Alabama Supreme Court Rules Frozen Embryos Are ‘Children’ Under State Law

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Montgomery, Alabama — The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, a ruling critics said could have sweeping implications for fertility treatments.  The decision was issued in a pair of wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic. Justices, citing anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, ruled that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child "applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location."  "Unborn children are 'children' ... without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics," Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the majority ruling Friday from the all-Republican court.  Mitchell said the court had previously ruled that fetuses…
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Newly Discovered Quasar May Be Universe’s Brightest Object

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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA — Astronomers have discovered what may be the brightest object in the universe, a quasar with a black hole at its heart growing so fast that it swallows the equivalent of a sun a day.  The record-breaking quasar shines 500 trillion times brighter than our sun. The black hole powering this distant quasar is more than 17 billion times more immense than our sun, an Australian-led team reported Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.  While the quasar resembles a mere dot in images, scientists envision a ferocious place.  The rotating disk around the quasar's black hole — the luminous swirling gas and other matter from gobbled-up stars — is like a cosmic hurricane.  "This quasar is the most violent place that we know in the universe," lead author…
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Britain, US, EU, Allies Take Down Lockbit Cybercrime Gang

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LONDON — Lockbit, a notorious cybercrime gang that holds its victims' data for ransom, has been disrupted in a rare international law enforcement operation by Britain’s National Crime Agency, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Europol and a coalition of international police agencies, according to a post on the gang’s extortion website on Monday. “This site is now under the control of the National Crime Agency of the UK, working in close cooperation with the FBI and the international law enforcement task force, ‘Operation Cronos,’” the post said. An NCA spokesperson confirmed that the agency had disrupted the gang and said the operation was "ongoing and developing." A representative for Lockbit did not respond to messages from Reuters seeking comment but did post messages on an encrypted messaging app saying it…
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US-China Rivalry Expands to Biotech; Lawmakers Raise Alarm

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WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers are raising alarms about what they see as America's failure to compete with China in biotechnology, warning of the risks to U.S. national security and commercial interests. But as the two countries' rivalry expands into the biotech industry, some say that shutting out Chinese companies would only hurt the U.S. Biotechnology promises to revolutionize everyday life, with scientists and researchers using it to make rapid advances in medical treatment, genetic engineering in agriculture and novel biomaterials. Because of its potential, it has caught the attention of both the Chinese and U.S. governments. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to bar "foreign adversary biotech companies of concern" from doing business with federally funded medical providers. The bills name four Chinese-owned companies. The Chinese Embassy said…
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Media Creators Worry About New AI-Video Tool by Maker of ChatGPT

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paris — A new artificial intelligence tool that promises to create short videos from simple text commands has raised concerns along with questions from artists and media professionals.  OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT and image generator DALL-E, said Thursday it was testing a text-to-video model called "Sora" that can allow users to create realistic videos with simple prompts.  The San Francisco-based startup says Sora can "generate complex scenes with multiple characters, specific types of motion, and accurate details of the subject and background," but admits it still has limitations, such as possibly "mixing up left and right."  Here are early reactions from industries that could be affected by the new generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool:    Examples of Sora-created clips on OpenAI's website range widely in style and subject, from seemingly real…
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Japan’s New Flagship H3 Rocket Reaches Orbit in Key Test

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TOKYO — Japan's flagship H3 rocket reached orbit and released two small observation satellites in a key second test following a failed debut launch last year, buoying hope for the country in the global space race. The H3 rocket blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center on time Saturday morning, two days after its originally scheduled liftoff was delayed by bad weather. The rocket successfully reached orbit at an altitude of about 670 kilometers (about 420 miles) and released two satellites, said the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. “We feel so relieved to be able to announce the good results," JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told a news conference. The H3's main missions are to secure independent access to space and be competitive as international demand for satellite launches grows. “We…
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Endangered Rhinos Return to Plateau in Central Kenya

