About Poll-Vaulter

NASA’s spacecraft grabbed too many asteroid chunks—and now they’re drifting into space

October 27, 2020

On October 22—two days after touching down on asteroid Bennu in an attempt to gather samples of extraterrestrial rocks— NASA’s OSIRIS-REx-mission team received images confirming that the spacecraft had collected more than 2 ounces (60 grams) of the asteroid’s surface material, NASA reports.

In fact, the spacecraft “may well have bitten off more than it could chew,” several media sources noted this week: Asteroid samples seem to be escaping from the jammed NASA spacecraft and drifting off into space.

The OSIRIS-REx (an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer) spacecraft captured images of the sample collector head as it moved through several different positions. In reviewing these images, the team noticed both that the head appeared to be full of asteroid particles, and that some of these particles appeared to be escaping slowly from the sample collector, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head.

Team members suspect that bits of material are passing through small gaps where a mylar flap —the collector’s “lid”—is slightly wedged open by larger rocks.

“Bennu continues to surprise us with great science and also throwing a few curveballs,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.. “And although we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample, it’s not a bad problem to have. We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment.”

The team believes it has collected a sufficient sample and is on a path to stow the sample as quickly as possible. They came to this conclusion after comparing images of the empty collector head with October 22 images of the TAGSAM head after the sample collection event.

The images also show that any movement to the spacecraft and the TAGSAM instrument may lead to further sample loss. To preserve the remaining material, the mission team decided to forego the Sample Mass Measurement activity originally scheduled for Saturday, October 24, and canceled a braking burn scheduled for Friday to minimize any acceleration to the spacecraft.

From here, the OSIRIS-Rex team will focus on stowing the sample in the Sample Return Capsule (SRC), where any loose material will be kept safe during the spacecraft’s journey back to Earth.

“We are working to keep up with our own success here, and my job is to safely return as large a sample of Bennu as possible,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. “The loss of mass is of concern to me, so I’m strongly encouraging the team to stow this precious sample as quickly as possible.”

OSIRIS-REx remains in good health, and the mission team is finalizing a timeline for sample storage. An update will be provided once a decision is made on the sample storage timing and procedures.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx.

Research contact: @NASAGoddard

Subscription podcast provider Quake launches with political content

October 27, 2020

Quake, a subscription podcast company founded by media veterans, launched on October 26 with $2.5 million in seed funding, executives told Axios. It debuts with exclusive political shows—and intentions to expand into religion, sports, and possibly Hispanic media.

Quake founders include Mike Morrell, former ESPN journalist and Bleacher Report executive; and Doug Rosenberg, a former political executive who launched one of the first Spanish-language syndicated radio shows in 2012.

The company is launching with six exclusive shows from big-name personalities in politics and media, including Laura Ingraham, Soledad O’Brien, Gretchen Carlson, Mike Huckabee, Andrew Gillum, Marc Lamont Hill, and Buck Sexton. (Hill and Sexton will launch a podcast together.)

“All of the talent we signed has significant media experience,” says Rosenberg. “We’re not training newbie political stars to do something like this.”

With such compelling talent and coverage, the founders hope to lure subscribers to the platform for a monthly fee of $4.99 or an annual fee of $49.99. All shows are ad free.

Investors include Wndrco, a holding company founded by media veterans—among them, Ann Daly and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The outlook is promising: News and politics podcasts have increased in downloads by 98% from this same period last year, according to data from podcast analytics company Podtrac.

The company hopes to have locked down at least 50 shows by next year. “We’re having those conversations now,” says Rosenberg.

The app is available on Apple and Android, and content is accessible at QuakeMedia.com.

Research contact: @axios

Vladimir veers left: Putin rejects Trump’s criticism of Biden family business

October 27, 2020

Russia, are you listening? Russian President Vladimir Putin said on October 25 that he saw nothing criminal in Hunter Biden’s past business ties with Ukraine or Russia—openly breaking with Donald Trump on one of the POTUS’s key attack lines in the U.S. presidential election.

Putin was responding to comments made by Trump during televised debates with Democratic challenger Joe Biden ahead of the November 3 election.

According to Reuters, the Russian leader made his position clear, saying: “[Hunter Biden] had at least one company, which he practically headed up, and judging from everything he made good money. I don’t see anything criminal about this, at least we don’t know anything about this.”

