, ranging in price from $15.88 for a Washed Denim Pillow to $64.98 for a T-Shirt Soft Jersey Reversible King Comforter Set perfect for dressing all spaces, from college dorms to forever homes.

New Gap Home seasonal and special collections will drop throughout the year and will be developed in partnership with Gap’s licensing agency, IMG.

“We’re thrilled that Gap selected Walmart as the exclusive retailer to debut its home brand. A hallmark of American fashion, Gap is the ideal partner to bring its timeless, signature style into the modern home to help customers design and decorate beautiful living spaces,” said Anthony Soohoo, EVP, Home, Walmart. “Over the past few years, we’ve focused on expanding our home assortment to bring high-quality, stylish home goods and decor to our customers at an unbelievable value. Gap Home is the latest example of how we’ll deliver on that mission.”

The new partners want shoppers to know that the Gap Home brand embodies optimistic, modern American style that bridges the gaps between individuals, generations and cultures. The launch collection is made with the planet in mind; and features quality materials like denim and chambray with unique finishes at a price point that is accessible to all customers. The Gap Home collection includes items made with organic cotton and recycled materials.

“Walmart is a global leader in the home space with extensive digital reach and distribution, and this partnership enables Gap to introduce a new category in a smart, scalable way,” said Mark Breitbard, president and CEO of  the Global Gap brand. “Gap Home at Walmart opens a new door for Gap as a lifestyle brand delivering timeless American Style in all new ways. We are excited for this growth opportunity, enabling even more customers to fall in love with Gap.”

Research contact: @Walmart

McConnell asks GOP cronies for ‘personal favor’ and they accede—blocking inquiry into January 6 riot

June 1, 2021

On Friday. May 28, Senate Republicans moved en masse to block the creation of an independent commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol insurrection, using their filibuster power for the first time this year to doom a full accounting for the deadliest attack on Congress in centuries, The New York Times reports.

With the vast majority of Republicans determined to shield their party from potential political damage that could come from scrutiny of the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, only six G.O.P. senators joined Democrats to support advancing the measure. The final vote, 54 to 35, fell short of the 60 senators needed to move forward.

According to the Times, the vote represented a stinging defeat to proponents of the commission, who had argued that it was the only way to assemble a truly comprehensive account of the riot for a polarized nation. Modeled after the inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the proposed panel of experts would have been responsible for producing a report on the assault and recommendations to secure Congress by the end of the year.

The debate played out in the same chamber where a throng of supporters of former President Donald Trump—egged on by his lies about a stolen election and efforts by Republican lawmakers to invalidate President Joe Biden’s victory—sought to disrupt Congress’s counting of electoral votes about five months ago.

Top Republicans had entertained supporting the measure as recently as last week. However, they ultimately reversed course, and the House approved it with only 35 Republican votes. Leaders concluded that open-ended scrutiny of the attack would hand Democrats powerful political ammunition before the 2022 midterm elections — and enrage a former president they are intent on appeasing.

“I do not believe the additional extraneous commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “Frankly, I do not believe it is even designed to do that.”

In fact, on May 27, McConnell went even further to twist his GOP Senate colleagues’ arms: One of those Republicans told CNN that McConnell has even made the unusual move of asking wavering senators to support filibustering the bill as “a personal favor” to him.

“No one can understand why Mitch is going to this extreme of asking for a ‘personal favor’ to kill the commission,” said the Republican.

A McConnell aide told CNN that he was not aware of all of McConnell’s private conversations but said that what the Kentucky Republican says privately is no different than what he says publicly.

According to the Times, although McConnell said he would continue to support criminal cases against the rioters and stand by his “unflinching” criticisms Trump, the commission’s defeat is expected to embolden the former president at a time when he has once again ramped up circulation of his baseless and debunked claims.

In a matter of months, his lies have warped the views of many of his party’s supporters, who view Biden as illegitimate; inspired a rash of new voting restrictions in Republican-led states and a quixotic recount in Arizona denounced by both parties; and fueled efforts by Republican members of Congress to downplay and reframe the Capitol riot as a benign event akin to a “normal tourist visit.”

“People are just now beginning to understand!”  Trump wrote in a statement on Thursday.

