Posts made in December 2021

‘Tweets’ galore: 836 parakeets surrendered to Michigan rescue group

January 3, 2022

The son of an animal hoarder surrendered more than 800 parakeets to the Detroit Animal Welfare Group (DAWG), People magazine reports.

Initially, the man surrendering the birds told the Michigan shelter that he would drop off 60-80 birds. Instead, he arrived with 497 parakeets on December 23 and returned with 339 more parakeets on the day after Christmas.

“A Christmas present we were not expecting,” the Detroit Animal Welfare Group wrote on Facebook of the deliveries.

“We were in shock,” the group added, “but could not turn them away.”

Many of the parakeets arrived at the rescue in tight cages that left the birds struggling to move.

“He had them all in seven cages,” Kelly LeBonty, the group’s director, told the Detroit Free Pressabout the original condition of the 800 birds“A very tight fit. They were kind of on top of each other and smothering each other …. They were very, very stressed. They were barely moving. We had to get them out and into different cages.”

The son told the animal shelter that his father had kept the birds in one room in his home and spent more than $1,200 feeding them.

“His son said that he just wanted to breed a few of them, and it got out of control,” LeBonty explained in the Detroit Free Press article. “The problem is, birds breed easily. And then you just have more babies and more babies, and more babies, if you don’t control the situation.”

The group said on Facebook that the birds were in “a very unhealthy situation and the irresponsibility of the owner is infuriating. However, it truly takes a village to help these animals, and we are so thankful for everyone that worked together to get them the care.”

According to another Detroit Animal Welfare Group Facebook post, all of the parakeets must be deemed healthy by a veterinarian before they are put up for adoption. Once a bird passes their health check, it will be put up for adoption through one of the four rescue organizations currently housing the birds.

After what the animals have already been through, the Detroit Animal Welfare Group is grateful that many are taking the time to help the birds. The rescue has received numerous monetary donations and supplies from concerned pet lovers who are helping to keep the parakeets safe, fed, and on the road to recovery.

Research contact: @people

Bank accidentally deposits $176 million into people’s accounts on Christmas Day

January 3, 2022

Thousands of people received a surprise gift on Christmas Day 2021 when European bank Santander accidentally deposited £130 million (US$176 million) across 75,000 transactions, reports CNBC.

The mistake happened when payments from 2,000 U.K. business. were processed twice—meaning that some employees saw their wages double, while suppliers also got more than they were expecting.

The bank said the duplicate payments were caused by a “scheduling issue” that now has been rectified. It is now trying to retrieve the mistaken payments— many of which have gone into bank accounts operated by rival banks.

“We’re sorry that due to a technical issue, some payments from our corporate clients were incorrectly duplicated on the recipients’ accounts,” a Banco Santander spokesperson told CNBC. 

“None of our clients were at any point left out-of-pocket as a result and we will be working hard with many banks across the UK to recover the duplicated transactions over the coming days.”

Reports suggest the incident may have dampened the spirits of some payroll staff on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

“It ruined my holiday period because I thought I’d paid out hundreds of thousands in error—I thought I had done something wrong,” one payroll manager reportedly told the BBC. “I thought it was just me and that I was going to get in trouble at work.”

The payroll manager added that Santander hasn’t shared how businesses should explain the second payment to staff or provided any information about how it should be repaid, according to the report.

Santander said the process for recovering the funds is an industry process known as the “bank error recovery process.” It added that it has started to work with other banks in accordance with the process and that these banks will look to recover the accidental payments from their customer’s accounts.

It said it also has the ability to recover the funds directly from people’s accounts.

Research contact: @bancosantander

Biden phones Putin to de-escalate tensions along Ukraine border

January 3, 2022

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday afternoon, December 30, again warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of painful economic consequences, should Russian forces invade Ukraine, reports NPR.

But Biden also made clear that the United States sees a diplomatic path forward to address some of Russia’s concerns about the expansion of the Western-backed NATO in the region.

An Administration official who asked to have his name withheld said the purpose of the call, which Putin requested, was primarily to set the “tone and tenor” for planned security talks between U.S. and Russian officials on January 10 in Geneva.

It was the second time the two leaders spoke during December, as Russia has assembled as many as 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, prompting fears of an invasion.

