Good News Roundup for Tuesday, January 17, 2023 — Ac-Cent …

Gun Rights

Trump, Biden probes draw more notice. But Garland has boosted focus on civil rights.

🎩 to T Maysle for mentioning this good news in a comment in Sunday’s Evening Shade. Garland gets dissed a lot on DKos, but I think his quiet, steady persistence will pay off in the end. And his focus on civil rights couldn’t be more vitally important in the current moment.

The article is very informative and worth reading in full if you can get past the paywall.

From The Washington Post:

The unanimous verdict was a huge Justice Department victory: Leaders of the extremist Oath Keepers group were convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. But Attorney General Merrick Garland did not want the news to completely overshadow another court decision that November day: A federal judge in Mississippi had approved the department’s emergency intervention into a water system crisis in the capital city of Jackson.

“I want to share more about these two significant matters,” Garland said at a news conference, giving the topics equal billing.

Aides said the approach reflected Garland’s conviction that the department’s civil rights work is just as essential as its high-profile probes of former president Donald Trump and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, especially as a deeply polarized country faces spiking hate crimes, heightened scrutiny of abusive policing, attempts to restrict voting access and a judicial rollback of federal abortion protections. ✂️ 

Justice officials say Garland has sought to broaden how the agency views civil rights work, including through the creation of its first-ever Office of Environmental Justice. …“The protection of civil rights is extremely important to me,” Garland said in an interview in December at Justice Department headquarters, “and I want people to understand that’s a priority of the department.”

Democrats Have Little to Fear From GOP House Investigations

It’s reassuring that a former federal prosecutor and former counsel to a U.S. Attorney General tells us that we really don’t need to worry about the performative investigations starting up in the House.

You Might Like

I’ve given you all I could capture. The remainder of the piece is behind a paywall.

By Shan Wu in The Daily Beast:

Flush with victory at being elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives after failing 14 times, Kevin McCarthy immediately signaled his gratitude to MAGA extremists. He announced Republicans’ intent to investigate everything from active criminal investigations being conducted by the Justice Department to “the withdrawal of Afghanistan [sic], to the origins of COVID, and to the weaponization of the F.B.I.” ✂️ 

Do Democrats have anything to fear from this promised onslaught of investigations? Not really.

The Trump era and the work of the Jan. 6 Committee itself provide a simple blueprint for Democrats in defending against these promised investigations, which may be summarized as: Comply, delay, and defy.

2023 could be the year that exposes populism for the sham that it is

Also see the story headlined “Number of populist world leaders at 20-year low” in the World News section below.

By Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post:

The Republican Party’s troubles are severe. Newt Gingrich told Axios that the party is in its worst shape in almost six decades. But it is not alone. In many countries around the world, populists are flailing.

Look at Britain, where Brexit — perhaps the ultimate 21st-century populist cause — has caused havoc within the Conservative Party, which used to be described as the world’s oldest and most successful political party. Britain has had five prime ministers in the six years since 2016; the prior five prime ministers spanned more than 30 years. The self-defeating decision to exit its largest market, the European Union, continues to depress the country’s economic prospects, and it remains the weakest of the Group of Seven economies. In the Group of 20, only Russia is projected to do worse than Britain in the near future.

The story is similar in South America. Even though that continent has been swept up in populism from both the right and left, neither version is doing very well. ✂️ 

On the other side of the globe, in Australia, right-wing politicians had embraced Trump-style policies and rhetoric. …But [Prime Minister Scott] Morrison bungled the covid-19 pandemic and had little success with the economy. In the recent elections, Australia’s conservatives suffered their worst loss ever, and the even more extreme United Australia and One Nation Parties did poorly as well. The new Labor prime minister enjoys an extraordinarily high approval rating.

Why is this happening? Populism thrives as an opposition movement. It denounces the establishment, encourages fears and conspiracy theories about nefarious ruling elites, and promises emotional responses rather than actual programs (build a wall, ban immigration, stop trade). But once in government, the shallowness of its policy proposals is exposed, and its leaders can’t blame others as easily. Meanwhile, if non-populist forces are sensible and actually get things done, they defang some of the populist right.

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🍿 Repellent Republicans Rushing toward Ruin 🍿

More Santos slime

I know, I know…Santos is low-hanging fruit for schadenfreude. But each new reveal is just impossible to resist. And OMG, they’re coming at a head-spinning pace!

Russian Oligarch’s Cousin Funneled Cash to N.Y. Politician

WaPo has now picked up this story, but Daily Beast got there first.

From Daily Beast:

The cousin and cash handler for one of Russia’s most notorious oligarchs poured tens of thousands of dollars into electing a newly minted congressman-elect who called Ukraine’s government “a totalitarian regime.” ✂️

[Devolder-Santos] has insisted that Ukraine “welcomed the Russians into their provinces”… It was not the first time Devolder-Santos had parroted Kremlin talking points. In the weeks before Putin’s brutal, blundering attack upon his western neighbor, the candidate repeatedly took to Twitter to accuse President Joe Biden of plotting to “start a war” with Russia and deploy American troops to Ukraine. ✂️

But unreported until now is that by the time Devolder-Santos made these statements, his congressional ambitions had already received a $32,800 boost from a controversial figure linked to the uppermost echelons of the Russian regime—and that support would more than double in size during the months ahead. The cash came from Andrew Intrater and his wife… ✂️

Intrater’s main venture is today called Sparrow Capital, but it previously used the name Columbus Nova—and its primary function has long been to manage the investments of Intrater’s cousin, Viktor Vekselberg, one of Putin’s wealthiest and most influential courtiers.

