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Hawaiian shirts are returning—but ‘people want to think twice,’ says expert

April 13, 2021

The return of the Hawaiian shirt has been celebrated in the style press, as celebrities—among them, Bill Murray, Rihanna, and Sophie Turner—have been sporting them recently, The Guardian reports.

But according to Zara Anishanslin, a fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, people should think twice before wearing the traditional islander garments.

“They are the fashion equivalent of a plantation wedding,” Anishanslin told The Guardian, adding,  “They could be seen as fashionable embodiments of the history of American colonization, imperialism and racism against Hawaii’s indigenous inhabitants. People might want to think twice about whether the look is worth the weight of its associative past.”

What’s more, Hawaiian shirts have also been co-opted by the “Boogaloo” movement—white supremacists who advocate war against the federal government.

Initially made from leftover cloth intended for kimonos, the shirts were popularized by American veterans of the second world war. Soon Japanese motifs were replaced by Hawaiian ones and a cultural touchstone was born.

About five years ago, Hawaiian shirts became part of the “dadcore” trend. Then the “Boogaloo” movement chose to combine them with camouflage trousers, body armor and weapons.

“It might not be an aesthetically pleasing combination but it’s a smart one, in terms of picking out your fellow members of the group in the crowd,” Anishanslin said.

Last year, Reece Jones of the University of Hawaii wrote about how the brightly colored shirts came to represent something much darker.

“I know this seems like a joke and easy to dismiss,” he wrote, “but that is part of [the Boogaloo Bois’] strategy, to lure in young men and downplay what they are talking about. It is deadly serious. These men are preparing for a civil war.”

Anishanslin thinks the fashion industry needs to think about how such shirts have been co-opted.

“I do think fashion houses and individual designers and sellers should speak out about people using fashion for politics that encourage violence or racism,” she said.

Anishanslin also believes celebrities such as Cara Delevigne and Justin Bieber who have recently worn Hawaiian shirts have a chance to help to reclaim them.

“Why not design Hawaiian shirts that use anti-gun, anti-racist, pro-peace iconography and slogans?” she said. “Why not, perhaps importantly, hire indigenous designers to create them?”

Research contact: @guardian

A family death can mean a nightmare of forms—but this app wants to help you through the process

April 13, 2021

When a loved one dies, there’s suddenly a long to-do list to slog through: You have to make the funeral arrangements, probate the will, and cancel services such as cable and internet—all under the heavy cloak of grief.

Indeed, 540 hours of work typically are required to settle a loved one’s estate—often with little help or support . But now, a new company called Empathy aims to guide people through those logistics, and also provide emotional support for their loss, reports Fast Company.

“Grief is made hard by logistics, and logistics are made even harder by grief,” says CEO Ron Gura, who cofounded the company with Yonatan Bergman, after meeting on-the-job at WeWork.

Now available in the United States on IOS and Android, Empathy serves as a digital companion for those dealing with a loss—part “Headspace for grief” and part “TurboTax for estate settlement,” Gura told Fast Company.

The app starts by asking users questions, such as their location, because states have varying probate laws; and religion, in case there are traditional arrangements of which the app needs to be aware.

Then, it guides the user down different paths—from Immediate Arrangements, to Searching for Documents, to Bills and Debt.

Throughout the estate-managing process, it can feel like you need to become an expert on all different laws and procedures. “You read about the rules in Florida and the rules in New York; what to do with five kids, what to do with one; with a will, without a will. We want to take that clutter away and only show you what is relevant to you,” Gura says.

“It’s almost like a second job, and it’s painful, it’s overwhelming, and you don’t know what to do first,” Gura says, noting that the hope is that Empathy can provide a one-stop way to complete all of those tasks. The platform breaks down each into different steps, and pre-fills or even automates some for you—like closing a Comcast account, or checking eligibility for veterans benefits.

“We can, with your permission, do a lot of the heavy lifting for you,” Gura says. “That’s the difference between sympathy, flowers, and condolences to empathy, technology, and services. Not just saying the right thing but actually taking some of it off your chest.”

Users can upload documents to Empathy’s “vault,” an encrypted drive on the cloud, and reach out to the Empathy helpline to ask questions or find a therapist, lawyer, or other service. Those answering the helpline have been trained by a legal and grief team, and the founders worked with not only software developers and product designers, but also estate lawyers and grief experts to create the Empathy platform.

