Chipmaker TSMC Says Supplier Was Targeted in Cyberattack

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Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. said Friday that a cybersecurity incident involving one of its IT hardware suppliers has led to the leak of the vendor’s company data. 

“TSMC has recently been aware that one of our IT hardware suppliers experienced a cybersecurity incident that led to the leak of information pertinent to server initial setup and configuration,” the company said. 

TMSC confirmed in a statement to Reuters that its business operations or customer information were not affected following the cybersecurity incident at its supplier Kinmax. 

The TSMC vendor breach is part of a larger trend of significant security incidents affecting various companies and government entities. 

Victims range from U.S. government departments to the UK’s telecom regulator to energy giant Shell, all affected since a security flaw was discovered in Progress Software’s MOVEit Transfer product last month. 

TSMC said it has cut off data exchange with the affected supplier following the incident.

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Deadly Heat Waves Like the One in the Southern US Becoming More Frequent and Enduring

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Heat waves like the one that engulfed parts of parts of the South and Midwest and killed more than a dozen people are becoming more common, and experts say the extreme weather events, which claim more lives than hurricanes and tornados, will likely increase in the future.

A heat dome that pressured the Texas power grid and killed 13 people there and another in Louisiana pushed eastward Thursday and was expected to be centered over the mid-South by the weekend. Heat index levels of up to 112 degrees (44 Celsius) were forecast in parts of Florida over the next few days.

Eleven of the heat-related deaths in Texas occurred in Webb County, which includes Laredo. The dead ranged in age from 60 to 80 years old, and many had other health conditions, according to the county medical examiner. The other two fatalities were Florida residents who died while hiking in extreme heat at Big Bend National Park.

Scientists and medical experts say such deaths caused by extreme heat will only increase in the U.S. each summer without more action to combat climate change that has pushed up temperatures, making people especially vulnerable in areas unaccustomed to warm weather.

“Here in Boston we prepare for snowstorms. Now we need to learn how to prepare for heat,” said Dr. Gaurab Basu, a primary care physician and the director of education and policy at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Planting more trees to increase shade in cities and investing in green technology like heat pumps for home cooling and heating could help, Basu said.

Extreme heat already is the deadliest of all weather events in the United States, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and flooding.

“Heat waves are the deadliest because they affect such large areas and can go on for days or weeks,” said Joellen Russell, a climate scientist who teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson and is currently on a Fulbright scholarship in Wellington, New Zealand. “And they catch people by surprise.”

Phoenix, the hottest large city in America, faces an excessive heat warning headed into the weekend. Dangerously hot conditions are forecast from Saturday through Tuesday, including temperatures of 107-115 degrees (41.6-46.1 Celsius) across south-central Arizona.

“Arizona already understands heat to a certain extent, but it’s getting hotter for us, too,” said Russell. “That means a lot of people will continue to die.”

Counting heat deaths has become a science in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes metro Phoenix. The county tallied 425 heat-associated deaths last year, a 25% increase over 2021.

Located in the Sonoran Desert, Maricopa County counts not just deaths due to exposure but also deaths in which heat is among several major contributing factors, including heart attacks and strokes.

The county’s Office of the Medical Examiner updates suspected and confirmed heat-associated deaths every week through the warm season, which runs from May through October. So far this season, there have been six heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County, home to nearly 4.5 million people.

Dr. Sameed Khatana, a staff cardiologist at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said deaths in which heat contributed significantly to fatalities from causes like heart failure should also be considered to provide a more complete picture.

Khatana participated in research published last year that suggested that from 2008 and 2017 between 13,000 to 20,000 adult deaths were linked to extreme heat, about half due to heart disease.

Older people and those with diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other serious health conditions are most at risk, he said.

“Hurricanes, flooding and wildfires are very dramatic,” said Khatana. “Heat is harder to see and especially affects people who are socially isolated or living on the margins.”

The city of Phoenix’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation has opened summertime shelters for homeless people, operates cooling centers in libraries and other community spaces to help people get out of the sun and distributes bottled water, hats and sunscreen. The city also has a “Cool Callers” program with volunteers dialing vulnerable residents who ask to be checked on during hot periods.

Even the Phoenix Zoo is taking measures to cool off the monkeys, big cats and rhinos, spraying them with water, delivering frozen treats, and providing shaded areas and cooled water pools.

Extreme heat deaths are a global problem.

Mexican health authorities this week said there have been at least 112 heat-related deaths so far this year, acknowledging for the first time the deadliness of a recent heat wave that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador previously dismissed as an invention of alarmists.

The report released Wednesday also shows a significant spike in heat-related fatalities in the last two weeks. So far this year, Mexico’s overall heat-related deaths are almost triple the figures seen in 2022.

A flash study released this spring said record-breaking April temperatures in Spain, Portugal and northern Africa were made 100 times more likely by human-caused climate change.

Deaths and widespread hospitalizations were caused by searing heat wave that broiled parts of southern Asia in April with temperatures of up to 113 degrees (45 Celsius) was made at least 30 times more likely by climate change, according to a rapid study by international scientists.

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Australia to Use Psychedelic Drugs as Approved Medicines

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SYDNEY – Australia on Saturday will become one of the first countries to recognize psychedelic drugs as medicines. In February, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia’s medical regulator, sanctioned use of psychedelics for some mental health conditions. Experts agree that psychedelic-assisted therapies in Australia are in their infancy.

Starting Saturday, authorized psychiatrists in Australia will be able to prescribe methylenedioxy methamphetamine – MDMA, the active ingredient in such party drugs as ecstasy or molly — to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

They will also be allowed to prescribe psilocybin, a compound found in psychotropic “magic” mushrooms, to treat depression that has not responded to other therapies.

Susan Rossell, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Swinburne University in Melbourne, is conducting one of Australia’s biggest clinical trials of psilocybin. Preliminary results show significant improvements in some patients’ mental health while others have shown no signs of getting better.

Rossell told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that psychedelic therapies research is still in its early stages.

“We have been stuck for very many years in terms of mental health treatments for people with treatment-resistant conditions,” she said. “So, the fact that psychedelic medicines do seem to be working for a number of people is fantastic. However, they are not working for some people as well, and that is where I would note a great deal of caution in this field at the moment.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has issued new guidelines for its members’ use of psychedelic drugs. They must only be administered in a hospital or clinic, where two psychotherapists must stay with the patient for six to eight hours to ensure their safety.

The organization has said that with a lack of mental health professionals in Australia, it is likely that few providers will be able to meet these conditions.

Other experts fear that the new regulations that permit the use of MDMA and psilocybin in Australia have been approved too quickly. They believe there is potential for psychedelic substances to provoke anxiety, panic or cause psychological damage to patients.

Australia’s official medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, approved the use of psychedelics to treat some mental health conditions in February, making the country one of the first in the world to recognize the drugs as medicines.

In announcing its decision, the regulators said the “benefits to patients and public health … outweigh the risks.”

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Chinese, Russian Firms to Build Lithium Plants in Bolivia

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LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – Chinese and Russian companies will invest more than $1.4 billion in the extraction of lithium in Bolivia, one of the countries with the largest reserves of the mineral used in electric car batteries, the government in La Paz said Friday.  

China’s Citic Guoan and Russia’s Uranium One Group — both with a major government stake — will partner with Bolivia’s state-owned YLB to build two lithium carbonate processing plants, Bolivian President Luis Arce said at a public event.  

Lithium is often described as the “white gold” of the clean-energy revolution, a highly coveted component of mobile phones and electric car batteries.  

