Uber Suspends Self-Driving Tests After Pedestrian Is Killed In Arizona

An Uber driverless Ford Fusion drives in Pittsburgh on Sept. 22, 2016. Uber on Monday suspended its self-driving tests after a pedestrian was killed by an autonomous Uber in Tempe, Ariz.

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A self-driving car operated by Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. The incident could be the first pedestrian death involving a self-driving vehicle.

The car was in autonomous mode but had a human riding along to take control of the vehicle if necessary, The New York Times reported. Several reports indicate the pedestrian was a woman, who was immediately transported to a local hospital where she died.

Uber has suspended all autonomous vehicle operations in Pittsburgh, Tempe, San Francisco and Toronto in response to the crash.

In a statement provided to NPR, Uber said, “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi referenced the “incredibly sad news out of Arizona” in a tweet and reaffirmed that the company will cooperate with local law enforcement.

Requests for comment from the Tempe Police Department were not immediately returned.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to investigate the incident.

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What's Up, Pence? Second Family's Rabbit Makes Children's Book Debut

Vice President Pence and his wife Karen Pence let children pet their family rabbit “Marlon Bundo” during an event with military families in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in May 2017.

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You’ve heard of POTUS.

You’ve heard of FLOTUS.

But have you heard of BOTUS?

That would be BUNNY of the United States. Real name: Marlon Bundo. Bundo for short.

The little black-and-white bunny — named after Marlon Brando — belongs to the Vice President Pence’s daughter Charlotte, and lives with the second family at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.

Monday, Bundo is out with his first book: Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President. It’s published by the children’s arm of Regnery Publishing, which specializes in conservative books.

Technically, Bundo himself did not author this book — that was Charlotte (“Mom”). Second lady Karen Pence (“Grandma”), a former art teacher, did the watercolor illustrations.

But Bundo is the star. In the book, he follows “Grampa” (Vice President Pence) around Washington — to meetings with the president in the Oval Office and to the Senate, and contemplates a painting of his home state of Indiana, and a Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Bundo got his name when Charlotte, then a film student, needed a rabbit to star in one of her movies, and brought him home. He was apparently a natural on camera, which is now paying off in his new role as celebrity pet.

He first appeared on the scene in May 2017, when the vice president and second lady brought him along to an event at the White House, honoring military families. He immediately upstaged the Pences, especially among the younger crowd.

At the time, Karen Pence told the kids gathered around, “Marlon is kind of famous because he is the first bunny to ever ride on Air Force 2.”

The bunny is also on Twitter (@realmarlonbundo — you’ll know him by the telltale red baseball cap) and has more than 18,800 followers on Instagram.

Given all of that, it’s probably safe to say he’s the most famous of the Pence family’s pets, but he’s not the only one. Bundo currently shares the vice presidential residence with a puppy and a kitten — Harley and Hazel — both adopted in recent months, after the Pences lost their beagle, Maverick, and two cats, Oreo and Pickle. There is also a snake named Sapphira.

It remains to be seen if Harley, Sapphira or Hazel will get books of their own.

For now, it’s Bundo who’s hopping into the children’s book world. He joins presidential pets Socks and Buddy, who also have a book — authored by then-first lady Hillary Clinton: Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids Letters To The First Pets.

Proceeds from Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President will go to an art therapy program called Tracy’s Kids and a nonprofit, A21, that’s working to end slavery and human trafficking.

It’s unclear if Marlon Bundo is going on the book tour, but he certainly seems eager to read the story of his adventures.

Mommmmm, can we pleeeease read this already?! I can’t wait! 🤗🙃

A post shared by Marlon Bundo (Pence) (@marlonbundo) on Feb 27, 2018 at 7:41am PST

Yet even Bundo has not escaped controversy. Sitting at the top of the Amazon Best Sellers list Monday was a parody of the Bundo book by HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (the original book is several spots lower on the list). Oliver’s version “explores issues of same sex marriage and democracy”; Pence has a history of criticism from the LGBT community and advocates. Proceeds from this book will go to The Trevor Project and AIDS United.

In a statement to CNN, the publisher of Pence’s book said, “It’s unfortunate that anyone would feel the need to ridicule an educational children’s book and turn it into something controversial and partisan.”

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Russians, With No Real Alternatives, Give Putin 6 More Years In Power

People attend a rally and a concert celebrating the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at Manezhnaya Square in Moscow on Sunday. The controversial move to take Crimea became a proud event for some voters who handed Vladimir Putin a broad election win, timed for the same date as the anniversary.

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Vladimir Putin won a fourth term as Russia’s president on Sunday in a vote designed to be more of a referendum on his 18 years in power than a competitive election.

According to official results as of Monday morning, Putin swept up almost 77 percent of the vote, with Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin trailing in a distant second with less than 12 percent. None of the other six pre-approved candidates rose above the single digits.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running after organizing nationwide anti-government protests,had called for a boycott of the election and vigorous vote monitoring to uncover any irregularities. But in a country dominated by state media that have helped generate a loyal following, the Putin juggernaut plowed over any obstacles, including accusations of ballot stuffing and other violations.

