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No ‘Joshing’: Armed with pool noodles, hundreds battle to be rightful owner of the name ‘Josh’

May 26, 2022

At the peak of pandemic boredom, an absurd idea popped into Josh Swain’s head.

The 22-year-old University of Arizona student was in the midst of a Zoom lecture last April, “staring into the abyss,” he said, when he spontaneously decided to start a Facebook group with a bunch of strangers who share the same name, reports The Washington Post.

“You’re probably wondering why I’ve gathered you all here today,” he wrote to nine fellow Josh Swains. One person promptly responded by stating the obvious: “Because we all share the same names?”

Swain replied with an unusual request: “Precisely, 4/24/2021, josh, meet at these coordinates (40.82223286, -96.7982002),” he wrote. “We fight, whoever wins gets to keep the name, everyone else has to change their name, you have a year to prepare, good luck.”

The Facebook message was purely intended as a joke, Swain said, but to his astonishment, his name twins—and thousands of others on the Internet—didn’t think he was just joshing. They actually took his request somewhat seriously.

Indeed, one year after he sent the original message—on April 24, the exact date specified—hundreds of people gathered at a field in Lincoln, Nebraska, near the random coordinates Swain picked out, both to spectate and participate in what later became known as “Josh

“When I first made the post, I thought zero people would actually show up,” Swain said. He was mistaken.

He originally shared screenshots of his Facebook message on Twitter a year ago, with the caption, “there can only be one.” It went viral, garnering thousands of shares and likes across multiple social media platforms. Some strangers took things a step further, starting a number of Josh Swain Reddit pages, which feature countless memes.

“It was so weird when it blew up,” Swain said. Eventually, though, the buzz died down, and he assumed that was the end of the “Josh Fight.”

But the name battle, he soon learned, had yet to truly begin. Two months ago, out of nowhere, “people started to remember,” Swain said. Panic set in after he spotted a post online of someone outlining plans to drive across the country for the event.

Swain’s reaction: “Sorry, what?!”

Not only did his original post suddenly resurface, but the mock event somehow evolved from only being intended for Josh Swains, to an all-out Josh battle —sans surnames.

According to data from the U.S. Social Security Administration, the name Joshua is the 21st-most-popular name for men. Naturally, Joshes from every part of the country who saw Swain’s original message got amped up for the battle.

“I never intended to follow through with the fight,” said Swain, who studies civil engineering and is graduating in May.

Things got serious when someone created a dedicated website with a countdown. Swain decided he had no choice but to book a flight from Phoenix to Lincoln for the event.

 It got to a point where he knew “people were going to show up, regardless of whether I was there or not,” he said. Given that he inadvertently started the viral, unplanned event, he felt compelled to help control it.

So he took the reins, and in the week leading up to April 24, he hashed out some details. Swain started by contacting the Lincoln Police Department to notify them of the event, and enlisted local help to scout out an appropriate location, because it turned out the original coordinates are actually on someone’s private property.

He also decided to use the occasion to collect money for a good cause, he said. Swain started a fundraiser —which has raised nearly $12,000—for the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Foundation in Omaha.

“I thought it would be a good way to give back, and I think everybody can get behind children’s health care,” said Swain, who also encouraged attendees to bring nonperishable food for the Lincoln Food Bank.

Finally, he laid out some ground rules in a Reddit post, under the username “ACTUAL JOSH.”

Mainly he emphasized that “there will be no physical violence,” writing: “Joshs, I am calling on you to uphold the honor that the name possesses and to be good stewards of this event.” He went on to outline the rules for what he called a “Pool Noodle Battle Royale,” which only people with the first name Josh would be permitted to participate in. He also urged everyone to wear masks. Then, after much anticipation, it was finally time for Josh Fight—also known as the Josh

By noon on the designated date, the field was flooded with hundreds of Joshes and their supporters. “There was upward of 1,000 people,” Swain estimated, adding that attendees ranged in age from 4 to about 40, and some arrived from WashingtonSstate, Florida, New Jersey, Kentucky, Texas and elsewhere across the country.

A sea of people named Josh wielding colorful foam pool noodles dueled for more than 10 minutes, until finally there was only one Josh standing: four-year-old Joshua Vinson Jr., from Lincoln.

Once it was clear that he was the victor, “I ran over with the megaphone, and I was like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is your champion,’” Swain said. “It was this incredible moment.”

The crowd cheered as the boy—whom everyone called Little Josh—was hoisted into the air wearing an oversize Burger King crown and clutching his weapon, a red pool noodle.

