Posts made in June 2021

Carrying a tune: That song stuck in your head is helping your brain with long-term memory

June 23, 2021

If you have watched TV since the 1990s, the sitcom theme songI’ll Be There for Youhas likely been stuck in your head at one point or another.

New research from the University of California-Davis suggests these experiences are more than a passing nuisance. In fact, they play an important role in helping memories form, not only for the song, but also related life events like hanging out with friends—or watching other people hang with their best buddies onFriends, the Good News Network reports.

“Scientists have known for some time that music evokes autobiographical memories, and that those are among the emotional experiences with music that people cherish most,” says Petr Janata, UC Davis professor of Psychology and co-author of the new study.

“What hasn’t been understood to date is how those memories form in the first place and how they become so durable, such that just hearing a bit of a song can trigger vivid remembering,” notes Janata.

The paper, “Spontaneous Mental Replay of Music Improves Memory for Incidentally Associated Event Knowledge,” has been published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

This new research offers an initial glimpse into these mechanisms and, somewhat surprisingly, finds that the songs that get stuck in your head help that process of strengthening memories as they first form, the authors said.

Thus, this is the first research to link two of the most common phenomena people experience with music—earworms (having a song stuck in your head) and music-evoked remembering.

For their latest study, the researchers worked with 25 to 31 different people in each of three experiments, over three different days, spaced weeks apart. Subjects first listened to unfamiliar music, and then, a week later, listened to the music again, this time paired with likewise unfamiliar movie clips. In one instance, movies were played without music.

The research subjects, all UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students, were subsequently asked to remember as many details as they could from each movie as the music played. They were also quizzed about their recollection of the associated tunes and how often they experienced each of the tunes as an earworm. None of them had formal music training.

The more the tune played, the more accurate the memory, Good News Network reports—and, critically, the more details the person remembered from the specific section of the movie with which the tune was paired.

With only one week between when they saw the movie, and when they were asked to remember as many details from the movie as they could while listening to the movie soundtrack, the effect of repeatedly experiencing a tune from the soundtrack as an earworm resulted in near-perfect retention of the movie details.

These people’s memories, in fact, were as good as when they had first seen the movie. Additionally, most subjects were able to report what they were typically doing when their earworms occurred, and none of them mentioned the associated movies coming to mind at those times.

“Our paper shows that even if you are playing that song in your mind and not pulling up details of memories explicitly, that is still going to help solidify those memories,” Janata said.

The authors said they hope the research, which is ongoing, could eventually lead to the development of nonpharmaceutical, music-based interventions to help people suffering from dementia and other neurological disorders to better remember events, people and daily tasks.

Research contact: @goodnewsnetwork

A new ‘spin’ on benefits: A free Peloton membership could be the latest work perk

June 23, 2021

Paid time off, retirement benefits and … a Peloton membership? That could be your newest work perk, as the fitness company rolls out a corporate program that offers free app memberships that normally cost $12.99 per month, CNN reports.

Peloton Corporate Wellness is aimed at “providing employees access to innovative mental and physical health resources” the company announced on June 22. The program gives participants access to the Peloton app, which features thousands of instructor-led fitness classes—among them, meditation, strength training, and cardio. Discounts on Peloton hardware, including its popular bikes, are also included.

Peloton Corprate Wellness is launching after “several years” of interest from companies looking to include it as a work benefit, said Peloton President William Lynch. In an interview with CNN Business, he said that the goal is to “extend the Peloton universe to more communities” by growing beyond its current direct-to-consumer business.

Lynch declined to disclose pricing specifics, but said it’s a “really good value” for companies.

The program will be available to employers in five countries including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Peloton says it already has signed up big name firms for the launch, including Wayfair, Samsung, and SAP .

In its release, Peloton emphasized the mental and physical benefits its members experience using the app. According to a survey commissioned by the company, 77% of users said the classes made them happier and 65% said their mental health improved.

These types of benefits have become increasingly important for employers, especially in light of the pandemic, with some offering workers days off to bolster mental health or providing free subscriptions to mental-health focused apps.

And some companies are coming up with novel ways to keep their remote workers engaged with gifts, like picnic boxes and laundry service.