So tightly intertwined is Intrater’s business with that of his relative, who snatched up swaths of Russia’s aluminum and fuel industries during the post-Soviet period, that Columbus Nova described itself in 2007 Securities and Exchange Commission filings as “the U.S.-based affiliate” of Vekselberg’s Renova Group. In fact, SEC records show that “Columbus Nova” was merely a trade name, and the company was in fact incorporated as Renova U.S. Management LLC until it rechristened itself Sparrow Capital in 2018. The rebrand came just months after the Department of the Treasury froze almost all of the company’s assets for its tight ties to the heavily sanctioned Vekselberg. The following year, Intrater became a national figure when it surfaced that his firm had paid half a million dollars to longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen, and the pair had exchanged hundreds of phone calls and text messages during the 2016 campaign.

and

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and

I think this cartoon from the most recent New Yorker is apt for the Republicans these days:

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The media misbehaving

The Party’s Over for Us. Where Do We Go Now? 

New York Times op-ed.

Electron microscope image of tardigrade on its back, holding a microscopic violin and bow

Oh, dearie me! Poor Bret Stephens and David Brooks can’t support the Revolting Republicans any more!  Whatever shall they and the other members of the conservative punditocracy do?? I guess it’s time for a tardigrade violin solo…

Kossack xaxnar wrote an excellent diary about this on Saturday, doing a much better job summarizing and commenting on this than I can manage here. I recommend skipping the NYT op-ed and going straight to xaxnar’s delightfully snarky diary.

There are other recent media faceplants (see DKos staffer Hunter’s wonderful rant from yesterday, The New York Times interviews random Republican voters for the millionth time, still learns nothing), but instead of dwelling on them, I’ve chosen a piece by Progress Network’s Emma Varvaloucas with excellent practical advice for how to deal with the chaos and negativity of the current media. I recommend applying her pointers to the Biden documents story, especially point #4.

Do click the link to read the bullet points in detail.

How To Stop Doomscrolling In A Chaotic News Cycle

By Emma Varvaloucas, Executive Director of The Progress Network, on Forbes:

Being attached to the firehose of the 24/7 news cycle is anxiety-inducing and literally bad for your health. How do we stop doomscrolling when it seems like the bad news just won’t stop coming? ✂️ 

Here are my five pointers for how to read the news without losing your mind:

#1 Remember the Nature of the Beast: News Is Negative by Design

News covers the negative because that’s what it’s designed to do. There’s not much of a story in a longstanding government program operating the way it’s supposed to or the daily routine of the rising global middle class. ✂️

#2 Remember Your Psychology: Baby, You Were Born This Way

Remember your psychology! First, just because you read a lot about something scary does not mean that the resultant fear is an accurate assessment of risk. Second, there is a difference between news and alarmism. ✂️

#3 Remember Your Math: Don’t Freak Out About Lonely Numbers

Approach articles with numbers but no context for them with caution—eye-popping figures are not always what they seem. ✂️

#4 Remember the Long Game: In Case of a Crisis, Zoom Out

…as always in the case of a crisis, take a moment before you panic, and try zooming out. No one has the time to research the wider long-term narrative of every news story they read. You can, though, keep in mind that there often is one. ✂️

#5 Remember You’re Not Alone: Change Does Happen, Just Slowly

…the larger a transformation is needed, often the slower it goes. Keep going, and keep the faith even when it seems like nothing is happening. It might be—it’s just that change often operates at a slower pace than the news does, and you might not have heard yet what’s at work.

#6 Bonus: Remember Why You Read the News to Begin With

…remember that the news, in its essence, is a public service. Journalism exists to inform and empower us, not the opposite. We can take the best from it to introduce us to the world, guide our voting choices, civic engagement, and community-building, and to expand our minds—not lose them.

That doesn’t mean that we’re letting journalism off the hook. The last 20 years have been a particularly negative time in journalism. …Efforts are underway to transform journalism to showcase solutions better, and more work is needed to disincentivize the type of negative headlines that drive clicks. In the meantime, as readers, we too can start identifying emerging solutions within coverage of even the most serious events.

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Good news from my corner of the world

Bringing a Guitar to a Highway Fight

I’ve sent emails to our City Council on the subject of induced demand and received crickets in return. Perhaps this is the way to get their attention!

From Bloomberg:

…you may have heard of the concept of induced demand: Widening highways can actually make traffic worse. But have you heard it like this?

That’s Paul Rippey, a longtime environmental consultant and a member of the Portland Folk Music Society, who’s been singing this song for years as he joins activists in fighting a proposed freeway expansion in Portland, Oregon. The lyrics have evolved slightly, but the message is the same:

Adding more lanes is never done

because if we build them, they will come.

He debuted the ditty in 2018, when Portland’s city council was first considering a billion-dollar proposal from the Oregon Department of Transportation to widen Interstate 5, ostensibly to ease congestion and improve traffic safety. It struck Rippey as not only environmentally harmful, but foolish.

“It’s just inconceivable to me that Portland, which has this reputation of being green and everything, would be widening a freeway right into the heart of the city,” he told me. “Generally, widening highways does not reduce congestion. It makes it easier for people to opt for automobiles, and it diverts funds away from public transportation. It puts more people in cars.”

