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Berkeley Nuclear Security Professor Jasmina Vujic’s Bizarre Side Gig Is Far-Right Serbian Activist

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A prominent nuclear engineering professor in California with influence over millions of dollars in federal research funds is also a prominent player in Dveri, a far right-wing party in Serbia that publicly supports a convicted war criminal, among other extremist stances.

Jasmina Vujic has been on the faculty at the University of California Berkeley since 1992. She formerly served as chair of UC Berkeley’s nuclear engineering department, and is the founding director of the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, a key hub for nuclear security research and training, where she directs 50 affiliated faculty members and hundreds of researchers from eight universities across the country.

In recent years, Vujic has occupied positions on the Berkeley admissions and diversity committees, and she helps dish out at least $10 million in research funds at the multi-university research center, which is underwritten by the U.S. Department of Energy.

She’s also a longtime, prominent member of Dveri, having served as the Serbian far-right party’s vice president for three years, according to Serbian-language media accounts, interviews and social media postings. She regularly appears at its political events in her home country, has fundraised and lobbied for the group, and has appeared alongside some of the most controversial figures in Serbia’s recent history.

Experts say Dveri’s ascension to parliament and formal politics, even in a country governed by a right-wing party, are representative of a broader acceptance of previously unacceptable ideological stances throughout Europe.

But Vujic’s involvement in the group has raised alarm among some colleagues and peers in the nuclear engineering field because it is a foreign political entity that opposes long-established U.S. policies in the Balkans. Vujic’s affiliations with Dveri prompted at least one individual to report her affiliations to the Department of Energy as a potential security concern last year, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. 

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New Chart Positions In Gig App Provider Ranking

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Unemployment claims are up one week, down the next in the topsy-turvy world after COVID-19. Where does that leave gig workers? In the driver’s seat, as this update to PYMNTS’ Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps tells us loud and clear.

Not only are there gigs, but it’s never been easier to pull up those postings on your smartphone and peruse them like a restaurant menu. Makes getting a gig a whole lot simpler. We’ve got a job, so get out the Ranking Machine for the Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps.

The Top Five

Our four top-ranked apps seem to have entrenched to some degree (although you never know).

Still at No. 1 is DoorDash, donating a million bucks to driver’s charities in April, followed as usual by Uber Driver at No. 2.

Instacart Shopper needs no assistance from customer service at its No. 3 spot — and for that matter, neither does the Fiverr freelance marketplace app, keeping busy at No. 4.

Now for a changeup to close out this section: Amazon Flex moves up one spot to enter the top 5 at No. 5.

The Top 10

At No. 6, we find the Upwork app down one chart position from last month, with self-explanatory app Freelancer also dropping one position to land at No. 7.

Rideshare legend Lyft likes preferred parking at No. 8, just where we left it last time.

Hare beats tortoise, as it were, as the TaskRabbit app jumps up a spot to No. 9, pushing the mighty Grubhub for Drivers to No. 10 and completing this edition of the Provider Ranking of Gig Economy Apps.

That’s what we call part of a full day’s work.

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NEW PYMNTS STUDY: OPEN BANKING 2021 

About The Study: Open banking-powered payment offerings have been available in some markets since 2018, but the pandemic drove many consumers to try these solutions for the first time — and there’s no going back. In the Open Banking Report, PYMNTS examines open banking’s rise as merchants and payment services providers worldwide tap into such options to offer secure, seamless account-to-account payments.



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Mark Melancon runs a turf installation company as a side gig

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It’s not uncommon for pitchers to meet up with their opposition before games and swap trade secrets: pitch grips, deliveries and ballplayer wisdom are all part of the secret language that hurlers share amongst themselves. But a pitcher swapping tips with the opposition’s groundskeeper?

That’s a little less usual, but simply par for the course (excuse the pun) for one of the Padres’ many offseason acquisitions and new closer, Mark Melancon.

That’s because Melancon — a three-time All-Star and one-time MLB saves leader — moonlights with his very own turf installation company, Diamond Turf.

“Arizona’s grounds crew was great,” Melancon told me in a phone call recently. “I’ve spent a lot of time with them. Toronto last year, spent a lot of time in Texas. You know, every field’s done a little bit different. You can learn from each of those grounds crews that deal with that type of field.

“Obviously, they’re trying to replicate something for 81 games that’s perfect to a natural product,” Melancon added. “And so they’re very picky on the ball bounce and stuff like that. Depending on the infill that you use, yeah, it will bounce differently.”

It’s a strange confluence of events that led to this moment for the Padres’ stopper. Landscaping wasn’t a family business, and he didn’t grow up with a deep obsession for turf and turf supplies. No, Melancon’s mid-career extracurriculars came about because of two things.

First, Melancon asked his sister, Michelle, and brother-in-law, Gerardo, to move closer to his family on the west coast of Florida from their home in Colorado. While Gerardo could transfer his job, it would have involved an extremely long commute and employers that paid his previous rate were also scarce in the nearby area. Melancon wanted to help out since he was the reason for them picking up and moving their lives in the first place.

Second, Melancon had a putting green installed in his backyard and he wasn’t happy with the results. So, with the kind of gusto that leads to garage bands and plans to remodel basements into swanky hangout areas, the two leapt into it. The only difference: They followed through on their dream.