“Putin is great. We trust and love him. There aren’t any other candidates as of yet,” said Roza Yarulina, 64, a retired economics teacher who was voting at a polling station in a vocational school in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles east of Moscow, on the geographical border between Europe and Asia.

As a former Communist Party member, Yarulina said she cast her ballot for Grudinin because she was sure Putin would win and wanted to support her second choice.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a rally near the Kremlin in Moscow, Sunday, after exit polls showed him handily winning a fourth term.

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Tatyana Ovchinnikova, 65, a retired college instructor dressed in a fur coat, said she respected the incumbent but was voting for Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal economist who ended up with 1 percent of the vote.

“I’ve had a dream since I was a kid to put a check mark next to a candidate’s name, but it hasn’t come true,” said first-time voter Grigory Dementyanov, who intentionally spoiled his ballot so someone else couldn’t fill it out. The 21-year-old music student said he opposed all the candidates, and that he didn’t think Navalny would have been up to the task of leading Russia.

Like other large Russian cities, Yekaterinburg, with a population of 1.4 million, is more supportive of opposition candidates. But in multiple interviews across the country, voters voiced a combination of anxiety and frustration over the lack alternatives to Putin.

After garnering a record election win with more than 55 million votes in his fourth presidential run, Putin, 65, now has a strong mandate to rule Russia for another six years.

For many Russians, the predictability of Putin’s reign is preferable to new political upheavals.

“We Russians just don’t want things to get anyworse. You Americans always expect things to get better,” said Anton Volkhin, 36, a distributor in Yekaterinburg for a national sausage company and the father of two. “Too many people have too much to lose. Those who don’t are still in the minority.”

A man walks out of a voting booth at a polling station during Russia’s presidential election in the village of Novye Bateki.

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In a country that has experienced a revolution, civil war, slave labor camps, a Nazi invasion and the collapse of an empire all within the past century, many Russians express relief that at least war hasn’t reached their territory. Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine is widely seen by Russians as a defensive move against encroachment by the United States, while Russia’s 2 ½-year participation in Syria’s civil war barely registers with ordinary people.

“Honestly, I’m afraid, very afraid, that war will break out,” said Yelena Okhotenko, 36, who serves in the Russian military. “There’s constantly this aggression toward us, and we’re constantly holding back. I don’t know how long our country can hold out.”

The mother of two children, Okhotenko said she has been supporting Putin since she first could vote, in 2000. “This president did very much for Russia and my town and personally for me and my family,” she said, standing on the refurbished embankment in the city Nizhny Tagil. “He raised up our country, and he raised our quality of life.”

Niznhy Tagil, a two-hour drive north of Yekaterinburg, has been nicknamed “Putingrad” for the president’s visits to the city’s giant tank factory.

“You can’t talk about Putin’s level of support, but the level of fear,” said Pavel Sergienya, 35, the founder of an independent trade union. “People are afraid to openly express their opinion except in their kitchens, just like in the Soviet Union.”

Andrei Antropov is an exception. The 36-year-old volunteer for opposition leader Navalny was called in by the police three days before the election for a “conversation” with criminal investigators.

“I can’t rule out that there will be consequences for me at work, but I’m going to continue my activism,” said Antropov, a manager for a telecommunications company.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny holds a briefing on the presidential election at his office in Moscow on Sunday.

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Navalny, who spent a year building a nationwide network of campaign offices and volunteers before his candidacy was denied, focused on domestic issues such as economic stagnation and government corruption.

Putin, on the other hand, highlighted Russia’s return to the world stage as an independent actor that could stand up to U.S. hegemony.

“Strange as it may seem, in Russia economic problems don’t convert well into political decisions,” said Dmitry Kolezev, 33, the deputy editor of Yekaterinburg’s independent news site znak.com. “People will tighten their belts, but they won’t hold the Russian government responsible for their problems as much as, say, the United States, which imposed sanctions on Russia.”

The U.S. and European Union hit Russia with economic sanctions for annexing Crimea and backing an armed uprising in Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014. That year marked the start of a downward spiral in relations between Russia and the West.

In the week before the presidential election, those tensions increased. Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats after accusing Moscow of being behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Russians suspected of being behind election interference and cyberattacks. Far from hurting Putin, the news added to the Kremlin’s narrative that Western countries are unfairly targeting Russia for unproven transgressions.

In the runup to the vote, Putin played up his decisiveness in seizing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and the election date was scheduled to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the annexation. Given that many Russians vacation in Crimea or have family there, the association was supposed to evoke a sense of pride and defiance.

“I’m voting for Putin for the first time in my life. Russia is the kind of country that always rallies around its leader in tough times,” said Dmitry Ardanov, 41, an office security guard in Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast. “Putin did one important thing, and after that I understood he’s a real man: He took back Crimea and supported Donbas.”

