PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

How Big Tech Created a Data ‘Treasure Trove’ for Police (Maria)

The authors write, “When US law enforcement officials need to cast a wide net for information, they’re increasingly turning to the vast digital ponds of personal data created by Big Tech companies via the devices and online services that have hooked billions of people around the world. Data compiled by four of the biggest tech companies shows that law enforcement requests for user information — phone calls, emails, texts, photos, shopping histories, driving routes and more — have more than tripled in the US since 2015. … They can also frequently hide their requests by obtaining gag orders.”

How Democrats Are ‘Unilaterally Disarming’ in the Redistricting Wars (DonkeyHotey)

The author writes, “Oregon Democrats had finally secured total control of redistricting for the first time in decades. Then, just months before they were set to draw new maps, they gave it away. In a surprise that left Democrats from Salem to Washington baffled and angry, the state House speaker handed the GOP an effective veto over the districts in exchange for a pledge to stop stymieing her legislative agenda with delay tactics. The reaction from some of Oregon’s Democratic House delegation was unsparing: ‘That was like shooting yourself in the head,’ Rep. Kurt Schrader told POLITICO. Rep. Peter DeFazio seethed: ‘It was just an abysmally stupid move on her part.’ Yet what happened this spring in Oregon is just one example, though perhaps the most extreme one, of a larger trend vexing Democratic strategists and lawmakers focused on maximizing the party’s gains in redistricting.”

Internal Amazon Documents Shed Light on How Company Pressures Out 6% of Office Workers (Reader Steve)

From the Seattle Times: “Amazon systematically attempts to channel 6% of its office employees out of the company each year, using processes embedded in proprietary software to help meet a target for turnover among low-ranked office workers, a metric Amazon calls ‘unregretted attrition,’ according to internal company documents seen by The Seattle Times. The documents underscore the extent to which Amazon’s processes closely resemble the controversial management practice of stack ranking — in which employees are graded by comparison with each other rather than against a job description or performance goals — despite Amazon’s insistence that it does not engage in stack ranking. The documents also highlight how much of Amazon’s human resources processes are reliant on apps and algorithms, even among the company’s office workforce.”

Federal Judge Throws Out CDC’s Cruise Safety Regulations, Handing Win to Desantis (Sean)

From the Miami Herald: “A federal judge threw out U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety rules for cruise companies operating in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic Friday, handing a victory to Gov. Ron DeSantis. In a 124-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday of the Middle District of Florida said the agency’s ‘conditional sail order’ — a framework of regulations dictating how cruises can restart in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic — can remain in place for Florida cruises only until July 18, granting DeSantis’ request for a preliminary injunction while the full case moves forward.”

Scientists Convert Used Plastic Bottles Into Vanilla Flavouring (Nick)

The author writes, “Plastic bottles have been converted into vanilla flavouring using genetically engineered bacteria, the first time a valuable chemical has been brewed from waste plastic. Upcycling plastic bottles into more lucrative materials could make the recycling process far more attractive and effective. Currently plastics lose about 95% of their value as a material after a single use. Encouraging better collection and use of such waste is key to tackling the global plastic pollution problem.”

Skeletons of Related Viking-Era Men to Reunite for Exhibit (Dan)

The author writes, “The skeletons of two related Viking-era men, one who died in central Denmark and the other who was killed in England during a massacre ordered by a king, are set to be reunited for an exhibition opening in Copenhagen this month. Scientists on both sides of the North Sea have established a genetic link between the Norsemen. DNA tests showed ‘that they are either half brothers or nephew and uncle,’ University of Copenhagen geneticist Eske Willerslev said.”

Thieves Have Been Stealing Truckloads of Nuts. The Latest Heist Was 42,000 Pounds of Pistachios. (Dana)

The author writes, “As Touchstone Pistachio Company ran through its routine audit earlier this month, something wasn’t adding up. More than 42,000 pounds of pistachios had vanished. The company soon enlisted the sheriff’s office in Tulare County, Calif., for help and on Saturday, law enforcement officials said they had found the missing nuts and arrested the thief. Police said Alberto Montemayor, 34, was hiding the pistachios in a tractor trailer parked in a nearby parking lot and then repackaging them to sell. The case is just the latest heist of pistachio nuts in Central California, where the nuts were a $5.2 billion economic engine tied to more than 47,000 jobs last year, according to studies commissioned by the industry. Last August, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 23-year-old man and accused him of stealing two trucks full of pistachios valued at $294,000.”