“We are consolidating the country’s industrialization process,” Arce said.

Bolivia, which claims to have the world’s largest deposits, in January also signed an agreement with Chinese consortium CBC to build two lithium battery plants.  

The country’s energy ministry said in a statement that each of the two new plants would have the capacity to produce up to 25,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate per year.  

Construction will begin in about three months.  

China and Russia are among Bolivia’s main lithium buyers.  

Lithium is mostly mined in Australia and South America. 

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Italian Researchers Reach the Edge of Space on Virgin Galactic’s Rocket-Powered Plane

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ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO — A team of Italian researchers reached the edge of space Thursday morning, flying aboard Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered plane as the company prepares for monthly commercial flights.

The flight launched from Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert, with two Italian Air Force officers and an engineer with the National Research Council of Italy focusing on a series of microgravity experiments during their few minutes of weightless.

One wore a special suit that measured biometric data and physiological responses while another conducted tests using sensors to track heart rate, brain function and other metrics while in microgravity. The third studied how certain liquids and solids mix in that very weak gravity.

Virgin Galactic livestreamed the flight on its website, showing the moment when the ship released from its carrier plane and the rocket was ignited. The entire trip took about 90 minutes, with the plane’s touchdown on the runway prompting cheers and claps by Virgin Galactic staff.

With the ship’s copilots, it marked the most Italians in space at the same time. Colonel Walter Villadei, a space engineer with the Italian Air Force, celebrated by unfolding an Italian flag while weightless.

Next up for Virgin Galactic will be the first of hundreds of ticket holders, many who have been waiting years for their chance at weightlessness and to see the curvature of the Earth. Those commercial flights are expected to begin in August and will be scheduled monthly, the space tourism company said.

Virgin Galactic has been working for years to send paying passengers on short space trips and in 2021 finally won the federal government’s approval. The company completed its final test fight in May.

The Italian research flight was initially scheduled for the fall of 2021 but Virgin Galactic at the time said it was forced to push back its timeline due to a potential defect in a component used in its flight control system. Then the company spent months upgrading its rocket ship before resuming testing in early 2023.

After reaching an altitude of nearly 15,000 meters, Virgin Galactic’s space plane is released from a carrier aircraft and drops for a moment before igniting its rocket motor. The rocket shuts off once it reaches space, leaving passengers weight before the ship then glides back to the runway at Spaceport America.

Virgin Galactic has sold about 800 tickets over the past decade, with the initial batch going for $200,000 each. Tickets now cost $450,000 per person.

The company said early fliers have already received their seat assignments.

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Meta Oversight Board Urges Cambodia Prime Minister’s Suspension from Facebook

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Meta Platforms’ Oversight Board on Thursday called for the suspension of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for six months, saying a video posted on his Facebook page had violated Meta’s rules against violent threats.

The board, which is funded by Meta but operates independently, said the company erred in leaving up the video and ordered its removal from Facebook.

Meta, in a written statement, agreed to take down the video but said it would respond to the recommendation to suspend Hun Sen after a review.

A suspension would silence the prime minister’s Facebook page less than a month before an election in Cambodia, although critics say the poll will be a sham due to Hun Sen’s autocratic rule.

The decision is the latest in a series of rebukes by the Oversight Board over how the world’s biggest social media company handles rule-breaking political leaders and incitement to violence around elections.

The company’s election integrity efforts are in focus as the United States prepares for presidential elections next year.

The board endorsed Meta’s 2021 banishment of former U.S. President Donald Trump – the current front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot, but criticized the indefinite nature of his suspension and urged more careful preparation for volatile political situations overall.

Meta reinstated the former U.S. president earlier this year.  

Last week, the board said Meta’s handling of calls for violence after the 2022 Brazilian election continued to raise concerns about the effectiveness of its election efforts.

Hun Sen’s video, broadcast on his official Facebook page in January, showed the prime minister threatening to beat up political rivals and send “gangsters” to their homes, according to the board’s ruling.

Meta determined at the time that the video fell afoul of its rules, but opted to leave it up under a “newsworthiness” exemption, reasoning that the public had an interest in hearing warnings of violence by their government, the ruling said.

The board held that the video’s harms outweighed its news value.

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WHO to Say Aspartame a Possible Carcinogen, Sources Say

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LONDON – One of the world’s most common artificial sweeteners is set to be declared a possible carcinogen next month by a leading global health body, according to two sources with knowledge of the process, pitting it against the food industry and regulators.

Aspartame, used in products from Coca-Cola diet sodas to Mars’ Extra chewing gum and some Snapple drinks, will be listed in July as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” for the first time by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research arm, the sources said.

The IARC ruling, finalized earlier this month after a meeting of the group’s external experts, is intended to assess whether something is a potential hazard or not, based on all the published evidence.

It does not take into account how much of a product a person can safely consume. This advice for individuals comes from a separate WHO expert committee on food additives, known as JECFA (the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives), alongside determinations from national regulators.

However, similar IARC rulings in the past for different substances have raised concerns among consumers about their use, led to lawsuits, and pressured manufacturers to recreate recipes and swap to alternatives. That has led to criticism that the IARC’s assessments can be confusing to the public.

JECFA, the WHO committee on additives, is also reviewing aspartame use this year. Its meeting began at the end of June, and it is due to announce its findings on the same day that the IARC makes public its decision – on July 14.

Since 1981, JECFA has said aspartame is safe to consume within accepted daily limits. For example, an adult weighing 60 kilograms would have to drink between 12 and 36 cans of diet soda – depending on the amount of aspartame in the beverage – every day to be at risk. Its view has been widely shared by national regulators, including in the United States and Europe.

An IARC spokesperson said both the IARC and JECFA committees’ findings were confidential until July, but added they were “complementary,” with IARC’s conclusion representing “the first fundamental step to understand carcinogenicity.” The additives committee “conducts risk assessment, which determines the probability of a specific type of harm (e.g., cancer) to occur under certain conditions and levels of exposure.”

However, industry and regulators fear that holding both processes at around the same time could be confusing, according to letters from U.S. and Japanese regulators seen by Reuters.

“We kindly ask both bodies to coordinate their efforts in reviewing aspartame to avoid any confusion or concerns among the public,” Nozomi Tomita, an official from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, wrote in a letter dated March 27 to WHO’s deputy director general, Zsuzsanna Jakab.

The letter, reviewed by Reuters, also called for the conclusions of both bodies to be released on the same day, as is now happening. The Japanese mission in Geneva, where the WHO is based, did not respond to a request for comment.


The IARC’s rulings can have huge impact. In 2015, its committee concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic.” Years later, even as other bodies like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contested this assessment, companies were still feeling the effects of the decision. Germany’s Bayer in 2021 lost its third appeal against U.S. court verdicts that awarded damages to customers blaming their cancers on use of its glyphosate-based weedkillers.

The IARC’s decisions have also faced criticism for sparking needless alarm over hard to avoid substances or situations. It has previously put working overnight and consuming red meat into its “probably cancer-causing” class, and using mobile phones as “possibly cancer-causing,” similar to aspartame.

“IARC is not a food safety body, and their review of aspartame is not scientifically comprehensive and is based heavily on widely discredited research,” said Frances Hunt-Wood, the secretary general of the International Sweeteners Association (ISA).

The body, whose members include Mars Wrigley, a Coca-Cola unit and Cargill, said it had “serious concerns with the IARC review, which may mislead consumers.”

