6.22.2023

Facts, without motives.
 

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Good morning. It's Thursday, June 22, and we're covering the final stages of a probe into a probe of Russian election meddling, a discovery on the Yucatán Peninsula, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

 

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Need To Know
 

Durham Testimony

Special Counsel John Durham testified before Congress yesterday, answering questions regarding his investigation of the origins of a 2016 FBI probe into Russian election meddling. The appearance is the culmination of a yearslong saga sparked by allegations of collusion with Russia by the incoming Trump administration during the 2016 presidential race.

 

Durham's recent report (read here) summarized an effort that began in 2019 and came in response to accusations the original FBI probe—which was known as "Crossfire Hurricane" and led to the Mueller Report—was politically motivated. Among other issues, critics argued the probe relied on the now-discredited Steele dossier, purporting to detail Trump's connections and activities in Russia. 

 

In both his testimony and final report, Durham leveled heavy criticism against the bureau, including that the agency lacked sufficient evidence to launch its probe and routinely ignored countervailing evidence. The investigation ultimately produced one conviction—former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith received 12 months probation for altering an email

 

Separately, the House censored Democrat Adam Schiff (D, CA-30) over accusations he made while the investigations were ongoing. 

 

Falling Test Scores

Math and reading test scores among US 13-year-olds declined significantly since 2019, according to figures released yesterday from the National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as the "Nation's Report Card." Observers claim pandemic school closures likely accelerated what was already a decadelong downward trend in basic academic benchmarks.

 

The test was administered to a representative sampling of roughly 8,700 students from 460 schools between October and December of last year. Average decline in scores was consistent across race, gender, and income level—averaging a nine-point drop in math and four-point drop in reading. The test is scored out of 500 points, with experts describing a change of 10 points as equal to a year of learning lost or gained. Researchers also noted student absenteeism as a contributing factor, which has doubled since 2020.

 

The latest report confirms similar results from other nationwide assessments of fourth and eighth graders over the last year. See the latest report card here.

 

Ancient Mayan City Discovered

Archaeologists have found an ancient Mayan city in the jungles of the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico using aerial laser mapping technology. The previously unknown city of 123 acres includes pyramid-like structures measuring more than 50 feet in height, a ball court, stone columns, and three plazas. Archaeologists have named the city Ocomtún—the Mayan word for a stone column.

 

The research team found the site in an ecological reserve in the state of Campeche. Ceramics collected at the site suggest the area was inhabited between 600 and 800 CE, known as the late classic period. Researchers say the site likely declined between 800 to 1,000 CE as part of ideological and population changes that partly led to the civilization's ultimate collapse (see timeline).

 

Known for their mathematical and astronomical advancements, the Maya peaked from 250 to 900 CE and settled throughout southeast Mexico and parts of Central America, which comprise present-day Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Read about the ancient Maya here, or watch a short video here.

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe tapped for US women's national team roster for fourth time as full 23-player squad revealed ahead of next month's Women's World Cup (More)

> Disney's Chief Diversity Officer Latondra Newton departs after six years amid Disney's dispute with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) (More)

> The 2023 NBA Draft to be held tonight (8 pm ET, ABC and ESPN) from Brooklyn, New York; see full preview and mock draft (More) | PGA Tour and LIV Golf representatives invited by US Senate to testify at hearing on their proposed alliance (More)

 

Science & Technology

In partnership with Important, Not Important

> US regulators approve the sale of chicken cultured from live animal cells, marking the first commercial product made from lab-grown meat (More)

> Scientists successfully deep freeze and reanimate kidneys for transplant into rats, a key advance in the ability to store organs (More)

> Archaeologists reveal 4,000-year-old structure that served as both a burial site and a solar calendar in the Netherlands, dubbed the "Dutch Stonehenge" (More)

From our partners: Science, for people who care. Why do 12,000+ senators, CEOs, and PhDs finish their week with Important, Not Important? It’s the weekly email that fills you in on today’s—and tomorrow’s—most pressing issues facing our existence (clean energy, AI, biotech, food, etc.). Get your weekly dose of science with one original essay and five positive actions you can take to make a difference. Subscribe for free.

 

Business & Markets

> US stock markets close lower (S&P 500 -0.5%, Dow -0.3%, Nasdaq -1.2%) for third consecutive session (More)

> Federal Trade Commission sues Amazon alleging the company intentionally duped customers into Amazon Prime subscriptions (More)

> US charitable giving dropped 3% in 2022 to $499B, only fourth time in four decades the amount saw annual declines (More) | Time magazine releases annual TIME100 list of most influential companies (More

 

Politics & World Affairs

> Israeli settlers storm through Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank, killing at least one person and torching homes and cars after four Israelis were killed by Palestinian gunmen the day before in the latest conflict between the groups (More)

> Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito denies wrongdoing in response to report alleging he failed to disclose paid vacation he accepted from a billionaire whose hedge fund had cases before the court in the years following (More) | Read the original report (More)

At least 46 inmates killed in women's prison in Honduras after riot led by gang members (More) | At least 29 injured after gas explosion at building in central Paris; cause of blast is unknown (More)

 

In-Depth

> The Gatekeeper of the Brain

Quanta Magazine | Yasemin Saplakoglu. An explainer on the blood-brain barrier, a complex network of capillaries that shield delicate neurons from blood-borne threats, and why it poses a challenge for drug developers. (Read)

 

> The Great Escape

Coda | Hashim Mohammed, Isobel Cockerell. A first-person account of Hashim Mohammed, a Uyghur man who fled China's crackdown on the Uyghur community, endured years of detention in Thailand, and ultimately found refuge in Turkey. (Read)

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Etcetera
 

Thousands flock to Stonehedge to celebrate summer solstice.

 

The world’s 50 best restaurants revealed.

 

Study shows California accounts for nearly one-third of homeless Americans.

 

A look at the contenders for the song of the summer.

 

The most dog-friendly beaches in the country.

 

… and why some dogs look like their owners.

 

The most convincing Loch Ness monster sightings.

 

Watermelon snow turns Utah's mountains red, pink, and orange.

 

Clickbait: Goats take over landscaping duties.

 

Historybook: Department of Justice established (1870); GI Bill is signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1944); Meryl Streep born (1949); Judy Garland dies (1969); Dancer Fred Astaire dies (1987).

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- Judy Garland

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