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Private US Lunar Lander Will Stop Working Tuesday 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A private U.S. lunar lander is expected to stop working Tuesday, its mission cut short after landing sideways near the south pole of the moon.

Intuitive Machines, the Houston company that built and flew the spacecraft, said Monday it will continue to collect data until sunlight no longer shines on the solar panels. Based on the position of Earth and the moon, officials expect that to happen Tuesday morning. That’s two to three days short of the week or so that NASA and other customers had been counting on.

The lander, named Odysseus, is the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon in more than 50 years, carrying experiments for NASA, the main sponsor. But it came in too fast last Thursday and the foot of one of its six legs caught on the surface, causing it to tumble over, according to company officials.

Based on photos from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter flying overhead, Odysseus landed within 1.5 kilometers of its intended target near the Malapert A crater, just 300 kilometers from the moon’s south pole.

The LRO photos from 90 kilometers up are the only ones showing the lander on the surface, but as little more than a spot in the grainy images. A camera-ejecting experiment by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, to capture images of the lander as they both descended, was called off shortly before touchdown because of a last-minute navigation issue.

According to NASA, the lander ended up in a small, degraded crater with a 12-degree slope. That’s the closest a spacecraft has ever come to the south pole, an area of interest because of suspected frozen water in the permanently shadowed craters there.

NASA, which plans to land astronauts in this region in the next few years, paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to deliver six experiments to the surface. Other customers also had items on board.

Instead of landing upright, the 4.3-meter Odysseus came down on its side, hampering communication with Earth. Some antennas were covered up by the toppled lander, and the ones still exposed ended up near the ground, resulting in spotty communications. The solar panels also ended up much closer to the surface than anticipated, less than ideal in the hilly terrain. Even under the best of circumstances, Odysseus only had a week to operate on the surface before the long lunar night set in.

Since the 1960s, only the U.S., Russia, China, India and Japan have successfully pulled off moon landings, and only the U.S. with crews. Japan’s lander ended up on the wrong side, too, just last month.

Despite its slanted landing, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to join the elite group. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a try last month, but didn’t make it to the moon because of a fuel leak.

Intuitive Machines almost failed, too. Ground teams did not turn on the switch for the lander’s navigating lasers before the Feb. 15 liftoff from Florida. The oversight was not discovered until Odysseus was circling the moon, forcing flight controllers to rely on a NASA laser-navigating device that was on board merely as an experiment.

As it turned out, NASA’s test lasers guided Odysseus to a close to bull’s-eye landing, resulting in the first moon landing by a U.S. spacecraft since the Apollo program.

Twelve Apollo astronauts walked on the moon from 1969 through 1972. While NASA went on to put an occasional satellite around the moon, the U.S. did not launch another moon-landing mission until last month. Astrobotic’s failed flight was the first under NASA’s program to promote commercial deliveries to the moon.

Both Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic hold NASA contracts for more moon landings.

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Japan Moon Lander Revives After Lunar Night

Tokyo — Japan’s moon lander has produced another surprise by waking up after the two-week lunar night, the country’s space agency said Monday.

The unmanned Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) touched down last month at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way.

As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life for two days and carried out scientific observations of a crater with a high-spec camera, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

It went to sleep again as darkness returned and, since it was “not designed for the harsh lunar nights,” JAXA had been uncertain whether it would reawaken.

“Yesterday we sent a command, to which SLIM responded,” JAXA said on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday.

“SLIM succeeded in surviving a night on the Moon’s surface while maintaining its communication function!”

It said that communications were “terminated after a short time, as it was still lunar midday and the temperature of the communication equipment was very high.”

But it added: “Preparations are being made to resume operations when instrument temperatures have sufficiently cooled.”

SLIM, dubbed the “Moon Sniper” for its precision landing technology, touched down within its target landing zone on Jan. 20.

The feat was a win for Japan’s space program after a string of recent failures, making the nation only the fifth to achieve a “soft landing” on the moon, after the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India.

But during its descent, the craft suffered engine problems and ended up on its side, meaning the solar panels were facing west instead of up.