The unexpected statement of support for the Bidens “could be interpreted as the Russian president trying to offer an olive branch to Joe Biden days out from the election,” said The Daily Beast.

Trump, who is trailing in opinion polls, has used the debates to make accusations that Biden and his son Hunter engaged in unethical practices in Ukraine. No evidence has been verified to support the allegations, and Joe Biden has called them false and discredited.

Putin, who has praised Trump in the past for saying he wanted better ties with Moscow, has said Russia will work with any U.S. leader, while noting what he called Joe Biden’s “sharp anti-Russian rhetoric”.

However, in a clear effort to distance himself from Trump’s claims, the Russian leader added, “Yes, in Ukraine he (Hunter Biden) had or maybe still has a business, I don’t know. It doesn’t concern us. It concerns the Americans and the Ukrainians,” said Putin.

Putin also reacted with visible irritation when asked about comments Trump has made concerning Putin’s ties to the former mayor of Moscow, and to an alleged payment made to Hunter Biden by the ex-mayor’s widow. Putin said he knew nothing about the existence of any commercial relationship between Hunter and the woman. Joe Biden says the accusation about his son is not true.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to tilt the contest in Trump’s favour, an allegation Moscow has denied. Russia has also dismissed accusations by U.S. intelligence agencies of trying to interfere with this year’s election too.

Research contact: @Reuters

Benvenuto! A picturesque hilltop village in Italy will pay you more than $50,000 to live and work there

October 26, 2020

The Italian village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio is hoping to attract new younger residents by offering them grants totaling as much as €44,000 ($52,022), CNBC reports.

The picturesque, hilltop village in the Abruzzo region, southeast Italy shared details of the project on the local council’s website this month.

Santo Stefano currently only boasts 115 residents—41 of whom are over the age of 65. Indeed, just 13 people living in the village are under 20 years old.

The local council says, therefore, that it is “essential” to do something to ensure “a sustainable and lasting development of the territory,” according to a translation of the announcement.

According to CNBC, the village is offering new residents a maximum grant of €8,000 (US$9,455) a year for three years, paid monthly—plus another one-off maximum payment of €20,000 (US$26,273), for new residents to start a business.

The council will provide residents in the scheme with a property, on which they will only pay “nominal” rent. It also specified that those applying for the scheme needed to between 18 and 40 years old.

They can be Italian residents from outside the area but need to be moving from a place with no fewer than 2,000 people. Applicants also can be EU citizens or non-EU citizens—with a long-term residence permit issued for an indefinite period.

Applicants have to transfer their residence to Santo Stefano for a minimum of five years and open a business in the village. However, the business must be in areas identified as a priority by the council — a tourist, sports, or culture guide; a cleaner; a generic maintenance technician; a drugstore manager, or a vendor of local food.

Applications to the initiative must be submitted by November 15.

Research contact: @CNBC

Prescription for profits: As sales dwindled during pandemic, some pharmacies also offered pet meds

October 26, 2020

When stay-at-home orders began to spread nationwide, Shantelle Brown, owner of Hope Pharmacy in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood in Virginia, saw a rush, she recently told Fortune magazine.

Regular customers stocked up on their medications as they prepared to wait out the coronavirus pandemic. By the beginning of April, though, business had dried up.

One of the greatest ironies of the pandemic is that fewer people are visiting health care professionals—and that has impacted many pharmacies across the country. An August study from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that the total number of filled prescriptions, as of late April, was down compared with January and February, but there were some signs of recent rebounding.

That initial gap was especially hard on small independent drugstores, including Brown’s.

Initially, Hope Pharmacy shifted to making hand sanitizer. The business distributed it to first responders at no charge and sold it to customers. The company vastly expanded its delivery business, as well, Fortune notes.

But as elective procedures were canceled, and apprehension grew about visiting the emergency room in that community, Brown knew she had to look for new ways to increase revenue.

One of the most successful initiatives has been adding pets to the patient list.

Before opening her own pharmacy, Brown worked at Sam’s Club, which included pet meds among its offerings while she was there. As she met with a strategic planning group during the early days of the pandemic, the idea popped into her head.