Democrats denounced the vote as a cowardly cover-up. They warned Republicans that preventing an independent inquiry—led by five commissioners appointed by Democrats and five by Republicans—would not shield them from confronting the implications of Trump’s attacks on the democratic process.

 “Do my Republican colleagues remember that day?” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, asked moments after the vote. “Do my Republican colleagues remember the savage mob calling for the execution of Mike Pence, the makeshift gallows outside the Capitol?”

“Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they are afraid of Donald Trump,” he added.

The six Republicans who voted to advance debate on the commission included Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan M. Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. All but Mr. Portman had voted at an impeachment trial in February to find Mr. Trump guilty of inciting the insurrection.

A seventh Republican, Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, missed the vote but said he would have voted to advance debate on the commission. He was one of 11 senators who missed the vote.

Research contact: @nytimes

Significant Otter app helps couples communicate ‘straight from the heart’

May 28, 2021

Want to send that special someone a heartfelt message? Scientists have created an app that can literally tell your partner how you’re feeling without uttering a single word, Study Finds reports.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University say the Significant Otter app can actually provide couples with a more meaningful way of communicating than using emojis, GIFs, and memes. Designed mainly for smartwatch users, the app monitors the wearer’s heart rate and then tries to gauge his or her emotional state by the results. The user can then send those real-time feelings to a significant other in the form of a friendly, animated otter.

“Our social cues are limited online,” says Fannie Liu, a graduate of CMU and research scientist at Santa Monica, California-based Snap. in a university release. “We’re exploring a new way to support digital connection through a deeper and more internal cue.”

Once the app measures a person’s sensed heart rate, it provides the wearer with a choice of otters to send. For example, if the app detects a fast heart rate, Significant Otter may suggest sending an excited or angry otter. However, they can also send an exercising or eating otter if that’s what’s really pushing their heart rate up.

In return, the person’s partner can reply with an otter that provides him or her with support, depending on the various heartbeat readings.

According to Study Finds, researchers from CMU, Snap, and the University of Washington started testing the app in April 2020 with 20 couples. Little did they know the coronavirus pandemic would provide the perfect environment to see how people keep connected to their loved ones when they have to keep their social distance.

The results reveal using bio-signals, like heart rate, made it easier for the couples to share more authentic communication while in quarantine. The participants reported that Significant Otter allowed them to have a sense of their loved ones’ well-being—even if they couldn’t be physically together.

“It’s coming from your heart,” Liu concludes. “It can be a very intimate gesture to see or feel someone’s heartbeat. It’s a signal that you’re living.”

Researchers presented their invention at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference in Chicago in May.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Work halted again at Amazon construction site after eighth noose is found

May 28, 2021

Work was suspended for the second time in as many weeks on May 26, after another noose—the eighth in just one month—was discovered at an Amazon warehouse under construction in northern Connecticut, The Washington Post reports.

The noose was found at the Windsor work site in Hartford County, Connecticut, on Wednesday—one day after work resumed from the last stoppage. The discovery occurred after security was upgraded and a few hours before NAACP representatives arrived to interview workers about previous incidents. The noose, made of red rope, was found in some yellow electrical cables.

“This is ridiculous,” Scot X Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “We told them to take this seriously, and they’re trying to water it down. This is pretty bad.”

The FBI and Connecticut State Police are assisting the Windsor Police Department with the investigation of the incidents, which are being treated as hate crimes.

Amazon is offering a $100,000 reward for information that helps identify the responsible party. The company did not immediately respond to a request from the Post for comment. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post)

Cameras had been installed during the shutdown, Windsor Police Chief Donald Melanson said at a Wednesday news conference, according to the Hartford Courant, but do not cover the entire 3.6 million-square-foot site.

Windsor police officers had been patrolling the site when the seventh noose was discovered on May 19, the department said in a news release. Employees in the area were interviewed, and the rope was taken to a state lab for analysis. The work site had no surveillance cameras at the time.

At an unrelated news conference Wednesday, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont called the nooses “racist provocation of the worst type,” according to the Hartford Courant.