The latest news comes after JAXA toasted a successful blast-off for its new flagship H3 rocket on Feb. 17, making it third time lucky after years of delays and two previous failed attempts.

Countries including Russia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates are also trying to reach the moon.

The first American spaceship to the moon since the Apollo era, the uncrewed Odysseus lander built by a private company and funded by NASA, landed near the lunar south pole on Thursday.

But its maker said the US spacecraft is probably lying sideways following its dramatic landing, even as ground controllers work to download data and surface photos from it.

Private Japanese firm ispace also attempted to land on the moon last year but the probe suffered a “hard landing” and contact was lost.

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The Rise of Female Skateboarders in South Africa

In South Africa, skateboarding is enjoying something of a revolution. The once predominantly male pursuit is attracting more and more women. VOA’s Zaheer Cassim reports from Johannesburg.

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South Korea Sets Thursday Deadline for Return of Striking Doctors

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s government gave striking young doctors four days to report back to work, saying Monday that they won’t be punished if they return by the deadline but will face indictments and suspensions of medical licenses if they don’t.

About 9,000 medical interns and residents have stayed off the job since early last week to protest a government plan to increase medical school admissions by about 65%. The walkouts have severely hurt the operations of their hospitals, with numerous cancellations of surgeries and other treatments.

Government officials say adding more doctors is necessary to deal with South Korea’s rapidly aging population. The country’s current doctor-to-patient ratio is among the lowest in the developed world. 

The strikers say universities can’t handle so many new students and argue the plan would not resolve a chronic shortage of doctors in some key but low-paying areas like pediatrics and emergency departments.

Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said during a televised briefing Monday that the government won’t seek any disciplinary action against striking doctors if they return to work by Thursday.

“We want them to return to work by the end of this month, Feb. 29. If they return to the hospitals they had left by then, we won’t hold them responsible” for any damages caused by their walkouts, Park said.

But he said those who don’t meet the deadline will be punished with a minimum three-month suspension of their medical licenses and face further legal steps such as investigations and possible indictments.

Under South Korea’s medical law, the government can issue back-to-work orders to doctors and other medical personnel when it sees grave risks to public health. Refusing to abide by such an order can bring up to three years in prison or $22,480 in fines, along with revocation of medical licenses.

There are about 13,000 medical interns and residents in South Korea, most of them working and training at 100 hospitals. They typically assist senior doctors during surgeries and deal with inpatients. They represent about 30% to 40% of total doctors at some major hospitals.

The Korea Medical Association, which represents about 140,000 doctors in South Korea, has said it supports the striking doctors, but hasn’t determined whether to join the trainee doctors’ walkouts. Senior doctors have held a series of rallies voicing opposition to the government’s plan.

Earlier this month, the government announced universities would admit 2,000 more medical students starting next year, from the current 3,058. The government says it aims to add up to 10,000 doctors by 2035. 

A public survey said about 80% of South Koreans back the government plan. Critics suspect doctors, one of the best-paid professions in South Korea, oppose the recruitment plan because they worry they would face greater competition and lower income. 

Striking doctors have said they worry doctors faced with increased competition would engage in overtreatment, burdening public medical expenses.

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‘Past Lives,’ ‘American Fiction’ And ‘The Holdovers’ Are Big Winners at Independent Spirit Awards

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‘One Love’ Gets More Box Office Love, No. 1 for Second Week

Los Angeles — For a second straight week, biopic “ Bob Marley: One Love” continues to exceed expectations by claiming the No. 1 spot at the box office, overcoming two debut films and Sony’s “Madame Web” that’s still producing subpar numbers.

The Paramount film starring Kingsley Ben-Adir pulled in $13.5 million during its second week of release. The project, which was produced for about $70 million, already eclipsed that mark, grossing nearly $72 million domestically in North America.

It’s an impressive achievement for the Reinaldo Marcus Green-directed Marley’s musical biopic that’s focused on the Rastafarian legend’s story during the making of his 1977 album “Exodus” while leading up to his impactful concert in his native Jamaica.

“Some of his greatest hits came out nearly 50 years ago, but his music still resonates through this film,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore.