Another Administration official has described the situation as a “moment of crisis.” U.S. officials say they have not seen any significant signs of de-escalation.

“President Biden urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement after the call. “He made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”

The 50-minute call was “serious and substantive,” according to the administration official who briefed reporters on Thursday.

Biden laid out two paths forward, the official said: “One is a path of diplomacy, leading toward a de-escalation of the situation. The other path is more focused on deterrence, including serious costs and consequences should Russia choose to proceed with a further invasion of Ukraine.”

But both leaders acknowledged areas where “meaningful progress” could be made, as well as some areas “where agreements may be impossible,” the official said.

Putin aide Yuri Ushakov described the talks as good and frank, but said that Putin warned Biden that his promise of punishing sanctions could lead to a complete breakdown in U.S.-Russian relations that would in the future be seen as a big mistake.

According to NPR, Putin has made his concerns clear: He wants written assurances that Ukraine will not be admitted into NATO. He also wants Western troops and arms out of other former Soviet states in Eastern Europe.

The U.S. and its allies have refused any such guarantees, but White House officials said they were open to hearing Russia’s concerns about NATO.

In addition to economic sanctions, Biden told Putin in their earlier call, on December 7, that if Russia were to invade Ukraine, the U.S. would provide additional defensive equipment and supplies to the Ukraine—and potentially deploy U.S troops to other nearby Eastern European countries.

U.S. and Russian leaders will lay out their concerns during the January 10 talks. Moscow is expected to continue the conversation with NATO officials two days later and then after, on January 13, tp meet separately with the members of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), of which Ukraine is a member.

Whether there is a resolution that can satisfy Putin’s demands and avoid war is unclear.

Samuel Charap, who was a top Russia adviser in the Obama Administration, is not optimistic. “I don’t yet see a pathway out of this where everyone can go home and there’s no conflict,” said Charap, who is now an analyst at the Rand Corporation. “It seems clear to me that Putin is not willing to take away the threat until he gets something. And if he doesn’t get something, I think he seems prepared to act.”

That Putin called for Thursday’s call led some to believe that he may be seeking a way out of the stand-off.

The Biden official told reporters that Putin did not share if he had made a decision on whether he would invade Ukraine.”We’re not going to draw conclusions and there were certainly no declarations as to intention from this conversation,” the official said. “But regardless, our focus is really on action, and on indicators, not on words at this point.”

Research contact: @NPR

Six British siblings with albinism break Guinness World Record

December 31, 2021

As 2021 ends, a British family is celebrating a very special distinction. The Coventry-based clan officially has received the Guinness World Records title for “most albino siblings,” the London-based authority on all things record-breaking has announced.

People with albinism usually have white hair and very pale skin, because their bodies do not produce the pigment melanin, according to the Mayo Clinic. Melanin is a chemical in the body that determines the color of skin, hair, and eyes. The chemical is also involved in the development of the optical nerve, which may signify impaired eyesight in those with the condition.

The family counts six siblings affected by the genetic condition: Naseem Akhtar, Ghulam Ali, Haider Ali, Muqadas Bibi, Musarat Begum; and the youngest, Mohammed Rafi.

“Achieving a Guinness World Records is amazing. Finally, that uniqueness that we were born with and, perhaps, our story will inspire others,” says oldest daughter Naseem, who works as an NHS rehabilitation officer and is the “mother figure” of this close-knit clan.

They are proud of themselves and of their tight relationship, and work extensively to educate people on the condition.  “One blessing.” Naseem says in a statement issued by Guinness World Records, “was that our albinism made us closer than other siblings because we all shared something different, very unique.”

All the siblings are affected by albinism, a genetic condition that they inherited from their parents, Pakistani-born couple Aslam Parvez and Shameem Akhtar. “It’s a condition that both parents have to carry for it to present in the offspring.”

As explained by Ghulam Ali, during their childhood and school years, the siblings all faced bullying and stigma. “During school and college, when we were quite young, we always sort of kept to ourselves together. We did experience being bullied or being sworn at.”

However, they confronted the hate and ignorance by educating others and sticking together as one, finding support and love in the family. And now they have gained global recognition.