That’s induced demand in a nutshell – a concept he wanted to make sure elected leaders were familiar with, too. As he prepared to present at a public meeting, he knew he needed something more memorable than the usual canned speech. What he needed, his wife told him, was a hook that contained a simple message.

“What you want to do is have an ear worm,” she had said, “that when they’re brushing their teeth in the morning, this song will be running through their heads,” Rippey recalled. So he started composing. By May, he was facing city council, singing and strumming.

Oregon Coast’s Chinook salmon among populations under review for endangered-species listing

No, it’s not good news that Chinooks are endangered, but it is good news that they might be put on the endangered species list, and it’s further good news that listing coho as endangered has allowed their numbers to increase significantly, so this tactic is likely to help the Chinooks, too.

From Oregon Public Broadcasting:

The National Marine Fisheries Service … is considering a request from several environmental groups seeking to list two types of Chinook salmon as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. One population lives along the Oregon Coast and the other farther south along the Oregon-California border.

Three environmental groups sent the petition last August showing that numerous threats have caused a sharp decline in spring-run Chinook salmon. Those groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Native Fish Society and Umpqua Watersheds. Unlike fall-run Chinook, the spring-run salmon enter rivers as juveniles and continue growing through the summer.

“While they’re in the rivers in the summer there’s a lot more opportunities for factors that threaten the species, like pollution, hot water temperatures, habitat issues, to affect the species,” said Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Meg Townsend.

Townsend said they’re specifically concerned about spring-run salmon, as their fall-run counterparts are doing better. However, the fisheries service said they’ll consider all the regional Chinook salmon populations for endangered listing together. ✂️

“The spring-run are not separate from the fall-run,” said Gary Rule, natural resources management specialist with the fisheries service. “They’re not reproductively isolated from the fall-run. So they don’t meet the criteria to be separate.” Rule said that despite fall-run Chinook salmon doing well, if the spring-run salmon alone are at risk of becoming endangered, that could warrant both groups being protected.

Townsend said that populations of coho salmon in the same area have improved since they were listed as endangered or threatened. She hopes protections for Chinook salmon will do the same.

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Good news from around the nation

Americans support establishing a Civilian Climate Corps

This really needs to happen!

From Data for Progress:

The Civilian Climate Corps would provide thousands of young Americans with good-paying jobs to address the impacts of climate change, from installing solar panels on government buildings to managing forests in states prone to wildfires. ✂️

A new poll by Data for Progress finds 63% of Americans support establishing a Civilian Climate Corps, including 88% of Democrats, 60% of Independents, and 42% of Republicans.

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Seattle Public Schools sues TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and others, seeking compensation for youth mental health crisis

It would be great if this suit goes forward and forces social media to actually change their algorithms and their marketing strategies in ways that would make their platforms less addictive for young people.

From GeekWire:

A new lawsuit filed by Seattle Public Schools against TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Snap, Instagram, and their parent companies alleges that the social media giants have “successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth” for their own profit, using psychological tactics that have led to a mental health crisis in schools.

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, seeks “the maximum statutory and civil penalties permitted by law,” making the case that the companies have violated Washington state’s public nuisance law.

READ THE COMPLAINT

Seattle School District No. 1 v. Meta Platforms, Snap Inc., TikTok, Alphabet, et al.

Hundreds of families are pursuing similar cases against the companies, following revelations about the tactics used by Facebook, Instagram, and others to boost engagement among children and teenagers.

However, Seattle Public Schools appears to be the first school district in the country to file such a suit against the companies.

The district alleges that it has suffered widespread financial and operational harm from social media usage and addiction among students. The lawsuit cites factors including the resources required to provide counseling services to students in crisis, and to investigate and respond to threats made against schools and students over social media.

“This mental health crisis is no accident,” the suit says. “It is the result of the Defendants’ deliberate choices and affirmative actions to design and market their social media platforms to attract youth.” At more than 90 pages, the suit offers extensive citations in support of its claims, including surveys showing a 30% increase from 2009 to 2019 in the number of Seattle Public Schools students who said they felt “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that [they] stopped doing some usual activities.”

Second-hand huzzah! For 2 in 3 people, most items in their home are hand-me-downs

This is surprising and very welcome news! 

From Study Finds:

Most of the items within the average American household arrived there second-hand, according to a recent survey of 2,000 respondents. In fact, 66 percent admit that more than half of the items in their home were previously owned by someone else, and 75 percent say they’re comfortable with the idea of buying a gently-used, second-hand product in the future.

Maybe that’s why nearly two-thirds (63%) feel guilty tossing an item that “still has a little bit of life left in it,” or that could be passed on to another household. One in five (20%) even experience significant guilt every time they declutter, which for half of respondents happens once every six to 12 months.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of resale company Winmark, the survey also indicates that three-fourths of people (77%) form emotional connections with the items in their home, regardless of whether or not those items have been used. Meanwhile, 39 percent will part with one of their belongings if they believe “someone else will enjoy it more” than they currently do. ✂️

A whopping 92 percent of respondents have shopped at second-hand, thrift, or resale shops at least once in their lives. A third (33%) believe these places are among the “most fun” stores to shop at. Four in 10 purported to be frequent second-hand shoppers, with 11 percent claiming they “exclusively” purchase pre-owned items.

Among those polled, second-hand stores are also thought to offer the most value (37%), just ahead of dollar stores (36%) and outlets (34%). Although 33 percent consider an item’s value to be of top importance, sustainability can also play a meaningful role in consumers’ choices – both of the item itself (22%) and of the store it’s being bought from (18%).