The app is free for the first month, and then costs a one-time fee of $65. Gura says there are no added fees or extra charges that come up for completing tasks, and articles that outline different steps are also available online for free. “We’re trying to build a trustworthy brand in this nontrivial category,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is lose the trust and support from our families.” That one-time fee also lets users go through the estate process at their own pace, without worrying about a monthly charge. (It’s also deductible from the estate.)

The end-of-life industry has slowly started to become updated, with online platforms to help people write their own wills and companies focused on starting conversations about death and all the planning it needs.

Gura hopes Empathy can upend it even more, challenging the traditional market that, he says, “leaves a lot of families overcharged and overwhelmed,” by democratizing estate settlement and making it an easier process to go through. After a funeral, “eventually you’re home, looking at, say, your father’s desk, piles of paperwork, tedious tasks, a lot of bureaucracy—and at that moment, you’re alone,” he says. “We don’t want you to be alone.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

A family death can mean a nightmare of forms—but this app wants to help you through the process

April 13, 2021

When a loved one dies, there’s suddenly a long to-do list to slog through: You have to make the funeral arrangements, probate the will, and cancel services such as cable and internet—all under the heavy cloak of grief.

Indeed, 540 hours of work typically are required to settle a loved one’s estate—often with little help or support . But now, a new company called Empathy aims to guide people through those logistics, and also provide emotional support for their loss, reports Fast Company.

“Grief is made hard by logistics, and logistics are made even harder by grief,” says CEO Ron Gura, who cofounded the company with Yonatan Bergman, after meeting on-the-job at WeWork.

Now available in the United States on IOS and Android, Empathy serves as a digital companion for those dealing with a loss—part “Headspace for grief” and part “TurboTax for estate settlement,” Gura told Fast Company.

The app starts by asking users questions, such as their location, because states have varying probate laws; and religion, in case there are traditional arrangements of which the app needs to be aware.

Then, it guides the user down different paths—from Immediate Arrangements, to Searching for Documents, to Bills and Debt.

Throughout the estate-managing process, it can feel like you need to become an expert on all different laws and procedures. “You read about the rules in Florida and the rules in New York; what to do with five kids, what to do with one; with a will, without a will. We want to take that clutter away and only show you what is relevant to you,” Gura says.

“It’s almost like a second job, and it’s painful, it’s overwhelming, and you don’t know what to do first,” Gura says, noting that the hope is that Empathy can provide a one-stop way to complete all of those tasks. The platform breaks down each into different steps, and pre-fills or even automates some for you—like closing a Comcast account, or checking eligibility for veterans benefits.

“We can, with your permission, do a lot of the heavy lifting for you,” Gura says. “That’s the difference between sympathy, flowers, and condolences to empathy, technology, and services. Not just saying the right thing but actually taking some of it off your chest.”

Users can upload documents to Empathy’s “vault,” an encrypted drive on the cloud, and reach out to the Empathy helpline to ask questions or find a therapist, lawyer, or other service. Those answering the helpline have been trained by a legal and grief team, and the founders worked with not only software developers and product designers, but also estate lawyers and grief experts to create the Empathy platform.

The app is free for the first month, and then costs a one-time fee of $65. Gura says there are no added fees or extra charges that come up for completing tasks, and articles that outline different steps are also available online for free. “We’re trying to build a trustworthy brand in this nontrivial category,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is lose the trust and support from our families.” That one-time fee also lets users go through the estate process at their own pace, without worrying about a monthly charge. (It’s also deductible from the estate.) h.

The end-of-life industry has slowly started to become updated, with online platforms to help people write their own wills and companies focused on starting conversations about death and all the planning it needs.

Gura hopes Empathy can upend it even more, challenging the traditional market that, he says, “leaves a lot of families overcharged and overwhelmed,” by democratizing estate settlement and making it an easier process to go through. After a funeral, “eventually you’re home, looking at, say, your father’s desk, piles of paperwork, tedious tasks, a lot of bureaucracy—and at that moment, you’re alone,” he says. “We don’t want you to be alone.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

Scoop: Cindy McCain set to land Biden ambassadorship

April 13, 2021

Politico’s Playbook ran a scoop on Monday, April 12—reporting that President Joe Biden is preparing to name Republican Cindy McCain to a coveted ambassador post in Western Europe in what would be his administration’s first Republican appointee to a Senate-confirmed position.

