Friday, May 14, 2021

Women exit the workforce again

Women left the U.S. workforce in droves again in April, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reigniting discussion about the need for childcare as the economic recovery hits resistance. Data show the COVID economy has been especially difficult on working moms, many of whom have had service jobs or shoulder a larger share of child-rearing duties if they’ve been able to work from home. According to the latest data, Latinas have taken the hardest hit in the workforce, shrinking by 5% since the start of the pandemic, followed by Black women. (Bloomberg)


Hacker group releases private personnel records of Washington, DC, police officers after city refuses ransom

A ransomware gang that hacked the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in April posted personnel records on Tuesday that revealed highly sensitive details for almost two dozen officers, including the results of psychological assessments and polygraph tests; driver’s license images; fingerprints; social security numbers; dates of birth; and residential, financial, and marriage histories. The data, included in a 161MB download from a website on the dark web, was made available after negotiations broke down between members of the Babuk ransomware group and MPD officials. After earlier threatening to leak the names of confidential informants to crime gangs, the operators agreed to remove the data while they carried out the now-aborted negotiations, the transcripts showed. The operators demanded $4 million in exchange for a promise not to publish any more information and provide a decryption key that would restore the data. Like virtually all ransomware operators these days, those with Babuk employ a double extortion model, which charges not only for the decryption key to unlock the stolen data but also in exchange for the promise not to make any of the data available publicly. The operators typically leak small amounts of data in hopes of motivating the victims to pay the fee. If victims refuse, future releases include ever more private and sensitive information. The ransomware attack on the MPD has no known connection to the one that has hit Colonial Pipeline. (Ars Technica)


Scientists find fake pollen, used by orchids to trick insects into helping them reproduce, is as nutritious as regular pollen

Orchids are among the most devious flowering plants on the planet. Many species trick pollinators into helping them reproduce. Some release sex pheromones that attract male insects, whereas others make fake pollen to tempt bees and other pollinators with the promise of a meal. Scientists have now shown this pseudopollen isn’t just an alluring counterfeit: It’s as nutritious as the real thing. The work is “a step forward” for the field says a botanist and specialist in orchid anatomy at Cardiff University. This is the first time scientists have been able to show pseudopollen isn’t just fool’s gold, he says. Like most orchids, Cypripedium wardii doesn’t produce edible pollen. The species, native to China and Tibet and characterized by slipper-shaped peppermint blossoms, must use other means to entice its insect pollinators. Its flowers don’t offer nectar, nor do they seem to have an appealing fragrance. Instead, their lips are dusted with a powder formed by small hairs that break off, coating the surface; it looks a lot like actual pollen. Several types of orchid produce this pseudopollen. Some contains lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins. Others contain no nutrients at all. In the new study, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences observed 12 species of solitary bee and hoverfly, harmless relatives of the pests that swarm our garbage, collecting pseudopollen from C. wardii orchids in the forested mountains of Sichuan province. The scientists caught some of the insects and brought them back to their lab for dissection. Slicing into the tiny corpses, they discovered particles of pseudopollen moving through their digestive tracts, as they reported last month on the preprint server bioRxiv. Analysis of the particles found that they contained lipids, indicating their nutritional value. Regardless of whether they deceive their guests, C. wardii orchids seem to have evolved a clever way to ensure that their flowers get fertilized. (Science Magazine)


Tesla will no longer accept Bitcoin due to the “insane” carbon footprint of the cryptocurrency, founder and CEO Elon Musk said

In late March, Musk said the automaker would start accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment for its cars, but on Wednesday he scrapped those plans, saying that although cryptocurrencies have a “promising future,” their use is linked to “great cost to the environment.” In a statement posted on Twitter, Elon Musk said Tesla is concerned that the energy used to mine Bitcoin is being produced by burning fossil fuels, especially coal. Tesla will only start accepting Bitcoin again if the cryptocurrency transitions to “more sustainable energy,” the statement said, adding that the company may decide to accept other cryptocurrencies if they “use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction.” The value of Bitcoin fell about 10%, to around $46,000, following the statement. When it unveiled plans to start accepting bitcoin as a form of payment, Tesla said it had acquired $1.5B worth of Bitcoin. (NBC News)