Work on the Amazon facility in Windsor began late last year and is supposed to be completed by late this year. Amazon has said that the center will create 1,000 jobs in the next two years and that employees will be paid $15 per hour plus benefits.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Southern comfort: Biden Administration taps private sector to invest in Central America

May 28, 2021

On May 27, Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to unveil the agreements of 12 companies and organizations–among them, MasterCard and Microsoft—to invest in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as part of the Administration’s efforts to deal with a surge of migrants from Central America at the U.S. southern border, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Administration believes that aid to Central America will bolster economies south of the border—and that better conditions in that area will discourage surges in immigration to the USA.

Among the companies involved:

  • Microsoft  has agreed to expand Internet access to as many as three million people in the region by July 2022, as well as to establish community centers to provide digital skills to women and youths;
  • Mastercard will seek to bring five million people in the region who currently lack banking services into the financial system, and to give one million micro and small businesses access to electronic banking.
  • Chobani has agreed to bring its incubator program for local entrepreneurs to Guatemala; and
  • Nespresso, a unit of Nestlé SA, plans to begin buying some of its coffee from El Salvador and Honduras with a minimum regional investment of $150 million by 2025.

Democratic and Republican administrations have struggled to find long-term solutions to handling surges in migrants from Central America, many of whom say they are driven by poverty and violence in their home countries. The region was hit hard last year by two disastrous hurricanes.

According to the Journal, Biden Administration officials have said the aim in part is for greater private-sector involvement to outlast shifts in policy and government aid between administrations— reducing over time the motivations for migrants to make the often dangerous journey to the U.S. border.

The total number of illegal border crossings this year is on pace to hit a two-decade high; and a record number of unaccompanied minors crossed the border illegally in March, followed by a slight decline in April.

President Joe. Biden has delegated to Vice President Harris diplomatic efforts with Mexico and the three countries known as the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. She is scheduled to make her first foreign trip to Mexico and Guatemala next month.

Republicans have criticized Harris over the Administration’s overall handling of immigration and have chided her for not yet visiting the border. White House officials have said her role is limited to diplomatic efforts, with departments such as Homeland Security and Health and Human Services in charge of dealing with migrants crossing into the United States.

While leading a recent GOP delegation to visit the border, Representative James Comer (R-Kentucky) said more government investments in the region wouldn’t deter migrants from making the journey to the U.S. “We’ve been giving foreign aid to a lot of those countries for decades, and it’s only gotten worse,” he said.

However, Harris has said that private-sector investment along with help from nonprofits and the United Nations could speed up progress in the Northern Triangle. “We must think beyond government,” she said in a speech earlier this month to the Council of the Americas, a business group that focuses on economic and social development in the Western Hemisphere.

She was expected to call on other companies and organizations on Thursday to invest in public health access, food security, financial inclusion, clean energy, education, and workforce development in the region, working through the State Department.

Research contact: @WSJ

Are you a shopaholic? Addiction experts set clinical guidelines for ‘compulsive-buying shopping disorder’

May 27, 2021

Although many people would probably describe their friends, their family members (or even themselves) as “shopaholics,” is there really a way to tell when the occasional spending spree becomes an actual addiction?

Researchers at Flinders University in South Australia say the answer is yes: Indeed, they claim to be the first clinicians to have found a way of diagnosing people who will “shop till they drop,” according to a report by Study Finds.

Their new criteria can determine whether someone suffers from shopping addiction, which scientists refer to as Compulsive-Buying Shopping Disorder.

“In over 20 years, since I started investigating excessive buying, there has been an absence of commonly agreed diagnostic criteria which has hampered the perceived seriousness of the problem, as well as research efforts and consequently the development of evidence-based treatments,” lead author Professor Mike Kyrios says in a university release.

Researchers gathered opinions from 138 experts in over 35 countries to reach a consensus on the criteria. The experts conclude a key feature of a shopping addiction is buying items without ever using them for their intended purpose.

Another characteristic of the disorder is when people use shopping as a feel-good mechanism or to relieve negative emotions. Study authors defined excessive buying as losing control over what items they purchase.

“Clients who show excessive buying behavior commonly have difficulties in regulating their emotions, so buying or shopping is then used to feel better,” Professor Kyrios explains. “Paradoxically, if someone with Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder goes on a shopping trip, this will briefly improve their negative feelings, but will soon lead to strong feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment.”

The new framework promises to help people who struggle to manage their spending and mental well-being. Evidence-based criteria for Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder is long overdue, the researchers note. Scientists will also need to develop more targeted treatments for this “debilitating” condition.