McCain is undergoing vetting to be nominated for U.S. ambassador to the U.N. World Food Programme, a mission based in Rome, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. This comes after the Administration declined to install at least one member from the opposing party in a Cabinet position—a practice of three consecutive presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) before Donald Trump broke the streak.

Cindy McCain, the wife of the late military hero and Senator from Arizona John McCain,  gave Biden a critical boost in Arizona with her endorsement of the Democrat over Trump. In doing so, she helped Biden become the only Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since Clinton in 1996.

McCain, 66, is undergoing a background check for the post, Politico notes. The Biden administration is expected to announce most of its ambassadors at the same time, rather than individually.

As chair of the McCain Institute board of trustees, McCain has worked on curbing world hunger and human trafficking. During the 2008 campaign, she traveled to Georgia with the U.N.’s World Food Programme to visit wounded soldiers after a Russian invasion and also monitored the program’s work in Southeast Asia and Africa.

Research contact: @politico

Biden Barometer

POTUS Approval Ratings
(Approval/disapproval of President Biden by U.S. adults, as established by key nationwide polling organizations)

 

April

 April 2021

April 5-9 Apr. 12-16 Apr. 19-23
Apr. 26-30

Polling Organization

Economist/YouGov 52/42
Reuters/Ipsos 56/37
Politico/Morning Consult 59/37
Real Clear Politics (Average) 55/40

 

The good doctor: Are you safer when seen by an older physician?

April 12, 2021

If you could choose your doctor, would you prefer youth or experience? You might pick the fresh-faced physician, if you consider that patients in hospital settings are more likely to die when treated by doctors who are at least 60 years old, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School wanted to know how well physicians perform as they age. They looked at the records of 730,000 Medicare patients treated between 2011 and 2014 by more than 18,800 hospital-based internists (hospitalists), Study Finds reports.

Perhaps all that experience isn’t so great after all. Patient deaths rose gradually as physicians aged, but the biggest gap—1.3 percentage points—showed up between hospitalists 40 and younger, and those 60 and older.  This means one additional death for every 77 patients admitted by a doctor who is 60 or older versus a doctor who is 40 or younger.

Study senior investigator Anupam Jena, an associate professor of Health Care Policy at the university and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, says this outcome raises some serious concerns.

“It is comparable to the difference in death rates observed between patients at high risk for heart disease who are treated with proper heart medications and those who receive none,” she explains in a Harvard Medical School release.

There is a bright spot, however, in all this aging gloom and doom, according to Study Finds:  When physicians carry heavy caseloads, physician age is not a factor in patient mortality. Researchers believe that caring for large numbers of patients keeps a doctor’s skill set strong.

Older doctors may have knowledge that can only be gained by experience, but they cannot just rest on their laurels. They have to keep up with the rapid changes that come with new research and technology.

“The results of our study suggest the critical importance of continuing medical education throughout a doctor’s entire career, regardless of age and experience,” Jena says.

Researchers say this study is too limited to draw any final conclusions about how older physicians perform on the job. They would like to look into what else might be influencing the higher mortality rates in patients cared for by older doctors.

Perhaps, in answer to the first question posed, your best bet is to choose the busiest doctor.

The study’s findings were published in The BMJ.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

The robots are coming … to mow your lawn

April 12, 2021

According to California’s Air Resources Board, operating a gas-fueled commercial lawn mower for just one hour emits as much pollution as driving a Toyota Camry about 300 miles. And if you substitute a commercial leaf blower for the mower, one hour of operation emits pollution comparable to driving a Camry about 1,100 miles.

What’s more, not only are both gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers bad for the environment, but they are noisy, The New York Times reports.

Indeed, Jamie Banks, the president of Quiet Communities, a nonprofit based in Lincoln, Massachusetts, said it’s not a one-machine issue. “It’s really the very widespread use of all polluting, noisy fossil-fuel-powered equipment that is at issue,” she noted.”

 

The noise from gas-powered lawn equipment is what stands out for people. But just how loud are those machines? While sound levels typically are measured in decibels, experts also rely on what are known as weighted decibels (dBAs), which take into account not just the intensity of the sound, but also how the ear responds.

Any “sound above 45 dBA is likely to start having negative effects,” John Medina, an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington Department of Boengineering, told the Times. Leaf blowers, he said in an email, “are potentially quite dangerous,” because, when close to the ear, they “have been measured at 95 dBA.” A person standing 50 feet away is exposed to levels of anywhere from 65 dBAs to 80 dBAs, he added.