Next year, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. will start displaying a new artifact: the Star Wars X-Wing Starfighter

The prop, which boasts a wingspan of 37 feet, was used during the filming of 2019’s “Rise of Skywalker” and has been loaned to the museum by LucasFilm. The X-Wing Starfighter appeared in ten Star Wars films, including the first film released in 1977. It is now being assembled and restored before being hung from the ceiling of the museum. The Smithsonian previously displayed Star Wars artifacts in its 1997 exhibition “Star Wars: The Magic of Myth,” which explored the work of the creator of the franchise, George Lucas. (Smithsonian Magazine)


McDonald’s will hike hourly wages by 10% at the roughly 650 fast-food restaurants it operates in the U.S. in a bid to hire more workers

The pay raise will benefit some 36,500 workers, including entry-level employees who will earn $11-$17 per hour, as well as shift managers, who will have a base salary of $15-$20 an hour. The increase will not apply to the approximately 13,000 McDonald’s outlets operated by franchisees. Last week, McDonald’s workers in 15 U.S. cities said they planned to walk off the job on May 19 to demand a $15/hour minimum wage. McDonald’s wants to hire 10,000 more hourly workers in the short term. Chipotle and Taco Bell have also announced salary increases as fast-food chains struggle to find workers during the ongoing economic recovery. Chipotle wants to hire 20,000 new workers and Subway needs 40,000. Bars and restaurants accounted for about half of the about 331,000 new jobs created by the leisure and hospitality industry in April. The U.S. unemployment rate increased slightly in April as companies struggled to find workers. (Reuters)


A new study found concerning levels of PFAS in the breast milk of American women

A new study that checked American women’s breast milk for PFAS contamination detected the toxic chemical in all 50 samples tested, and at levels nearly 2,000 times higher than the level some public health advocates advise is safe for drinking water. The findings “are cause for concern” and highlight a potential threat to newborns’ health, the study’s authors say. “The study shows that PFAS contamination of breast milk is likely universal in the US, and that these harmful chemicals are contaminating what should be nature’s perfect food,” said a co-author and science director with Toxic Free Future, a Seattle-based non-profit that pushes industry to find alternatives to the chemicals. PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 9,000 compounds that are used to make products like food packaging, clothing and carpeting water and stain resistant. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and have been found to accumulate in humans. They are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts and a range of other serious health problems. (The Guardian)


A Japanese hospital doctors union has cautioned that it will be “impossible” to hold the upcoming Tokyo Olympics safely if the global coronavirus pandemic continues

The union, which represents staff doctors at hospitals, is one of a number in Japan for different medical professionals. The statement comes as Japan battles a fourth wave of virus infections, with several areas including the capital under a state of emergency. The surge has put pressure on the country’s health care system, with medical professionals repeatedly warning about shortages and burnout. In recent days, several governors have said they will not allocate hospital beds for athletes and plans for teams to train in Japan before the games have in some cases been scrapped. With just over 10 weeks until the games open on July 23, public opinion remains opposed, with most favoring a further delay or cancellation, but organizers say they can safely hold the games thanks to virus countermeasures and point to a string of successful recent test events, including some featuring overseas athletes. (Japan Times)


Target stores in the United States to stop selling Pokémon cards after rising value prompts threats to staff

US retail giant Target will stop selling Pokémon playing cards out of an “abundance of caution” for its staff and other shoppers. The re-sale value of the cards has increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, prompting chaos and threats to staff. Target will also stop selling MLB, NFL and NBA sports playing cards. The decision comes after man pulled a gun during a fight over trading cards in a Target parking lot in Brookfield, Wisconsin on May 7th. Police said the 35-year-old man produced the gun when he was assaulted by four men aged 23-35 as he left the store. (WISN)