Aspartame has been extensively studied for years. Last year, an observational study in France among 100,000 adults showed that people who consumed larger amounts of artificial sweeteners – including aspartame – had a slightly higher cancer risk.

It followed a study from the Ramazzini Institute in Italy in the early 2000s, which reported that some cancers in mice and rats were linked to aspartame.

However, the first study could not prove that aspartame caused the increased cancer risk, and questions have been raised about the methodology of the second study, including by EFSA, which assessed it.

Aspartame is authorized for use globally by regulators who have reviewed all the available evidence, and major food and beverage makers have for decades defended their use of the ingredient. The IARC said it had assessed 1,300 studies in its June review.

Recent recipe tweaks by soft drinks giant Pepsico demonstrate the struggle the industry has when it comes to balancing taste preferences with health concerns. Pepsico removed aspartame from sodas in 2015, bringing it back a year later, only to remove it again in 2020.

Listing aspartame as a possible carcinogen is intended to motivate more research, said the sources close to the IARC, which will help agencies, consumers and manufacturers draw firmer conclusions.

But it will also likely ignite debate once again over the IARC’s role, as well as the safety of sweeteners more generally.

Last month, the WHO published guidelines advising consumers not to use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control. The guidelines caused a furor in the food industry, which argues they can be helpful for consumers wanting to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet. 

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‘Godfather of AI’ Urges Governments to Stop Machine Takeover

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Geoffrey Hinton, one of the so-called godfathers of artificial intelligence, on Wednesday urged governments to step in and make sure that machines do not take control of society.

Hinton made headlines in May when he announced he had quit Google after a decade of work to speak more freely on the dangers of AI, shortly after the release of ChatGPT captured the imagination of the world.

The highly respected AI scientist, who is based at the University of Toronto, was speaking to a packed audience at the Collision tech conference in the Canadian city.

The conference brought together more than 30,000 startup founders, investors and tech workers, most looking to learn how to ride the AI wave and not hear a lesson on its dangers.

“Before AI is smarter than us, I think the people developing it should be encouraged to put a lot of work into understanding how it might try and take control away,” Hinton said.

“Right now there are 99 very smart people trying to make AI better and one very smart person trying to figure out how to stop it taking over and maybe you want to be more balanced,” he said.

AI could deepen inequality, says Hinton

Hinton warned that the risks of AI should be taken seriously despite his critics who believe he is overplaying the risks.

“I think it’s important that people understand that this is not science fiction, this is not just fearmongering,” he insisted. “It is a real risk that we must think about, and we need to figure out in advance how to deal with it.”

Hinton also expressed concern that AI would deepen inequality, with the massive productivity gain from its deployment going to the benefit of the rich, and not workers.

“The wealth isn’t going to go to the people doing the work. It is going to go into making the rich richer and not the poorer and that’s very bad for society,” he added.

He also pointed to the danger of fake news created by ChatGPT-style bots and said he hoped that AI-generated content could be marked in a way similar to how central banks watermark cash money.

“It’s very important to try, for example, to mark everything that is fake as fake. Whether we can do that technically, I don’t know,” he said.

The European Union is considering such a technique in its AI Act, a legislation that will set the rules for AI in Europe, which is being negotiated by lawmakers.

‘Overpopulation on Mars’

Hinton’s list of AI dangers contrasted with conference discussions that were less over safety and threats, and more about seizing the opportunity created in the wake of ChatGPT.

Venture Capitalist Sarah Guo said doom and gloom talk of AI as an existential threat was premature and compared it to “talking about overpopulation on Mars,” quoting another AI guru, Andrew Ng.

She also warned against “regulatory capture” that would see government intervention protect the incumbents before it had a chance to benefit sectors such as health, education or science.

Opinions differed on whether the current generative AI giants, mainly Microsoft backed OpenAI and Google, would remain unmatched or whether new actors will expand the field with their own models and innovations.

“In five years, I still imagine that if you want to go and find the best, most accurate, most advanced general model, you’re probably going to still have to go to one of the few companies that have the capital to do it,” said Leigh Marie Braswell of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

Zachary Bratun-Glennon of Gradient Ventures said he foresaw a future where “there are going to be millions of models across a network much like we have a network of websites today.”

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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Leaves Facebook for Telegram 

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PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a devoted and very active user of Facebook — on which he has posted everything from photos of his grandchildren to threats against his political enemies — said Wednesday that he would no longer upload to the platform and would instead depend on the Telegram app to get his messages across. 

Telegram is a popular messaging app that also has a blogging tool called “channels.” In Russia and some neighboring countries, it is actively used both by government officials and opposition activists for communicating with mass audiences. Telegram played an important role in coordinating unprecedented anti-government protests in Belarus in 2020, and it currently serves as a major source of news about Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Hun Sen, 70, who has led Cambodia for 38 years, is listed as having 14 million Facebook followers, though critics have suggested a large number of them are merely “ghost” accounts purchased in bulk from so-called “click farms,” an assertion the long-serving prime minister has repeatedly denied. The Facebook accounts of Joe Biden and Donald Trump by comparison boast 11 million and 34 million followers, respectively, though the United States has about 20 times the population of Cambodia. 

Hun Sen officially launched his Facebook page on September 20, 2015, after his fierce political rival, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, effectively demonstrated how it could be used to mobilize support. Hun Sen is noted as a canny and sometimes ruthless politician, and he has since then managed to drive his rival into exile and neutralize all his challengers, even though Cambodia is a nominally democratic state. 

Controversial remarks

Hun Sen said he was giving up Facebook for Telegram because he believed the latter would be more effective for communicating. In a Telegram post on Wednesday, he said it would be easier for him to get his message out when traveling in other countries that officially ban Facebook use, such as China, the top ally of his government. Hun Sen has 855,000 followers so far on Telegram, where he appears to have started posting in mid-May. 

It is possible, however, that Hun Sen’s social media loyalty switch has to do with controversy about remarks he posted earlier this year on Facebook that in theory could see him get at least temporarily banned from the platform very soon. 

In January, speaking at a road construction ceremony, he decried opposition politicians who accused his ruling Cambodian People’s Party of stealing votes. 

“There are only two options. One is to use legal means and the other is to use a stick,” the prime minister said. “Either you face legal action in court, or I rally [the Cambodian] People’s Party people for a demonstration and beat you up.” His remarks were spoken on Facebook Live and kept online as a video. 

Perhaps because of heightened consciousness about the power of social media to inflame and trigger violence in such countries as India and Myanmar, and because the remarks were made ahead of a general election in Cambodia this July, complaints about his words were lodged with Facebook’s parent company, Meta. 

Facebook’s moderators declined to recommend action against Hun Sen, judging that his position as a national leader made his remarks newsworthy and therefore not subject to punishment despite their provocative nature. 

However, the case was forwarded in March to Meta’s Oversight Board, a group of independent experts that is empowered to render an overriding judgment that could limit Hun Sen’s Facebook activities. They are expected to issue a decision on Thursday. The case is being closely watched as an indicator of where Facebook will draw the line in countries with volatile political situations. 

Hun Sen said his Facebook account would remain online, but that he would no longer actively post to it. He urged people looking for news from him to check YouTube and his Instagram account as well as Telegram and said he had ordered his office to establish a TikTok account to allow him to communicate with his country’s youth.

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South Koreans Become a Little Younger Under New Law

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South Korea is changing the way it calculates a person’s age. 

Under a new law that takes effect Wednesday, South Korea is adopting the international method that uses a person’s actual date of birth to determine their age.   