Getting access to the meds wasn’t hard. Many pets take the same medicines humans do for things like blood pressure and heart conditions. The trick was letting people know they had an option other than buying directly from their vet.

Brown’s not much for social media. She says she prefers a more “old-fashioned” way of attracting business, so she and her husband made up signs that people could put in their yards and flyers that accompanied deliveries. Before long, business picked up.

Hope Pharmacy, which opened at the end of April 2018, currently serves “800-something” people in the community, but since it began selling pet meds, it has been adding an average of two new patients per day. And while those aren’t numbers that would ping the radar at CVS, they’re huge for a small independent pharmacy.

“We had a couple of people advise us that we should partner with a vet,” says Brown. “I tried, but…I didn’t realize at the time how much vets were making off of pet meds. Our prices are so much cheaper, and we’re able to save patients quite a bit of money.”

The goal with this, as with the carrying of pet meds or other products that aren’t traditional pharmacy staples, is the same, though: build a closer relationship with the patient-customer to earn his or her loyalty. In the event that another substantial wave of COVID hits the country—or some other pandemic forces people back into their homes—those customers will be more apt to return quickly.

“In the pharmacy business, it takes a while to build a clientele because people are used to going where they go,” says Brown. “Our hope and goal is not to just get the animal—we want the whole family.”

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Outside the box: Trump campaign draws rebuke for videotaping Philly voters at ballot drop boxes

October 26, 2020

The Trump campaign has been videotaping Philadelphia voters while they deposit their ballots in drop boxes—leading Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, to warn last week that the campaign’s actions fall outside of permitted poll watching practices and could amount to illegal voter intimidation.

The campaign made a formal complaint to city officials on October 16, saying a campaign representative had surveilled voters depositing two or three ballots at drop boxes, instead of only their own. The campaign called the conduct “blatant violations of the Pennsylvania election code,” according to a letter from a lawyer representing the Trump campaign that was examined by The New York Times. The campaign included photos of three voters who it claimed were dropping off multiple ballots.

“This must be stopped,” a local lawyer for the Trump campaign, Linda A. Kerns, wrote in the letter, adding that the actions “undermine the integrity of the voting process.”

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns are focused on Pennsylvania, seen as one of the most important swing states in the election and where polls show Joe Biden with a seven-point lead.

The Trump campaign’s aggressive strategy in Philadelphia suggests its aim is to crack down on people dropping off ballots for family members or anyone else who is not strictly authorized to do so.

According to the Times reports, Kerns demanded that the names of all voters who had used a drop box in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall on October 14 be turned over to the campaign, and insisted that the city station a staff member around every drop box “at all times.” She also asked for footage from municipal cameras around City Hall.

But city officials rejected the assertion that the voters who had been photographed had necessarily done something improper. The city’s lawyers forwarded the campaign’s complaints to the local district attorney, but did not make a formal referral and cast doubt on the assertions. They also said they do not track which voters use which drop box.

“Third party delivery is permitted in certain circumstances,” Benjamin H. Field, a deputy city solicitor and counsel to the city Board of Elections, wrote in a letter sent to Kerns on October 19. “The Board cannot agree with your conclusion on the basis of the information you provided. Nor can the Board, in exercising its duties, assume that an individual is violating the Election Code when that person can act as an agent for a voter who required assistance.”

Under Pennsylvania law, voters are allowed to deliver only their own ballots to drop boxes, unless they are assisting a voter with a disability or who otherwise needs help. But voting has been upended by the pandemic and many voters are unfamiliar with the rules around drop boxes, which they may be using for the first time.

Earlier this month, a Trump campaign official told The Times that the campaign would be videotaping drop boxes but was only interested in people who were dumping large numbers of ballots — not in those bringing an extra ballot or two. That assertion appears to have been false.

Research contact: @nytimes

Hop to it!: 2021 Australian Firefighter Calendars, featuring shirtless men, will benefit displaced wildlife

October 23, 2020

The Australian Firefighters Calendar is back for its 28th year. And the group says that this year’s animal themes are especially relevant, considering that the nation was ravaged by bushfires in 2019 and 2020, which reportedly killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals

The annual calendar, which debuted in 1993 and has since raised over $3 million AUS  (US$2.1 million) for various domestic charities, is once again turning up the heat—with not one, but six different calendars for 2021, including a specific variation that celebrates shirtless firefighters with native Australian wildlife, Fox News reports.

