Posts made in January 2022

Three cats have outmaneuvered their two humans to hold a blender hostage for weeks

Febraury 1, 2022

Jessica Gerson-Neeves and her wife, Nikii, are really looking forward to using their new Vitamix blender to whip up smoothies and soups. In fact, the highly anticipated Black Friday purchase has recently become the focal point of their kitchen at home in British Columbia, Canada.

There’s just one problem: They can’t actually unpack it, reports NPR.

“It arrived in the mail on December 16, and I brought it inside and set the box down on the kitchen floor for just a quick second,” Gerson-Neeves says. “And that was a month ago.”

The cardboard box has become the site of a weekslong turf war between the couple and their three cats, in a saga that has garnered thousands of invested followers on social media.

Gerson-Neeves has posted near-daily updates on the cats’ Facebook page (warning: language), documenting their hilariously formal changing of the guard, ever-shifting alliances, and misadventures.

The posts read like dispatches from the front lines of a high-stakes battle, documenting the trio’s every move and their humans’ unsuccessful attempts to disrupt them.

The youngest troublemaker is Max, a tuxedo cat with the alias “sentient soccer ball.” Then there’s George, Destroyer of Worlds (“that’s what’s on his tag,” Gerson-Neeves says), also known as “sentient potato.” Rounding out the group is Lando Calrissian, who moonlights in the posts as “questionably sentient dust bunny” because, according to Gerson-Neeves, “he has a lot of fluff and very few thoughts.”

The cats’ page has grown from 64 followers to some 25,000, as people around the world learn about the story.

Gerson-Neeves stressed in a phone interview with NPR that the cats aren’t literally holding the Vitamix hostage. They could, of course, be hoisted off the box at any point. But she says she and her wife aren’t in a rush to end the stalemate since it’s providing some much-needed levity.

“Certainly we could relocate them. They don’t weigh a ton. It would be very easy to pick whoever’s on the box up and put them on the floor and open the box,” Gerson-Neeves says. “But why would we end something that is bringing us so much laughter? The cats are having a good time, and so many other people are enjoying this as well. I think we all are very much in need of something that is silly and low stakes right now.”

It all began, Gerson-Neeves says, when Max hopped on the Vitamix box as soon as she put it down on that fateful December day. Like any besotted cat owner, she thought it was adorable and snapped a picture, which she posted to a cat-lovers Facebook group.

“I posted it with a tongue-in-cheek caption about how this was breaking news, which clearly this was not, and by the next day I think about 10,000 people had interacted with the post,” she explains.

She wrote jokingly in the original post that she would provide updates if the standoff continued, and members of the group held her to that promise, even as days turned into weeks.

At the cusp of the third—yes, THIRD—week of ApplianceGate, we return to the saga to find that the Questionably Sentient Dust Bunny has settled in for the night shift atop the Vitamix. While no video evidence was caught of the unfortunate incident, his occupation of the annexed territory was immediately preceded by possibly the single least graceful dismount in the history of felinehood (felinity? Whatever), which somehow involved the sentient soccer ball first smacking headfirst into a wall immediately prior to pulling a fly-you-fools, briefly hanging off of the side of the Vitamix box.”

Gerson-Neeves says she has been particularly moved by the comments that their growing audience leaves on Facebook, both the hilarious and the heartfelt.

Those include people experiencing seasonal depression, exhausted health care workers, and even one woman “who said that her husband had been profoundly depressed for a long time and this was the first time she’d seen him smile in months,” Gerson-Neeves recalls.

“It is silly and ridiculous and very low stakes and not an actual problem and just something that people can laugh at,” she adds. “Everything is so overwhelming and so painful right now that people are desperately in need of things they can just laugh at.”

Research contact: @NPR

Joe Rogan responds to backlash from Spotify artists

Febraury 1, 2022

Joe Rogan has responded to the backlash he’s received from Spotify artists surrounding COVID-19 misinformation on his popular podcast, reports CNN.