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Good news from around the world

Ukraine war: Russia’s Wagner Group commander requests Norway asylum

This is pretty amazing news. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of more defections.

From BBC News:

A former commander with the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group has claimed asylum in Norway after deserting from the mercenary outfit. Andrey Medvedev, 26, crossed the border into Norway last Friday, where he was detained by border guards.

He is currently being held in the Oslo area where he faces charges of illegal entry to Norway, his lawyer Brynjulf Risnes told the BBC. Mr Risnes said his client left Wagner after witnessing war crimes in Ukraine. ✂️

the Russian human rights group Gulagu, who helped Mr Medvedev leave Russia, confirmed his identity. His escape is believed to be the first known instance of one of the group’s soldiers defecting to the West.

Gulagu’s founder Vladimir Osechkin told the BBC that Mr Medvedev had joined the paramilitary group in July 2022 on a four-month contract, but had deserted after witnessing a host of human rights abuses and war crimes while serving in Ukraine.

He said that Mr Medvedev is a former soldier in the Russian army and that he later served time in prison between 2017 and 2018 before joining the Wagner Group. He was placed in charge of a Wagner division in Ukraine, where the mercenary group supplied him with around 30-40 troops every week, Mr Osechkin said.

In a video posted by Gulagu to its social media channels, Mr Medvedev said he fled Ukraine in November after being informed that the group intended to extend his contract indefinitely.

Number of populist world leaders at 20-year low

Jessiestaf scooped me on this yesterday, but it’s such an important article that I think it deserves repetition.

From The Guardian:

The number of populist leaders around the world has fallen to a 20-year low after a series of victories for progressives and centrists over the past year, according to analysis from the Tony Blair Institute showing the number of people living under populist rule has fallen by 800 million in two years.

The research claims 2023 could be an equally decisive year for populism, with critical elections in Turkey and Poland. Those two elections could see two of the most influential populist governments in the world fall, though that may yet require divided opposition parties in both countries to form clearer coalition programmes than they have managed so far.

Of the populists who lost power, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Slovenia’s Janez Janša were defeated in relatively close elections in 2022, while Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines was limited to one term in office and could not run for re-election. In Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was driven out of office by protests. ✂️ 

The report, however, warns strongly against premature claims of populism’s defeat, pointing out that in 2022 populists were part of election-winning coalitions in Italy, Israel and Sweden. Marine Le Pen was defeated by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, but her party did well in the legislative elections. ✂️ 

The institute argues that anti-populist mainstream parties may have to recognise they need a different anti-populist playbook when they are in power from the one used by mainstream parties when the populists are in power. It says mainstream parties should have a clear, substantive policy agenda of their own and not focus on negative campaigning against populist challengers, since populist challengers will always argue that their core issues are under-addressed by mainstream politics.

Italy’s most-wanted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro arrested in Sicily

We’ve said before around here that 2023 is looking to be the year when karma starts seriously kicking ass. This is a very satisfying example. 

From BBC News:

Italy’s most-wanted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro has been arrested in Sicily after 30 years on the run.

Messina Denaro was reportedly detained in a private clinic in Sicily’s capital, Palermo, where he was receiving treatment for cancer.

He is alleged to be a boss of the notorious Cosa Nostra Mafia and he was tried and sentenced to life in jail in absentia in 2002 over numerous murders. ✂️

A video circulated by Italian media appears to show people standing in the street and applauding the Italian police as Messina Denaro is led away. ✂️ 

He is thought to be Cosa Nostra’s last “secret-keeper”. Many informers and prosecutors believe that he holds all the information and the names of those involved in several of the most high-profile crimes by the Mafia… ✂️ 

For years, Messina Denaro had been a symbol of the state’s inability to reach the upper echelons of the organised crime syndicates. His arrest will be an unexpected sign of hope that the Mafia can be eradicated even in the southern regions of the country, where the state is perceived as largely absent and ineffective.

Tobacco companies must pay for clean up of discarded cigarettes in Spain

I love this!! And as the article points out, if the cigarette companies do pass along the costs to consumers, the increased price might encourage more smokers to get serious about quitting.

From EuroNews:

Spain’s new environmental regulations have ruled that tobacco companies will have to foot the bills for removing discarded cigarettes from the country’s streets.

Cigarette manufacturers are also obliged to remind consumers not to throw away butts in public areas.

Spain has not yet said how the clean up will be carried out and what it will cost tobacco companies.

A Catalan study by ‘zero waste society’ Rezero estimated the cost to be between €12-€21 per citizen per year – a total of up to €1 billion.

Cigarette companies are likely to transfer the cost to the consumer by increasing product prices, which could also work out as another incentive to quit.

Spain has also tried to reduce smoking in public areas by designating 525 beaches as smoke-free in 2021.

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Good news in medicine

Compounds That Can Stop COVID From Infecting Human Cells Discovered in a Sea Sponge

There have been a lot of stories lately about researchers finding new medicines in unlikely places. The discoveries described below are especially exciting because of the way they work to support human cells rather than to kill viruses, since the quick evolution of viruses makes fighting them an endless game of Whac-A-Mole.

From Good News Network:

Compounds that could stop coronavirus and flu viruses from infecting human cells have been discovered in sea sponges.

Researchers unearthed 26 such compounds found in nature, including in plants and fungi. The international research team say their discovery paves the way for new “natural” medicines and antivirals than can help treat contagious viruses. They claim the compounds will help tackle existing and future variants—as well as flu—because they target human cells, which evolve more slowly than viruses.