Other themes include a “Dog Calendar,” showing shirtless firefighters with dogs; a “Cat Calendar,” showing shirtless firefighters with cats; and a “Classic Calendar,” with shirtless firefighters holding no animals whatsoever, if that’s your thing.

Tamer versions include an animals-only calendar, and a “Hero Calendar” which features firefighters in heroic poses, albeit with their shirts on.

 “You will see all your favorite Australian firefighters with every variety of animal we could photograph, from koalas and kangaroos, to rescue kittens and Rottweiler puppies,” said David Rogers, director of the Australian Firefighters Calendar, in a statement obtained by South West News Service. “We have got something for everyone!”

“No one was left unaffected watching our precious wildlife trying to escape from the bushfires, and the loss of wildlife is beyond comprehension. Everyone at the Australian Firefighters Calendar decided that all our efforts needed to be focused on Australian Wildlife this year,” Rogers said.

Donations from the sale of 2021’s latest crop of calendars will benefit a number of animal-welfare charities, including Safe Haven Animal Rescue, All Breeds Canine Rescue, and the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital, among others such as Australia’s Rural Aid and Kids With Cancer Foundation.

Research contact: @FoxNews

Verizon launches $44 million ‘upskilling program’ for Americans who wants to land an in-demand job

October 23, 2020

Telecommunications giant Verizon is investing $44 million in an upskilling program to help Americans unemployed by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as Americans looking for better jobs, Business Insider reports.

Currently, applications are being accepted for residents of Dallas, Las Vegas, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, Seattle, Spartanburg, SC, and Washington, DC. The program will start in November and expand to more cities in 2021.

People who are Black or Latinx (a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina), unemployed, or without a four-year-degree will be given priority admissions.

To deliver the program, the company is partnering with two nonprofits focused on workforce development, Generation and JFF, to launch the initiative.

It will train those in need to get jobs like junior cloud practitioner, junior web developer, IT help desk technician and digital marketing analyst.

The upskilling program is part of Citizen Verizon, Verizon’s recently unveiled responsible business plan that includes a goal of preparing 500,000 people for jobs of the future by 2030.

Digital upskilling has increased during the pandemic as millions of Americans look for in-demand jobs, Reuters reported.

In addition to Verizon, Business Insider notes, Amazon,  PwC,  IBM,  and  AT&T have launched major upskilling programs to retrain their workforces or attract new talent in recent years.

Research contact: @businessinsider

Republicans advance Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination despite Democratic boycott

October 23, 2020

No Democrats? No problem! The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday, October 22, to advance President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Courtwith confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest, The New York Times reported,

Indeed, majority Republicans skirted the panel’s official rules to recommend her in the absence of their Democratic colleagues. Judiciary Committee rules that require members of the minority party to be present to conduct official business.

Democrats—livid over the extraordinarily speedy process during the current election—spurned the committee vote altogether and forced Republicans to break their own rules to muscle through the nomination. Without the votes to block the judge in either the committee or the full Senate, though, their action was “purely symbolic,” the Times said.

The lopsided 12-to-0 outcome set up a vote by the full Senate to confirm Judge Barrett on Monday, a month to the day after Trump nominated her to fill the seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If all goes according to plan, the president and his party would win a coveted achievement just eight days before the election.

That would fulfill the president’s hopes of stacking a conservative SCOTUS, should he need the judicial body to confirm his victory following the November 3 presidential election.

Gloating over the illicit move, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the committee, said just before the vote.“This is why we all run,” “It’s moments like this that make everything you go through matter.”

According to the Times, Judge Barrett, a 48-year-old appeals court judge who has styled herself in the mold of the man she calls her mentor, former Justice Antonin Scalia, promises to shift the court meaningfully to the right, entrenching a 6-to-3 conservative majority.

The Times predicts, “Her presence will likely shape American society for decades to come, with potentially sweeping implications for corporate power and the environment, abortion rights and gay rights, and a wide range of other policy issues including health care access, gun safety and religious freedom.”

Democrats have sharply opposed Judge Barrett on policy grounds. But their goal on Thursday was to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation, arguing that Republicans had no right to fill the seat vacated just over a month ago by the death of Justice Ginsburg, when millions of Americans were already voting.