“I’m not trying to promote misinformation, I’m not trying to be controversial. I’ve never tried to do anything with this podcast other than just talk to people and have interesting conversations,” Rogan said in a nine-minute video posted to Instagram on Sunday, January 30.

On Sunday, Spotify promised to add a content advisory to any podcast episode about COVID-19 — and Rogan said he agrees with that move. The advisory will direct listeners to a COVID-19 information hub that will include links to trusted sources, the company said.

“I want to thank Spotify for being so supportive during this time. And I’m very sorry that this is happening to them, and that they’re taking so much heat from it,” Rogan said.

Spotify will also for the first time publicly post its long-standing Platform Rules. A growing list of musicians and personalities are pressuring Spotify to take action on misinformation after Neil Young and then Joni Mitchell requested that their music be removed from the platform.

In his video, Rogan said he would try to balance controversial guests by having the mainstream perspective on right after them. He also said he will research contentious topics and “have all the pertinent facts at hand.”

“I want to show all kinds of opinions so that we can all figure out what’s going on and not just about COVID, about everything about health, about fitness, wellness, the state of the world,” Rogan said.

Rogan portrayed himself as a figure who is just having interesting conversations, but at the same time he disputed the basic concept of misinformation. He claimed that changes in scientific opinion—for example about the effectiveness of cloth masks or the origins of the virus—have previously been viewed as misinformation and could have been banned on social media.

“Many of the things that we thought of as misinformation just a short while ago are now accepted as fact,” Rogan claimed.

“The Joe Rogan Experience” is currently the top podcast in the United States and the United Kingdom on Spotify, according to the platform.

Rogan defended two of his most controversial guests — cardiologist Dr. Peter McCullough, who claimed COVID vaccines are “experimental;” and virologist Dr. Robert Malone, who has been banned from Twitter for COVID-19 misinformation.

“Both these people are very highly credentialed, very intelligent, very accomplished people. And they have an opinion that’s different from the mainstream narrative,” Rogan said, adding that he has also hosted CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “I wanted to hear what their opinion is.”

Rogan also said he is “not mad” at Neil Young and that he is a “huge” fan of the musician.

Research contact: @CNN

Cheney, Kinzinger call out Trump over Pence comments

February 1, 2022

Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) called out former President Donald Trump after he suggested that former Vice President Mike Pence should have overturned the results of the 2020 presidential election, reports The Hill.

Cheney and Kinzinger—who are the only two Republicans serving on the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol—characterized the ex-president’s comments as un-American.

Cheney outlined a series of Trump’s recent statements in a tweet on Monday, January 31— including his admission that “he was attempting to overturn the election”— before writing, “He’d do it all again if given the chance.”

The Wyoming Republican, who is facing a Trump-backed primary challenger, also noted that Trump previously said he would consider pardoning individuals charged in connection to the January 6 riot if he runs for president again and wins another term in the White House.

Kinzinger on Sunday said Trump’s statement earlier that day was “an admission” and “massively un-American.” He then offered an ultimatum to GOP leaders, calling on them to “pick a side” between Trump or the Constitution.

“There is no middle on defending our nation anymore,” he added in a tweet.

Trump in a statement on Sunday pointed to a congressional effort to reform the Electoral College Act as proof that Pence “did have the right to change the outcome” of the 2020 presidential election.

The former president said Pence “unfortunately” did not “exercise that power,” adding “he could have overturned the Election!” 

Pence’s role in overseeing the certification of the Electoral College vote was, as it is for all vice presidents, largely ceremonial. He presided over a joint session of Congress on January 6 where he recognized GOP senators and House members who objected to the results to the voting count in specific states. That set up votes by the House and Senate to consider the objections.