His father, Joshua Vinson Sr., said it was something his son will never forget.

“We had a blast. Little Josh came out victorious,” Vinson Sr., who stumbled upon the event on Facebook, said. “He got hit a couple times, but he didn’t go down.”

“It’s been a hard year, and I think everybody needed something like this. It was such a wholesome event, there’s nothing negative about it,” Swain said. “That’s what made it so spectacular.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he continued. “We might have to make it an annual thing.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Brands release special products, packaging for Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee

May 26, 2022

Buckingham Palace is pulling out all the stops to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the British throne—and brands are following suit with an array of limited-edition products and packaging, reports The Wall Street Journal.

British consumers in the run-up to the celebrations from June 2 through June 5 can shop for Platinum Jubilee-themed potato chips, lipsticks, condiments, and gins. There also is a Jubilee-themed stuffed toy shaped like an anthropomorphic carrot dressed as the Queen.

A Jubilee refrigerator, adorned with a Union Jack recolored in “Clean Black,” “Glam Lavender,” and “Glam Peach” hit the market this month courtesy of Samsung Electronics. So did Mattel’s “Queen Barbie,” which department store John Lewis & Partners said sold out in minutes. And stores across the U.K. are displaying window signs calling out to “Get Jubilee Ready.”

Companies hope to cash in on a long weekend of partying with packaging and product designs aiming to connect their brands to the national celebration of the Queen herself rather than the monarchy, which divides public opinion.

“In the U.K. we treat Jubilees as a moment of shared celebration, so it’s not only a time for brands that see themselves as super royalist,” said Jo Arden, chief strategy officer at advertising agency Ogilvy UK. “It is about being part of the national conversation.”

Royal commemorative objects first appeared in the U.K. in the 16th century, and the quantity and diversity of souvenirs boomed following the Industrial Revolution, said Amy Dobson, curator of the London Museum of Brands’ “Jubilation: 200 Years of Royal Souvenirs” exhibition.

Aligning brands with royalty adds a premium air to products, and introducing limited-edition lines creates a sense of urgency to buy, Dobson said.

Brands also view the Platinum Jubilee as a once-in-a-lifetime cultural moment they can lean on to sell more products amid a nationwide economic squeeze, marketers said.

Indeed, the Centre for Retail Research estimated consumers will spend the equivalent of $510 million during the Jubilee, including about $350 million for souvenirs and memorabilia and $150 million on festivities.

“Tapping into moments like the Jubilee helps bring our brands top of mind and ultimately drives sales,” said Anke von Hanstein, senior brand manager for sauces at Kraft Heinz .

Heinz for the Jubilee renamed two sauces: Its HP brown sauce has become HM—a nod to “Her Majesty”—and its Salad Cream is for a limited time Salad Queen. Heinz hopes the quirky branding will encourage consumers to buy bottles for street parties during the long weekend, von Hanstein said, adding the branding keeps its focus on the Queen, not the monarchy.

The label for Right Royal Pickle, a special-edition jarred pickled chutney from condiment company Tracklements, likewise focuses on the Queen, with a cartoon of her and her corgis.

“We don’t feel this is showing a political bias because [the Jubilee] seems like quite a mutual, fun celebration—everyone coming out of COVID; everyone being able to get back together again, the spirit of the street party,” said Sally Dorling, marketing manager of Tims Dairy which released a new “Strawberry Royale” flavor yogurt around the Jubilee.

The limited-edition yogurt, which is mixed with a strawberry-champagne conserve, features a small, tiara-like design drawing, similar to illustrations of crowns on Heinz’s sauce labels. The Platinum Jubilee design of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate also features a simple line drawing of a crown, the official emblem for the celebration.

Meanwhile, the U.K.’s flag has been employed very subtly, if at all, on limited-edition packaging. Designs are more likely to feature the flag with muted colors and a matte finish in contrast to earlier Jubilees, including the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, when the U.K. was gearing up to host the Olympic Games and the flag in traditional red, white and blue was flying everywhere, said the Museum of Brands’ Dobson.

“I wonder if the new designs for the Platinum Jubilee are reflective of consumer sentiment this year,” she said. “We’re going through turbulent times. Perhaps some of the brands are playing it just a little bit safer.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Georgia’s top elections official, Brad Raffensberger, claims primary win despite Trump’s wrath

May 26, 2022

Georgia’s top elections official, Brad Raffensperger, proved on May 25 that a low-key Republican can stand up to former President Donald Trump and still come out on top, reports The Daily Beast.

