Monday, February 22, 2021

A bill that would create firearm classes in Utah high schools has cleared a House committee

Representative Rex Shipp (R-Cedar City, Utah), the sponsor of House Bill 258, said it’s important to train students on firearms, especially since the Legislature recently passed a law allowing the citizens of Utah to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. His bill, he said, is designed “to help people feel safe around guns.” “I think it’s important that our school kids have an opportunity to learn about firearm safety,” he told the House Judiciary Committee. The committee passed the bill, 6 to 3. The proposal would create a pilot program for three years in three school districts. Parental consent would be required, and the half-semester course would be an elective, Shipp said. The course would focus on firearm safety and suicide prevention but also on how to use guns, marksmanship, and accuracy. (KUTV)


Jobless claims reach 4-week high

Applications for unemployment insurance rose to their highest level in four weeks, at 861,000, though the spread of the coronavirus has slowed. The continued elevation in new claims last week compares with a pre-pandemic high of 695,000 and was accompanied by continuing claims of about 4.5 million. Supplemental jobless benefits are set to expire in mid-March, meanwhile, adding urgency to the passage of a new relief package by Congress. (Bloomberg)


Male balding is a major risk factor for severe COVID-19

Recent studies suggest that men with pattern baldness are at high risk for severe symptomatic COVID-19 infection. Two preliminary studies1 , 2 noted high rates of androgenic alopecia in men hospitalized for severe COVID-19. Both of these uncontrolled observational studies were limited by small sample size. To further evaluate this intriguing observation, researchers examined severity of hair loss in 1941 hospitalized male patients tested for COVID-19 using data from the UK Biobank. They conducted multivariable logistic regression analysis, where the outcome was a positive COVID-19 test result, and the main variable of interest was severity of balding. Other variables accounted for were age, body mass index (BMI), hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes. (United States Library of Medicine)


Japan’s ruling party invites more women to meetings, as long as they don’t talk

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, long seen as a homogeneous redoubt of elderly men, now wants more women at its key meetings – provided they don’t do the talking. The party, in power for most of the time since 1955, has proposed allowing five female lawmakers to join its board meetings as observers in a response to criticism that its board is dominated by men. Two of the party’s 12-member board are women, while only three of its 25-member general council are women. The proposal comes after sexist comments from former Tokyo Olympics chief, himself an LDP member and a onetime prime minister, sparked a global outcry and renewed attention on gender disparity in the world’s third-largest economy. The move would allow more female LDP members to see how decisions were being made, said the party’s 82-year-old secretary general. He said he had heard criticism the party’s elected board was dominated by men. (Reuters)


US life expectancy dropped a full year in first half of 2020, according to CDC

Life expectancy in the US dropped a full year in the first half of 2020, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Experts say that Covid-19 was a significant factor contributing to the decline. The life expectancy for the entire US population fell to 77.8 years, similar to what it was in 2006, CDC data shows. Changes to life expectancy also widened racial and ethnic inequities. Compared to 2019, life expectancy for non-Hispanic Black people in the US fell about three times what it did for non-Hispanic White people, by 2.7 years. It fell by twice as much for Hispanic people, by 1.9 years. Over the past 40 years, life expectancy has increased slowly but rarely declined. Between 2014 and 2017, a peak period of the opioid epidemic, life expectancy declined a third of a year, which itself was significant. (CNN)


Losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million in 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent stay-at-home and social distancing directives might have played a major role in romance scams losses reaching record levels in 2020, the US Federal Trade Commission said in a report. Total losses were estimated at a record $304 million, up about 50% from 2019, with the average loss last year being estimated at $2,500 per individual. “From 2016 to 2020, reported total dollar losses increased more than fourfold, and the number of reports nearly tripled,” the agency said. The FTC believes that the 50% spike in extra losses recorded in 2020 can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited people’s ability to meet in person and has forced more users towards using online long-distance and impersonal communications, such as dating apps. In most cases, the ruse of these scams is that the targets of a romance scam have to send money back to the crooks. Furthermore, the FTC also warned that many romance scams don’t always start on dating apps but also on social media networks. The most common forms of transferring money from victims were gift cards, which saw a 70% spike from 2019, followed by wire transfers. And according to the FTC, all age groups are targeted last year, and not just the elderly. Victims aged 40 to 69 were targeted the most, victims aged above 70 reported the highest average losses (~$9,475), but other age groups also saw spikes in reports and average losses as well. (Federal Trade Commission)


Silver monolith torched in Congo after mysterious appearance

The latest in a series of mystery monoliths to capture the imagination of science-fiction fans around the world met a fiery end in the Democratic Republic of Congo when it was torched at a roundabout in the capital. When the 12-foot metallic structure first appeared, a crowd of curious onlookers snapped selfies and debated its possible origins. Videos posted on social media later in the day showed residents destroying the structure with sticks and then setting it on fire. Similar alien-looking pillars were spotted in a Utah desert in the United States in November, and then in Romania and Turkey, sparking conspiracy theories and comparisons to the monoliths in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” (Reuters)