Trump has long argued falsely that Pence had more power over the process and the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6 did so thinking they could end the

The former president’s statement comes as the congressional effort to reform the Electoral College Act is picking up momentum, with some lawmakers seeing changes to the archaic law as a compromise between both parties on election reform; which Democrats have been pushing for on the federal level in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

The Electoral College Act was enacted in 1887 and outlines how the Electoral College results are counted. A bipartisan group of senators met last week to discuss changes to the statute.

Research contact: @thehill

Meet Willow, America’s new ‘First Cat’

Janaury 31, 2022

Americans have a new “First Cat.” Dr. Jill Biden has welcomed a two-year-old, green-eyed, gray-and-white tabby named Willow to the White House, reports The Sun.

Dr. Biden tweeted Friday, “Meet Willow,” as she shared several snaps of the  adopted pet by a White House window and on the carpet.

The First Lady met the short-haired feline during a 2020 campaign stop, according to her press secretary, Michael LaRosa—who says that Willow is the same cat that seized the spotlight on a 2020 campaign stop when she she strutted out on stage during Biden’s remarks.

“A farm cat from Pennsylvania, Willow made quite an impression on Dr. Biden in 2020 when he jumped up on the stage and interrupted her remarks during a campaign stop. Seeing their immediate bond, the owner of the farm knew that Willow belonged with Dr. Biden,” LaRosa said.

The cat’s name is inspired by Dr. Biden’s hometown of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, CNN reports.

LaRosa said: “Willow is settling into the White House with her favorite toys, treats, and plenty of room to smell and explore.”

And Twitter users are gushing over the White House’s new arrival. One said: “I love their names.” Aanother commented: “Willow is so cute! I want a kitty so bad.” A third posted: “Your cat is so cute and I’m not usually a cat person.”

 Research contact: @TheSun

Mars Wrigley closing nearly century-old chocolate plant on Chicago’s West Side

January 31, 2022

Mars Wrigley is closing a nearly century-old chocolate plant on Chicago’s West Side over the course of the next two years, the confection manufacturer announced on Tuesday, January 25, reports The Chicago Tribune.

Built in a Spanish-style structure in 1928, the sprawling plant within the Galewood neighborhood bordering Oak Park employs about 280 staff.

“The company remains committed to the City of Chicago and intends to partner with the surrounding community on a future vision for the site,” a spokesperson for Mars Wrigley Confectionery commented by email. “As we continuously evaluate our footprint across North America, our Associates were informed of the decision to move the majority of operations to other facilities in the United States over the next two years.”

The U.S. headquarters for privately held Mars Wrigley moved to New Jersey in 2017, following Mars’ $23 billion acquisition of Chicago-based Wrigley in 2008. Filled The Mars Wrigley world headquarters is situated on Goose Island in Chicago.

Workers at the closing Chicago plant shall be “encouraged to explore the opportunities to apply for open roles across our network, specifically in the Chicago area,” the Mars Wrigley spokesperson said.

Also in Illinois, Mars Wrigley has an ice cream manufacturing facility in Burr Ridge, a sweet manufacturing facility in Yorkville, and a pet diet manufacturing website production house in downstate Mattoon.

The plant at 2019 North Oak Park Ave. produces quite a lot of “filled bar chocolate” including  3 Musketeers and Milky Way. The success of Milky Way, a malted milk sweet bar launched in 1923, helped to fund the corporate and the Chicago manufacturing facilities, with founder Frank Mars shifting the corporate site from Minneapolis to Chicago when it opened in 1929.

Built on 16 acres in a residential space, the plant was named the “factory of the month” in a 1953 Chicago Tribune sequence, which characterized it as “an outstanding bit of architecture … in a beautiful setting of brilliant green bent grass, beds of flowers, shrubs and towering trees.” The manufacturing facility included tinted partitions, crimson tile roofs, and two-story-high curved-top home windows.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

Pittsburgh bridge collapses ahead of Biden’s visit to discuss infrastructure

January 31, 2022

A snow-covered bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed on Friday morning, January 28 even as the city prepared for a visit from President Joe Biden, who planned to deliver remarks on infrastructure, reports The Wall Street Journal.