“One Love” drew nearly $2 million more than “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To the Hashira Training” which placed No. 2. The latest installment in the Japanese anime series from Crunchyroll and Sony debuted with $11.7 million.

“Demon Slayer” scored the impressive opening number from only 1,949 locations — far less than “One Love” with 3,597 and 3,020 for “ Ordinary Angels ” — a faith-based Lionsgate film starring Hilary Swank that placed third at the box office with an estimated $6.5 million.

“There might not be any huge blockbuster films recently, but there some real gems out there for moviegoers to see,” Dergarabedian said.

All three of those films outperformed better than “Madame Web,” which has struggled to find its footing after the superhero movie flopped last week. It was thought the Spider-Man spinoff would draw strong numbers — especially with Dakota Johnson starring as the film’s lead Marvel character.

But so far, it hasn’t lived up to the hype, producing just $6 million in its second week and grossing a little more than a disappointing $35 million.

After its 10th weekend, Universal’s animated “Migration” rounded out the top five with $3 million, bringing its domestic total to $120 million. “Argylle” placed sixth with $2.8 million barely outpacing “Wonka,” which reeled in $2.5 million. Paul King’s musical starring Timothee Chalamet as a young Willy Wonka has grossed more than $214 million in 11 weeks.

The Ethan Coen-directed “Drive-Away Dolls” debuted eighth with $2.4 million ahead of “The Beekeeper” and “The Chosen” season four, a Christian series focused on Jesus Christ.

Dergarabedian called this past week a slow one. But next week, he expects it’ll pick up greatly with the highly anticipated “Dune: Part Two” making its long-waited debut, which should end the top spot reign by “One Love.”

“It’s the calm before the sandstorm,” he said.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Bob Marley: One Love,” $13.5 million.

  2. “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To the Hashira Training,” $11.5 million.

  3. “Ordinary Angels,” $6.5 million.

  4. “Madame Web,” $6 million.

  5. “Migration,” $3 million.

  6. “Argylle,” $2.8 million.

  7. “Wonka,” $2.5 million.

  8. “Drive-Away Dolls,” $2.4 million.

  9. “The Beekeeper,” $1.9 million.

  10. “The Chosen,” Episodes 4-6, $1.7 million.

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Israel Threatens Eurovision Pull-Out if Entry Vetoed 

Jerusalem — Israel on Sunday warned that it may withdraw from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest if organizers reject the lyrics from its entry as too political. 

 

Eden Golan and her song “October Rain” were chosen to compete in the annual competition, which is being held in May in Malmo, Sweden. 

 

Media reports have suggested that the song, which is mostly in English with some Hebrew words, references the victims of Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel. 

 

That could mean the ballad and its 20-year-old Russian-Israeli singer fall foul of Eurovision rules, which ban political statements. 

 

“They were all good children, every one of them”, says a line from Golan’s song, according to the website of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (Kan) which published them in full. 

 

“There is no air left to breathe, There is no place for me,” the song ends. 

 

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) said only that it was “currently in the process of scrutinizing the lyrics” and a final decision had yet to be taken. 

 

“If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, as per the rules of the Contest,” it added. 

 

Kan said it was “in dialogue” with the EBU about the country’s Eurovision offering before the March 11 entry deadline. 

 

But it stated that the broadcaster has “no intention to replace the song.” 

 

“Meaning, if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition,” it added in a statement on Thursday. 

 

Israel’s Noa Kirel placed third in last year’s competition in Liverpool, England, behind Finland’s Kaarija and Sweden’s Loreen. 

 

Loreen’s victory takes the competition back to Sweden, 50 years after ABBA’s victory with “Waterloo.” 

 

Israel became the first non-European country to enter Eurovision in 1973 and has since won the competition four times, most notably with transgender singer Dana International in 1998. 

 

But its participation and hosting of the event have regularly run into controversy. 

 

In 2019, Icelandic band Hatari, who previously challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a Nordic folk wrestling match, made pro-Palestinian statements during the vote count in Tel Aviv. 

 

Organizers also gave pop queen Madonna a ticking off after her dancers flouted political neutrality rules by wearing Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes. 