A recent poll by the independent Levada Center shows 86 percent of Russians support the annexation of Crimea, and opposition figures such as Navalny turned off voters by questioning the legitimacy of the controversial separatist referendum, which was held after Russian troops had occupied the peninsula.

What unites Putin’s most ardent supporters and vociferous foes is uncertainty over what comes next.

“We’re in a situation where there aren’t any worthy alternatives, so all that’s left is the hope that Putin can accomplish something in domestic politics,” said Rim Averyanov, 27. He quit his job as a school teacher in the provincial town of Vladimir because of his low salary and is going into the private sector in Moscow.

Averyanov, who opposes Putin, said he’s afraid a new revolution could break out if the Kremlin fails to address pressing economic issues that are impoverishing the population. But like many government critics, Averyanov said he doesn’t view Navalny as a leader tough enough to take on Russia’s myriad problems.

Even before preliminary election results were in Sunday evening, Navalny appeared on his YouTube channel debating Ksenia Sobchak, a pro-Western candidate who picked up less than 2 percent of the vote. Navalny rejected her offer to join forces, calling her a Kremlin tool and a “champion of hypocrisy” for participating in the elections.

Squabbles inside Russia’s fractured opposition hardly raise their profile as a viable alternative to Putin.

Sofia Kastilo, a 28-year-old English teacher in Tula, 100 miles south of Moscow, called Navalny and Sobchak “clowns.” Kastilo said she didn’t believe that Navalny, who has built his popularity as an anti-corruption campaigner, could uproot graft.

“Speaking about corruption: well it existed, it exists, and it will exist,” Kastilo said. “If Navalny becomes president, where is the guarantee that there won’t be any corruption? There is no guarantee.”

Like many Russians, Kastilo voiced concern about who will come after Putin when his fourth term comes to an end in 2024.

According to Russia’s constitution, no president can serve more than two consecutive terms.

Asked after his victory if he wants to change the law, Putin said he had no such plans — yet.

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Venezuelan City Launches Its Own Currency Amid Cash Crunch

A banner depicting Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, at the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) in Caracas in January. The bolivar has lost the vast majority of its value in just the last year.

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As Venezuela reels from hyperinflation that has caused a severe shortage of cash, one city is trying to mitigate the problem by printing its own currency.

Elorza, in western Venezuela near the border with Colombia, is selling its own bills featuring the image of an independence leader from the area, according to Reuters.

Venezuela’s national currency, the bolivar, has lost the vast majority of its value in just the last year — and it is expected to continue to drop. “Inflation is projected to have exceeded 2,400 percent in 2017 and to rise to about 13,000 percent in 2018,” the International Monetary Fund said in January.

Prices have skyrocketed, making it hard for people to afford basics necessities such as food or medicine. And even if people do have the money, it’s hard to actually find enough cash to buy the goods.

“People don’t have bolivares to spend, that’s why we have created bills of two denominations,” mayor Solfreddy Solórzano told the BBC.

Elorza has a festival that starts Monday, according to the broadcaster, and local authorities and businessmen were worried that the cash crunch would cause the city to lose business.

“Now those who want to buy just a sweet or even a whole cow from the barbecue, will be able to do so,” cattle breeder Canuto Garcia told the BBC.

The mayor’s office is selling the local currency at an 8 percent commission, according to Reuters, which can be purchased with bolivars using a card or bank transfer. “People will be able to return the tickets to the mayor’s office and claim a bolivar-denominated refund,” the wire service adds.

This isn’t the first local currency to launch in Venezuela recently. As Venezuela’s El Nacional newspaper reports, economist Jose Guerra says that the hyperinflation is causing what he termed “mini central banks” to emerge.

Last December, one neighborhood of the capital Caracas started issuing an alternative currency, which it called the panal. As The Associated Press reported, that currency could only be used in a few stores and was meant to help the struggling area buy basic staples such as rice.

At the time, opposition politician Jose Guerra expressed concern that multiple currencies in the country could further deepen the crisis by creating “monetary chaos,” the AP added.

Last month, President Nicolas Maduro also proposed a state-sponsored cryptocurrency to ease the cash crunch.

Reporter John Otis told Morning Edition that each unit of the currency would be backed by one barrel of oil. The president has touted the currency as a new innovation, Otis reports, though it has been met with skepticism by some critics who note that the oil that is “backing” the currency has not actually been taken out of the ground yet.

As Reuters reports, Maduro’s government “blames the country’s crisis on an ‘economic war’ being waged by Washington and the opposition, aimed at toppling his government.”

But critics say strict currency controls are a major factor contributing to the crisis. The Council on Foreign Relations explains:

“By selling U.S. dollars at different rates, the government effectively created a black market and increased opportunities for corruption. A business that is authorized to buy dollars at preferential rates to purchase priority goods like food or medicine could instead sell those dollars for a significant profit to third parties.”