They were particularly angry that Republicans had reversed themselves since 2016, when they refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, citing the election nine months later.

“Democrats will not lend a single ounce of legitimacy to this sham vote in the Judiciary Committee,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said at a news conference on the steps of the Capitol, where he raised his voice to be heard over the cries of protesters opposed to the nomination.

“We are voting with our feet. We are standing together. And we are standing against this mad rush to jam through a Supreme Court nomination just days, days before an election,” Mr. Schumer said.

Inside the hearing room where the vote unfolded, Democrats’ empty chairs held large posters of Americans whose health care coverage they argued could evaporate if Mr. Trump’s nominee were to side with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act when it hears a Republican challenge to the law next month.

“I regret that we could not do it the normal way,” Graham said, “but what I don’t regret is reporting her out of committee.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Mouthwashes may deactivate coronaviruses and slow the spread of COVID-19

October 22, 2020

Certain oral antiseptics and mouthwashes that already are staples in many American households may have the ability to inactivate human coronaviruses, according to findings of a research study conducted by a team at Penn State College of Medicine.

The reason? The results indicate that some of these products might actually reduce or repress the viral load, or amount of virus, in the mouth after infection.

.Craig Meyers, distinguished professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and Obstetrics and Gynecology, led a group of physicians and scientists—who tested several oral and nasopharyngeal rinses in a laboratory setting for their ability to inactivate human coronaviruses, which are similar in structure to SARS-CoV-2. The products evaluated also included a 1% solution of baby shampoo, a neti pot, peroxide sore-mouth cleansers, and mouthwashes.

The researchers found that several of the nasal and oral rinses had a strong ability to neutralize human coronavirus, which suggests that these products may have the potential to reduce the amount of virus spread by people who are COVID-19-positive.

“While we wait for a vaccine to be developed, methods to reduce transmission are needed,” Meyers said. “The products we tested are readily available, and often already part of people’s daily routines.”

Meyers and colleagues used a test to replicate the interaction of the virus in the nasal and oral cavities with the rinses and mouthwashes. Nasal and oral cavities are major points of entry and transmission for human coronaviruses. They treated solutions containing a strain of human coronavirus—which served as a readily available and genetically similar alternative for SARS-CoV-2—with the baby shampoo solutions, various peroxide antiseptic rinses and various brands of mouthwash. They allowed the solutions to interact with the virus for 30 seconds, one minute, and two minutes, before diluting the solutions to prevent further virus inactivation. According to Meyers, the outer envelopes of the human coronavirus tested and SARS-CoV-2 are genetically similar so the research team hypothesizes that a similar amount of SARS-CoV-2 may be inactivated upon exposure to the solution.

To measure how much virus was inactivated, the researchers placed the diluted solutions in contact with cultured human cells. They counted how many cells remained alive after a few days of exposure to the viral solution and used that number to calculate the amount of human coronavirus that was inactivated as a result of exposure to the mouthwash or oral rinse that was tested. The results were published in the Journal of Medical Virology.

The 1% baby shampoo solution, which is often used by head and neck doctors to rinse the sinuses, inactivated greater than 99.9% of human coronavirus after a two-minute contact time. Several of the mouthwash and gargle products also were effective at inactivating the infectious virus. Many inactivated greater than 99.9% of virus after only 30 seconds of contact time and some inactivated 99.99% of the virus after 30 seconds.

According to Meyers, the results with mouthwashes are promising and add to the findings of a study showing that certain types of oral rinses could inactivate SARS-CoV-2 in similar experimental conditions. In addition to evaluating the solutions at longer contact times, they studied over-the-counter products and nasal rinses that were not evaluated in the other study. Meyers said the next step to expand upon these results is to design and conduct clinical trials that evaluate whether products like mouthwashes can effectively reduce viral load in COVID-19-positive patients.

“People who test positive for COVID-19 and return home to quarantine may possibly transmit the virus to those they live with,” said Meyers. “Certain professions including dentists and other health care workers are at a constant risk of exposure. Clinical trials are needed to determine if these products can reduce the amount of virus COVID-positive patients or those with high-risk occupations may spread while talking, coughing or sneezing. Even if the use of these solutions could reduce transmission by 50%, it would have a major impact.”

Research contact: @PennState