 

This year’s competition comes against the backdrop of the war, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. 

 

Militants also took about 250 hostages, with 130 still held in Gaza although 31 are believed to be dead, Israeli officials said. 

 

Israel’s military response has killed at least 29,692 people in Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory. 

 

The EBU this week rejected calls for Israel to be barred from competing altogether because of the war in the Gaza Strip and the civilian casualties. 

 

But the potential for a ban on its entry has caused outrage, with Israel’s culture and sports minister, Miki Zohar, calling the prospect “scandalous.” 

 

Golan’s song was “moving”, he wrote on social media, and “expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political.” 

 

“I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art,” he added. 

 

Even President Isaac Herzog waded in, saying he was “trying to help” as much as he could because of the high-profile nature of the show. 

 

“It’s important that Israel appears,” he was quoted as saying by news outlet Ynet.

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Productivity Surge Helps Explain US Economy’s Surprising Resilience 

Washington — Trying to keep up with customer demand, Batesville Tool & Die began seeking 70 people to hire last year. It wasn’t easy. Attracting factory workers to a community of 7,300 in the Indiana countryside was a tough sell, especially having to compete with big-name manufacturers nearby like Honda and Cummins Engine. 

Job seekers were scarce. 

“You could count on one hand how many people in the town were unemployed,” said Jody Fledderman, the CEO. “It was just crazy.” 

Batesville Tool & Die managed to fill just 40 of its vacancies. 

Enter the robots. The company invested in machines that could mimic human workers and in vision systems, which helped its robots “see” what they were doing. 

The Batesville experience has been replicated countlessly across the United States the past couple of years. Worker shortages have led many companies to invest in machines. They’ve also been training the workers they do have to use advanced technology so they can produce more with less. 

The result has been an unexpected productivity boom, which helps explain a great economic mystery: How has the world’s largest economy stayed so healthy, with brisk growth and low unemployment, despite brutally high interest rates that are intended to tame inflation but that typically cause a recession? 

To economists, strong productivity growth provides an almost magical elixir. When companies roll out more efficient technology, their workers can become more productive: They increase their output per hour. A result is that companies can often boost profits and raise pay without having to jack up prices. Inflation can remain in check. 

The Fed’s aggressive streak of rate hikes — 11 of them starting in March 2022 — managed to bring inflation from a four-decade high of 9.1% to 3.1%. But, to the surprise to the economists who’d forecast a recession, the higher borrowing costs have caused little economic hardship. 

Perhaps the likeliest explanation is the greater efficiencies that companies like Batesville Tool & Die have managed to achieve. Before productivity began its resurgent growth last year, a rule of thumb was that average hourly pay could rise no more than 3.5% annually for inflation to stay within the Fed’s 2% target. That would mean that today’s roughly 4% average annual pay growth would have to shrink. Higher productivity means there’s now more leeway for wage growth to stay elevated without igniting inflation. 

The productivity boom marks a shift from the pre-pandemic years, when annual productivity growth averaged a tepid 1.5%. Everything changed as the economy rocketed out of the 2020 pandemic recession with unexpected vigor, and businesses struggled to re-hire the many workers they had shed. 

The resulting worker shortage sent wages surging. Inflation jumped, too, as factories and ports buckled under the strain of rising consumer orders. 

Desperate, many companies turned to automation. The efficiency payoff began to arrive almost a year ago. Labor productivity rose at a 3.6% annual pace from last April through June, 4.9% from July through September and 3.2% from October through December. 

At Reata Engineering & Machine Works, “efficiency was kind of forced on us,” CEO Grady Cope said. With the job market roaring, the company, based in Englewood, Colorado, couldn’t hire fast enough. Meantime, its customers were starting to balk at paying higher prices. 

So Reata installed robots and other technology. Software allowed it to automate the delivery of price quotes to customers. That process used to require two weeks. Now, it can be done in 24 hours. 

Many economists and business people say they’re hopeful that the productivity boom can continue. Artificial intelligence, they note, is only beginning to penetrate factory floors, warehouses, stores and offices and could accelerate efficiency gains. 

