Thursday, September 24, 2020

Pandemic’s next shortage: homes

The pandemic is making the U.S. housing crisis even worse, fueling a home-buying rush while simultaneously prompting many potential sellers to keep their homes off the market. Buyers are looking for more living space as the crisis prolongs remote work, while homeowners are pressing pause on selling plans due to fears of virus exposure, concerns about finding a new home in a competitive market and ultralow interest rates that are both incentivizing people to buy and homeowners to stay put. It’s creating a shortage of existing homes that’s pushing prices higher and straining the budgets of many middle-class and first-time home buyers. (The Wall Street Journal)


Facebook vows to restrict users if US election descends into chaos

Facebook has said it will take aggressive and exceptional measures to “restrict the circulation of content” on its platform if November’s presidential election descends into chaos or violent civic unrest. The company’s head of global affairs said it had drawn up plans for how to handle a range of outcomes, including widespread civic unrest or “the political dilemmas” of having in-person votes counted more rapidly than mail-in ballots, which will play a larger role in this election due to the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed actions, which would probably go further than any previously taken by a US platform, come as the social media group is under increasing pressure to lay out how it plans to combat election-related misinformation, voter suppression and the incitement of violence on the November 3 election day and during the post-election period. It also comes as concerns mount that even US president Donald Trump himself could take to social media to contest the result or call for violent protest, potentially triggering a constitutional crisis. “There are some break-glass options available to us if there really is an extremely chaotic and, worse still, violent set of circumstances,” he said, though he stopped short of elaborating further on what measures were on the table. (Ars Technica)


Dead whales appearing in Australia

At least a third of 270 whales stranded off Tasmania have died and more are feared to be dying, rescuers in Australia say. However, crews were able to save 25 of the animals and are aiming to escort more back into the sea. The pilot whales were discovered in shallow waters off the west coast of the island. It’s unknown what drew the whales to the shore. Marine biologists say the rescue mission will likely take days. Whale beaching is common in the region, but one of this size has not been seen in over a decade. Tasmania last recorded a mass stranding in 2009 involving around 200 whales. (BBC)


New drug candidate found for hand, foot and mouth disease

Researchers have identified a potential drug candidate against enterovirus 71, a common cause of hand, foot and mouth disease in infants and young children. The compound of interest is a small molecule that binds to RNA, the virus’s genetic material, and changes its 3-D shape in a way that stops the virus from multiplying without harming its human host. It’s an antiviral strategy that could be used on other hard-to-treat diseases. There are currently no FDA-approved drugs or vaccines for enterovirus 71, which affects hundreds of thousands of children each year, particularly in Southeast Asia. While most people get better within 7 to 10 days after suffering little more than a fever and rash, severe cases can cause brain inflammation, paralysis and even death. The work could pave the way for new treatments for other viral infections as well, says a team of scientists at Duke University, Case Western Reserve University and Rutgers University. (Science Daily)


New emojis are coming in 2021, including a heart on fire, a woman with a beard and over 200 mixed-skin-tone options for couples

The Unicode Consortium, a non-profit that oversees emoji standards and is responsible for new releases, announced the release of more than 200 emojis that will hit cell phones throughout next year in a limited “Emoji 13.1” release. Unicode called it a “minor release” to add new emojis before 2022. The consortium announced in April there would be no new emojis until 2022 because of the pandemic. The attempted gender-inclusive design offers three variants of the beard: a “person” with a beard, a “woman” with a beard and a “man” with a beard with the “person” option meant to be the gender-neutral one. But the bulk of the update, comprising 200 out of the 217 new emojis, is dedicated to skin tones for the “couple with heart” emoji and the “kiss” emoji. Current options offer only the default “yellow” skin tone for both, but the update will allow other skin tones to be specified. This would also allow for the depiction of interracial relationships. Other fun additions include a face/head in the clouds (either a deity or the visual representation of daydreaming) and a face blowing out a breath or cloud of smoke. The updates could hit your phone anywhere from January to October 2021, with the more complete “Emoji 14.0” package set to drop in 2022. (Unicode)


Man Jumps Off Motorcycle, Saves Toddler Rolling Down Hill At High Speed

A man was filmed jumping off his motorcycle to save a baby rolling down a steep road in a walker. In a video that has gone massively viral on social media, the man was seen riding his motorcycle when he noticed the toddler rolling down a steep slope at high speed while still secured to its walker. The footage shows the motorcyclist acting quickly, he stops his bike in the middle of the road, shrugs off his bag and runs to catch the baby before it could roll further down the slope and hurt itself. Seconds after he managed to stop the speeding walker and save the toddler, a woman appears running at the scene. The incident occurred in the Rincon de la Estrella neighborhood of the city of Florencia, Colombia, on September 14. The video surfaced online last week and millions of social media users have since praised the motorcyclist’s courage and quick reflexes. (NDTV)


3-digit emergency suicide hotline bill officially passes Congress

The bill to establish a national three-digit suicide emergency hotline passed the House of Representatives unanimously, four months after passing the Senate and nine months after the FCC approved the number, and will now head to the President. When the hotline activates sometime in 2022, after a two-year phase-in period, anyone will be able to dial 988 if they’re in a mental health emergency. The phase-in period gives phone providers two years to set up the routing to 988. In the meantime, and even after the short number is fully operational, 1-800-273-8255 (or 1-800-273-TALK) will remain active for anyone who needs help. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act will allow states to collect fees for the ongoing call capacity of local crisis centers; it also directs health agencies to report to Congress on strategies aimed at better supporting at-risk groups like LGBTQ youth, minorities, and rural people; and the Act requires LGBTQ cultural competency training for all counselors on the hotline, as well as integrated voice response options for LGBTQ youth so they can access specialized care. (Yahoo News)


