3.24.2023

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Good morning. It's Friday, March 24, and we're covering a potential shift in the war in Ukraine, the capture of a digital currency enthusiast, and much more.

 

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Need To Know
 

Ukraine Eyes Counteroffensive

Ukrainian officials said yesterday they believe Russian forces have lost momentum in the contested city of Bakhmut, signaling Ukraine may mount a counteroffensive along eastern battlefronts as the region moves out of the winter season. Some on-the-ground reports supported claims that Russian efforts, particularly those led by the Wagner mercenary group, may be fatiguing. 

 

Analysts have described the battle for Bakhmut as more symbolic than strategic—the city had a prewar population of just 70,000, but the six-month fight has been one of the conflict's longest and bloodiest. It sits in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk oblast, one of four claimed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as sovereign Russian territory in September. As of early March, reports suggested Wagner forces had captured the eastern half of the city, though the group has complained of a lack of support and supplies from the Kremlin. 

 

See a current map of occupied territory here

 

Crypto Fugitive Arrested

Cryptocurrency entrepreneur Kwon Do-Hyung, also known as Do Kwon, was reportedly arrested yesterday by officials in Montenegro as he attempted to travel through the capital city of Podgorica's airport with falsified documents. His detention comes almost one year after the company he cofounded, Terraform Labs, collapsed, leading to the loss of billions of dollars in digital currency markets last year. 

 

Among other products, Kwon's company created a currency managed by an algorithm such that it maintained a one-to-one conversion with the US dollar (what are stablecoins?). Last May, a number of large withdrawals of the coin sparked the equivalent of a bank run, leading to many investors attempting to reclaim and exchange the coin simultaneously. An estimated $45B of value in the coin was wiped out in one week, beginning months of upheaval across the cryptocurrency industry.

 

See a deep dive on the collapse of Terra coins here.

 

P. Aeruginosa

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed two additional deaths linked to bacteria traced back to contaminated eye drops, bringing the total number of deaths to three, with several more severely injured. At least 68 cases have been identified across 16 states, including eight cases of vision loss and four cases of enucleation—or surgical removal of an eyeball. 

 

A rare strain of highly drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, VIM-GES-CRPA, has previously not been identified in the US and can be found in various environments, including water, soil and human waste. It likely contaminated the eye drops through environmental agents during handling. 

 

The eyedrops recalled include two brands from Global Pharma Healthcare, an India-based manufacturer. While most patients had exposure to the eye drops, some did not, suggesting person-to-person transmission is possible. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego have identified a potential treatment for the bacteria, but no patients have yet received it.

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

In partnership with The Ascent

> No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic upsets No. 4 seed Tennessee to make their first Elite 8 appearance (More) | See latest bracket (More) | Women's Sweet 16 begins today; see preview of all eight matchups (More)

> Previously unknown Jackson Pollock painting, valued at up to $54M, discovered during police raid of art smugglers in Bulgaria (More)

> World Athletics bans transgender women from competing in international track and field competitions (More) | UEFA investigating FC Barcelona over alleged payments made to ex-vice president of Spain's referee committee (More)

From our partners: And the top 6 bonus cards are (cue drumroll) ... 2023 is here, and experts at The Ascent have sorted through hundreds of credit cards. These 6 are among the best bonus cards they’ve ever seen.

 

Science & Technology

> Relativity Space's first launch of 3D-printed rocket fails three minutes after liftoff, falls short of reaching orbit (More)

> Researchers uncover mechanisms that allow beetles to absorb moisture from the atmosphere through their rear ends; unique ability replaces the need to drink and allows the insects to thrive in dry environments (More)

> Large-scale study finds common genetic markers associated with increased substance abuse risk, regardless of substance type; genetic combinations found to play a role in dopamine signaling, which regulates reward-seeking behavior (More)

 

Business & Markets

> Stocks close higher (S&P 500 +0.3%, Dow + 0.2%, Nasdaq +1.0%) after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell indicated an end to rate hikes could be near (More)

> PacWest Bancorp raises $1.4B from Atlas SP Partners to shore up liquidity after losing 20% of deposits (More)

> Character.AI–chatbot startup by former Google employees–raises $150M at $1B valuation (More) | Accenture to cut 19,000 jobs worldwide in attempt to trim costs (More)

 

Politics & World Affairs

> TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before House Energy and Commerce Committee as Biden administration weighs ban on the app over national security concerns (More) | See previous write-up (More)

> Saudi Arabia and Syria agree to reopen embassies in each other's countries following more than a decadelong suspension of diplomatic relations; deal was mediated by Russia, per reports (More)

> New York grand jury meets, does not hear testimony related to former President Donald Trump; earlier reports suggested panel would vote on an indictment in hush money probe this week (More)

 

In-Depth

> Cruise Ship Invasion

Hakai | Andrew Engelson. Inexpensive Alaskan cruise vacations are a popular way to explore the northern reaches of the US—and they come at a cost to the environment. (Read)

 

> The Making of Tom Wambsgans

Ringer | Alan Siegel. As the final season of HBO hit "Succession" debuts Sunday, dive into the history of the show's quirky underdog who rose from insecure son-in-law to a powerful player in the Roy family. (Read)

 

> Murder in Maple Shade

Strangeland | Staff. (Podcast) A father returns to his suburban New Jersey home to find his wife and 6-year-old son brutally killed. After six years, there are still no answers. (Listen)

 

> Life as a Leafcutter Ant

TED-Ed | Charles Wallace. A queen leafcutter ant harvests fungus before hunkering down to give birth to a new colony, where she'll tend to her fungal garden, the colony's source of food. (Watch)

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Etcetera
 

Ranking America's best zoos.

 

"Not the prettiest"—meet the 2023 Mollusk of the Year.

 

Photographer captures shots of a falcon battling a pelican.

 

Spring break has fully recovered from the pandemic

 

Crash the rescue cat is the next Cadbury Bunny.

 

Engineers unveil 3D-printed cheesecake.

 

Waste time bopping blobs to classical music (best on desktop).

 

New startup focuses on long-distance kissing.

 

Clickbait: Break out of jail, get pancakes.

 

Historybook: World famous magician Harry Houdini born (1874); Author Jules Verne dies (1905); Dorothy Height, civil and women’s rights activist, born (1912); Exxon Valdez oil tanker runs aground, eventually spills 11 million gallons of oil (1989). 

"Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition, he or she has overcome to reach his [or her] goals."

- Dorothy Height

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