Research contact: @GWR

Amazon updates AI after Alexa tells ten-year-old to try ‘penny challenge’

December 31, 2021

Amazon updated its Alexa artificial intelligence (AI), reports The Hill, after a user posted that an Amazon device told her child to do what is known as the “penny challenge,” a company spokesperson said on Thursday, December 30.

“Customer trust is at the center of everything we do and Alexa is designed to provide accurate, relevant, and helpful information to customers,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding, “As soon as we became aware of this error, we quickly fixed it, and will continue to advance our systems to help prevent similar responses in the future.”

The update comes a few days after a user on Twitter, Kristin Livdahl said her ten-year-old asked Alexa on an Echo device for a challenge. In response, Alexa gave information about what is known as the “penny challenge.”

“Here’s something I found on the web. According to ourcommunitynow.com: The challenge is simple: plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs,” Alexa responded, according to the screenshot shared on Twitter.

The “penny challenge” trend gained popularity on the video sharing app TikTok, but some fire departments have been warning about potential dangers that it poses. Captain Brian Tanner with the Provo Fire Department in Utah posted a TikTok in January warning users against the challenge.

Livdahl explained that the mother and daughter were engaged in physical challenges, such as “laying down and rolling over. holding a shoe on your foot, from a [physical education] teacher on YouTube earlier.

Livdahl said that her timely intervention helped avert a disaster.

“I was right there and yelled, “No, Alexa, no” like it was a dog. My daughter says she is too smart to do something like that anyway.”

Research contact: @thehill

Biden Administration asks SCOTUS for consent to end Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ immigration policy

December 31, 2021

On Wednesday, December 29, the Biden Administration asked the Supreme Court for permission to end the Trump-era Remain in Mexico” program, which requires non-Mexican asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court dates,  reports CNN.

In August, a federal judge in Texas ordered the revival of the policy after the Department of Homeland Security attempted to end the program. An appeals court also ruled against the Administration, which began to re-implement the program earlier this month.

Under former President Donald Trump, thousands of migrants were subject to the program, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, which has resulted in migrants living in makeshift camps along Mexico’s northern border, often in squalor and dangerous conditions.

“In short, the lower courts have commanded DHS to implement and enforce the short-lived and controversial MPP program in perpetuity. And they have done so despite determinations by the politically accountable Executive Branch that MPP is not the best tool for deterring unlawful migration; that MPP exposes migrants to unacceptable risks; and that MPP detracts from the Executive’s foreign-relations efforts to manage regional migration,” the Administration wrote to the justices.

According to CNN, the filing also requests that the Supreme Court review the case this term, arguing that the appeals court ruling threatens to disrupt other cases where the government’s policies on issues like immigration detention and parole are challenged.

“Delaying review until next Term would likely postpone resolution of those critical issues until sometime in 2023. In the meantime, the government would be forced to continue negotiating with Mexico to maintain a controversial program that it has already twice determined is no longer in the best interests of the United States,” the filing reads.

The Supreme Court previously denied a request from the Administration that the program’s revival remain on hold while the case was appealed.

When the federal appeals court blocked President Joe Biden’s attempt to end the immigration program, it said the Administration’s efforts did not comply with the Administrative Procedure Act, which sets out specific processes that agencies must go through in unveiling new policies.

The court also said that the effort violated an immigration law that says noncitizens “shall” be detained or returned to the countries from which they arrived while their immigration proceedings move forward.

Research contact: @CNN

Jabber-wacky: What does it mean when we talk in our sleep?

December 30, 2021

If you’ve ever heard your partner emphatically blurt out gibberish in the middle of the night, you probably know it can be equal parts jarring and hilarious. In some cases, talking in your sleep just seems like harmless chatter—but it also can be a bit disconcerting, if your bed partner starts screeching “Why are you doing this to me?” in a high-pitched voice. (Trust us, it’s terrifying.)

While experts and researchers have several theories as to why this happens, Abhinav Singh, M.D.—medical director at Indiana Sleep Center and member of the medical review panel for SleepFoundation.orgrecently told SELF Magazine that the simplest explanation for sleep talking is that your sleep-wake switches aren’t working efficiently and may be a little sloppy.

Sleep talking, also known as “somniloquy” by sleep experts, can involve complete gibberish and mumbling or complicated monologues that contextually make sense. According to the Cleveland Clinic, somniloquy falls under a group of sleep disorders called parasomnias, which are unusual or undesirable experiences that disrupt your sleep.