The country recently reintroduced currency auctions to try to address hyperinflation and foreign currency shortages, as Bloomberg reports, leading to its official rate to lose 80 percent of its value in February. Bloomberg adds that rate was still about 10 times stronger than the black market rate.

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After Years Of Violence, Chef Offers Colombian Farmers Pride And Profit

A Colombian chef turned social entrepreneur, Leonor Espinosa has made it her mission to revive traditional agriculture, ancestral foodways and culinary know-how among rural, mainly indigenous and Afro-Colombian people.

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On small peasant farms across Colombia, panela, or unrefined whole cane sugar, is grown, picked and processed entirely by hand. It constitutes the basic economy for hundreds of municipalities, and is second only to coffee in the number of people engaged in its production.

Yet in the country’s central Cundinamarca region, between Bogotá and Medellín, it was not until the summer of 2017 that panela became more than a subsistence crop, and displaced family farmers — mostly women — began to profit from it. The change? Their panela had become part of an attractively packaged, refreshing lemon-accented soda called Quamba, which is sold in upscale restaurants in Bogotá and other big Colombian cities.

For the growers, Quamba represents their ticket back to normalcy after displacement by one of the longest armed conflicts in the world — between paramilitary forces and leftist guerrillas, and the illegal drug trade.

“Women of the villages were forced to abandon their homes, and a lot of traditions were broken,” explains Leonor Espinosa, a Bogotá-based chef turned social entrepreneur. She’s made it her mission to revive traditional agriculture, ancestral foodways and culinary know-how among rural, mainly indigenous and Afro-Colombian people.

In the 10 years since Espinosa founded her Leo Espinosa Foundation, known as FUNLEO, she has forged commercial ties that have boosted participants’ average income from 30 to 50 percent, according to the foundation. By demonstrating to rural communities the value of their indigenous farmed and foraged wild foods, she says, she’s also instilling in them an appreciation for Colombia’s astonishing biodiversity.

Espinosa’s work has won her accolades, including the hefty 2017 Basque Culinary World Prize, a €100,000 award given to individuals who “express the transformative power of cuisine.” The network she’s created also serves as a rural supplier for Espinosa’s two Bogotá restaurants; she buys direct from the communities the foundation supports in a demonstration of ethical commerce.

“Leonor is a groundbreaking chef on the Colombian culinary scene,” says Liliana López Sorzano, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine en Español, “because she was the first person to do contemporary Colombian cuisine.” Espinosa was also the first person to delve into regional cooking, “especially the Pacific Coast and the Afro-Colombian territories,” López adds. The resulting trove of new techniques and ingredients has made “being in her restaurant like a discovery, not only for foreigners, but also for locals.”

At her flagship restaurant, Leo, which routinely makes the list of Latin America’s top restaurants, Espinosa serves her modernist takes on deeply researched traditional Colombian cooking and ingredients: Hormigas culonas (translation: big-assed ants)-crusted tuna; pirarucú, a giant, ancient, air-breathing fish; crocodile; and the capybara rodent, which she slow cooks and roasts, then serves au jus with chirarán, a type of purple basil used in Colombian South Pacific cuisine.

With its broad mix of indigenous, Spanish, Arab and Caribbean influences, Colombia has earned the nickname “the country of the thousand kitchens,” says Espinosa. Not unlike activist chefs in other Latin American countries like Panama and Brazil, she’d like to see her native cuisine start getting the global recognition it deserves for its depth and deliciousness.

Although small in size, Colombia is the second most biologically diverse country in the world, with more than 50,000 different plant species alone, and ecosystems that include mountains, desert, savannas, rivers and tropical rain, coastal cloud and mangrove forests.

Celebrating this diversity, Espinosa figures, is also a way of preserving it. Every year the country loses vast tracts of forest and rainforest due to construction, small-scale agriculture, pollution, logging, mining and the cocaine trade. She wants to offer rural communities — where there is no access to food, education or even basic health services — an alternative to the drug production and trafficking that for many is their only source of income.

“There’s no government presence in these areas,” she says. This total lack of interest in its own people, she adds, has caused citizens to look to other countries as culinary and cultural role models, “and lose pride in the traditions of Colombia.” Part of her job, she realizes, has to be to “create a consciousness of how much their own tradition has to give.”

So in the Montes de Maria near the northern coast, where the often brutal turmoil has caused more than 150 women to stop farming and children to be educated in villages other than their own, says Espinosa, she started with a series of workshops focusing on bringing back traditional foodways and collecting seeds from the local forests for a new seed bank. Villagers once again began to grow local crops, including yams, bananas and sweet potatoes. FUNLEO (Espinosa’s daughter, sommelier Laura Hernández-Espinosa, handles day-to-day administration), helped them build wood-burning stoves, which use far less wood than the open pit fires they had been using.