Indeed, according to the Beast, the Republican secretary of state overcame the odds and won Tuesday’s primary race—beating two Big Lie conspiracy theorists who tried to make him pay for standing by the real 2020 election results.

Raffensperger’s ability to bat away contenders—and even avoid a run-off election—shows that he is still riding high on his moment of triumph last year, when he became a hero to Democrats and moderate Republicans for resisting Trump’s menacing pleas to overturn election results in Georgia.

Although Representative Jody Hice (R-Georgia) received a massive boost from  Trump’s endorsement, the traditionally conservative Raffensperger now forges ahead against a Democrat in November.

In Georgia, primary candidates need to win a majority to avoid a runoff. According to state data Tuesday evening, Raffensperger narrowly pulled off the feat. With 89% of precincts across the state reporting in results, Raffensperger just barely pulled ahead with 52%.

The Daily Beast spoke to Raffensperger at his election night party on Tuesday night at a restaurant in Atlanta’s northern suburb of Peachtree Corners, where the mood was buoyant. When asked about how Hice and Belle Isle had based much of their challenge on the 2020 election dispute, Raffensperger told The Daily Beast he thought it was all hot air and pandering.

“Have them put their hands on the Bible, and they’ll do a 180,” he said.

Later that night, he and his elections team—which included campaign supervisor Jordan Fuchs—jointly decided to declare victory and pop bottles of champagne just before midnight. Close supporters and state agency employees could be heard making toasts to “integrity.”

“To democracy,” said Noula Zaharis, a regulator at the secretary of state’s office who oversees securities and charities.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Jen Psaki to join MSNBC as on-air contributor this fall

May 25, 2022

Former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki  is joining cable news channel MSNBC as an on-air contributor and will also host a new program for Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming platform, the network announced on May 24.

Psaki, who stepped down from her role as chief spokesperson for President Joe Biden earlier this month, joins a long list of White House officials who have taken jobs on cable news after leaving government, reports The Wall Street Journal.

CNN and Fox News also have served as landing spots for political operatives and government officials—among them, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who served as a CNN political commentator during part of the 2016 campaign; and former Trump White House press secretaries Sarah Sanders  and Kayleigh McEnany, both of whom immediately joined Fox News . (Sanders is no longer with the network.)

Before joining the Biden administration, Psaki was a contributor for CNN—and before that, she served in President Barack Obama’s administration.

MSNBC President Rashida Jones said that Psaki is “a familiar face and trusted authority to MSNBC viewers, and we look forward to her insight during this consequential election season.”

Psaki said in a statement that her time in government “will fuel the insight and perspective” she will bring to MSNBC.

The network didn’t disclose many details of the program Psaki would host for Peacock, which is scheduled to debut early next year. In its statement, MSNBC said it would “bring together her unique perspective from behind the podium and her deep experience in the highest levels of government and presidential politics.”

Psaki was succeeded at the White House by Karine Jean-Pierre, herself a former MSNBC contributor.

Research contact: @WSJ

Pentagon devises plans to send troops to protect U.S. Embassy in Kyiv

May 25, 2022

Plans to send U.S. forces back into Ukraine to guard the recently reopened American Embassy in Kyiv are “underway at a relatively low level,” General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced on May 23, reports The Hill.

The Wall Street Journal first mentioned on Sunday that officials are mulling plans to send special forces to Kyiv to guard the U.S. Embassy. The effort is a delicate one, as it requires balancing the safety of American diplomats while avoiding what Russia could see as an escalation.

“Some of the things that may have been out there in the media, those are planning efforts that are underway at a relatively low level,” Milley told reporters at the Pentagon, seeming to refer to the Journal’s report.

Such plans “have not yet made it to [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] or myself for that matter, for refinement of courses of action and what’s needed,” he noted. 

Milley added that any reintroduction of U.S. forces into Ukraine would require a presidential decision.  

“We’re a ways away from anything like that. We’re still developing courses of action, and none of that has been presented yet to the secretary,” he said.  

The Biden Administration last week reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv after closing it ahead of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The embassy’s security currently comes from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, the Journal reported.

President Joe Biden has pledged consistently that no U.S. troops will be sent into Ukraine to help forces there, although there are thousands of service members based just outside its borders in countries including Poland and Romania.

Milley said there are now about 102,000 American troops based in Europe—a more than 30% increase since the war began.

“Last fall the United States military had about 78,000 in [U.S. European Command]—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Space Force,” Milley said. “In a few short months, we bolstered that by over 30%.”