NBA legend Michael Jordan becomes first Black majority owner of a full-time NASCAR Cup Series team since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1970s

NBA legend Michael Jordan is trying his hand at another sport, starting up a NASCAR team with Bubba Wallace as the driver. Jordan announced that he’s joining with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a team that will compete in the NASCAR Cup Series starting next season. “Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.” Michael Jordan will serve as the principal owner of the still-to-be-named, single-car team, while Denny Hamlin will maintain a minority stake as he continues to drive the Number 11 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. (USA Today)


A pair of Utah men have been convicted of felony charges stemming from attempts to cheat in a bass fishing tournament

A 45-year-old man and a 35-year-old man pleaded guilty last month to felony bribery or threat to influence a contest and misdemeanor unlawful release of wildlife and unlawful captivity of protected wildlife. Conservation officers received a report of illegal activity in October 2018 through a tip line. Charging documents said both men took several bass from the Quail Lake Reservoir in southwest Utah without authorization or permits and transported the fish about 180 miles east to Lake Powell. The men then submitted the fish to a Lake Powell large-mouth bass fishing tournament. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said competition organizers noticed some fish submitted for judging by the men looked much different from other bass caught during the tournament. The men were each ordered to serve two years of probation and 48 hours of community service and pay a $2,500 fine. The charges will be dismissed after successful completion of all sentencing requirements. (KTVX)


A man known as the ‘Dreadhead Cowboy’ was arrested for riding his horse on a Chicago highway

Drivers on a Chicago highway saw an unusual sight on Monday afternoon: A single cowboy riding alongside vehicles, slowing down traffic amid rush hour. The Dreadhead Cowboy, a local celebrity, said he rode down the Dan Ryan Expressway in support of the #KidsLivesMatter movement. The initiative aims to raise awareness and motivate residents to fill out the U.S. Census to help communities receive better funding. “All imma say until we focus on Kids lives matter this gone keep happening,” he wrote on Facebook ahead of the ride. He was taken into custody by Illinois State Police. The cowboy is a known activist in the Chicago community, and has even worked with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to advocate for filling out the Census. In the video posted to Facebook, he is seen riding down the expressway, seemingly with a motorcycle escort, and yelling “Kids Lives Matter.” The horse was taken into police custody by the Chicago Police Department, and videos posted to social media showed the horse being loaded into a Chicago Police Mounted Patrol Trailer. (ABC 7)


The popcorn market may have popped

With movie theaters shut down, people are obviously eating less movie theater snacks. This has left the farmers who supply theaters (and other venues) with a massive surplus of unsold food. Popcorn farmers who typically sell to movie theaters and other venues (bars, concert halls, sporting events, etc.) are struggling amid the pandemic. For these farmers, the summer months usually mean big business. But this year, it’s a different story. While microwave popcorn brands have reportedly seen sales surge, many farmers who provide corn to theaters and other similar venues (typically in 50- to 100-pound bags) don’t have the equipment or infrastructure to switch their sales models. The problem is reportedly getting worse as the type of corn used for popcorn is usually harvested at the end of September. After being harvested, the kernels typically stay good for about a year. After that, they become too dry to pop, making them no good for popcorn. With the future of movie theaters still uncertain, many farmers are reportedly concerned that it will still be some time before popcorn sales return to normal levels. As a result, some companies are partnering with suppliers to sell smaller bags of their corn directly to consumers. Unfortunately, this still leaves an estimated 111 million pounds of unsold and unpopped corn. Americans reportedly eat 70% of their popcorn at home and 30% at theaters and other public venues. An estimated 300,000 acres of popcorn are planted annually. (The Washington Post)


Middle-class finances take a hit

While it’s clear that the economic effects of the pandemic are hitting low-wage workers particularly hard, the American middle class is also now struggling to repay its debt. Unemployment and under-employment remain challenges for many white-collar workers, just as consumer and housing debt have steadily climbed in recent years. Many higher-income workers found that pandemic-related unemployment benefits didn’t cover all of their lost pay, and are now struggling with debt repayments, especially in expensive cities. (The Wall Street Journal)


Parents tackle man accused of spying on girl in bathroom

Authorities say a group of parents tackled and restrained a registered sex offender accused of spying on a 15-year-old girl in the bathroom of a restaurant in Duncan, South Carolina restaurant. Police say 53-year-old man has been charged with voyeurism, as well as possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. Court records show that he has several past convictions for similar behavior in both North and South Carolina dating back more than 20 years. News outlets report that the incident occurred when the girl was using the bathroom at a Cracker Barrel and noticed a man looking out from under the stall beside her. (ABC News)


Thursday Gets Crunk With:

  • Bluebird of Happiness Day
  • Cherries Jubilee Day
  • Familial Hypercholesterolemia Day
  • Punctuation Day
  • Remember Me Thursday (4th Thursday)
  • Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving
  • World Maritime Day (Last Thursday)

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