Under its traditional method, South Koreans are considered to be one year old at birth, including their months in the womb, and become a year older every January 1 regardless of their actual date of birth. 

The new law that takes effect Wednesday means all South Koreans will officially become a year or two younger.   

Officials say a separate method of calculation that uses the date a person is born and then adds a year each January 1 will remain in effect for compulsory military service, education and the legal drinking age. 

Some information for this report came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse.  

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Generative AI Might Make It Easier to Target Journalists, Researchers Say

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Since the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT launched last fall, a torrent of think pieces and news reports about the ins and outs and ups and downs of generative artificial intelligence has flowed, stoking fears of a dystopian future in which robots take over the world.  

While much of that hype is indeed just hype, a new report has identified immediate risks posed by apps like ChatGPT. Some of those present distinct challenges to journalists and the news industry.  

Published Wednesday by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the report identified eight risks related to generative artificial intelligence, or AI, including disinformation, cyberattacks, privacy violations and the decay of the news industry.  

The AI debate “is getting a little confused between concerns about existential dangers versus what immediate harms generative AI might entail,” the report’s co-author Paul Barrett told VOA. “We shouldn’t get paralyzed by the question of, ‘Oh my God, will this technology lead to killer robots that are going to destroy humanity?'” 

The systems being released right now are not going to lead to that nightmarish outcome, explained Barrett, who is the deputy director of the Stern Center.  

Instead, the report — which Barrett co-authored with Justin Hendrix, founder and editor of the media nonprofit Tech Policy Press — argues that lawmakers, regulators and the AI industry itself should prioritize addressing the immediate potential risks.  

Safety concerns

Among the most concerning risks are the human-level threats that artificial intelligence may pose to the safety of journalists and activists.  

Doxxing and smear campaigns are already among the many threats that journalists face online over their work. Doxxing is when someone publishes private or identifying information about someone — such as their address or phone number — on the internet.  

But now with generative AI, it will likely be even easier to dox reporters and harass them online, according to Barrett.  

“If you want to set up a campaign like that, you’re going to have to do a lot less work using generative AI systems,” Barrett said. “It’ll be easier to attack journalists.”  

Propaganda easy to make

Disinformation is another primary risk that the report highlights, because generative AI makes it easier to churn out propaganda.  

The report notes that if the Kremlin had access to generative AI in its disinformation campaign surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Moscow could have launched a more destructive and less expensive influence operation.  

Generative AI “is going to be a huge engine of efficiency, but it’s also going to make much more efficient the production of disinformation,” Barrett said.  

That bears implications for press freedom and media literacy, since studies indicate that exposure to misinformation and disinformation is linked to reduced trust in the media.  

Generative AI may also exacerbate financial issues plaguing newsrooms, according to the report. 

If people ask ChatGPT a question, for instance, and are happy with the summarized answer, they’re less likely to click on other links to news articles. That means shrinking traffic and therefore ad dollars for news sites, the report said.  

But artificial intelligence is far from all bad news for the media industry.  

For example, AI tools can help journalists research by scraping PDF files and analyzing data quickly. Artificial intelligence can also help fact-check sources and write headlines.  

In the report, Barrett and Hendrix caution the government against allowing this new industry to make the same mistakes as were made with social media platforms.  

“Generative AI doesn’t deserve the deference enjoyed for so long by social media companies,” they write.  

They recommend the government enhance federal authority to oversee AI companies and require more transparency from AI companies.  

“Congress, regulators, the public — and the industry, for that matter — need to pay attention to the immediate potential risks,” Barrett said. “And if the industry doesn’t move fast enough on that front, that’s something Congress needs to figure out a way to force them to pay attention to.” 

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Southern US Swelters in Brutal, Deadly Heat Wave

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A dangerous and prolonged heat wave blanketed large parts of the southern United States on Tuesday, buckling highways and forcing people to shelter indoors in what scientists called a climate-change supercharged event. 

Excessive heat warnings were in place from Arizona in the southwest to Alabama in the southeast, with south and central Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley worst hit, the National Weather Service said. 

Victor Hugo Martinez, a 57-year-old foreman who was leading workers repairing a road in Houston, told AFP: “We can’t keep up with it. It’s too much, we have like 10 or 12 spots like this right now.” 

The crew wrapped bandanas around their heads to protect themselves from the blazing heat, with Martinez explaining they made sure to drink plenty of water and take several breaks to protect their health. 

The National Weather Service meanwhile urged Americans in across the South to drink water, stay indoors, and check on vulnerable friends and relatives. 

Andrew Pershing, a scientist with Climate Central, told AFP the “really unusual thing about this event is how big it is, and how long it has lasted.” 

“There have been places in Texas that have had more than two weeks of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which are just really unusual temperatures for this time of year even in a region that is used to heat.” 

Extreme weather more likely

Accumulated historic greenhouse emissions made the extreme weather event at least five times more likely than otherwise, according to preliminary calculations by a team led by Pershing. 

The sweltering conditions are expected to expand throughout the South beginning Wednesday and continue into the long July 4 holiday weekend.  

The extreme heat appears to have claimed some lives. 

Last week, a 66-year-old postal worker in Dallas fainted while delivering mail as the heat index hovered around 115 F. He died hours later, the U.S. Postal Service told the media, though the cause of death is still being investigated. 

And on Friday, a 14-year-old boy collapsed from exhaustion while hiking in Big Bend National Park in Texas and later died, according to an official statement. 

His stepfather left the scene to hike back to their vehicle to find help while the teen’s brother attempted to carry him back to the trailhead. The father was later found dead in a car crash. 

Power grid strained

The strain is sure to put the power grid in Texas to the test, as millions of people switch on their air conditioners to cope, with demand peaking around late afternoon. 

ERCOT, the state utility operator, has issued a Weather Watch, calling on individuals and institutions to voluntarily save energy to avoid an emergency, and has so far been able to cope, thanks in part to an increasing contribution from solar power in recent years. 

Public cooling centers run by local authorities or the Red Cross are available for vulnerable people. 

Animals, too, were suffering. The Houston Humane Society said 12 cats and one dog were found dead in an abandoned apartment. The group was able to rescue six cats from the property. 

Air conditioning can be climate feedback loop

Kristina Dahl, principal climate scientist of the Union of Concerned Scientists said that the widespread use of air conditioning was itself a climate feedback loop. 

“We know that one of the most effective things you can do to prevent heat, illness and death during heat waves is to run the air conditioning,” she told AFP.  “And yet if we are not powering that air conditioning with clean renewable energy sources, we are contributing more carbon emissions to the atmosphere which will further worsen heat which will necessitate greater air conditioning use.” 

Recent years have seen an explosion in litigation aimed at shifting the financial responsibility of climate disasters toward fossil fuel companies.  

Last week, a county in the northwestern state of Oregon filed a lawsuit against major fossil fuel companies seeking more than $51 billion over the 2021 “heat dome,” which blighted Canada and the United States.  

“Communities everywhere are now paying the price for the fossil fuel industry’s decades of climate deception and pollution,” Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, told AFP.   

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Thousands of Unauthorized Vapes Pouring Into US Despite Crackdown on Fruity Flavors

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The number of different electronic cigarette devices sold in the U.S. has nearly tripled to over 9,000 since 2020, driven almost entirely by a wave of unauthorized disposable vapes from China, according to tightly controlled sales data obtained by The Associated Press.