So what’s a homeowner to do?

For noise reduction alone, “robotic mowers are the biggest bang for the buck,” said Dan Mabe, the founder and president of the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), a California-based consulting firm that is creating its own standards and certification for areas that move to emission-free lawn care. Like LEED certification for buildings, the AGZA designation will mean that the community or commercial area has achieved emission-free status in its green spaces.

Robotic mowers are more prevalent in Europe, where yards tend to be smaller. In the United States, a few companies have begun to offer robotic services, Frank Rossi, an associate professor at the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, told the Times.

“Labor challenges” in the landscaping market are helping to bring about changes, said Kris Kiser, president and chief executive of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

For example, a labor shortage first propelled the Langton Group, a landscaping company in Woodstock, Illinois, to make the transition to emissions-free and quieter equipment about five years ago.

“I just couldn’t find enough people to hire, and I saw robotics as a way to solve my labor problems,” said Joe Langton, president of the company. “I began to realize that we not only saved labor, but helped the environment.”

Last year, working with Dan Mabe of AGZA, Langton  designated a 29-acre green zone in Woodstock, which Mabe said was the first in the state. The zone comprises a large corporate campus as well as an 11-acre group of townhouses.

Langton now has a fleet of 200 robotic mowers, each about 2 by about 2.5 feet and just over a foot tall, operating in this zone. They charge on site, some conventionally through electrical outlets and others by solar power. Like robotic vacuum cleaners, they can return to charge when they have finished their work (and can be shut down if the weather is bad).

Each robot covers 1.25 acres, constrained by an underground, signal-emitting wire similar to one used in an invisible dog fence. The family-run company largely relies on equipment manufactured by Husqvarna. a Swedish company in the forefront of green lawn technology.

And Langton told the Times that using robots had not eliminated jobs but instead had changed the kinds of workers he hired. Now he needs people who can oversee the technology and also trim hedges and work on weeds — all with battery-power equipment.

Robotic mowers are expensive, which can deter homeowners. Costs can range from about $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the model. But over the life of the equipment, battery-power models ultimately save money, a 2017 analysis at the University of Arkansas found. Some communities are offering rebates when older mowers or blowers are traded in, Mabe said.

Among manufacturers that offer equipment, Husqvarna is well known, and there are newer companies, like EGO and Ambrogio, as well as Mean Green Products, which in September was acquired by a division of Generac Holdings. Market stalwarts like Toro and DeWalt now also offer battery operated lawn care equipment.

Those who care for their own yards are moving toward battery-operated blowers, trimmers, and edgers when purchasing new equipment, Farnsworth said, adding that roughly half of newly purchased blowers and trimmers are battery powered.

The biggest hurdle may be the professional market, because the electric equipment needs recharging to handle, say, ten hours of continuous use, the Times notes. Until there is a solution, he said, landscapers may “be laggards when compared to homeowners.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Biden to unveil commission to study possible expansion of Supreme Court

April 12, 2021

President Biden was scheduled to unveil a bipartisan commission to study structural changes to the Supreme Court on Friday, April 9, according to three people knowledgeable sources, The Washington Post reports.

The move follows the appointments of three conservatives to the court during the Trump Administration: Neil Gorsuch in 2017, Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020—and comes amid liberal calls for expansion to blunt the court’s conservative majority.

The commission—envisioned to include as many as three dozen people—will fulfill Biden’s campaign promise create a group to study changes to the court.

According to the Post, Biden has said he is “not a fan of court-packing,” but he faced pressure during the campaign from liberals to back changes, including court expansion, after Republicans pushed to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett shortly before the 2020 election.

The commission, however, is likely to disappoint liberals who are looking for quick action. Most of the commission’s members are academics, and they will come from a range of political backgrounds. Bob Bauer, a top lawyer on Biden’s campaign, and Cristina Rodriguez, a professor at Yale Law School, will chair the commission, which will be run out of the White House Counsel’s Office.

Other members include Caroline Fredrickson, the former president of the American Constitution Society, and Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor.

The three people familiar with the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement. The White House declined to comment.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Surprise! Babies understand what you’re saying sooner than you think

April 9, 2021

While infants may seem out of the loop until they starting speaking, researchers at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland say that babies are capable of recognizing word combinations and phrases long before they ever utter their first word.

Indeed, according to Study Finds, their recent research—conducted with some support from academics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem— has revealed that 11- to 12-month-old infants, who are on the verge of speaking, already are processing and understanding various “multi-word phrases” such as “clap your hands.”