They are effective in very small doses in the lab, where the compounds completely stopped viral infection in human cells. “The advantage of these compounds is that they are targeting the cells, rather than the virus, blocking the virus from replicating and helping the cell to recover,” explained Dr. Jimena Pérez-Vargas from the University of British Columbia in Canada, who co-authored the study.

For the study, which was published in the journal Antiviral Research, the team investigated more than 350 compounds derived from natural sources including plants, fungi, and marine sponges, in a bid to find new antiviral drugs that can be used to treat the novel disease—or in 26 cases, completely stop coronavirus infection in cells. They bathed human lung cells in solutions made from these compounds and then infected the cells with Covid variants.

The researchers used a version of the coronavirus which causes cells to go bright green when they are infected, as well as a special screening technique, to make the discovery. They say the fluorescent virus is a powerful tool that enables scientists to check thousands of compounds, track the virus as it moves from one cell to another and makes extremely laborious steps that used to be necessary completely redundant.

New Artificial Pancreas for Type 2 Diabetes Manages Blood Sugar Twice as Well as Jabs –Now Approved in UK

This looks like a very welcome breakthrough. And the trials show that it works on both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

From Good News Network:

Scientists at Cambridge University just completed a successful trial of their artificial pancreas that helps Type 2 diabetes patients better manage their blood sugar levels.

In fact, researchers say the device and app, powered by an algorithm, doubled the duration of time that patients’ blood sugar levels were on target. It also reduced by 50% the time they spent with blood sugar that was too high.

The announcement comes just days after UK’s National Health Service gave the green light to its usage for patients.

The device, created by the University’s Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, combines an off-the-shelf glucose monitor and insulin pump with an app known as CamAPS HX. The app predicts how much insulin is needed to keep blood glucose at healthy levels.

Earlier studies, including one based on 875 patients, have found that an artificial pancreas running on a similar algorithm works in patients with type-1 diabetes, including very young children.

Unlike the earlier devices, this new one runs completely automatically and patients do not need to tell their artificial pancreas when they are about to eat.

First African-produced cancer tests to slash costs and waiting times

It’s wonderful news when developing countries can innovate on their own and avoid the high costs of importing expensive items like medical tests.

From The Guardian:

The first African-produced tests to diagnose breast cancer and leukaemia will become commercially available within months, cutting costs and waiting times for patients across the continent.

Most of the diagnostic kits for cancer and other diseases in Africa are expensive imports from outside the continent, usually from Europe and the US.

“The price of the kit can be double that of what it would cost to manufacture it locally. It is also a long process. It can take weeks or months for the kits to arrive,” said Hassan Sefrioui, an executive board member of the Moroccan Foundation for Advanced Science, Innovation and Research (MASciR), which developed the new tests.

Development of the cancer kits has been under way since 2010, Sefrioui said, and the leukaemia tests have already been used in Morocco on 400 people. Previously, all samples would have to be sent to France for analysis, prolonging and delaying treatment. “But with locally manufactured test kits, we can get results within hours,” he said.

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Good news in science

Bright Green Comet in the Sky This Week Is Rare ‘Messenger from the Outer Reaches of Our Solar System’

I hope the usually cloudy skies over the Northwest will get clear enough for us Portlanders to see this!

From Good News Network:

A bright green comet is passing through our solar system and has astrophotographers elated for the chance at a once-in-a-lifetime image.

Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) is its name, and the last time it passed close enough to Earth it would have been seen by human and Neanderthal alike—around 50,000 years ago.

On January 12th it passed the closest point to the sun, and in the two weeks leading up to February 1st, its closest approach to Earth, it can be viewed with binoculars and even the naked eye.

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A photo of comet C2022 E3 ZTF taken on Dec. 26, 2022 in Payson, Arizona by Chris Schur.

Space.com did a roundup of astrophotographers working with telescopic lenses, and one by Chris Schur from Payton, Arizona stands out.

“Here is a really deep hour and a half exposure of the comet, showing the colors of the dust tail very well and a long tortured gas tail,” Schur told Space in an email.

The Planetary Society has the details on how to see this green marvel.

A college student created an app that can tell whether AI wrote an essay

Here’s another story that Jessiestaf scooped me on yesterday, but it’s the perfect lead-in to the story I placed after it, so I’m keeping it in. 😉

Click the link to read how this clever app works. 

From NPR:

Teachers worried about students turning in essays written by a popular artificial intelligence chatbot now have a new tool of their own.

Edward Tian, a 22-year-old senior at Princeton University, has built an app to detect

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Edward Tian, a 22-year-old computer science student at Princeton, created an app that detects essays written by the impressive AI-powered language model known as ChatGPT.

whether text is written by ChatGPT, the viral chatbot that’s sparked fears over its potential for unethical uses in academia.

Tian, a computer science major who is minoring in journalism, spent part of his winter break creating GPTZero, which he said can “quickly and efficiently” decipher whether a human or ChatGPT authored an essay.

His motivation to create the bot was to fight what he sees as an increase in AI plagiarism. Since the release of ChatGPT in late November, there have been reports of students using the breakthrough language model to pass off AI-written assignments as their own. ✂️ 

More than 30,000 people had tried out GPTZero within a week of its launch. It was so popular that the app crashed. Streamlit, the free platform that hosts GPTZero, has since stepped in to support Tian with more memory and resources to handle the web traffic.