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LOISABA CONSERVANCY, Kenya — Conservationists in Kenya are celebrating as rhinos were returned to a grassy plateau that hasn't seen them in decades. The successful move of 21 eastern black rhinos to a new home will give them space to breed and could help increase the population of the critically endangered animals. It was Kenya's biggest rhino relocation ever. The rhinos were taken from three parks that are becoming overcrowded to the private Loisaba Conservancy, where herds were wiped out by poaching decades ago. "It's been decades since rhinos roamed here, almost 50 years ago," said Loisaba security manager Daniel Ole Yiankere. "Their numbers were severely impacted by poaching. Now, our focus is on rejuvenating this landscape and allowing rhinos to breed, aiming to restore their population to its former splendor."…
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Brazil’s Health Agents Hunt Mosquitos in Dengue Epidemic Fight

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RIO DE JANEIRO — The small team of state public health workers slalomed between auto parts strewn across a Rio de Janeiro junkyard, looking for standing water where mosquitoes might have laid their eggs. They were part of nationwide efforts to curtail a surge in Brazil of the mosquito-borne illness of dengue fever during the country's key tourist season that runs through the end of February. Paulo Cesar Gomes, a 56-year-old entomologist, found some mosquito larvae swimming in shallow rainwater inside a car bumper. "We call this type of location a strategic point" because of the high turnover in items converging from all over, he said. "It's difficult not to have mosquitoes here." Earlier in the month, just days before Rio kicked off its world-famous Carnival festivities, the city joined several…
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China to Show Off Airliner at Singapore Show Amid Supply Crunch

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SINGAPORE — Singapore will play host to Asia's biggest air show next week for the first time since the end of COVID border restrictions, with regional travel rebounding and the military side of the show bristling with defensive systems and nervous arms buyers. An expected full return of civil demand in Asia is being tested by an industry-wide supply crunch and macroeconomic headwinds, however — especially in the world's second-largest aviation market, China — while geopolitical tensions have put weapons in the spotlight. "Supply chain issues are limiting the ability of many airlines to upgrade their fleets and service their aircraft," said Association of Asia Pacific Airlines head Subhas Menon. The biennial show will feature the first trip outside Chinese territory for China's first homegrown passenger jet, COMAC's narrow-body C919. With…
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China’s New Antarctic Research Station Renews Concerns About Potential Security Threats

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TAIPEI, TAIWAN — China’s inauguration of a new scientific research station in Antarctica last week has renewed debate about the purpose and impact of the rapid expansion of Chinese presence on the continent.  Situated on Inexpressible Island near the Ross Sea, Qinling Station is China’s fifth scientific outpost and third research station on the continent that can operate year around. The station covers 5,244 square meters and can house up to 80 people during summer months, according to Chinese state broadcaster CGTN. Qinling Station is near the U.S. McMurdo Station and just south of Australia and a  Center for Strategic and International Studies report published last April said its position could allow China to “collect signals intelligence from U.S.-allied Australia and New Zealand” as well as gather “telemetry data on rockets…
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Russia Developing ‘Anti-Satellite Capability,’ White House Confirms

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Russia is developing an anti-satellite weapon, the White House confirmed Thursday, after a lawmaker sounded an alarm over what he described as a serious national security threat. While White House officials say it could land Moscow in violation of a treaty banning weapons of mass destruction in space. They said it is not an urgent threat, and urged Americans not to panic, as lawmakers met behind closed doors to discuss the issue. Anita Powell reports from Washington. ...
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Health Agencies Call for Stepped-up Action to Eliminate Cervical Cancer

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GENEVA — Health agencies are urging governments and civil society to step up action to eliminate cervical cancer, a vaccine-preventable disease that kills a woman every two minutes, mostly in low- and middle-income countries.   “It is the fourth-most common cancer among women worldwide. It is also one of the few types of cancer that can be prevented by a vaccine,” said Herve Verhoosel, spokesperson for Unitaid, an organization that provides affordable lifesaving health products for people in low- and middle-income countries.  “Vaccination against human papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer, together with HPV screening and treatment, is a proven path to elimination,” Verhoosel said Tuesday in advance of the first global forum on elimination of cervical cancer.  The forum, which takes place from March 5 to 7 in Cartagena,…
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US Justice Department Says It Disrupted Russian Intelligence Hacking Network