Owners of Milwaukee bakery print burglary suspect’s picture on sugar cookies

The owners of the Canfora Bakery in Milwaukee are a couple of smart cookies. The Canfora Bakery, also known as the Lakeside Bakery, was burglarized on April 19th by an unidentified suspect who fled into the night with ill-gotten cash and equipment. Owners didn’t have much to go on, but what they did have was an image of the suspect captured by Canfora’s security cameras. “So, we made delicious sugar cookies with his image on them!” the bakery announced in a Facebook post shared on May 1st. The idea was to “see if the community could identify” the suspect. “We invite the Bay View community to come on in and take a bite out of the thief while supplies last,” the bakery added in its Facebook post. Followers were also urged to contact the Milwaukee Police Department with any knowledge of the suspect’s identity. The idea almost immediately worked, as the bakery’s Facebook post soon began generating tips from locals. “He has been identified!” the bakery later wrote in an update posted to Facebook. “Thank you to everyone who responded.” (Journal Sentinel)


Air pollution remains a major cause of death in the United States, one usually associated with tailpipe exhaust and factory and power plant smokestacks

Now new research shows that 16,000 U.S. deaths are the result of air polluted by growing and raising food—and 80 percent of those result from producing animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs. Additional deaths are attributable to products we don’t eat, including ethanol, leather, or wool. That brings the total number of deaths from agricultural air pollution to 17,900 a year. The environmental impact of certain foods, such as their carbon footprint and land or water use, has been researched for more than a decade. But the new study is the first to identify which individual foods and diets have the biggest effect on the air pollution that causes asthma, heart attacks, and strokes. (National Geographic)


‘Lost’ microbes found in ancient poop could relieve chronic illness

Scientists working with samples of ancient feces have found previously unknown microbes that could help in the fight against chronic illnesses such as diabetes. The microbes lived in our ancestors’ digestive systems, forming part of the ancient human gut microbiome, which differs significantly to those found in people living in modern industrialized societies. The microbiome is a combination of fungi, bacteria and viruses that resides in your gut, primarily in the large intestine, helping digest food, fight disease and regulate the immune system. The research team of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston reconstructed a total of 498 microbial genomes and concluded that 181 were from ancient humans. Of those, 61 had not previously been found in other samples. The team then compared them with present-day gut microbiomes from industrial and nonindustrial populations and found that the ancient ones are closer to today’s non-industrial genomes. The plan is to first see if the rediscovered microbes are in fact present in nonindustrial populations alive today, and then introduce gut biomes from nonindustrial people into animals to see how they are affected. Next is pinpointing certain microbes that can be introduced to the human gut, and then using synthetic biology to reconstruct them. At the same time, more archeological research is needed to determine if there is a unified human microbiome that used to exist. (CNN)


Florida man stabbed with swordfish in fight

A Florida fisherman was recovering today after being stabbed with the bill of a swordfish during a fight with another man, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said. Police arrested a 46-year old man along with another 42-year-old man after the two fishermen allegedly started fighting near a dock in Madeira Beach, a small city on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Police said that after the younger man hit the older man in the head with a beer bottle and left, the older man went to the younger man’s apartment and stabbed him in the abdomen with a sharp detached bill of a swordfish. Both men were drunk, according to police. The were held without bond on charges of aggravated battery. (Chron)


Friday Counts Down With:

  • Apraxia Awareness Day
  • Buttermilk Biscuit Day
  • Chicken Dance Day
  • Decency Day
  • Fintastic Friday: Giving Sharks A Voice (2nd Friday)
  • The Stars and Stripes Forever Day
  • Underground America Day


Historical Events

1509 – Battle of Agnadello: In northern Italy, French forces defeat the Venetians.

1643 – Four-year-old Louis XIV becomes King of France upon the death of his father, Louis XIII.

1804 – The Lewis and Clark Expedition departs from Camp Dubois and begins its historic journey by traveling up the Missouri River.

1863 – American Civil War: The Battle of Jackson takes place.

1870 – The first game of rugby in New Zealand is played in Nelson between Nelson College and the Nelson Rugby Football Club.

1929 – Wilfred Rhodes takes his 4000th first-class wicket during a performance of 9 for 39 at Leyton; he is the only player in history to have reached that plateau.

1935 – The Philippines ratifies an independence agreement.

1940 – World War II: The Battle of the Netherlands ends with the Netherlands surrendering to Germany.

1961 – American civil rights movement: The Freedom Riders bus is fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama, and the civil rights protesters are beaten by an angry mob.

1963 – Kuwait joins the United Nations.