 Officials tweeted a photo of the collapse, which showed cars flipped over and a bus among the wreckage. Ten people were injured and three were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to Pittsburgh Public Safety.

 “Red Cross has been contacted for victim assistance,” the agency said on Twitter. 

The bridge is part of a major route, located near Frick Park on the east side of the city. There was a strong smell of gas in the area, and officials said they cut nearby gas lines.

 White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the president had been briefed on the bridge collapse and would continue with his planned trip to the region. She said the president was grateful to the first responders and said the White House “will stay in touch with officials on the ground about additional assistance we can provide.”

 In Pittsburgh, Biden plans to tour a research and development site and give remarks highlighting the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure law, as well as the gains in jobs and economic growth over the past year. A White House official said he would talk about how investing in infrastructure and jobs will help the U.S. compete globally. 

 Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said his team was monitoring the situation and is prepared to provide support as needed. He urged residents to avoid the area.

 Research contact: @WSJ

French pet care firm stops selling goldfish bowls because they drive fish crazy

January 28, 2022

French pet care market leader AgroBiothers Laboratoire has announced that it will no longer sell any aquariums with a capacity of less than 4 gallons—and then only rectangular ones—because putting fish in small bowls without filtration and oxygenation is animal abuse, Canoe reports.

“People buy a goldfish for their kids on impulse, but if they knew what a torture it is, they would not do it. Turning round and round in a small bowl drives fish crazy and kills them quickly,” AgroBiothers CEO Matthieu Lambeaux recently told Reuters.

Goldfish can live up to 30 years and grow to about 10 inches in big aquariums or outdoor ponds, but in tiny bowls they often die within weeks or months.

Lambeaux says that goldfish are social animals who need the company of other fish, ample space, and clean water—and that having an aquarium requires a minimum of equipment and expertise.

France is Europe’s number one market for red aquarium fish, with about 2.3 million fish, according to Lambeaux.

Germany and several other European countries have long banned fish bowls, but France has no legislation on the issue.

“It is a French anachronism; that is why we decided to move. We cannot educate all our customers to explain that keeping fish in a bowl is cruel. We consider that it is our responsibility to no longer give consumers that choice,” Lambeaux said.

AgroBiothers, which has a French market share of about 27% in pet care products, sold about 50,000 fish bowls per year at about US$20 apiece in previous years.

“There is demand for fish bowls, but the reality is that what we offer children is the possibility to see gold fish die slowly,” he said.

Research contact: @Canoe

Commuting by bike is booming in five U.S. cities

January 28, 2022

In 2019, just 0.5% of U.S. commuters rode a bike to work—the smallest share of any mode. But tiny shifts can make a big difference. Data-driven bike plans, safety improvements, and supportive political leadership have helped boost bike commute rates in several cities nationwide in recent years, according to a new report from the League of American Bicyclists, reports Bloomberg.

In Benchmarking Bike Networks, the country’s largest bicycling advocacy organization takes stock of the best infrastructure and policy practices for getting more people pedaling.

The report spotlights Boston; Chicago; Austin, Texas; Oakland, California; and Missoula, Montana—cities of diverse size and geography where bike commute shares are more than twice the national average and have increased over the last decade.

Ken McLeod, the league’s policy director, hopes they can serve as models for other communities. “Benchmarking shows what really good communities are doing and what others can do so that we’re all pushing towards the same goal of safe bike networks that are accessible to everyone,” he said.

Consistent across the five cities was how long local officials have been planning for better cycling facilities—updating their proposals regularly. In Oakland, a suite of improvements focused on a “ladder” of two parallel streets and seven connecting streets on either side of the MacArthur BART station—especially after a 2007 bike plan showed how many more residents lived a short bike ride away from the station versus a short walk.