Espinosa first wants to return food security to the traditionally subsistence farmers, then help them begin to sell and trade whatever excess they are able to create.

Espinosa’s foundation, says López, “is giving back to the community by helping them rediscover and use some of the ingredients that they didn’t even know existed, and improve their ways of cooking.”

Along the Guapí River of the Cauca region, southwest of Bogotá, FUNLEO has helped a community of 500 women grow, process and market aromatic herbs mixed with cacao oil. The project, says Espinosa, has brought “a really strong sense of belonging to the people.”

Similarly, not far away in the Naya region, FUNLEO’s goal is to bring back a local heirloom variety of river rice, a subsistence crop that disappeared amid the armed conflict. FUNLEO began an initiative with the motto “I produce and buy in my River Naya” to encourage the resumption of local rice production. More than 50 mothers and heads of families generated a recipe book using rice as the main ingredient and an informational brochure on the cultivation, processing and consumption of it.

Trained as an economist and artist, Espinosa never studied cooking — a blessing, she says, “because the mind of a cook needs to be free, and is fed by freedom.” Instead, she sees her work as an extension of art, “a creative process with multiple ingredients, and the job of the chef to “always be actors in social issues.”

It is crucial, Espinosa notes, to make each project self-sustaining, work she feels has just begun. “Now,” she explains, “we’re at the transformation phase. For this country that’s been submerged in conflict, there is so much more to do … this is not the time to lose speed.”

Nancy Matsumoto is a journalist based in Toronto and New York City who writes about sustainability, food, sake and Japanese-American culture.You can read more of her work here.

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Nigeria Faces Mystiifying Spike In Deadly Lassa Fever

This banner is displayed at the Institute of Lassa Fever Research and Control in Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Irrua, Edo State, midwest Nigeria.


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It’s the worst Lassa fever outbreak ever recorded in Nigeria according to the World Health Organization.

“In January alone there were more cases [203 suspected cases] than during the whole year 2017 combined,” says Lorenzo Pomarico, emergency coordinator for the medical group ALIMA, the Alliance for International Medical Action. “This is an extraordinary and unprecedented outbreak in its sheer scale.”

Last year Nigeria had 143 confirmed Lassa cases. In 2016 they tallied 109. So far this year they’ve had more than a thousand suspected cases and 365 confirmed.

And it’s unclear why these numbers are going up so dramatically.

Over the last week there have been 12 more confirmed cases and 4 additional fatalities, bringing the death toll to 114 since the outbreak began in early January.

While researchers still haven’t figured out why the virus is spreading so fast, they do know who is the main culprit in this outbreak — rats.

“The most likely route of transmission continues to be spillover of viruses from the rodent reservoir to humans rather than extensive human-to-human transmission,” the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said in a report last week.

“Spillover” in non-scientific terms looks like this. Rats carrying the Lassa virus scurry into people’s houses, munch on their grain and pee all over the place including the grain. Then people eat the grain and get sick.

Lassa, named for the town in Nigeria where it was first discovered in 1969, is a hemorrhagic fever, like Ebola. Some people who get infected have few or no symptoms. Others get what appears to be a mild flu or malaria. Severe cases can lead to renal failure, deafness and, for pregnant women, spontaneous abortion. And while Lassa can be deadly, it has a lower fatality rate than Ebola. More than half of confirmed Ebola patients pass away versus roughly 20 percent of people with Lassa.


ALIMA has brought in veterans from its Ebola response in Guinea to set up an isolation ward on the grounds of a government hospital in Owo in Ondo State.

“The isolation and infection control procedures for Lassa and Ebola are pretty much the same,” Pomarico says.

“You wear personal protective equipment. That’s the hood, the surgical gown, goggles, special boots,” he says. “It’s a very comprehensive set of materials that protect you from bodily fluids because that’s how interhuman contagion happen.”

And as with Ebola, human-to-human transmission of Lassa fever can wreak havoc in hospitals and clinics. So far in this current outbreak at least 16 health care workers have been infected and four have died.

The NCDC has been scrambling to test more than 1,300 suspected Lassa cases from all over the country and is also running genetic sequencing on the blood samples to try to determine how the virus is spreading.

So is Nathan Yozwiak, associate director of viral genomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Yozwiak has been studying samples of Lassa virus gathered during this current outbreak and from previous years. So far his research suggests that the transmission is primarily not human to human. His lab can also spot whether the virus itself is changing and possibly becoming more virulent. Yozwiak says that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“So there could be something going on with the rodent population,” he proposes. Maybe something’s happened in the environment that’s led to a rat population explosion.

And that might be the problem, he suggests, noting that Nigeria recently had an outbreak of monkeypox, which is “also transmitted by rodent vectors.”

Another theory is that Nigeria is reporting more Lassa cases this year because more people are aware of it.