Peloton is a nine-year-old, New York City-based company founded with help from Kickstarter. This  program also is aimed at expanding its app user base, which currently totals around 900,000 subscribers, and therebyappeasing investors looking for growth.

The company recently announced new pricing tiers for the app, with students paying as low as $6.99 per month and teachers, healthcare workers and first responders being charged $9.99 per month.

The once high-flying stock has seen its fortunes dwindle, with shares down 25% for the year. However, the stock has rebounded following a May 5 treadmill recall, soaring 30% since then. About 125,000 treadmills were included in the recall, which the company said cost it $165 million in lost sales.

Research contact: @CNN

Democratic group will pour $20 million into voting rights efforts

June 23, 2021

Priorities USA, one of the largest liberal super PACs, is hoping to counteract Republican-driven voting restrictions through both digital ad campaigns and legal efforts, The New York Times reports.

In a June 22 press release, the Democratic group says it will pump $20 million into voting rights initiatives ahead of the 2022 election cycle—aiming to combat Republican-led election laws with digital ads and organizing as well as in the courts.

The digital effort will include a series of extensive voter information campaigns, going beyond a more traditional approach that would consist solely of persuasion ads. The group’s overall goal is to help people navigate a new balloting landscape created by the many new restrictions passed by Republicans in at least 16 states. The campaigns will also provide voting tools like text message reminders to register to vote or request an absentee ballot.

“The purpose of this program is to really center the voters who we know are particularly targeted by the Republicans’ suppression efforts,” remarked Danielle Butterfield, the executive director of Priorities USA. “Those are voters of color—Black and Latino voters, specifically—and we plan to center them both in our creative and our targeting to make sure that they are aware of how empowering voting is.”

The other significant investment will be on the legal front, where the group has served as one of the leading litigators in voting lawsuits across the country. Priorities USA joined lawsuits in 10 states during the 2020 election and its aftermath, squaring off against legal attempts by Donald J. Trump’s campaign to overturn the election results and pushing back on new voting laws. Though Priorities has not sued any state this year in response to new voting restrictions, group officials said that more legal efforts would be coming soon.

According to the Times, the initial $20 million investment from Priorities comes as Democrats across the country are struggling to fight back against the Republican push to restrict voting. Opposition from major corporations, faith groups, civil rights groups and celebrities has done little to stymie new voting laws in key states like Georgia, Florida, Iowa and Arizona. Even a dramatic late-night walkout by Democrats in Texas, which effectively killed a Republican voting bill in the state, is likely to be only a temporary victory, with the governor pledging to enact new voting legislation through a special session of the Legislature.

The Supreme Court is also poised to deliver a ruling in the coming days on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, potentially further weakening its protections against voting restrictions. And Democrats in Washington appear to be on the brink of a defeat of their expansive federal voting bill, the For the People Act, with Republicans united in opposition and moderate Democrats unwilling to kill the filibuster to pass the legislation.

Of course, the new laws will continue to make it harder for some people to vote, and voter education and awareness efforts can go only so far. Priorities USA said it would continue to explore other avenues to help people vote.

“Most voting rights advocates and people that do this work would say that we don’t need to try to narrow it down to just one area of work,” said Aneesa S. McMillan, a deputy executive director at Priorities USA who oversees voting rights efforts. “We need to be thinking of a multipronged approach.”

Organizing campaigns are becoming an increasingly popular tool for Democrats to try to counteract new voting laws. This month, the Texas Democratic Party announced the largest voter registration push in its history, aiming to register two million new voters and investing about $14 million in the effort.

In addition to informing voters, an important component of the digital effort by Priorities USA will be fighting voting disinformation.

Research contact: @nytimes

L-shaped suction-and-swallow drinking straw device cures 92% of hiccups attacks, scientists say

June 22, 2021

From holding your breath, to breathing into a paper bag, there seem to be a plethora of  cures for hiccups—none of which works 100% of the time. Now scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio say they have found a better solution—a drinking straw device, The Guardian reports.

But what exactly are these strange (and sometimes loud) noises that most of us make—much to our own embarrassment and the amusement of others?

When you get hiccups—or singultus as they are known in medicine –the diaphragm and intercostal muscles suddenly contract. The subsequent abrupt intake of air causes the opening between the vocal folds—known as the glottis— to shut, resulting the socially dreaded “hic” sound.