The numbers demonstrate the Food and Drug Administration’s inability to control the tumultuous vaping market more than three years after declaring a crackdown on kid-friendly flavors.

Most disposables e-cigarettes, which are thrown away when they’re used up, come in sweet, fruity flavors like pink lemonade, gummy bear and watermelon that have made them the favorite tobacco product among teenagers. All of them are technically illegal because they haven’t been authorized by the FDA.

Once a niche market, cheaper disposables made up 40% of the roughly $7 billion retail market for e-cigarettes last year, according to data from analytics firm IRI obtained by the AP. The company’s proprietary data collects barcode scanner sales from convenience stores, gas stations and other retailers.

More than 5,800 unique disposable products are now being sold in numerous flavors and formulations, according to IRI’s data, up 1,500% from 365 in early 2020. That’s when the FDA effectively banned all flavors except menthol and tobacco from cartridge-based e-cigarettes like Juul, the rechargeable device blamed for sparking a nationwide surge in underage vaping.

But the FDA’s policy — formulated under President Donald Trump — excluded disposables, prompting many teens to switch from Juul to the newer flavored products.

“The FDA moves at a ponderous pace and the industry knows that and exploits it,” said Dr. Robert Jackler of Stanford University, who has studied the rise of disposables. “Time and again, the vaping industry has innovated around efforts to remove its youth-appealing products from the market.”

Adding to the challenge, FDA has little visibility into a sprawling industry centered in China’s Shenzhen manufacturing hub. Agency records show that FDA inspectors have only conducted a tiny handful of inspections in China, despite the fact that it produces nearly all e-cigarettes used in the U.S. today.

“FDA theoretically has the authority to inspect foreign manufacturing facilities,” said Patricia Kovacevic, an attorney specializing in tobacco regulation. “But practically speaking, the inspection program that the FDA has in place only happens in the U.S.”

Most disposables mirror a few major brands, such as Elf Bar or Puff Bar, but hundreds of new varieties appear each month. Companies copy each other’s designs, blurring the line between the real and counterfeit. Entrepreneurs can launch a new product by simply sending their logo and flavor requests to Chinese manufacturers, who promise to deliver tens of thousands of devices within weeks.

Under pressure from politicians, parents and major vaping companies, the FDA recently sent warning letters to more than 200 stores selling popular disposables, including Elf Bar, Esco Bar and Breeze. The agency also issued orders blocking imports of those three brands. But IRI data shows those companies accounted for just 14% of disposable sales last year, leaving dozens of other brands untouched, including Air Bar, Mr. Fog, Fume and Kangvape.

FDA’s tobacco director, Brian King, said the agency is “unwavering” in its commitment against illegal e-cigarettes.

“I don’t think there’s any panacea here,” King said. “We follow a comprehensive approach and that involves addressing all entities across the supply chain, from manufacturers to importers to distributors to retailers.”

IRI restricts access to its data, which it sells to companies, investment firms and researchers. A person not authorized to share the information gave access to the AP on condition of anonymity.

IRI declined to comment on or confirm the data, saying the company doesn’t offer such details to news organizations.

To be sure, the FDA has made progress in a mammoth task: processing nearly 26 million product applications submitted by manufacturers hoping to enter or stay on the market. And King said the agency hopes to get back to “true premarket review” once it finishes plowing through that mountain of applications.

Meanwhile, parents, health groups and major vaping companies essentially agree: The FDA must clear the market of flavored disposables.

But lobbying by tobacco giant Reynolds American, maker of Vuse e-cigarettes, has made some advocates wary about pushing the issue. The company petitioned the FDA earlier this year to restrict flavors in all disposable vaping products.

FDA’s King says the agency already has ample authority to regulate disposables.

“There’s no loophole to close,” King said, pointing to FDA’s recent actions against disposable makers.

But King’s predecessor at the FDA says the current situation could have been avoided but for a decision by Trump’s White House to exclude disposables from the 2020 flavor ban.

“It was preventable,” said Mitch Zeller, who retired from the FDA last year. “But I was told there was no appeal.”

In September 2019, Trump announced at a news conference a plan to ban non-tobacco flavors from all e-cigarettes — both reloadable devices and disposables. But his political advisers worried that could alienate voters.

Zeller said he was subsequently informed in December 2019 that the flavor restrictions wouldn’t apply to disposables.

“I told them: ‘It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that kids will migrate to the disposable products that are unaffected by this, and you ultimately won’t solve the problem,'” Zeller said.

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Deforestation Down in Indonesia Amid Increases Elsewhere

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Deforestation rates are near record lows in Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest rainforests.

It’s one of the few bright spots in an otherwise grim annual report, on the loss of forests worldwide, from the environmental research and policy group World Resources Institute.

Overall, the world lost 4.1 million hectares of undisturbed tropical forest last year, an area the size of Switzerland, according to WRI. That’s a 10% increase from 2021. The loss of forest released as much planet-warming carbon dioxide as all the fossil fuels burned in India in 2021.

Deforestation reverses the CO2 removal function that trees perform. It raises local temperatures and disrupts rainfall patterns.

World leaders pledged to end deforestation by the end of the decade during climate negotiations in Glasgow in 2021.

“Are we on track to halt deforestation by 2030? The short answer is a simple no,” Rod Taylor, head of WRI’s forests program, told reporters at a news conference announcing the results.

Deforestation rates

The good news from Indonesia is that government moratoriums on logging and palm oil plantations and increased fire prevention measures have kept forest losses low.

Corporate pledges to end deforestation in the palm oil supply chain also appear to be working, WRI says.

The 230,000 hectares of untouched, primary forest lost last year is a sharp decline from the 2016 peak of 930,000 hectares.

Still, “that’s a pretty big loss,” Arie Rompas, head of the forest campaign for Greenpeace Indonesia, told VOA. “The area lost is about three times the size of the capital, Jakarta.”

Deforestation is still taking place in protected areas, he noted.

Indonesia’s environment ministry released official figures Monday showing far less deforestation than WRI’s. The ministry says 104,000 hectares (256,990 acres) were lost last year, down from 113,500 hectares (280,464 acres) in 2021.

WRI says it is working with the ministry on forest monitoring but describes the partnership as “a work in progress.”

Deforestation rates also have leveled off in neighboring Malaysia, another major palm oil exporter with similar policies and pledges on deforestation. Commitments to end deforestation in the world’s two largest palm oil producers now cover more than four-fifths of their refining capacity, according to WRI.

Brazil tops forest losses

Separately, forest losses increased by 15% in Brazil. The 1.8 million hectare (4.45 million acre) decline in undisturbed forest was the largest since 2005.

Brazil was responsible for 43% of the losses worldwide.

They took place during the last year of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term. He encouraged increased logging, mining and agriculture in the Amazon rainforest.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, took over at the beginning of 2023 and has promised to reverse course.

Earlier in June, Lula released his plan to reach zero deforestation by 2030. The Brazilian space agency, INPE, reported 31% less forest loss in the first five months of 2023 compared to last year.

Experts say Lula’s efforts will face opposition from agribusiness supporters in the legislature.

The second-largest forest losses were in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Poverty, not commercial agriculture, is the leading driver of deforestation in the DRC, WRI says. Most forests are cleared for small-scale farming and production of charcoal, the main cooking fuel.

The region’s growing population is putting increasing pressure on tropical forests in the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest.

Elsewhere, Bolivia lost the third-largest area of undisturbed forest, and its losses are increasing. The country lost one-third more forest last year than in 2021.