“What we could be seeing rather than an emerging disease is an emerging diagnosis,” Yozwiak says. Nigeria has been scaling up its capacity to detect, track and treat infectious diseases. The country has been on high alert since its cluster of Ebola cases during the 2014 West African outbreak, he says. And it has teams scouring the countryside for polio cases after the disease re-emerged in Nigeria in 2016; those health workers might be detecting Lassa cases.

Identifying the virus is also easier. There are now 3 labs in Nigeria that can test for Lassa virus, while in the past samples were sent to South Africa.

So Nigeria is primed to find more cases.

Yozwiak also notes that there’s no geographic center to the current Lassa outbreak. Cases are being reported all over the place and don’t appear to be related to one another.

But right now, Lassa does appear to be a Nigeria problem. There are reports of Lassa elsewhere, as there always are this time of year in West Africa. But no other country is seeing a spike as dramatic as in Nigeria

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Some Retailers Are Holding Your Returns Against You

Best Buy and other retailers use a third-party organization, The Retail Equation, to determine if a consumer should be authorized to make returns.

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Chris Carlson/AP

Shoppers and consumer advocates are up in arms after finding out that major retailers have been keeping closer tabs on them than they thought.

Retailers such as Best Buy, Victoria’s Secret and the Home Depot have been working with a third-party organization to manage a database that determines which of their consumers should be banned from making returns, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Retail Equation’s database uses consumer behavior metrics such as how frequently a consumer makes returns and the dollar amount of those returns to calculate whether a shopper is considered a risk to a retailer and to prevent return fraud.

“Fraudulent and abusive returns are a $9-$17 billion per year problem for retailers in the United States,” the Retail Equation says on its website.

Retailers say returns account for 10 percent of exchanges, and about 6.5 percent of those returns are fraudulent, according to the National Retail Federation.

The database is supposed to help decrease the probability that a return is fraudulent by recording the state-issued identification of a consumer and building a shopping history off of it.

A Home Depot representative Matt Harringer noted that, to combat return fraud, the home improvement retailer only uses the Retail Equation database for returns made without a receipt.

“We use it to prevent retail crime,” he said. “There were organized retail crime rings, and those crimes negatively affect the entire community.”

But some consumers say they’ve been caught up in the crackdown even though they weren’t committing fraud.

Jake Zakhar returned three cellphone cases to a Best Buy in Mission Viejo, Calif., The Wall Street Journal reports. He had bought multiple cases in a variety of colors as gifts for his sons, thinking he would return the ones he didn’t need. The exchange totaled $87.43.

The sales associate told Zakhar he would be banned from making returns and exchanges for a year after he returned the phone cases. Zakhar reached out to both Best Buy and to the Retail Equation to have the ban lifted, but they declined to do so.

Best Buy was not immediately available to comment on the matter.

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Faces of NPR: Design Team

Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature that showcases the people behind NPR, from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You’ll find out about what they do and what inspires them. This week’s post features the NPR Design team.

From left to right: Scott Stroud, Kaytee Nesmith, Liz Danzico, Libby Bawcombe, Dan Newman, Veronica Erb, Katie Briggs,Vince Farquharson, and Josh Osborne.

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You are all on the Design team. What are your roles?

Libby Bawcombe: I’m a senior product designer. I work in user experience and visual design of our digital products, and I write for NPR Design’s blog.

Liz Danzico: I’m the creative director, overseeing and guiding both the visual and user experience across NPR digital products, platforms, and services.

Katie Briggs: I’m a product designer. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the things we build affect the users we serve, especially at the Member station level.

Vince Farquharson: I’m a senior interaction designer. I spend most of my time wireframing and providing visuals for multiplatform NPR experiences. I work with internal teams and external partners.

Kaytee Nesmith: I’m a senior product designer. I use design and research techniques to figure out how to make life easier for station staffers — and the folks here who support to them.

Dan Newman: I’m a deputy creative director. I help lead the team on a day-to-day basis, connect divergent workstreams, facilitate strategic conversations, and design engaging interactions.

Scott Stroud: I’m a lead user experience strategist. I think about the goals of the audience, Member stations, and NPR. I help tell the story of how we craft experiences to deliver positive outcomes for all three.

Josh Osborne: I’m a design technologist. Most of my time is spent designing and building NPR.org. I also build and maintain open-source tools that help our teams work better together.

Veronica Erb: I’m a senior interaction designer. I have three specialties on the team: research and interviews, information architecture, and workshop facilitation.

The Design team at a scrum meeting.

Eric Lee/NPR

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Eric Lee/NPR

How did you get started at NPR? What advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?

Liz Danzico: I learned about an open position at NPR from someone I used to work with. I hadn’t considered design at NPR before, and was compelled once I learned more about it. NPR had designers! My advice would be to be curious across boundaries. While my role is explicitly about “design,” the whole of a user’s experience is far broader than that term would suggest. In considering a management position, practice finding ways to create pathways for your teammates/colleagues so they can do their best work.