With a targeted approach, the number of bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes has soared across Oakland, often replacing shared lane marking —also known as sharrows—following best safety practices for high-traffic streets, McLeod said.

The report also identifies street repavement cycles as an efficient way to stripe lanes and add protections. Austin’s faster-than-average repaving schedule, where streets are resurfaced every 10 years rather than the usual 20, has helped to build bike lanes at breakneck speed; the city recently passed the halfway point on building a planned 400+ mile cycling network, marking a 34% increase in miles since 2014.

Political support also played a powerful role in that rollout, with Austin voters approving bond measures in 2016 and 2019 that supplied dedicated funds for biking and walking improvements.

Along the same lines, culture change led by top decision-makers laid important groundwork in nearly every city. In 2015, Missoula’s city council adopted a 30-year growth plan that highlighted needed infrastructure improvements to support its sustainability, affordability and safety objectives. That process led to a citywide goal of tripling the share of commuters who bike, walk, and take transit by 2045, which then guided the creation of a more ambitious bike plan.

“Knowing that policy makers had wanted the mode share to look different in 30 years, it enabled the staff and advocates to push harder,” McLeod said.

Helpful as these examples may be as cities adapt to pandemic-era commuting, they come with a significant caveat: Because the U.S. Census Bureau didn’t release biking and walking commute data from its tumultuous 2020 survey, the report doesn’t capture COVID-19’s effects on cycling—which were complicated, given that overall commuting plummeted at the same time as interest in recreational cycling surged.

While analytics companies have tracked both trends, the lack of standardization from year to year prevents a fair comparison.

This ties into a broader problem that disadvantages the cycling community, McLeod said: The federal government doesn’t routinely collect data on bike facilities the way it does for highways and bridges—making a national assessment of cycling conditions all but impossible. That’s also true for pedestrian networks. McLeod pointed to how data collection and mapping of deteriorating bridges informed President Joe Biden’s recent announcement of a $27.5 billion investment in those spans over the next five years.

“The lack of biking and walking network data means we can’t use similar messaging or provide accurate estimates of needs for bicycle and pedestrian networks,” McLeod said. “I hope this report helps us move towards

Research contact: @Bloomberg

Biden leads Trump, DeSantis by similar margins in new poll

January 28, 2022

President Joe Biden is leading two top Republicans—former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis—in two hypothetical, head-to-head match-ups for the 2024 presidential election, reports The Hill

A poll just conducted by Marquette University Law School has found that 43% of U.S. adults would support Biden if the 2024 presidential election were held today, while 33% would vote for Trump in a one-on-one match-up. Sixteen percent said they would choose a different candidate, while 6 percent said they would not vote.

In a hypothetical race against DeSantis, however, Biden does not poll as strongly: 41%t of adults nationwide said they would throw their support behind Biden, while 33% would support DeSantis. Eighteen percent of respondents said they would vote for a different candidate, and 8 percent said they would not cast a ballot.

Only 29% of those polled said they want to see Trump run for president again in 2024, while 71% said they did not want to see him seek a second term.

The polling comes as tensions between Trump and DeSantis are mounting amid a possibility that the two GOP figures could face off against one another in a Republican primary to lead the ticket in 2024.

Trump has been grumbling behind the scenes for months regarding DeSantis’s rise in the party. Recent media reports have taken a microscope to the relationship between the two GOP leaders—one that has been characterized as confrontational and marked by private but personal attacks.

The former president appeared to knock DeSantis earlier this month for refusing to disclose if he has received his COVID-19 booster shot. Trump, during an interview, criticized “gutless” politicians who will not reveal their booster shot status.

Trump and DeSantis have not revealed if they will launch bids for the White House in 2024. Additionally, the Florida governor has refused to say publicly whether he will or will not challenge the former president should he wage a reelection campaign.