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Washington — The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it disrupted a Russian intelligence hacking network. "For the second time in two months, we've disrupted state-sponsored hackers from launching cyber-attacks behind the cover of compromised U.S. routers," U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. The Justice Department said that a January 2024 court-authorized operation neutralized the network of hundreds of small office/home office (SOHO) routers controlled by Russian intelligence and used "to conceal and otherwise enable a variety of crimes."   "In this case, Russian intelligence services turned to criminal groups to help them target home and office routers, but the Justice Department disabled their scheme," Attorney General Merrick Garland added. Garland said the Justice Department was accelerating efforts to disrupt the Russian government's cyber campaigns against the…
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Bangkok Says Work from Home as Pollution Blankets City

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Bangkok — Bangkok city employees have been told to work from home to avoid harmful air pollution, as a layer of noxious haze blanketed the Thai capital Thursday. City authorities asked for cooperation from employers to help workers in the city of some 11 million people avoid the pollution, which is expected to last into Friday. The air monitoring website IQAir ranked Bangkok among the 10 most polluted cities in the world Thursday morning. Levels of the most dangerous PM2.5 particles -- so tiny they can enter the bloodstream -- were more than 15 times the World Health Organization's annual guideline, according to IQAir. Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt said late Wednesday that all city employees would work from home Thursday and Friday. "I would like to ask for cooperation from the…
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Scientists Create New Map of the World’s Coral Reefs

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SYDNEY — Using satellite technology and sophisticated machine learning, a team led by marine experts in Australia have created new maps of the world’s coral reefs. The scientists discovered there are more coral reefs around the world than previously documented, with Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines having the most coral reefs.  Over 100 trillion pixels of data were examined. The result is a high-resolution map that gives fresh insight into the distribution of reefs. The Allen Coral Atlas initiative has identified approximately 348,000 square kilometers of shallow coral reefs globally to depths of up to 30 meters, an increase from previous estimates. Experts hope the study will allow politicians, scientists and environmentalists to better understand and manage coral reef systems. Coral reefs face a range of threats, including climate change, overfishing…
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Private US Moon Lander Launched Half Century After Last Apollo Lunar Mission

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — A moon lander built by Houston-based aerospace company Intuitive Machines was launched from Florida early Thursday on a mission to conduct the first U.S. lunar touchdown in more than a half century and the first by a privately owned spacecraft. The company's Nova-C lander, dubbed Odysseus, lifted off shortly after 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT) atop a Falcon 9 rocket flown by Elon Musk' SpaceX from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. A live NASA-SpaceX online video feed showed the two-stage, 25-story rocket roaring off the launch pad and streaking into the dark sky over Florida's Atlantic coast, trailed by a fiery yellowish plume of exhaust. The launch, previously set for Wednesday morning, was postponed for 24 hours because of irregular temperatures detected in liquid methane…
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China’s VPN Usage Nearly Doubles Amid Internet Censorship

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WASHINGTON — Last year, VPN usage in China nearly doubled, according to data from IT education news outlet Techopedia, this despite the country’s strict regime of internet controls of everything from overseas websites to online games. China’s “Great Firewall” is one of the world’s most comprehensive internet censorship regimes, preventing citizens from accessing websites like Instagram, Wikipedia and YouTube, as well most major news organizations including VOA. VPNs are outlawed in China because they allow users to jump the “Great Firewall” and securely connect to the internet outside the country while blocking their IP address. Rob Binns, a journalist with Techopedia, said China’s increasingly strict censorship policies may explain the rise in VPN usage there. “Looking at VPN usage versus what it’s combating, which is online censorship, we are seeing online…
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Biden is on TikTok Despite Security Concerns

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In an effort to connect to younger voters, the Biden campaign has joined TikTok. But while many users have welcomed the move, security experts and even legislators have expressed disapproval amid long-standing privacy concerns surrounding the use of the Chinese-owned app. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias has details from Washington. (Produced by: Veronica Balderas Iglesias) ...
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New Delhi’s Deadly Air Pollution Prompts Some to Quit City

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The Indian capital’s severe air pollution, which has failed to improve despite efforts, is prompting a small but growing number of people to leave New Delhi to escape the health hazards posed by dirty air. Many are relocating to the western coastal city of Goa, which has witnessed an influx of what are being called pollution migrants. Anjana Pasricha spoke to two families on why they decided to quit the capital. Video: P. Pallavi ...
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