Rsearch contact: @thehill

A pox on you: What is monkeypox?

May 23, 2022

An extremely rare disease called monkeypox, a cousin of smallpox, has again made its way to the United States. A case of monkeypox was reported on Wednesday, May 18, in a patient hospitalized in Massachusetts who had recently traveled to Canada using private transportation, reports CNN.

In 2021, two people traveling from Nigeria to the United States were diagnosed with the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monkeypox is mostly found in West and Central Africa; but additional cases have been seen in Europe, including the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world in recent years. Those cases are typically linked to international travel or imported animals infected with the pox, the CDC said.

On Thursday, CNN reports:

  • Spain confirmed seven cases of monkeypox in Madrid and authorities are investigating another 22;
  • Italy confirmed its first case; and
  • Canadian public health officials announced they are investigating 17 suspected cases of monkeypox in Montreal.

Several cases of monkeypox in the U.K. among people who have no known travel or contact with others who are carrying the virus have health officials there and at the CDC concerned—but there is no cause for alarm, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Thursday on CNN’s “New Day.”

“At this time, we don’t want people to worry,” Murthy said. “These numbers are still small; we want them to be aware of (the) symptoms and, if they have any concerns, to reach out to their doctor.”

What are the initial symptoms of monkeypox? There is an incubation period of some seven to 14 days, the CDC said. Initial symptoms are typically flu-like, such as fever, chills, exhaustion, headache and muscle weakness, followed by swelling in the lymph nodes, which help the body fight infection and disease.

“A feature that distinguishes infection with monkeypox from that of smallpox is the development of swollen lymph nodes,” the CDC said.

Next comes a widespread rash on the face and body, including inside the mouth and on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

The painful, raised poxes are pearly and fluid-filled, often surrounded by red circles. The lesions finally scab over and resolve over a period of two to three weeks, the CDC said.

“Treatment is generally supportive as there are no specific drugs available. However, a vaccine is available that can be given to prevent the development of disease,” Jimmy Whitworth, professor of International Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement.

Close contact with an infected individual is required for the spread of the monkeypox virus, experts say.

Research contact: @CNN

The new ‘Top Gun’ will need mighty wings

May 23, 2022

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, “Top Gun” fans should be flying high. Paramount Pictures’ “Top Gun: Maverick” makes its debut next weekend—almost exactly 36 years after the original movie first hit theaters, reports The Wall Street Journal.

It also might be one of the most delayed movies of the pandemic era, having seen its release date move four times since April 2020. But the studio seems to have picked its final landing spot well; the domestic box office has hit about $2.3 billion so far this year, propelled by blockbusters like “The Batman” and “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Both films scored among the highest opening weekends of their respective franchises—even when compared with prepandemic releases, according to Box Office Mojo.

Despite all the trappings of a blockbuster in its own right, though, the new “Top Gun” is still risky in the COVID era, the Journal says. The domestic box office is trending more than 40% below its prepandemic level. Those films that have worked mostly come from established franchises in the superhero genre. That creates uncertain prospects for a movie with a single predecessor that came out during the Cold War. Even young teens who loved the first “Top Gun” are pushing 50 now—a demographic that has proven somewhat reluctant to return to movie theaters.

Still, that one movie was a big deal. The original “Top Gun” was the top-grossing film of 1986 and became a cultural touchstone, firmly establishing Tom Cruise as one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading actors. Its total inflation-adjusted domestic haul of nearly $438 million made it the highest-grossing movie until the first “Batman” came out three years later, according to box-office data site The Numbers.

Epectations aren’t quite as high this time, but they are close. Shawn Robbins of Boxoffice Pro, which makes projections for U.S. theatrical exhibitors, estimates “Top Gun: Maverick” will range between $280 million to $395 million in total domestic box office. That would put the movie solidly in the top-five projected grossing films for the summer; projections for the new “Dr. Strange” and “Jurassic World Dominion,” coming out in mid-June, are currently higher.

Paramount Global, the recently renamed parent of the namesake studio, is expected to see theatrical revenue jump 71% year over year, to about $229 million in the second quarter—the segment’s highest since the third quarter of 2019, according to consensus estimates from FactSet.

And analysts expect U.S. theater chains AMC Entertainment and Cinemark to report combined admission revenue topping $1 billion for the second quarter—another postpandemic high.