A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey shared with The Hill earlier this week found that, in a hypothetical eight-person GOP primary, Trump raked in 57% support, followed by DeSantis at 11% and former Vice President Mike Pence at 11%. No other candidate in the poll pulled in double-digit support.

Biden in December said he plans to run for reelection “if I’m in good health.”

A Wednesday poll from Politico and Morning Consult found that 45% of registered voters would support Biden if the election were held today, and 44% would support Trump—which would make for a tight rematch. Eleven percent said they would not vote.

The Marquette Law School poll surveyed 1,000 adults nationwide between January 10 and January 21.

Research contact: @thehill

A California redwood forest has officially been returned to a group of Native tribes

January 27, 2022

A conservation group is returning guardianship of hundreds of acres of redwood forestland to a coalition of Native tribes that were displaced from the land generations ago by European American settlers, reports NPR.

Save the Redwoods League purchased the 523-acre area (known as Andersonia West) on the Lost Coast of California’s Menodcino County in July 2020.The group announced on Tuesday, January 25, that it had donated and transferred ownership of the property to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council—a consortium of 10 Northern California tribal nations focused on environmental and cultural preservation.

The forest will be renamed Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ—which means “fish run place” in the Sinkyone language—as “an act of cultural empowerment and a celebration of Indigenous resilience,” the league said in a release. The tribal council has granted it a conservation easement, meaning use of the land will be limited for its own protection.

“Renaming the property Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ lets people know that it’s a sacred place; it’s a place for our Native people. It lets them know that there was a language and that there was a people who lived there long before now,” said Crista Ray, a tribal citizen of the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians and a board member of the Sinkyone Council. She is of Eastern Pomo, Sinkyone, Cahto, Wailaki, and other ancestries.

According to NPR, the league’s 2020 purchase of the forest cost $3.55 million and was fully funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (the utility, which has been behind multiple deadly wildfires, supports habitat conservation programs to mitigate other environmental damage it has caused).

Establishing Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ supports meeting the power company’s 30-year conservation goals, which the league says were developed alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency also approved the long-term management and stewardship plan for the property.

Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ is home to ancient trees, important bodies of water and a variety of endangered species. It comprises 200 acres of old-growth coast redwoods and 1.5 miles of Anderson Creek, a stream and tributary of the South Fork Eel River.

“Second-growth redwoods, Douglas-firs, tanoaks, and madrones also tower over a lush understory of huckleberries, elderberries, manzanitas, and ceanothuses,” as the league describes it. This habitat supports endangered species like the northern spotted owl, steelhead trout, coho salmon, marbled murrelet and yellow-legged frog.

The council and the league say their partnership will protect the environment by preventing habitat loss, commercial timber operations, construction, and other development.

They plan to rely on a mix of Indigenous place-based land guardianship principles, conservation science, climate adaptation, and fire resiliency concepts to heal and preserve the area.

“We believe the best way to permanently protect and heal this land is through tribal stewardship,” said Sam Hodder, resident and CEO of Save the Redwoods League. “In this process, we have an opportunity to restore balance in the ecosystem and in the communities connected to it, while also accelerating the pace and scale of conserving California’s iconic redwood forests.”

People involved with the partnership stress that it’s not just the protection of the land that matters — it’s also the restoration of the property to descendants of its original inhabitants.

Notably, the Sinkyone Council has designated Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ as a tribal protected area. “This designation recognizes that this place is within the Sinkyone traditional territory, that for thousands of years it has been and still remains an area of importance for the Sinkyone people, and that it holds great cultural significance for the Sinkyone Council and its member tribes,” said Priscilla Hunter, a tribal citizen of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and chairwoman of the Sinkyone Council.

Returning farmland to Yakama Nation is a step toward self-sufficiency tribes once had: It joins another 180,000 acres of conserved lands along the Sinkyone coast, the release notes. The council hopes that the acquisition will continue expanding the network of adjacent protected lands with similar ecosystems and cultural histories.

Research contact: NPR