It’s especially good news that Tian came up with his app, because looky here:

ChatGPT writes convincing fake scientific abstracts that fool reviewers in study

The good news embedded in this bad news is that a lot of eyes are on this, and smart people like Tian are figuring out how to defang this beast.

From Northwestern Now:

Could the new and wildly popular chatbot ChatGPT convincingly produce fake abstracts that fool scientists into thinking those studies are the real thing? That was the question worrying Northwestern Medicine physician-scientist Dr. Catherine Gao when she designed a study — collaborating with University of Chicago scientists –to test that theory.

Yes, scientists can be fooled, their new study reports. Blinded human reviewers – when given a mix real and falsely generated abstracts — could only spot ChatGPT generated abstracts 68% of the time. The reviewers also incorrectly identified 14% of real abstracts as being AI generated.

“Our reviewers knew that some of the abstracts they were being given were fake, so they were very suspicious,” said corresponding author Gao, an instructor in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This is not someone reading an abstract in the wild. The fact that our reviewers still missed the AI-generated ones 32% of the time means these abstracts are really good. I suspect that if someone just came across one of these generated abstracts, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify it as being written by AI.”

The hard-to-detect fake abstracts could undermine science, Gao said. “This is concerning because ChatGPT could be used by ‘paper mills’ to fabricate convincing scientific abstracts,” Gao said. “And if other people try to build their science off these incorrect studies, that can be really dangerous.” Paper mills are illegal organizations that produce fabricated scientific work for profit.

The ease with which ChatGPT produces realistic and convincing abstracts could increase production by paper mills and fake submissions to journals and scientific conferences, Gao worries.

The paper was published in a preprint on bioRxiv.  Preprints are not yet peer reviewed and should be considered preliminary findings.

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Good news for the environment

How Successful Has the Endangered Species Act Been in its 5 Decades of Protection? Hint: It’s Very Good News

From Good News Network:

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been successful in preventing the extinction of hundreds of wildlife species and in promoting the recovery of thousands more since its inception in 1973.

Some of the species that have successfully recovered and been removed from the list of threatened and endangered species include American alligators, gray wolves, bald eagles (which soared off the list in 2007), peregrine falcons (the fastest animal on Earth), and humpback whales, which leapt off the list over a decade ago.

According to the Center [for] Biological Diversity, a leading nonprofit with the simple mission of “saving life on Earth,” the ESA has protected more than 1,600 species in the U.S., preventing the extinction of 99 percent of the species listed under it.

Without the ESA, at least 227 species would likely have gone extinct by now since the law’s passage in 1973. In addition, 110 species have seen tremendous recovery since being protected by the act.

The ESA also supports conservation outside the U.S., as the federal government uses the law to enforce the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a global agreement between nations to regulate trade on species under threat. Examples of the ESA’s reach beyond U.S. borders is in helping save giant pandas as well as several species of tiger.

World’s First Vaccine for Declining Honeybees Approved By the US for Conditional Use

This is the first good news we’ve seen in the fight against the deadly bacterial infection that’s been killing so many bees.

From Good News Network:

A biotech company announced [last] week that the USDA (Department of Agriculture) granted them a conditional license for their honeybee vaccine. The vaccine boosts the bee’s immune system to fight against American Foulbrood disease, a bacteria-based condition known to attack colonies that is caused by Paenibacillus larvae.

Critical to our food supplies, honeybees have been plagued by American Foulbrood, which until now had no safe or sustainable antidote. Previously, the only treatment method for the highly contagious disease was incinerating the bees, infected hives, and all the equipment.

Developed by Dalan Animal Health, the solution contains an inactive version of Paenibacillus larvae bacteria that is non-GMO and usable in organic agriculture. After it is consumed by worker bees, the vaccine is then incorporated into the royal jelly, which is fed to the queen. When she ingests it, fragments of the vaccine are deposited in her ovaries. Having been exposed to the vaccine, the developing larvae have immunity as they hatch. ✂️

Following research that showed the efficacy of the drug, the USDA issued its conditional license for two years. Dalan, which is headquartered in Athens, Georgia—at the University of Georgia’s Innovation Hub—will distribute the vaccine on a limited basis to commercial beekeepers. It anticipates having the vaccine, which will be manufactured in Iowa, available for purchase later this year in the U.S.

France’s ban on single-use restaurant tableware is a fast-food “revolution”

As soon as one major market forces a regulation like this on multi-national corporations, change begins to happen worldwide. So this is really major good news.

From Optimist Daily:

Fast-food restaurants in France are now tackling one of the most significant shifts in the industry, ever: a government ban on disposable plates, cups, and tableware for anybody eating or drinking on-site.  On January 1, McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and Subway faced what environmentalists call a “revolution” in pioneering new waste-reduction laws that went into effect in France. ✂️ 

Any restaurant with more than 20 seats, including work canteens, bakery chains, fast food, and sushi restaurants, is required to supply reusable, washable cups, plates, dishes, and utensils for guests dining in. Environmental groups in France called it a “complete paradigm shift” for the sector.

In France, around 30,000 fast-food restaurants provide six billion meals every year, generating an estimated 180,000 tonnes of garbage. According to environmental groups, 55 percent of that was generated by people eating in. ✂️

Zero Waste France, [which pressed for the measure] and other organizations are putting pressure on the government to conduct proper checks on whether fast-food restaurants are following the law and, if required, levy fines. It further stated that alternatives should be considered. “Most fast-food restaurants won’t switch to classic, long-wearing glass or china that lasts years, they will opt for hard plastic and we have concerns about its durability – will it withstand hundreds of washes or will it be thrown out after only a few? We’ll be vigilant on that.”