However, now researchers think they have found a device that will cut hiccups short in over 90% of cases—and do it quickly, according to The Guardian.

Called “the forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool” (FISST), and patented as HiccAway, the $14 plastic device is a rigid L-shaped straw that has a mouthpiece at one end and an adjustable cap with a pressure valve, in the form of a small hole, at the other. Hiccuping people place the device into a glass of water and use it to sip.

The idea is that the enhanced suction required to draw water up through the device requires the phrenic nerve to trigger a contraction of the diaphragm, while the subsequent swallow involves activation of the vagus nerve, among others. As these two nerves are responsible for the hiccups in the first place, the researchers say keeping them busy stops them from causing the unwanted phenomenon.

 “It works instantly and the effect stays for several hours,” Dr Ali Seifi, associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and a co-author of the study, said.

To evaluate the device. the team analyzed responses from 249 volunteers— more than two-thirds of whom said they had hiccups at least once a month.

Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the results reveal that the device stopped hiccups in almost 92% of cases. Just over 90% of participants said they found it more convenient than other home remedies, while 183 of 203 participants said it gave better results. The authors say the results held across all demographics, hiccup frequencies and hiccup durations.

However the study has limitations, including that it did not include a control group and was based on self-reported results.

Dr. Rhys Thomas, a consultant neurologist and epilepsy neuroscientist at Newcastle University, who was not involved in the study, said the device was likely to work and was COVID-safe as it did not require input from others.

But he added: “I think this is a solution to a problem that nobody has been asking for,” noting there were other effective and low-cost options, including his own favourite approach of plugging both ears tightly, while drinking a glass of water through a normal straw.

“Anything that allows you to inflate your chest and swallow will work–the key down the back, the ‘boo!’ and the fingers in the ears will do that to a certain degree – and then this [device], if it allows you to have a long, slow swallow, will be a pretty potent way of doing that,” said Thomas, adding another approach was to drink from a glass backwards.

“If you are prepared for the fact you’ll end up wearing some of it, that is my second favorite option,” he said.

Research contact: @guardian

Wingstop launches a virtual restaurant selling chicken thighs as wing supplies tighten

June 22, 2021

With chicken wings in short supply and prices rising, the Dallas-based restaurant chain Wingstop said on June 21 that it is “hacking” its own brand by launching Thighstop, a virtual restaurant that will serve up crispy chicken thighs, reports CNBC.

Like the original Wingstop, customers can pick one of 11 flavors and opt for either a bone-in or boneless thigh. The new brand will be available for delivery or carryout in 1,400 locations nationwide via DoorDash or on Thighstop.com, the company said.

Chicken wings grew in popularity during the pandemic for both dine-in and takeout customers. But diners are now staring down both price hikes and tight supplies. Port delays and labor shortages have resulted in scarce supplies for a range of goods from computer chips to chlorine tablets.

The National Chicken Council hasn’t called the tightening supply of chicken a “shortage,” but told CNBC via a recent email that the number of broiler chickens raised for meat fell 4% in the first quarter, and pounds produced were down 3% year over year.

Production started  picking up in April, the council said—but as of last week, chicken wing prices were $2.72 per pound on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s nearly 20 cents higher than prices during the same week last year.

Key chicken-producing regions were hit with a major winter storm in Texas right after the Super Bowl, impacting availability, said Tom Super, the council’s senior vice president of communications. “Even small gaps in the supply of wings can cause big fluctuations in price,” he said.

In the spring, Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison said the company planned ahead and would be able to meet its demand. Morrison is positioning the new strategy as an opportunity: “Wingstop pioneered the concept of chicken wings as a center-of-the-plate item. Although Thighstop is in its infancy, we’ve been exploring bone-in and boneless thighs as center-of-the-plate options for some time now as a way to offer fans new ways to enjoy Wingstop’s bold, distinctive and craveable flavors,” he said in a statement.

Research contact: @CNBC

60 Catholic Democrats urge Bishops not to block Joe Biden from Communion over abortion rights

June 22, 2021

Sixty Catholic Democrats have penned a letter urging the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States not to block President Joe Biden from receiving Communion because of his progressive abortion views, Newsweek magazine reports.