“[Gerardo] and I just said, ‘Let’s do this,'” Melancon said. “This is something we’re attracted to and we’ll figure it out. And fortunately, he was on board and excited about it. So was I. We dove right in and started learning and went from there.”

They quickly got to work, first learning with on-the-job training on Melancon’s putting green — which Melancon points out is about as hard as any turf job gets. Just like pitching, nailing it involves a close attention to detail.

“Putting greens, there’s simply nuances to it,” Melancon said. “It’s an art, it’s a skill. And believe me, we’ve trained a lot of people and it’s like any other major profession — you can’t just get anybody off the street. You have to really show them the way and they have to show you that they want to do it.”

With help from Celebrity Greens, who have helped train the people in Diamond Turf’s employ, the company quickly grew to about 20 members strong. Along with roughly 15 laborers, the main office features Mark, Michelle, Gerardo, an office administrator named Debbie Hertenstein and, oh yeah, another Major Leaguer in J.B. Shuck, who now runs sales. Shuck, who’s married to Melancon’s wife’s sister — making this a giant big league family — had signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals last year. But when COVID-19 ended the Minor League season, Shuck joined up with Diamond Turf full-time.

“Those two guys,” Melancon said about his two brothers by marriage, “work ethic off the charts and just quality people.”

Since then, they’ve installed lawns — some complete with trampolines in them — intricate design and logo work and, of course, putting greens.

And then there’s the really fun stuff. That includes a large, lumpy piece of turf in the shape of a turtle that Melancon’s children love called “Turtle Hill,” and backyard mini golf courses.

“Clients just love it,” Melancon said. “Every hole is different. It’s a legit putt-putt course on the back of your yard. We put trinkets out there, a skull, a pirate ship, bridges, different color turf. It’s been phenomenal. It’s really well done. And that’s my brother-in-law, Gerardo. His artistic ability just comes into play really well there.”

It’s not a new thing for ballplayers to have side jobs. In fact, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon for players not to work in the offseason. Nolan Ryan was a gas station attendant as a young player, Richie Hebner dug graves and plenty of players through history have used their fame to help open up a side business. Lou Brock opened a florist’s shop and Curt Flood owned a portrait studio.

But that’s the opposite of what Melancon wants. He made it clear over and over throughout our time chatting that he’s just happy to be a part of this company and has no desire to use his big leaguer status to boost sales — even if he has been recognized a few times on the job. If you went to the website and didn’t know it, you’d have no idea that Melancon ever played baseball.

And Melancon truly loves the job. Even during the season, he is constantly working, using Diamond Turf business as a nice release from the non-stop stress of baseball. Though he’s mostly involved in an admin role, working on payroll and material orders, he’s perhaps working more than even his co-workers enjoy.

“I’m heavily involved, but I’m involved in places that I don’t have to be,” Melancon jokes. “But I want to be and I enjoy being [involved, even though] things could still get done without me. It’s the times when I’m in the hotel on the road that I can spend a lot of time on it. Fortunately, I have a good team in place that can take care of those things.”

Still, even for someone who loves turf and works in turf and even espouses the environmental benefits that turf can provide, he still prefers to play on natural grass.

“From a professional standpoint, I think natural grass is always better,” Melancon said. “I don’t really care. It’s more the infielders and outfielders — I’ll go with whatever they want. Playing in Texas in the playoffs last year was great. I thought that surface was awesome. To be honest, you didn’t even really know it was artificial.”

In the end, even though Melancon is a pitcher, you wouldn’t know it from the way he talks about his side gig. He sounds perfectly at home running a turf installation company.

“Wanting the best for people — that’s been our motto,” Melancon said. “We want to do the best job that we can do for people. We’re there to make money, obviously, but we want to leave the customer with great customer service and quality, longevity. We specialize in putting greens because that’s what’s enjoyable, that’s what gets us excited. And we feel like, if we can master the putting green side, we can really do anything because those are the hardest things. And we really feel like we produce one of the best putting greens out there.”

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UK Deliveroo riders strike over pay, gig work conditions | World

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LONDON (AP) — Riders for the app-based meal delivery platform Deliveroo held a strike in London Wednesday over pay and working conditions, part of a broader backlash against one of the U.K.’s biggest gig economy companies.

Scooter and bicycle delivery riders waving flags and red smoke flares rode through the streets of Central London. Socially distanced protests were also planned in York, Reading, Sheffield and Wolverhampton to demand fair pay, safety protections and basic workers’ rights.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which represents migrant and gig workers, expected hundreds of riders to take part.

Deliveroo said that “this small self-appointed union does not represent the vast majority of riders who tell us they value the total flexibility they enjoy.” Rider surveys found most are happy with the company and flexibility was their priority, the company said in a statement.

The strike coincides with the first day of unconditional share trading for Deliveroo, which went public last week in a multibillion pound stock offering that was one of Europe’s most hotly anticipated IPOs this year. However, a number of institutional investors skipped the initial public offering, citing concerns about employment conditions for riders and a dual-class shareholder structure that gives founder Will Shu outsize control.

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