Dan Newman: I applied to NPR for my dream job. I didn’t know anyone here, so I applied blindly through the careers site — without any expectations. I was delighted just to visit NPR for an interview. For all the advice out there that says you have to know the right person to have a shot at your dream job, that wasn’t the case here. In showing my best work and telling my story, I got to where I wanted to be.

Scott Stroud: I started in 2006 when NPR leadership first built a team focused on user experience. This team evolved into our current Design group. My career advice for designers is to consider everything an iterative work in progress, including your personal journey. Clarity comes with time, experimentation, and commitment.

What does the NPR Design team do exactly?

We research, prototype, and design user experiences for the public across the places they are and will be — websites, smartphones, tablets, connected cars, connected homes, and emerging technology — places we haven’t yet imagined. We contribute to projects at all stages of development, from inception through completion. We also collaborate closely with developers, product owners, scrum masters, QA engineers, and our colleagues across departments at NPR.

What are some of the goals of the Design team?

From a process standpoint, we aim to make the invisible visible, and help others do so as well, ensuring that everyone has a voice whether that be about a product, a process, or something else. From a product standpoint, we aim to represent the user’s point of view in every conversation.

Your team sits near NPR Music. How do you get any work done with all that music from the Tiny Desk concerts?

Libby and Katie discuss in front of Veronica’s sticky notes near the NPR Music green room.

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Veronica Erb: Working full-time from St. Louis, I crave more behind-the-scenes Tiny Desk concert moments. Happily, I occasionally get stories and sometimes photos from my fellow designers, including reports that artists comment (and sometimes sing!) when they notice the wall of sticky notes that I created outside the Green Room. When I’m in town, I prioritize seeing the concerts. Breaks are an important part of creating high quality work!

Vince Farquharson: Working with our fast-moving teams, there’s always a need to dive deep into a challenge. But I’ve found Tiny Desk concerts are great for getting a chance to take a breath. I get to see colleagues that I don’t work with every day, and enjoy a treat that few organizations could provide. I even sort of like it when the piano tuner visits!

Kaytee Nesmith: I produce my best work when I have a good number of breaks or changes of scenery throughout the day, so Tiny Desk concerts are constantly a delight. Sometimes, though, it’s hard for me to remember to take a break. On those days, Tiny Desk concerts are a welcome reminder that, hey, it’s time to stop staring at the screen for a few minutes. If the piano tuner’s around, though, you can expect me to retreat to a quiet hiding place!

Kaytee presenting at a creative lunch” for AIGA DC’s “DC Design Week.”

Cass Olson/AIGA DC

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Cass Olson/AIGA DC

What’s an exciting project are you working on right now?

Libby Bawcombe: I’m on the NPR news app team, which is relaunching the iPhone app in early April. Helping redesign a beloved app is complicated but rewarding. The best part is user-testing our ideas, and getting feedback from our readers and listeners who use early versions of the beta app.

Katie Briggs: I’m leading user testing on some experimental smart speaker skills we created earlier this year. I’m excited to learn how different concepts test with a variety of users, and to see which of our assumptions about voice assistant platforms are correct or incorrect — which can provide a lot of valuable insight.

Josh Osborne: Along with the rest of the publishing team in Digital Media, I’m working to improve the way NPR.org visitors connect with their Member stations. Instead of automatically choosing a station based on their location, we aim to offer a choice of up to three of the closest stations. With that, we’re piloting an experiment to syndicate Member station stories on our website, bringing the large NPR.org audience closer to their Member stations and to the news they care about.

What past project are you particularly proud of?

Liz Danzico: A couple summers ago, I collaborated with NPR’s Audience Insights and Research team for a project they led called “Future Audiences,” which was intended to explore the attitudes and behaviors of 18-32 year-old audiences. We created a Future Audiences Toolkit that made this research actionable, and conducted workshops and webinars to kickstart its usage. Many of the insights from that work are still in circulation today.

Vince Farquharson: I’ll have to call a tie between The NPR One Webapp and NPR One for Xbox. The former was with our internal Enterprise team, and the latter was with our development partners at InfernoRed. I like these because it was necessary for me to become both the visual and interaction lead for both projects. I pushed myself outside my comfort zone, and the results were great. Additionally, these projects are redefining what it means to be an audio-driven organization on visual platforms.

Vince presenting at AIGA DC’s “DC Design Week.”

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Katie Briggs: I recently came to NPR from Member station KPCC, where I helped found Public Media Potluck. This community of stations and other public media entities embody the mission of the Public Media Kitchen, a collection of digital tools built for station use and collaboration. Part of why I came to NPR was to help advance the interstation ecosystem, so I’ve remained involved with Public Media Potluck. We had our first in-person meet-up in January 2018, which hosted representatives from more than a dozen organizations. By all measurements, it was a great success!

If the team had a podcast (not about design) what would it be about?