They base their case on two building blocks of American democracy:

  • The first clause in the Bill of Rightsstates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
  • The “establishment clause” of the First Amendment of the Constitution“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”—often is interpreted to require separation of church and state.

“We believe the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties and best serve our constituents,” the letter reads. “The Sacrament of Holy Communion is central to the life of practicing Catholics, and the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory.”

Congressional Democrats continued, “No elected officials have been threatened with being denied the Eucharist as they support and have supported policies contrary to the Church teachings—including supporting the death penalty, separating migrant children from their parents, denying asylum to those seeking safety in the United States, limiting assistance for the hungry and food insecure, and denying rights and dignity to immigrants.”

The letter comes after the group of bishops overwhelmingly voted to draft a statement on the sacrament of the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion, on Friday, June 18.

The decision, aimed at the nation’s second Catholic president, was approved by a vote of 73% in favor and 24% opposed during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Biden, who has regularly attended Mass throughout his life, has embodied a liberal Christianity less focused on sexual politics and more on racial inequality, climate change,  and poverty.

“To pursue a blanket denial of the Holy Eucharist to certain elected officials would indeed grieve the Holy Spirit and deny the evolution of that individual, a Christian person who is never perfect, but living in the struggle to get there,” the 60 Democrats wrote.

The list of signers include Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Joaquin Castro, Marie Newman and Ted Lieu, among others.

Research contact: @Newsweek

N.J. city unveils larger-than-life, 700-lb. statue of George Floyd in front of City Hall

June 21, 2021

A breathtaking, larger-than-life statue of George Floyd has arrived in Newark, New Jersey—and will remain in place in front of City Hall there for the next year to honor his legacy, People magazine reports.

On Wednesday, June 16. the city of Newark revealed the 700-lb. bronze statue of Floyd in front of City Hall. The statue, which depicts Floyd sitting on a bench, was created by artist Stanley Watts and commissioned by actor and filmmaker Leon Pinkney as a donation to the city.

According to NJ.com, Pinkney wants the sculpture to honor the Minnesota man’s humanity—hoping those who see it remember why his death sparked an outcry for change.

“The world needed a peaceful George,” Watts said during the ceremony. “The world needed him relaxed and chilling on a bench—and that’s what we produced—and we produced him larger than life, because after death, George will be remembered. That’s what memorials are. To remember and never forget why we changed today and tomorrow and for the rest of our existence on this planet.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka attended the unveiling to show how grateful he was that Pinkney chose Newark as the home for the statue. NJ.com reports that he added, “George Floyd represents a lot more than himself at this juncture in history. Hopefully when people walk by it and they see it … hopefully it inspires them to become active in the struggles that are happening right here in Newark and right here in New Jersey.”

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death. He was killed on May 25, 2020, at the hands of white police officer Derek Chauvin, who recently was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder. and manslaughter. Floyd’s killing—which was caught on camera and viewed by millions— sparked worldwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

Research contact: @people

Now, you can buy clothes from Netflix’s ‘Halston,’ including a stunning tie-dye caftan

June 21, 2021

Thanks to the Netflix series Halston,” which follows the tumultuous career of American fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick (known mononymously as Halston), millions of people are re-familiarizing themselves with the iconic brand, Variety reports.

And not just via the Ryan Murphy-produced drama, but with ten-piece capsule collection the American fashion brand just released in partnership with Netflix.

The evening wear collection is inspired by the high-fashion costumes in the show, including the stunning tie-dye caftan that makes an appearance in the first episode. Each dress is an archival piece worn by famous Halstonettes like Liza Minnelli, and are available for pre-order now on the Halston website.

According to Variety,. the designer’s signature chiffon caftan has a cinematic moment in the first episode when Ewan McGregor’s Halston effortlessly wraps the blue fabric around the fashion model-turned-Tiffany’s designer Elsa Peretti’s body to create a stunning silhouette—in the way only a true visionary can.

Now, that same silk dress is reimagined in the new capsule collection, named after the original Halstonette.

Research contact: @Variety

‘Long overdue’: House passes Barbara Lee’s 2002 AUMF repeal

June 21, 2021

The House voted on Thursday, June 17, to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)—a measure that that empowered then-President George W. Bush to invade Iraq—and that was fiercely resisted by just one lawmaker, Representative Barbara Lee (D-California), who did not believe the commander-on-chief should receive blanket approval to wage war.