Sleep talking occurs in all sleep states and stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep, with episodes ranging from isolated speech to full conversations without recall. This means you could be chatting it up at any time, according to a 2014 review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

 That said, sleep talking is typically easier to understand when someone is in the early stages of sleep, including non-REM stages 1 and 2. In later parts of the sleep cycle, or non-REM stage 3 and REM sleep, sleep talking usually sounds more like moaning and groaning, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

At one time, it was considered a disorder, but sleep talking is now seen as more of a sleep quirk, which sometimes can be associated with sleep disturbances, psychiatrist and sleep specialist Alex Dimitriu, M.D., founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, explained during an interview with SELF. In fact, Dr. Dimitriu says, talking in your sleep is most often harmless and happens once or twice in a person’s life.

So, what are some of these unusual or undesirable talking events? Well, if you’re wondering how weird things can get, ask anyone who shares a bed with a sleep talker. They’ll most likely tell you it can get pretty bizarre. But don’t take our word for it. Check out what people are saying on Reddit:

  • “My brother was coming out of a medical procedure, kind of half-awake, and said ‘Dr. Pepper is not a real doctor!’ and then went back to sleep.”
  • “My ex once exclaimed, ‘Babies! Babies! Babies! They make me wanna be a better man.’”
  • “One night I sat bolt upright and said to my wife, ‘This is why I’m not a sniper,’ and then laid back down and went straight back to snoring.”
  • “My fiance opened her eyes, looked at me stone-faced and said, ‘Play a job when you eat so you can block out the sun,’ then rolled back over. Confused, I said, ‘What?’ She immediately repeated herself in a slightly annoyed tone. Again I said, ‘…what?’ To which she replied, ‘Ugh, never mind.’ I still wonder what she was trying to tell me.”

Anyone can experience sleep talking, but it’s more common in children, with about half of young kids chatting it up while sleeping, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). An older study published in Sleep Medicine, found that up to 66% of people experience a sleep talking episode at some point in their life. However, the ongoing prevalence of sleep talking in adults is only around 5%, per the AASM.

Sleep talking often co-occurs with other sleep disturbances, such as sleep walking, teeth grinding, and nightmares, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Some people may be more susceptible than others genetically. If any family members carry on at night, you might be more likely than someone without a family history to start talking in your sleep. Many parasomnias show genetic effects or familial clustering, but no specific genes are yet implicated, according to 2011 research published in the journal, Cell.

Just like the words you utter might not make sense, researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes someone to talk in their sleep. That said, sleep talking most likely means that a person is sleep-deprived.

Stress is another contributing factor, according to Dr. Dimitriu. This is most likely caused by disturbing the natural depth of your sleep. “Whenever something wakes you, even slightly, you are prone to do something strange—as you are half asleep—sleep talking is one of those things, and sleep walking is another,” he says. Certain medications (either sedating or stimulating), anxiety, or just being really tired can sometimes trigger an episode of sleep talking in some people but not in others, Dr. Dimitriu adds.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, depression, daytime drowsiness, alcohol, and fever can cause sleep talking, too. Underlying medical conditions could also cause sleep deprivation, leading to sleep talking. This includes sleep apnea, a sleep disorder where breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep.

The good news in all of this? “There is no danger to random isolated episodes of sleep talking,” Dr. Dimitriu says. However, if it begins to occur frequently, or there are other symptoms, such as insomnia, waking up several times per night, or being sleepy by day, he says it may be worth speaking with your doctor, and considering a sleep study. For most people, though, sleep talking is a short-lived phenomenon and no treatment is really necessary.

Research contact: @SELFmagazine

Papa Johns debuts New York-style pizza

December 30, 2021

The type of pizza you crave often depends upon where you live. For example, Chicagoans prefer deep-dish pizza, while New Yorkers go for a thin, crispy crust. But both types of pizza are, for the most part, only offered regionally.

Thus, although Atlanta-based Papa Johns did offer a deep-dish pizza until 2009, it disappeared from its menus. Then, in 2016, the chain tested deep dish pizza in select markets—but found that this type of pie would take about 50% longer to prepare and bake; and that the company would need a whole new set of pans and boxes before considering another launch.