The law only applies to dinnerware used by customers seated in restaurants. Those who order takeout will continue to receive single-use packaging. However, environmentalists believe that single-use takeaway packaging may be changed in the future, with possibilities for customers placing a deposit for reusable packaging that they can get back once returned.

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Good news for and about animals

Brought to you by Rosy, Nora, and Rascal.

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Rosy just loves this video, and so do I. What good doggies these are!!

Nora chose this sweet video of a cat making some unusual friends. 🎩 to Nanny Ogg for posting this in the Evening Shade on Sunday.

Bizarre Creature From China Had a Dinosaur Head on Bird’s Body – a Missing Link From 120 Million Years Ago

Rascal always loves to hear about his dino ancestors, and this one really does look like the link between dinos and modern birds.

COMPOSITE IMAGE - Life reconstruction of the 120-million-year-old bird Cratonavis zhui (L) & a photograph of the 120-million-year-old bird Cratonavis zhui (R).  A bizarre creature that lived in China 120 million years ago had a dinosaur's head and bird's body.  See SWNS story SWSCbird.  It sheds fresh light on how our feathered friends evolved from the biggest animals that ever roamed land.  Named Cratonavis zhui, the chicken-sized hybrid had long shoulder blades, or scapulas, and claws.  But its large skull was shaped in an almost identical way to that of T Rex and other meat-eating theropods.  The find fills in some of the gaps as to how some dinosaurs evolved into birds.

The evolution of dinosaurs into birds is a transition that encompasses such dramatic morphological changes that paleontologists are still scratching their heads to understand how the fantastic event occurred.

Now, a new 120-million-year-old fossil of a creature in China, called ‘bizarre’ by scientists, shines fresh light on the mystery with its T-rex-like skull attached to the body of a bird.

Named Cratonavis zhui, the chicken-sized hybrid had long shoulder blades, or scapulas, and claws. But its large skull was shaped in an almost identical way to that of T Rex and other meat-eating theropods.

The fossil, with its surprisingly elongate shoulder blade (scapula) and first metatarsal, makes it stand out from all other birds—including fossil ones—and fills in some of the gaps as to how some dinosaurs evolved into birds.

The news, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Jan. 2, describes a study conducted by paleontologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Art break

The guerrilla artist filling Europe’s potholes with colourful mosaics

We sure could give him lots of work in Portland!!

I love how these look like archaeological treasures that have been hidden under the asphalt.

From Positive News:

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An anonymous street artist in France is fixing up Europe’s pavements by filling hazardous potholes with colourful mosaics.

Describing himself as a “bitumen mender, sidewalk poet and macadam surgeon”, Lyon-based Ememem says his artwork “illuminates the wounds of the urban fabric”.

But while his creations are becoming increasingly visible in Lyon and beyond, the artist

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Before and after. A dreary trip hazard gets the Ememem treatment.

himself is incognito with few people knowing his true identity.

Ememem – who calls his creations  “flackings”, a play on the word flaque, French for puddle – said he was inspired to act by the dreary sight of a pothole in front of his workshop.

“I made a kind of mosaic, self-tailored plaster for it, without premeditation,” he explained. “Looking at this first ‘flack’ and the effect on people around, I knew I was going to fill holes for the rest of my life.”

Ememem’s ‘flacks’ often resemble uncovered archaeological relics and are already gaining official recognition, with six pieces commissioned by the Lyon authorities.

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Hot lynx

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www.yesmagazine.org/… On this day after MLK Jr. Day, here’s a link to an article from Yes! Magazine titled Martin Luther King Jr., Labor Activist: “One often-overlooked aspect of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and career was his strong support of labor unions, calling them America’s first anti-poverty program.” [See also this link I received in an email from the AFL-CIO: “…we must remember him as a labor leader who was assassinated while supporting 1,300 Black men in their fight against neglect and abuse at the sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee.”]

washingtonmonthly.com/… Forced Labor: Why the Thirteenth Amendment Protects Abortion Rights. “Before the Civil War, America routinely forced enslaved women to bear children, and it then amended its supreme law to ensure that no one could ever again be treated this way. The right to abortion is protected by the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery.” (🎩 to T Maysle for highlighting this in last Thursday’s Evening Shade.) 

www.newyorker.com/… Maggie Haberman, the Confidence Man’s Chronicler. An even-handed but ultimately devastating assessment of what covering TFG has done to Haberman. WTTD.

www.theatlantic.com/… Winners of the 2022 Close-Up Photographer of the Year. Astounding photos.

www.popsci.com/Toddlers may be wired to help their dog friends. “How children interact with dogs might help us understand how humans meet their own goals.”

www.theatlantic.com/… Prince Harry’s Book Undermines the Very Idea of Monarchy. The media feeding frenzy around Harry’s book has been repugnant, and you probably don’t want to read any more about it. But this piece is different: “I have never seen the case against the monarchy made so powerfully as it is here. The cost of all the pomp and pageantry, the tabloid sales and the viral clicks, the patriotism and the tradition, has been the utter destruction of one boy’s mind.”

*   *   *   *   *

Wherever is herd…

A tip of the hat to 2thanks for creating this handy info sheet for all Gnusies new and old!