Automation raises fears that machines will replace human workers, killing jobs. Some workers supplanted by robots do often struggle to find new work and end up settling for lower pay. 

Yet history suggests that in the long run, technological improvements actually create more jobs than they destroy. People are needed to build, upgrade, repair and operate sophisticated machines. Some displaced workers are trained to shift into such jobs. And that transition is likely to be eased this time by the retirement of the vast baby boom generation, which is causing labor shortages. 

Some of today’s productivity gains may be coming not just from advanced technology but also from more satisfied workers. The tight labor markets of the past three years allowed Americans to change jobs and find others that pay better and make them happier and more productive. 

Justin Thompson, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, felt burned out by his job as a police officer, with its 16-hour workdays .”I was literally running myself into the ground,” he said. 

Thompson’s wife saw a job posting for operations manager at a charter airline. Even without airline experience, his wife felt he could use skills he gains as a Marine Corps infantryman — handling logistics for missions — during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

She was right. Omni Air International hired him in 2019. 

Thompson, 43, loves the new job, which allows him to work from home when he’s not traveling. And his Marine experience — which included developing ways to improve efficiency — has proved invaluable. 

Other workers have switched from low-skill jobs to those that allow them to be more productive. 

At Reata Engineering, staffers were trained to use new sophisticated equipment. 

“The whole point is not to lay people off,” said Cope, the CEO of Reata Engineering. “The point is to make people do jobs that are more interesting” — and pay better, too. 

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Tax-Free Status of Movie, Music and Games Traded Online Is on Table as WTO Nations Meet in Abu Dhabi

Geneva — Since late last century and the early days of the web, providers of digital media like Netflix and Spotify have had a free pass when it comes to international taxes on films, video games and music that are shipped across borders through the internet.

But now, a global consensus on the issue may be starting to crack.

As the World Trade Organization opens its latest biannual meeting of government ministers Monday, its longtime moratorium on duties on e-commerce products — which has been renewed almost automatically since 1998 — is coming under pressure as never before.

This week in Abu Dhabi, the WTO’s 164 member countries will take up a number of key issues: Subsidies that encourage overfishing. Reforms to make agricultural markets fairer and more eco-friendly. And efforts to revive the Geneva-based trade body’s system of resolving disputes among countries.

All of those are tall orders, but the moratorium on e-commerce duties is perhaps the matter most in play. It centers on “electronic transmissions” — music, movies, video games and the like — more than on physical goods. But the rulebook isn’t clear on the entire array of products affected.

“This is so important to millions of businesses, especially small- and medium-sized businesses,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said. “Some members believe that this should be extended and made permanent. Others believe … there are reasons why it should not.” 

“That’s why there’s been a debate and hopefully — because it touches on lives of many people — we hope that ministers would be able to make the appropriate decision,” she told reporters recently.

Under WTO’s rules, major decisions require consensus. The e-commerce moratorium can’t just sail through automatically. Countries must actively vote in favor for the extension to take effect.

Four proposals are on the table: Two would extend the suspension of duties. Two — separately presented by South Africa and India, two countries that have been pushing their interests hard at the WTO — would not.

Proponents say the moratorium benefits consumers by helping keep costs down and promotes the wider rollout of digital services in countries both rich and poor.

Critics say it deprives debt-burdened governments in developing countries of tax revenue, though there’s debate over just how much state coffers would stand to gain.

The WTO itself says that on average, the potential loss would be less than one-third of 1% of total government revenue.

The stakes are high. A WTO report published in December said the value of “digitally delivered services” exports grew by more than 8% from 2005 to 2022 — higher than goods exports (5.6%) and other-services exports (4.2%).

Growth has been uneven, though. Most developing countries don’t have digital networks as extensive as those in the rich world. Those countries see less need to extend the moratorium — and might reap needed tax revenue if it ends.

South Africa’s proposal, which seeks to end the moratorium, calls for the creation of a fund to receive voluntary contributions to bridge the “digital divide.” It also wants to require “leading platforms” to boost the promotion of “historically disadvantaged” small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Industry, at least in the United States, is pushing hard to extend the moratorium. In a Feb. 13 letter to Biden administration officials, nearly two dozen industry groups, including the Motion Picture Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Entertainment Software Association — a video-game industry group — urged the United States to give its “full support” to a renewal.