Land clearing for soybeans and other commodity crops is mainly responsible, and Bolivia’s government backs a further increase in large-scale farming. The country is one of the few that did not sign the 2021 Glasgow pledge to end deforestation.

Four of the 10 countries with the highest rates of forest loss are in Latin America.

Commodity crops drive deforestation

Global demand for soybeans, corn, sugar, paper, timber and livestock are the main forces of deforestation worldwide.

Legislation in the European Union will soon prohibit deforestation in supply chains.

Indonesia and Malaysia call the legislation discriminatory.

But WRI’s Taylor said, “It’s an encouraging decision and hopefully it will impact on deforestation rates in the near future.”

He added, “It’s one big market, but there are other markets that haven’t moved on that kind of legislation yet.”

Rio Tuasikal contributed to this report.

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New Quest Aims to Settle Debate Over Which River Is Longest – Amazon or Nile

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Which is the longest river in the world, the Nile or the Amazon? The question has fueled a heated debate for years. Now, an expedition into the South American jungle aims to settle it for good.   

Using boats run on solar energy and pedal power, an international team of explorers plans to set off in April 2024 to the source of the Amazon in the Peruvian Andes, then travel nearly 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) across Colombia and Brazil, to the massive river’s mouth on the Atlantic.

“The main objective is to map the river and document the biodiversity” of the surrounding ecosystems, the project’s coordinator, Brazilian explorer Yuri Sanada, told AFP.   

The team also plans to make a documentary on the expedition.   

Around 10 people are known to have traveled the full length of the Amazon in the past, but none have done it with those objectives, said Sanada, who runs film production company Aventuras (Adventures) with his wife, Vera. 

Decades-old dispute

The Amazon, the pulsing aorta of the world’s biggest rainforest, has long been recognized as the largest river in the world by volume, discharging more than the Nile, the Yangtze and the Mississippi combined. 

But there is a decades-old geographical dispute over whether it or the Nile is longer, made murkier by methodological issues and a lack of consensus on a very basic question: where the Amazon starts and ends. 

The Guinness Book of World Records awards the title to the African river.

But “which is the longer is more a matter of definition than simple measurement,” it adds in a note. 

The Encyclopedia Britannica gives the length of the Nile as 6,650 kilometers (4,132 miles), to 6,400 kilometers (3,977 miles) for the Amazon, measuring the latter from the headwaters of the Apurimac River in southern Peru. 

In 2014, U.S. neuroscientist and explorer James “Rocky” Contos developed an alternative theory, putting the source of the Amazon farther away, at the Mantaro River in northern Peru. 

If accepted, that would mean the Amazon “is actually 77 kilometers longer than what geographers had thought previously,” he told AFP.  

Challenges could include alligators

Sanada’s expedition will trace both the Apurimac and Mantaro sources. 

One group, guided by Contos, will travel down the Mantaro by white-water raft. The other will travel the banks of the Apurimac on horseback with French explorer Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. 

At the point where the rivers converge, Sanada and two other explorers will embark on the longest leg of the journey, traveling in three custom-made, motorized canoes powered by solar panels and pedals, equipped with a sensor to measure distance.   

“We’ll be able to make a much more precise measurement,” Sanada said.   

The explorers plan to transfer the sustainable motor technology to local Indigenous groups, he added.

The expedition is backed by international groups including The Explorers Club and the Harvard map collection.  

The adventurers will traverse terrain inhabited by anacondas, alligators and jaguars — but none of that scares Sanada, he said

“I’m most afraid of drug traffickers and illegal miners,” he said.   

The boats will be outfitted with a bulletproof cabin, and the team is negotiating with authorities to obtain an armed escort for the most dangerous zones.   

If the expedition is successful, it may be replicated on the Nile. 

Sanada said the debate over the world’s longest river may never be settled. But he is glad the “race” is drawing attention to the Amazon rainforest’s natural riches and the need to protect it as one of the planet’s key buffers against climate change. 

“The Amazon is [here],” he said, “but the consequences of destroying it and the duty to preserve it are everyone’s.”

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Nigerian Doctor Backs Out of Vaccine Alliance Leadership

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Muhammad Ali Pate, a Harvard professor who has held top health jobs in Nigeria, has relinquished the top job at the Gavi global vaccine alliance, the organization announced Monday.

Pate, a medical doctor trained in internal medicine and infectious disease, was due to assume the helm on August 3, Gavi had announced in February, taking over from U.S. medical epidemiologist Seth Berkley, who had been in charge since 2011.

Pate informed Gavi “that he has taken an incredibly difficult decision to accept a request to return and contribute to his home country, Nigeria,” the statement said, without further details about the decision.

Gavi’s Chief Operating Officer David Marlow will instead assume the position of Interim Chief Executive Officer while a search for a new CEO continues.

The Gavi vaccine alliance is a nonprofit organization created in 2000 to provide an array of vaccines to developing countries.

Gavi says that since its inception, it has provided vaccines to more than 981 million children, “and prevented more than 16.2 million future deaths, helping to halve child mortality in 73 lower-income countries.”

Gavi has taken the lead on the COVAX initiative, alongside the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The global scheme has so far shipped nearly 1.9 billion COVID-19 vaccines to 146 territories, with the focus on providing donor-funded jabs to the 92 weakest economies.

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Could Australia’s Red Outback Dust Unlock Life on Mars Questions? 

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Researchers from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration are in Australia carrying out research that will help future missions to Mars. The NASA delegation is looking for the earliest signs of life on Earth that will eventually be compared to rocks brought back from Mars.

NASA officials have said that parts of the Pilbara region in Western Australia are like “stepping back in time.” Some areas date to 3.5 billion years old.

In the red Outback dust, they have found some of the earliest evidence of life on Earth — fossils of ancient microorganisms encased in rocks.

The NASA team plans to compare these terrestrial samples with those brought back from Mars to see if they have any similar characteristics. NASA says it could be well over a decade before the Martian rocks are brought to Earth.

Eric Ianson, the director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Monday that Australia’s red dust could yield clues about past life on the Red Planet.

“We are looking at what are called stromatolites, which are actually some of the earliest evidence of life that existed on Earth and there are fossils that are actually captured within the rock. And how this relates to Mars is that we are currently working on bringing samples back from Mars — rock samples back from Mars — and if we see similar patterns and indications, it could indicate that life actually existed in the past on Mars.”

NASA has also indicated that humans could be sent on a mission to Mars by the mid- to late 2030s, although no definite timetable has been set.

Australia has worked with the United States in space for decades, including helping to broadcast the Apollo 11 Moon landing to the world in 1969.

The Tidbinbilla facility near Canberra is the only NASA tracking station still operational in Australia.

Australian engineers and scientists will also have key roles in the Artemis II mission. They are developing a small autonomous rover to be sent to the Moon and also will establish contact with astronauts on the first crewed voyage to the lunar surface since 1972. That mission could take place as early as 2025 or 2026.

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The Next Big Advance in Cancer Treatment Could Be a Vaccine

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The next big advance in cancer treatment could be a vaccine.

After decades of limited success, scientists say research has reached a turning point, with many predicting more vaccines will be out in five years.

These aren’t traditional vaccines that prevent disease, but shots to shrink tumors and stop cancer from coming back. Targets for these experimental treatments include breast and lung cancer, with gains reported this year for deadly skin cancer melanoma and pancreatic cancer.

‘We’re getting something to work. Now we need to get it to work better,’ said Dr. James Gulley, who helps lead a center at the National Cancer Institute that develops immune therapies, including cancer treatment vaccines.