Morning Good News Roundups at 7 x 7: These Gnusies lead the herd at 7 a.m. ET, 7 days a week: 

hpg posts Evening Shade diaries at 7:30 p.m. ET every day! After a long day, Gnusies meet in the evening shade and continue sharing Good News, good community, and good actions. In the words of NotNowNotEver: “hpg ably continues the tradition of Evening Shade.” Find Evening Shades here.

oldhippiedude posts Tweets of the Week on Sundays at 6:00 p.m. Central Time — New time! Our second evening Gnusie hangout zone! In search of a TOTW diary? Look here or here.

For more information about the Good News group, please see our detailed Welcoming comment, one of the first comments in our morning diaries.

*   *   *   *   *

Good News Sources

And two more from Mokurai:

And another recommended by commenter lynnekz:

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How to Resist: Do Something …

Get postcarding supplies now for runoffs and special elections

Just because November 8 is here doesn’t mean that we can put away our postcarding supplies! There will be runoffs and special elections that we’ll need to encourage infrequent Dem voters to participate in. Sign up now to write for Postcards to Voters, and bookmark Activate America. PtoV will text you about new campaigns, but you’ll need to check in with Activate America to see what campaigns they’re writing for.

I like to buy my cards from PtoV because that’s one more way to support them. Here’s my favorite, which costs $18 for 100 cards:

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And FWIW, these are my favorite pens — not too thin, not too thick, don’t bleed through: Stabilo Pen 68 Felt-Tip Pen. Even though the ink is water-based, once it’s dry you can get it wet and it doesn’t run.

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Learn

🎩 to alamancedem for this very important link: 21 day anti-racism challenges. Challenge yourself to learn more, bring it to your workplace, share it with friends and colleagues. We can all benefit from sharpening our awareness of racism.

Abortion assistance

Here’s an easy action you can take RIGHT NOW:

Donate to two organizations providing support to people in no-abortion states who need assistance getting abortions.

National Network of Abortion Funds

The Brigid Alliance

Both of these organizations provide help with transportation, medical fees, hotel stays, etc., for those who have to travel out of state for an abortion. NNAF is a central clearing house for that assistance, The Brigid Alliance does that work directly.

And here’s another resource for women seeking abortions which I discovered only recently: Women on Web. They provide abortion pills worldwide for women who need to use them immediately and also for women who want to keep a supply on hand. You can make donations on their website to further their work.

Get the truth out

Indivisible has created a Truth Brigade to push back against the lies.

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Propaganda, false characterizations, intentionally misleading messages, and outright lies threaten our democracy and even our lives. We can effectively combat disinformation, despite the well-funded machines that drive it. They may have money, but we have truth and we have people.People believe sources they trust. When we share and amplify unified, factual messages to those who trust us, we shift the narrative. When we do this by the thousands–we’re part of the Indivisible Truth Brigade, and we get our country back. Join us.️

Our own Mokurai is a member. You can see all of the diaries in the Truth Sandwiches group on DK here.

Call out tax exempt organizations whose political stance violates IRS regulations

A suggestion from chloris creator:

new!!! Tax-exempt organization complaint referrals. 13909. This has been filled out for the NRA, but, hey, you can use it for a lot of other organizations. How about if some of us white folk go into some of the MAGA churches and video record what they’re saying?

“The process to get the NRA’s tax-exempt nonprofit status revoked has become simpler. All you need to do is save this form and email it to eoclass@irs.gov. It’s all filled out for you. You just need to click send.” Allen Glines

Note that the IRS protects your anonymity: The appropriate checkbox is already checked: “I am concerned that I might face retaliation or retribution if my identity is disclosed.”

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Goodie’s action steps

Most important: DON’T LOSE HOPE.  This is a giant and important fight for us but, win or lose, we keep fighting and voting and organizing and spreading truth and light.  We never give up.

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Closing music

I’ll end with this rap video, which epitomizes Ukrainian exuberance and joy in the face of war.

From Uproxx:

Ukrainian rap group Kalush Orchestra shared the video for their single “Shchedryi Vechir” on Wednesday, January 11, and it begins with a voiceover from Arnold Schwarzenegger: “And that is a great message for all Ukrainian people, especially now in this very, very difficult time. That everyone can have a dream, and you can make this dream become a reality.”

Kalush Orchestra’s YouTube description of the video further contextualizes, “Yo, when we were in the US on tour, we shot a video for one of our songs. We didn’t even think that it would be such a cool video. We used to run through these streets in the game [Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas], and now we made our own interpretation of Shchedrivka there, + visited Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

The end of the video features a cameo from Schwarzenegger simply saying the song’s title, which translates to “Generous Evening.”

Kalush Orchestra has contributed significantly to their home country during this horrific time, according to their Instagram post from December 30.

Good day to everyone! New Year is coming!✨
We decided to summarize our activities this year very briefly. We had a very productive year:
1) raised almost 60 million hryvnias for Ukraine this year
2) traveled half the world with Ukrainian music
3) helped hundreds and thousands of people together with @enko_music and my personal volunteer organization
4) won the Eurovision Song Contest
5) wrote a couple of dozen new songs that you will soon hear, etc…
Thanks to everyone who supports us! There is even more to come! Glory to Ukraine!🇺🇦

❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Thanks to all of you for your smarts, your hearts, and

your faithful attendance at our daily Gathering of the Herd.

❤️💙  RESIST, PERSIST, REBUILD, REJOICE!  💙❤️

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