“Accepting anything short of a multilateral extension of the moratorium that applies to all WTO members would open the door to the introduction of new customs duties and related cross-border restrictions that would hurt U.S. workers in industries across the entire economy,” the letter said.

A collapse would deal a “major blow to the credibility and durability” of the WTO and would mark the first time that its members “changed the rules to make it substantially harder to conduct trade,” wrote the groups, which said their members include companies that combined employ over 100 million workers. 

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Japan’s ‘Naked Men’ Festival Succumbs to Aging of Population

Ōshū, Japan — Steam rose as hundreds of naked men tussled over a bag of wooden talismans, performing a dramatic end to a thousand-year-old ritual in Japan that took place for the last time. 

Their passionate chants of “Jasso, joyasa” (meaning “Evil, be gone”) echoed through a cedar forest in northern Japan’s Iwate region, where the secluded Kokuseki Temple has decided to end the popular annual rite. 

Organizing the event, which draws hundreds of participants and thousands of tourists every year, has become a heavy burden for the aging local faithful, who find it hard to keep up with the rigors of the ritual.  

The “Sominsai” festival, regarded as one of the strangest festivals in Japan, is the latest tradition impacted by the country’s aging population crisis that has hit rural communities hard.  

“It is very difficult to organize a festival of this scale,” said Daigo Fujinami, a resident monk of the temple that opened in 729.  

“You can see what happened today — so many people are here and it’s all exciting. But behind the scenes, there are many rituals and so much work that have to be done,” he said.  

“I cannot be blind to the difficult reality.”  

Aging population 

More than 1 in 10 people in Japan are 80 years old or older, and almost a third of its population is older than 65, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023.

The aging of Japan’s population has forced the closure of countless schools, shops and services, particularly in small or rural communities.  

Kokuseki Temple’s Sominsai festival used to take place from the seventh day of Lunar New Year to the following morning.  

But during the Covid pandemic, it was scaled down to prayer ceremonies and smaller rituals. 

The final festival was a shortened version, ending around 11 p.m., but it drew the biggest crowd in recent memory, local residents said.  

As the sun set, men in white loincloths came to the mountain temple, bathed in a creek and marched around temple’s ground. 

They clenched their fists against the chill of a winter breeze, all the while chanting “Jasso, joyasa.” 

Some held small cameras to record their experience, while dozens of television crews followed the men through the temple’s stone steps and dirt pathways. 

As the festival reached its climax, hundreds of men packed inside the wooden temple shouting, chanting and aggressively jostling over a bag of talismans. 

Changing norms

Toshiaki Kikuchi, a local resident who claimed the talismans and who helped organize the festival for years, said he hoped the ritual would return in the future.  

“Even under a different format, I hope to maintain this tradition,” he said. “There are many things that you can appreciate only if you take part.” 

Many participants and visitors voiced both sadness and understanding about the festival’s ending. 

“This is the last of this great festival that has lasted 1,000 years. I really wanted to participate in this festival,” Yasuo Nishimura, 49, a caregiver from Osaka, told AFP. 

Other temples across Japan continue to host similar festivals where men wear loincloths and bathe in freezing water or fight over talismans. 

Some festivals are adjusting their rules in line with changing demographics and social norms so that they can continue to exist — such as letting women take part in previously male-only ceremonies.  

Starting next year, Kokuseki Temple will replace the festival with prayer ceremonies and other ways to continue its spiritual practices. 

“Japan is facing a falling birthrate, aging population, and lack of young people to continue various things,” Nishimura said. “Perhaps it is difficult to continue the same way as in the past.” 

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Eva Peron Maintains Grip on Argentina Decades After Her 1952 Death

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Early every morning, just as she reaches her workplace at a labor union in Buenos Aires, Ángeles Celerier heads to the chapel and prays to Saint Cajetan, Saint Teresa and Eva Perón.

Perón — unlike the others — has not been canonized by the Vatican, but this doesn’t matter to Celerier.

“For me, she is the saint of the people,” the 56-year-old Argentine said.