More than ever, scientists understand how cancer hides from the body’s immune system. Cancer vaccines, like other immunotherapies, boost the immune system to find and kill cancer cells. And some new ones use mRNA, which was developed for cancer but first used for COVID-19 vaccines.

For a vaccine to work, it needs to teach the immune system’s T cells to recognize cancer as dangerous, said Dr. Nora Disis of UW Medicine’s Cancer Vaccine Institute in Seattle. Once trained, T cells can travel anywhere in the body to hunt down danger.

‘If you saw an activated T cell, it almost has feet,’ she said. ‘You can see it crawling through the blood vessel to get out into the tissues.’

Patient volunteers are crucial to the research.

Kathleen Jade, 50, learned she had breast cancer in late February, just weeks before she and her husband were to depart Seattle for an around-the-world adventure. Instead of sailing their 46-foot boat, Shadowfax, through the Great Lakes toward the St. Lawrence Seaway, she was sitting on a hospital bed awaiting her third dose of an experimental vaccine. She’s getting the vaccine to see if it will shrink her tumor before surgery.

‘Even if that chance is a little bit, I felt like it’s worth it,’ said Jade, who is also getting standard treatment.

Progress on treatment vaccines has been challenging. The first, Provenge, was approved in the U.S. in 2010 to treat prostate cancer that had spread. It requires processing a patient’s own immune cells in a lab and giving them back through IV.

There are also treatment vaccines for early bladder cancer and advanced melanoma.

Early cancer vaccine research faltered as cancer outwitted and outlasted patients’ weak immune systems, said Olja Finn, a vaccine researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

‘All of these trials that failed allowed us to learn so much,’ Finn said.

As a result, she’s now focused on patients with earlier disease since the experimental vaccines didn’t help with more advanced patients. Her group is planning a vaccine study in women with a low-risk, noninvasive breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ.

More vaccines that prevent cancer may be ahead too. Decades-old hepatitis B vaccines prevent liver cancer and HPV vaccines, introduced in 2006, prevent cervical cancer.

In Philadelphia, Dr. Susan Domchek, director of the Basser Center at Penn Medicine, is recruiting 28 healthy people with BRCA mutations for a vaccine test. Those mutations increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The idea is to kill very early abnormal cells, before they cause problems. She likens it to periodically weeding a garden or erasing a whiteboard.

Others are developing vaccines to prevent cancer in people with precancerous lung nodules and other inherited conditions that raise cancer risk.

‘Vaccines are probably the next big thing’ in the quest to reduce cancer deaths, said Dr. Steve Lipkin, a medical geneticist at New York’s Weill Cornell Medicine, who is leading one effort funded by the National Cancer Institute. ‘We’re dedicating our lives to that.’

People with the inherited condition Lynch syndrome have a 60% to 80% lifetime risk of developing cancer. Recruiting them for cancer vaccine trials has been remarkably easy, said Dr. Eduardo Vilar-Sanchez of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who is leading two government-funded studies on vaccines for Lynch-related cancers.

‘Patients are jumping on this in a surprising and positive way,’ he said.

Drugmakers Moderna and Merck are jointly developing a personalized mRNA vaccine for patients with melanoma, with a large study to begin this year. The vaccines are customized to each patient, based on the numerous mutations in their cancer tissue. A vaccine personalized in this way can train the immune system to hunt for the cancer’s mutation fingerprint and kill those cells. But such vaccines will be expensive.

‘You basically have to make every vaccine from scratch. If this wasn’t personalized, the vaccine could probably be made for pennies, just like the COVID vaccine,’ said Dr. Patrick Ott of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The vaccines under development at UW Medicine are designed to work for many patients, not just a single patient. Tests are underway in early and advanced breast cancer, lung cancer and ovarian cancer. Some results may come as soon as next year.

Todd Pieper, 56, from suburban Seattle, is participating in testing for a vaccine intended to shrink lung cancer tumors. His cancer spread to his brain, but he’s hoping to live long enough to see his daughter graduate from nursing school next year.

‘I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, either for me or for other people down the road,’ Pieper said of his decision to volunteer.

One of the first to receive the ovarian cancer vaccine in a safety study 11 years ago was Jamie Crase of nearby Mercer Island. Diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer when she was 34, Crase thought she would die young and had made a will that bequeathed a favorite necklace to her best friend. Now 50, she has no sign of cancer and she still wears the necklace.

She doesn’t know for sure if the vaccine helped, ‘But I’m still here.’

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Wildfire Smog Gives Montreal Worst Air Quality of Any Major City, Says Pollution Monitor

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Forest fires in Canada left Montreal blanketed with smog on Sunday, giving it the worst air quality of any major city in the world, according to a pollution monitor.

Quebec province’s most populous city had “unhealthy” air quality according to IQAir, which tracks pollution around the globe, as hundreds of wildfires burned across the country.

Environment Canada issued smog warnings in several Quebec regions due to the fires, saying, “high concentrations of fine particulate matter are causing poor air quality and reduced visibilities,” with conditions to persist until Monday morning

The agency urged residents to avoid outdoor activities and wear face masks if they must go outside.

Outdoor pools and sports areas have been closed and multiple outside events, including concerts and sports competitions, have been cancelled due to the unhealthy smog.

“It’s really like a fog, except it’s smoke from the forest fires. It’s really hard to breathe, and it stings the eyes a bit too,” said 18-year-old Fauve Lepage Vallee, lamenting that a festival she was due to attend had been canceled.

There are 80 active forest fires in Quebec, according to Quebec’s forest fire protection agency, SOPFEU, with several growing over the weekend due to dry weather and high temperatures.

“The extent of the smoke is making it particularly difficult for air tankers and helicopters to be effective,” SOPFEU said.

However, “significant amounts” of rain are expected on Monday or Tuesday in the northwest of the province, it added.

On Wednesday, 119 French firefighters are due arrive in Quebec to relieve a contingent of their compatriots in the field since early June.

“They will also be deployed to Roberval,” 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Quebec City, for a 21-day mission, said Stephane Caron, a spokesman for SOPFEU.

Across the country, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre lists more than 450 active fires, some 240 of which are deemed out of control.

Canada is experiencing an unprecedented year of fires, with more than 7.4 million hectares burned since the beginning of January.

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Cocaine Market Booming as Meth Trafficking Spreads, UN Report Says

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Cocaine demand and supply are booming worldwide, and methamphetamine trafficking is expanding beyond established markets, including in Afghanistan where the drug is now being produced, a United Nations report said Sunday.

Coca bush cultivation and total cocaine production were at record highs in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, and the global number of cocaine users, estimated at 22 million that same year, is growing steadily, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said in its annual World Drug Report.

Cocaine seizures have, however, grown faster than production, containing the total supply to some extent, the report said. The upper band of the estimated total supply was higher in the mid-2000s than now.

“The world is currently experiencing a prolonged surge in both supply and demand of cocaine, which is now being felt across the globe and is likely to spur the development of new markets beyond the traditional confines,” the UNODC report said.

“Although the global cocaine market continues to be concentrated in the Americas and in Western and Central Europe (with very high prevalence also in Australia), in relative terms it appears that the fastest growth, albeit building on very low initial levels, is occurring in developing markets found in Africa, Asia and South-Eastern Europe,” it said.

While almost 90% of methamphetamine seized worldwide was in two regions – East and Southeast Asia and North America – seizure data suggests those markets have stabilized at a high level, yet trafficking has increased elsewhere, such as the Middle East and West Africa, the report said.