“This will now be possible with the world’s leading experts agreeing on diagnostic criteria for the disorder.” Professor Kyrios concludes.

The findings appear in theJournal of Behavioral Addictions.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

James Bond, meet Jeff Bezos: Amazon just bought MGM Studios for $8.45 billion

May 27, 2021

Jeff Bezos has a new pet lion, Fast Company reports.

Amazon has reached a deal to acquire the storied MGM Studios for $8.45 billion—a move that will significantly bulk up its content library and entertainment intellectual property (IP) in the escalating war between premium streaming services, reports Fast Company.

In a joint announcement on Wednesday, May 26, the companies said MGM’s arsenal of more than 4,000 titles—including franchises ranging from James Bond and The Pink Panther to the Rocky and Poltergeist movies—will complement the Seattle e-commerce giant’s existing Amazon Studios, which is largely focused on TV series.

For Amazon, the acquisition is the largest since it scooped up Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion in 2017, Fast Company says. It comes as competing firms such as Disney and Netflix are spending more and more each year to keep their streaming services replenished with fresh movies, TV series, and familiar franchises.

“The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team,”

Research contact: @FastCompany

The heat is on: Trump-probe prosecutors in Manhattan convene special grand jury

May 27, 2021

Manhattan prosecutors have convened a special grand jury in their investigation of former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization—signaling that the office is seeking to bring charges in the case, according to people familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The development signals that the office is seeking criminal indictments following a multiyear investigation into the Trump Organization and its officers, former prosecutors said. District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has said the office is investigating possible bank, tax, or insurance fraud.

Special grand juries typically sit for at least several months, compared with regular grand juries, which are impaneled for a month. They often hear multiple complex cases, such as white-collar investigations.

“Special grand juries are common when state prosecutors get to the point where they are ready to seek an indictment but the evidence is too complex or lengthy to present during the normal four-week term,” Daniel R. Alonso, a former federal prosecutor who was Vance’s chief assistant, told the Journal.

The special grand jury was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

A spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization and a lawyer for Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment.

However, ,Trump said in a statement on May 25 that the investigations by Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James, both Democrats, were purely political.

“This is a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history,” said Trump. “Our Country is broken.”

The New York attorney general’s office, which had said it was conducting a civil investigation into the Trump Organization, said last week that its probe had a “criminal component.”  James said during an unrelated news conference last week that two assistant attorneys general were working alongside the district attorney’s office.

Research contact: @WSJ

Status envy: We covet social position more than wealth

May 25, 2021

New research has found that we experience more intense status envy than “stuff” envy. That is, our sense of envy is stronger when the object of that resentment is better off socially (for example, in terms having more influence or respect), rather than better off materially (for example, by having more money or a nicer house), Psych News Daily reports.

The study was conducted by researchers from Hungary, France, and the United States—and has been published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology.

As the researchers explain, humans evolved in complex social environment—and we, therefore, feel the need to respond to social cues about our status relative to others. The emotions that underlie these social dynamics—such as envy—serve to “increase the stability of social hierarchies and avoid costly disputes,” the authors write.

To participate in the study, the researchers recruited about 400 Hungarians via social media. Most were women, and their average age was 32.

The researchers divided the participants into two groups:

  • They instructed one group to think of a friend or acquaintance who was better off than they were materially.That might include having more money, more financial security, or a nicer home.
  • The second group was asked to think of someone who was better off socially—for example in terms of receiving more respect, admiration, or influence.

Both groups also were asked to respond  on a scale of one to ten to a series of statements designed to assess their levels of benign and malicious envy. “Malicious envy” drives people to reduce someone else’s status, whereas “benign envy” motivates people to increase their own status. Then they were asked whether they believed that the envied person’s advantage was “deserved” or “undeserved.”

Overall, Psych News Daily reports, the researchers found that the participants had significantly higher envy ratings for social status than they did for material wealth.

What’s more, respondents were more likely to experience benign envy when they felt the envied person’s advantage was deserved. Likewise, they were more likely to experience malicious envy if they felt that advantage was not derserved.

Demographic factors such as gender, age, and education did not play a significant role.

Research contact: @PsychNewsDaily