This is a breakthrough—representing the first time that investigators have demonstrated that young infants are capable of recognizing and understanding conversations before they begin speaking, themselves. Moreover, this work disputes the long-held belief that babies generally learn languages by first understanding individual words and moving on to sentences. This new study suggests babies learn words and phrases simultaneously.

“Previous research has shown that young infants recognize many common words. But this is the first study that shows that infants extract and store more than just single words from everyday speech. This suggests that when children learn language, they build on linguistic units of varying sizes, including multiword sequences, and not just single words as we often assume,” says Dr. Barbara Skarabela from the School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Languages Sciences, in a university release.

What’s more, Study Finds reports, the researchers also say these findings may provide an explanation as to why adults have so much trouble becoming bilingual.

“This may explain why adults learning a second language, who tend to rely on individual words, often fall short of reaching native-like proficiency in the way they string words together into phrases and sentences,” Dr. Skarabela adds.

Researchers studied 36 babies during this project, via a series of “attention tests” featuring recorded audio from adults. Study authors watched closely as the babies listened to the recordings and looked out for any signs of understanding or acknowledgment. All of the recorded phrases only featured three words and many were consistent with a typical “conversation” between infants and adults.

The team then assessed infant responses and compared them using a method called central fixation. This approach allowed researchers to measure the babies’ looks and eye glances in response to the recordings. Using this strategy, they successfully determined when a baby recognized a familiar phrase like “clap your hands” in comparison to a sentence they had likely never heard before—such as “take your hands.”

Most of the infants (23 out of 36) displayed clear signs of understanding certain phrases. The study has been published in the June 2021 edition of the journal, Cognition.

Research contact: StudyFinds

The new pandemic shortage: Ketchup can’t catch up

April  9, 2021

After enduring a year of closures, employee safety fears, and start-stop openings; now, many American restaurants are now facing a nationwide supply chain shortage of one of their customers’ favorite condiments: ketchup.

More specifically, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, ketchup packets are being grabbed up by the handful—as toilet paper was earlier in the year—depleting restaurant supplies.

To meet the demand, managers are using generic versions, pouring out bulk ketchup into individual cups, and hitting the aisles of Costco for substitutes.

“We’ve been hunting high and low,” Chris Fuselier, owner of the Denver-based Blake Street Tavern told the Journal, saying he has struggled to keep ketchup in stock for much of this year.

The pandemic turned many sit-down restaurants into takeout specialists, making individual ketchup packets the primary condiment currency for both national chains and mom-and-pop restaurants. Packet prices are up 13% since January 2020, and their market share has exploded at the expense of tabletop bottles, according to restaurant-business platform Plate IQ.

Even fast-food giants are pleading for packets. Long John Silver’s—a nearly 700-unit chain—had to seek ketchup from secondary suppliers because of the rush in demand. The industry’s pandemic shift to packets has pushed up prices, costing the Louisville, Kentucky-based company an extra half-million dollars, executives said, since single-serve is pricier than bulk.

“Everyone out there is grabbing for ketchup,” Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie Mattingly told the business news outlet.

The ketchup conundrum strikes at a cornerstone of American diets. The tomato spread is the most-consumed table sauce at U.S. restaurants, with around 300,000 tons sold to food-service last year, according to research firm Euromonitor. Even more is eaten at home, and the pandemic helped push retail ketchup sales in the U.S. over $1 billion in 2020, around 15% higher than 2019, Euromonitor data showed.

Kraft Heinz Co. is ketchup’s king, with the research firm saying Heinz holds nearly 70% of the U.S. retail market for the condiment. But the more than 150-year-old brand wasn’t prepared for the pandemic.

Kraft Heinz couldn’t keep up with orders for its sachets––the industry term for ketchup packets.

Steve Cornell, Kraft Heinz’s president of Enhancers, Specialty and Away from Home Business Unit, said restaurants need patience while it ramps up supply. The company plans to open two new manufacturing lines in April, and more after that— increasing production by about 25% for a total of more than 12 billion packets a year. Kraft Heinz already is running extra shifts at plants, and cut back on some varieties to focus on making more single-serve packets.

The company also invented a no-touch ketchup dispenser to help meet demand for COVID-safe alternatives to shared bottles.

“We’re busy doing everything we can,” Cornell said.

Research contact: @WSJ