The Cotoneaster franchetii is a “super-plant” that has the potential for use in absorbing road pollution, according to the U.K.’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

Researchers analyzed several different types of plants and found the cotoneaster was 20% more effective at absorbing pollution than other plants, though it would only make a large difference near the busiest, most-polluted roads. They recommended using cotoneaster along busy roads and planting a variety of shrubs in less polluted areas. The researchers also studied plants that can help cool buildings and prevent flooding. (The Guardian)


Three quantum devices linked in a network for the first time, a key step toward demonstrating the possibility of a quantum internet 

Physicists have taken a major step towards a future quantum version of the Internet by linking three quantum devices in a network. A quantum internet would enable ultrasecure communications and unlock scientific applications such as new types of sensor for gravitational waves, and telescopes with unprecedented resolution. The results were reported on February 8th on the arXiv preprint repository. Quantum communications exploit phenomena that are unique to the quantum realm, such as the ability of elementary particles or atoms to exist in a “superposition” of multiple simultaneous states, or to share an “entangled” state with other particles. Researchers had demonstrated the principles of a three-node quantum network before, but the latest approach could more readily lead to practical applications. (Nature)


Black-footed ferret cloned; marks the first successful cloning of an endangered species in the US 

Researchers have successfully cloned a highly endangered ferret species using cells that were frozen more than three decades ago. The adorable clone, named Elizabeth Ann, is a species of black-footed ferret, one of the most endangered mammals in North America. Elizabeth Ann was created using cells from “Willa,” a wild black-footed ferret who died and had her cells cryopreserved in 1988, according to a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which was involved in the cloning. The feat marks the first time an endangered species in the United States has been cloned, the statement said. Researchers hope Elizabeth Ann will help bring genetic diversity to the black-footed ferret population, which today is descended from just seven individual ferrets, making all living members of the species essentially half-siblings. (Live Science)


Selfie-taking tourists could be spreading Covid-19 to gorillas

Tourists who take selfies with wild mountain gorillas could put the primates at risk of developing Covid-19, according to new research. Scientists from Oxford Brookes University, England, looked at hundreds of Instagram posts from people visiting the animals in East Africa and found most tourists were close enough to gorillas to spread viruses and diseases, according to a press release from the university. Mountain gorillas are listed as endangered, with an estimated 1,063 of them left in the wild, according to the release. They live in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Virunga National Park), Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park), and Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park). Researchers looked at 858 photos posted on Instagram from 2013-2019 under two hashtags — #gorillatrekking and #gorillatracking, said the study. Of that number, 86% showed people within four meters (13.1 feet) of gorillas, and 25 of those photos showed tourists touching gorillas. Researchers found tourists were close enough to the East African primates to make transmission possible. (CNN)


Walmart to bump pay for 425K workers

Walmart has announced plans to increase pay for 425,000 workers after reporting strong sales throughout the pandemic and into the holidays. Walmart says the raises boost pay to an average above $15 an hour for workers in digital and stocking roles. Its minimum starting wage remains $11 an hour, while starting pay at rivals Amazon and Target is $15 an hour. The retail giant reported an 8.6% jump in in-store and digital sales in its latest quarter, further accelerating from 6.4% the quarter before, and a 69% spike in e-commerce sales compared to a year ago. (The Wall Street Journal)


Alaska woman using outhouse attacked by bear, from below

An Alaska woman had the scare of a lifetime when using an outhouse in the backcountry and she was attacked by a bear, from below. “I got out there and sat down on the toilet and immediately something bit my butt right as I sat down,” she said. “I jumped up and I screamed when it happened.” She, her brother and his girlfriend had taken snowmobiles into the wilderness February 13th to stay at his yurt, located about 20 miles northwest of Haines, in southeast Alaska. Her brother heard the screaming and went out to the outhouse, about 150 feet away from the yurt. There, he found her tending to her wound. They at first thought she had been bitten by a squirrel or a mink, or something small. “I opened the toilet seat and there’s just a bear face just right there at the level of the toilet seat, just looking right back up through the hole, right at me,” the brother said. “I just shut the lid as fast as I could. I said, ‘There’s a bear down there, we got to get out of here now,’” he said. “And we ran back to the yurt as fast as we could.” Once safely back inside, they treated his with a first aid kit. They determined it wasn’t that serious, but they would head to Haines if it worsened. The next morning, they found bear tracks all over the property, but the bear had left the area. They figure the bear got inside the outhouse through an opening at the bottom of the back door. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Management Biologists believe it was a black bear based upon photos of the tracks he saw and the fact that a neighbor living about a half mile away sent him a photo of a black bear on her property two days later. (Yahoo)


Monday Slaps Down With:

  • California Day
  • Cook a Sweet Potato Day
  • Cupcake Day (Canada)
  • For The Love of Mike Day
  • George Washington’s Birthday
  • Museum Advocacy Day
  • Margarita Day
  • Play More Cards Day (Last Monday)
  • Shrove Monday
  • Tex Avery Day
  • Wildlife Day
  • Woolworth’s Day
  • World Thinking Day