Progressive Democrats issued fresh calls to end “forever wars” after the legislation, H.R. 256sponsored by Lee— easily passed in a 268-161 vote. Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia was the sole Democrat to vote against the repeal, Common Dreams reported.

In a statement welcoming the vote, Lee noted that—while it originally targeted the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq—the AUMF has repeatedly been used to justify other attacks, including the 2020 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

“Two decades after casting the single ‘no’ vote against the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, we have seen every administration since utilize the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs to conduct war far beyond the scope Congress ever intended,” she said.

“Let’s be clear,” Lee continued. “U.S. military operations carried out under the 2002 AUMF officially concluded in 2011 and this authorization no longer serves any operational purpose. As long as it remains on the books, the law is susceptible to further abuse by any president.”

“The fight to end forever wars has been a comprehensive movement from advocates and activists,” she said, “and without their work, we wouldn’t be in this position today.”

According to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the vote was “long overdue.”

“That AUMF was based on a lie,” the CPC tweeted, “one that resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives lost, including civilians, U.S. service members, journalists, and humanitarian workers.”

The House vote also drew praise from the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), which called it reflective of “momentum toward ending the era of ever-expanding war.”

“Today’s vote shows the power of the people who demand an end to the endless wars,” said Diana Ohlbaum, FCNL’s senior strategist and legislative director for foreign policy. “Democratic and Republican legislators alike recognize that their constituents want them to take responsibility for deciding if and when our country goes to war.”

Now, supporters of the repeal resolution are looking to the Senate, which Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said would vote on such a measure. Legislation from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Todd Young (R-Indiana) to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMF is set for a markup next week, said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).

According to Common Dreams, addressing that effort, Lee said she was “thrilled to see the Senate build on our momentum in the House to end forever wars” and would “continue working with Sens. Kaine and Young to get this legislation across the finish line to President Biden’s desk for a signature.”

“It’s far past time to put matters of war and peace back in the hands of Congress, as constitutionally intended,” she said. “We are finally on the cusp of achieving that goal.”

Research contact: @commondreams

Americans eager to begin celebrating Juneteenth as a federal holiday on Saturday

June 18, 2021

On Saturday, June 19, Americans will mark Juneteenth National Independence Day as their 12th legal public holiday—and the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983 by then-President Ronald Reagan, CNBC reports.

President Joe Biden was set to sign a bill on Thursday  establishing Juneteenth, the date marking the end of slavery in the United States, as a federal holiday. The 3:30 p.m. (EDT) signing event at the White House came two days before Juneteenth itself, which falls on June 19 each year.

Juneteenth marks the date that the last enslaved African Americans were granted their freedom. On that day in 1865, Union soldiers led by General Gordon Granger arrived in the coastal city of Galveston, Texas, to deliver General Order No. 3, officially ending slavery in the state.

CNBC notes that the final act of liberation came months after the Confederate army’s surrender ended the Civil War, and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The holiday legislation passed this week with overwhelming support in both chambers of Congress. The Senate approved the bill unanimously  on June 15 and the House passed it in a 415-14 vote.

The Juneteenth legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts). The House version, sponsored by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) was co-sponsored by 166 lawmakers.

The only votes against the bill came from Republicans. On the House floor before the vote, some GOP lawmakers complained about the name of the holiday, and others expressed concern about the cost of giving the federal workforce another day off. Some also railed against Democrats for pushing the bill to a vote without first allowing committees to examine the legislation and offer amendments.

Still, most House Republicans, even those who objected to parts of the bill, ended up voting for it.

The 14 no votes were entered into the record by the following Representatives: p. Mo Brooks (R-Alabam, Andy Biggs ( R-Arizona), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tennessee). Tom Tiffany (R-Wisconsin),  Doug LaMalfa (R-California), Mike Rogers (R-Alabama), Ralph Norman (R-South Carolina), Chip Roy (R-Texas), Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), Tom McClintock (R-California), Matt Rosendale (R-Montana), Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), and Andrew Clyde (R-Georgia).

Research contact: @CNBC