Still, the rollout of deep-dish has not been ruled out.

However, New Yorkers will be happy to hear, their thin-crust is on the way, reports Food Business News.

Now, in its latest menu introduction, Atlanta-based Papa Johns is offering what it has dubbed “NY Style pizza”—featuring a six-ingredient dough. The limited-time menu item has eight oversized, foldable slices with “the right balance of crust and toppings,” according to the company.

“For many, NY Style pizza is a classic that reigns supreme, so we are excited to offer consumers this foldable crust favorite made with our fresh, never frozen dough,” said Scott Rodriguez, SVP of Menu Strategy and Product Innovation. “As we continue to innovate our menu, we strive to keep our customer first and are glad to introduce another crust variation that allows them to customize their pizza how they’d like.”

NY Style pizza is the latest in a series of menu introductions at Papa Johns, following releases including BaconMania, Shaq-a-Roni, and Epic Stuffed Crust, according to the company.

Research contact: @FoodBizNews

Judge rejects free speech argument; refuses to dismiss indictment against four Proud Boys

December 30, 2021

On Tuesday, December 27, a federal judge refused to dismiss an indictment based on an argument from the attorneys for four men associated with the right-wing group the Proud Boys that their actions leading up to and on January 6 were protected under the freedom of speech rights in the First Amendment, reports Newsweek.

Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Charles Donohoe were indicted in March and charged with conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding, among other charges; and remain in jail leading up to their trial scheduled for May 2022.

Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, was a Proud Boys chapter president and member of the group’s national “Elders Council.” Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, is a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Rehl was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia. Donohoe, of Kernersville, North Carolina, also served as president of his local chapter, according to the indictment.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly said the four men had many other options that actually are protected under the First Amendment to protest the election and express their thoughts about its results in a nonviolent, legal manner.

“Defendants are not, as they argue, charged with anything like burning flags, wearing black armbands, or participating in mere sit-ins or protests,” Kelly wrote in a 43-page ruling. “Moreover, even if the charged conduct had some expressive aspect, it lost whatever First Amendment protection it may have had.”

At least three dozen of the over 700 people who have been charged in the insurrection at the Capitol building on January 6 have been identified as leaders or associates of the Proud Boys, the far-right organization that was one of many that

organized events on the day that led to rioters breaking windows and forcing their way through doors into the Capitol. Five people were dead when the insurrection finally ended.

Defense lawyers also argued that the obstruction charge doesn’t apply to their clients’ cases because Congress certification of the Electoral College vote was not an “official proceeding.”

Kelly disagreed.

Earlier this month, another judge in the District of Columbia’s federal court upheld prosecutors’ use of the same obstruction charge in a separate case against two riot defendants.

The case against Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe is a focus of the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation of the January 6 insurrection. More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol siege have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members, or associates—including at least 16 defendants charged with conspiracy.

Last Wednesday, December 23, a New York man pleaded guilty to storming the U.S. Capitol with fellow Proud Boys members. Matthew Greene is the first Proud Boys member to publicly plead guilty to conspiring with other members to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote. He agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Other extremist group members have been charged with conspiring to carry out coordinated attacks on the Capitol, including more than 20 people linked to the anti-government Oath Keepers.

Lawyers for Nordean and Donohoe declined to comment on Tuesday’s ruling. Attorneys for Rehl and Biggs didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Research contact: @Newsweek

‘Ruff’ sketches: Animal portraits in the style of old masters

December 29, 2021

Transforming pet photos into old masters is big business for Dutch artist Tein Lucasson. In 2016, when the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam released many of its works into the public domain, Lucasson digitally inserted a photo of his beloved labradoodle Ventje into one of the paintings.

Since then, the Dutch graphic designer and visual artist has turned hundreds of cats, dogs and guinea pigs into works of art for his website L’animorphe, reports The Guardian.

He collects the portraits, along with his paintings of wild animals—such as zebras, flamingos, and raccoons—in a series of books published by the German, family owned company teNeues .

“It started as something I did for fun and it turned into a company,” he says. “The portraits are not meant to be anything other than a remembrance of the love of a dog or a cat. But it’s turned into something bigger.”

Research contact: @guardian