Office supplies. We are crazy for sticky notes, round dot labels, permanent markers, and rolls of blank paper. We have lots of opinions on which supplies work best for brainstorming and design-thinking exercises.

Eric Lee/NPR

Favorite Tiny Desk?

Liz Danzico: Seeing Steve Martin play the banjo.

Vince Farquharson:The Cristina Pato Trio. That one was cathartic because I had a killer headache that day, and jazz with bagpipes was the cure. Knocked that headache right out. I bought her album the same day.

Kaytee Nesmith: George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars. You can even see me losing my entire mind in the video. I had to have that funk. Runner-up: Chelsea Wolfe.

What are you binging right now? (Streaming movies, albums, podcasts, books)

Kaytee Nesmith: Radiotopia’s Mortified podcast is so delightful. It has made me audibly laugh to myself in public more times than I’d like to admit.

Dan Newman: I can’t get enough of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s into season three now, and while it deftly deals with real issues around mental illness, it’s also an escapist musical comedy. When paired with Glen Weldon’s exhaustive, definitive rankings of the songs in every season, it is perfection.

Josh Osborne: David Chang’s Ugly Delicious has been my go-to lately. Each episode examines the cultural, sociological, and culinary history of a specific popular food. The fried rice episode was incredible. Disclaimer: Do not watch Ugly Delicious after dinner if you’re trying not to snack after dark.

Latest inspiration?

Dan Newman: I’m currently re-reading the Harry Potter series for the the first time in probably a decade. One of the things I had forgotten from the early books was how wizards marveled at Muggle technology. It reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We don’t have magic at our disposal, of course, but I feel inspired to continue making our products and platforms feel more magical.

Scott Stroud: Celeste Headlee’s book We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter. Headlee is a public radio journalist who translates what she’s learned from interviewing guests and navigating difficult work conversations into rules for deeper human connection.

Josh Osborne: I’m constantly inspired by my Are.na feed. It’s an open platform for creative thinking and research. For me, every project starts with an empty Are.na channel and a dream. This channel comprising only of rave zines is a current favorite.

What’s on your desk?

Name tags from events that Dan attended.

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Liz Danzico: A stack of sticky notes and a variety of pens. Together, they’re the lightest-weight tool you can have for making ideas public.

Kaytee Nesmith: A small teapot and cup. Lots of pens and markers. A teeny-tiny ceramic vase with a dried-up rose. A small Maleficent figurine given to me by a colleague. A few crystals. A small collection of buttons and enamel pins. My favorite thing on my desk, though, is a bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider the team gave to me on my first day!

Dan Newman: For many years, through several jobs, my desk has been my toybox. Close at hand are my collection of Toy Story figures, vinyl Freddies from MailChimp, my (now recalled, shhh…) Buckyballs magnets, my CTA Brio-style train, and much more. My most prized toy is the Wreck-It Ralph figure that John C. Reilly signed for me when he performed at the Tiny Desk.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Liz Danzico: Take a morning run with my dog, work with emerging design students, try to play the cello (a lifelong process), and hang out with my (fairly large) family.

Vince Farquharson: I make uncanny electronic art and furniture. I love new materials, so I’m always experimenting at adapting construction materials into art. I visit my family across town every weekend. I’m also a sous chef at home.

Kaytee Nesmith: I love being with my dog, cooking and embroidering. I’m working on a new project with a friend of mine, and we’re making really, really loud music (and corresponding audio visualizations)!

If you had to give each other superlatives, what would some be?

Dan Newman:Most Inspiring. This is the best team I’ve ever worked on. Everyone is so knowledgeable, so innately curious, and so friendly. I am inspired every day to do my best work because of the enthusiasm and partnership of my colleagues.

Scott Stroud: Most Encouraging. Every member of the team recognizes the unique contribution of other team members and individuals throughout NPR. We celebrate everyone’s breakthroughs and actively elevate new voices through hiring and internships.

Libby Bawcombe:Most Likely To Wear Black. It’s no secret that artsy designer types tend to gravitate toward darker hues.

What is your favorite thing about working at NPR?

Libby Bawcombe: While I enjoy working on a major project like the NPR news app, I also get to work on a variety of awesome side projects with smart people who believe in the importance of public media. Every day feels interesting and different. Plus, my husband works for PBS, and we love being a public media family. You can bet there’s a lot of Wow in the World and PBS Kids at home!

Liz Danzico: I love seeing and hearing NPR things out in the world — and watching people’s reactions to them. It’s such an honor to be a part of the smart teams and processes that make these things. To see them in real time with real people is always irrationally exciting!

Kaytee Nesmith: I love that all of our design work centers around a mission that really, truly resonates with me, and I love figuring out how to solve the design challenges that presents. Also, being able to text my friends things like, “HI I JUST MADE EYE CONTACT WITH KIM DEAL FROM MY DESK” is deeply satisfying.

team at NPR lobby.

Eric Lee/NPR

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