Can the new “Top Gun” hit that target? Yes, the Journal says—provided the movie has appeal beyond the Gen-X crowd that made the first one such a hit. According to a recent survey by Wedbush Securities, more than half of those aged 45 and up haven’t been to a movie theater over the past year, compared with just over 20% of those between 18 and 24. But the same survey found nearly 70% of respondents in the 45-55 age category planned to attend a movie this year, with even higher numbers in younger age brackets.

Appealing to a wide audience in 2022 requires the new “Top Gun” to keep the charm of the original while losing some of its more dated elements. Early reviews suggest that it has, with many calling the new film superior to the first and praising the aerial shots and other visual effects that were created largely without computers.

And Cruise, who turns 60 in July, has done well keeping himself in front of younger movie audiences. His “Mission: Impossible” franchise, alone, has totaled nearly $3.6 billion in global box office revenue to date, with two more installments currently in production.

Research contact: @WSJ

January 6 panel presses GOP lawmaker about Capitol tour

May 23, 2022

On May 19, the leaders of the House special committee investigating the January. 6 attack on the Capitol asked a Republican congressman to submit to questioning about a tour of the complex that he allegedly gave one day before the riot—saying they were looking into whether rioters had conducted reconnaissance of the building before the rampage, reports The New York Times.

In a Thursday letter to Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia), the top two members of the panel said investigators had obtained evidence that the Georgia Republican had led a tour through parts of the Capitol complex on January 5, 2021, when it was closed to visitors because of pandemic restrictions. Loudermilk has denied having led any “reconnaissance” tour.

“Public reporting and witness accounts indicate some individuals and groups engaged in efforts to gather information about the layout of the U.S. Capitol, as well as the House and Senate office buildings, in advance of January 6, 2021,” said a letter to Loudermilk from Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the panel, and Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chairwoman.

They did not directly allege that any person escorted by Loudermilk later attacked the Capitol. But they suggested that they had obtained evidence that he had led visitors around the complex, writing that their review of evidence “directly contradicts” Republicans’ denials that closed-circuit security camera footage showed no such tours had taken place.

In a statement, Loudermilk conceded that he had brought constituents into parts of the Capitol complex the day before the riot, but he said the visit had been innocuous.

“A constituent family with young children meeting with their Member of Congress in the House office buildings is not a suspicious group or ‘reconnaissance tour.’ The family never entered the Capitol building,” Loudermilk wrote in a joint statement with Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, adding: “No place that the family went on the 5th was breached on the 6th, the family did not enter the Capitol grounds on the 6th, and no one in that family has been investigated or charged in connection to January 6th.”

The statement did not say whether Loudermilk would agree to meet with the panel to discuss the matter.

Research contact: @nytimes

New York’s new congressional maps would place five pairs of incumbents in the same districts

May 20, 2022

A new set of draft maps for New York’s congressional districts were released on May 16—upending several potential races and sending candidates scurrying to reset their campaigns or reconsider their plans to run, reports Politico.

The maps for New York’s 26 congressional districts will play an instrumental role in whether Democrats can retain control of the House in the midterm elections—and the latest maps, drawn by a special master after a successful court case by Republicans, would pit several Democrats against one another.

 The maps would create five districts that contain the homes of multiple incumbents, potentially setting the stage for several high-profile battles for August and November. Those include a battle for parts of Manhattan between Democratic veteran Representatives Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney.

 Nadler ripped the proposed lines, but added that “provided that they become permanent, I very much look forward to running in and representing the people of the newly created 12th District of New York.”

 

Indeed, the draft lines create a lot more competition than what had previously been expected. Maps drawn by Democrats in February would have made their party the favorite in 22 of the state’s 26 seats, with only a small handful of the seats having even the potential for upsets. Those were thrown out by New York’s top court last month, and the mapmaking process has since been handed to Steuben County Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister and special master Jonathan Cervas, a fellow at Carnegie Mellon. 
The maps proposed by Cervas would lead to 21 districts where Democrats would have an edge based on their performance in past elections. But that edge is extremely slim in at least five of these seats, leading to multiple races that will likely be considered toss-ups. In a couple of others, a Republican upset is far from implausible.
Cervas’ plans are not final. There is now a brief public comment period before he releases binding maps on Friday, May 20. 
If the maps stand, even when incumbents were drawn into the same seats, they could very well opt against running against each other. Members of Congress do not need to reside in the districts they represent, so there could well be a few members who decide to stay put, but run for office a couple of miles down the road. 
But unless the plans released Friday contain major overhauls, it’s clear that there will be numerous free-for-alls in New York in the coming months, featuring several seats that had been on few peoples’ radars into hotly competitive races.

 Research contact: @politico