It added that reports and seizures involving methamphetamine produced in Afghanistan suggested the drug economy was changing in that country, where 80% of the world’s illicit opium poppy, which is used to make heroin, is produced.  

“Questions remain regarding the linkages between illegal manufacture of heroin and of methamphetamine (in Afghanistan) and whether the two markets will develop in parallel or whether one will substitute the other,” it added.

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Priced Out of Health Care, Some Iraqis Turn to Natural Remedies

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When a pharmacist in Iraq told Umm Mohammed her prescription for a skin ailment would cost about $611, she turned to cheaper natural remedies as some of her relatives had done.

In an herbal remedy shop, the 34-year-old mother-of-two found a treatment eight times cheaper. “Pharmacies are a disaster at the moment, poor people turn to medicinal herbs because of the prices,” she said. “Who can afford this? Should one die? So you turn to medicinal herbs.”

Ibrahim al-Jabouri, the shop’s owner and a professor of pharmacology, told Reuters that he is receiving customers suffering from various health issues, such as skin diseases, bowel troubles, colon infections or hair loss.

While some Iraqis choose alternative treatments out of conviction, others have no other choice as they can’t afford the cost of conventional medicines.

“The economic situation the country is passing through means that the cost of medicine is hard to bear, especially for those with a limited income,” said Dr. Haider Sabah, who heads Iraq’s national center for herbal medicine, a regulatory state body affiliated to the Ministry of Health.

Iraq’s health care system, once one of the best in the Middle East, has been wrecked by conflict, international sanctions, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and rampant corruption.

Although public medical services are free of charge, a lack of medicines, equipment and adequate services mean citizens often need to turn to the more expensive private sector.

In recent years, Sabah has seen more herbal centers open in the capital, Baghdad. There are now 460 establishments with a permit to sell herbal medicines, up from 350 in 2020, according to his database.

Standards vary greatly, from shops selling neatly packaged and licensed products in Baghdad’s better-off neighborhoods to more traditional herbologists mixing plants scooped out of jars in front of customers.

“I inherited the job,” said Mohammed Sobhi, who followed in the footsteps of his brother and has sold remedies since the 1980s.

“The ones who can’t afford medicine don’t go to the doctor to begin with,” he added.

But replacing medical prescriptions with herbal products can be dangerous and result in harm for patients if not administered properly, said physician Ali Naser.

He recalled the case of a patient who had replaced his prescription with an herbal treatment and “reached the point of what we doctors refer to as diabetic ketoacidosis and the patient had to be admitted to the ICU,” Naser said.

At the heart of the problem is Iraq’s failure to establish an adequate medical system or regulatory framework for the country’s multitude of health service providers, he added.

According to Sabah, inspection teams monitoring establishments selling herbal medicines have closed down for serious violations since 2019. “Most of the violations detected by the inspection teams are corrected,” he said.

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‘Street Vet’ Seeks Out California’s Homeless to Care for Their Pets

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An elevated train clangs along tracks above Dr. Kwane Stewart as the veterinarian makes his way through a chain link gate to ask a man standing near a parked RV whether he might know of any street pets in need.

Michael Evans immediately goes for his 11-month-old pit bull, Bear, his beloved companion living beneath the rumbling San Francisco Bay Area commuter trains.

“Focus. Sit. That’s my boy,” Evans instructs the high-energy pup as he eagerly accepts Stewart’s offer.

A quick check of the dog reveals a moderate ear infection that could have made Bear so sick in a matter of weeks he might have required sedation. Instead, right there, Dr. Stewart applies a triple treatment drop of antibiotic, anti-fungal and steroids that should start the healing process.

“This is my son right here, my son. He’s my right-hand man,” an emotional Evans says of Bear, who shares the small RV in Oakland. “It’s a blessing, really.”

“The Street Vet,” as Stewart is known, has been supporting California’s homeless population and their pets for almost a decade, ever since he spontaneously helped a man with a flea-infested dog outside of a convenience store. Since then, Stewart regularly walks the heart of Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row, giving him a glimpse into the state’s homelessness crisis — and how much they cherish and depend on their pets.

After treating Bear, Stewart hands Evans, a Louisiana transplant, a list of the medicine he provided along with contact information in case the dog needs further treatment. Stewart always promises to cover all expenses.

“It was a good catch,” Stewart said before heading out on his way to the next stop, in West Oakland.

California is home to nearly a third of the nation’s homeless population, according to federal data. About two-thirds of California’s homeless population is unsheltered, meaning they live outside, often packed into encampments in major cities and along roadways. Nationally, up to 10% of homeless people have pets, according to an estimate from the advocacy group Pets of the Homeless. Stewart believes that number is greater.

Homeless shelters often don’t allow pets, forcing people to make heart-wrenching decisions. Stewart sees it as his mission to help as many of them as he can.

A 52-year-old former college hurdler at New Mexico now living in San Diego, Stewart is a lifelong animal lover who grew up in Texas and New Mexico trying to save strays — or at least feed and care for them. He founded Project Street Vet, a nonprofit charity dedicated to helping homeless pets. Stewart funded the group himself for years, saving a chunk of his paycheck before later gaining sponsors and donors.

There’s plenty of heartbreak in Stewart’s work, too. He once performed emergency surgery on a pregnant chihuahua, and the two puppies didn’t make it. But more often than not these pet owners are beyond grateful for Stewart’s kindness. He guesses that maybe 1 in 25 times someone turns down his help.

Stewart hollers “Hello?” outside tents, makeshift structures or campers. He can usually tell there’s a pet if he sees a dog bowl or animal toy. He purposely wears his navy scrub top with his name on it, so no one mistakes him for animal control or other authorities and feels threatened.

“People are reticent, they don’t always know why I’m coming up to them. If they’re going to you to beg or panhandle, it’s different but if you come up on them they don’t know if you’re law enforcement or you have an agenda,” he said, “so I do take it very slow and I’ll announce myself from afar.”

Approaching Misty Fancher to see if her pit bull, Addie – purchased at a nearby gas station for $200 — might need shots, Stewart offers, “Can she have treats so we can make friends?”

“Sometimes I pull over and just talk,” Stewart explained.

Addie is the first pet Fancher has had as an adult and provides the 42-year-old with some comfort that she is safe living in a relatively unstable neighborhood of Oakland.

“She’s a very good girl,” Fancher said. “She keeps a lot of trouble away. She protects me. She’ll bite someone if they act aggressive or anything toward me. She has before. But she just discourages them from even trying.”

Stewart notices a puncture on the dog’s paw to monitor and also gives her a rabies shot, writing out a certificate for Fancher to keep as proof her dog is vaccinated. He leaves her with tablets for de-worming, treatments for fleas and ticks and — as usual — his contact information.

A little while later, Stewart stops on the outskirts of a park nearby. He walks the perimeter and encounters an RV owned by Eric Clark, who has lived in the same downtown spot for seven years. He has a male bulldog, pregnant pit bull and another pregnant Doberman.

“It’s hard to get to the vet,” Clark said. “I appreciate you. They’re family.”

Stewart is happy he can make a small difference like this with a largely misunderstood community. He strives to treat every person on the streets with the same professionalism and care as he would a patient at his veterinary clinic. His mantra: no judgment, just help.

“They live in the shadows. They live amongst us but not with us,” he said. ” … It is really rewarding. It gets to you a little bit. When they tear up about the tough times they’ve had, you try to care for them, support them.”

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