Many union members think of Evita as their patron or gaze at her photos with nostalgia, feeling that she and her husband, three-time President Juan Domingo Perón, brought prosperity to their country through an equality and social justice-driven movement that was named after him in the 1940s: Peronism.

That movement is currently the biggest opposition force in Argentina. And some political observers attribute the recent vote to elect President Javier Milei as a means to defeat Peronism and its previous hold on the presidency.

“For us, she is the spiritual reservoir of the people,” said Julio Piumato, human rights director at the largest union in Argentina. He signed a 2019 document requesting Evita’s beatification.

“No other figure has a deeper significance,” Piumato said. “The humble sectors are synthesized in Evita.”

According to the union leader, between 1946 and 1952, when Evita died of cancer at age 33 and Perón concluded his first term, the couple dignified the working class and prioritized social justice.

“Saints show us paths to reach Christ and intercede before God for us,” reads the beatification request delivered to the archbishop. “In our homeland, one generation after another continues to be converted by the humanist and Christian message of the standard bearer of the humble.”

Aside from a 1996 movie starring Madonna or Andrew Lloyd Weber’s 1978 musical, many foreigners know relatively little about this former first lady who died 71 years ago.

But in Argentina, Evita is a constant presence. Her face is printed on 100-peso bills, decorates a mural on a key government building, and greets guests from an altar placed in a restaurant called Saint Evita.

“I carry her image in my wallet, and I have it at home in a small picture frame with a candle,” Celerier said. “I ask her for protection.”

How a first lady turned into a champion of the poor

The secret behind the fascination that she awakens might be hidden in her name.

Long before becoming first lady, she called herself María Eva, a girl who left the town of Los Toldos to try her luck as an actress in Buenos Aires. As a modest film star she was known as Eva Duarte and afterwards became Eva Perón, the president’s wife. Then came Evita.

“Evita is the one who is close to the people,” said Santiago Regolo, a researcher at Museum Evita. “People began to call her that, and that construction is linked to the political and social work that distinguished her from the women who preceded her and take her as an example to this day.”

Evita was the one who paid visits to elders and single mothers. The one who handed out toys for children and bread for families. The one who promoted paid vacations for workers who had never been able to afford a break and gave a final push to achieve the women’s right to vote in 1947.

She has also inspired some feminists — who carry her photo along with their green scarves during protests — as well as a political organization that asks for social transformation using her image as a logo.

“Having Evita on our flag represents being with those in the lower classes and trying to vindicate her name over time,” said Iván Tchorek, from the Evita Movement, which has 155,000 members nationwide and was created after an economic crisis in 2001.

She’s relevant as ever, Tchorek said, because Peronism is. Thousands of workers like him recently led a general strike against the right-wing Milei, who defeated Peronist candidate Sergio Massa last November. Soon after, Milei issued a decree that would revoke or modify hundreds of existing laws in order to limit the power of unions and deregulate an economy that has traditionally featured heavy state intervention.

Even as a union standard-bearer in polarized times, Evita and her memory have the ability to transcend politics. “Certain issues are linked to matters of a sentimental, sacralized nature,” Regolo said. “She is seen as a companion, a sister, a mother for the humble.”

At her home in an impoverished neighborhood outside Buenos Aires, 71-year-old Rita Cantero says she almost met Evita. When her mother asked the first lady for help, she was pregnant with her.

“My mother used to say that Evita was very supportive, that people really liked her for the service she provided.”

Aware of the challenges of being a single mother, Rafaela Escobar attended a public event held by Evita in a plaza near her home. After being able to approach her and confide in her distress, Evita hugged her and said: “Don’t worry, I will help.”

Three weeks later, Escobar received a cradle and clothes for her unborn child.

Cantero says her mother never met Evita again, but she sent her letters and the first lady replied with envelopes carrying money.

“For us she is like a saint,” Cantero said. “Many judged her because she was a woman, but she was an honest, hard-working girl. She fought for our nation and was the force of Perón.”

Evita’s mixed legacy and the fight over her embalmed body

Perón died two decades after Evita, in 1974, but his name continues to spark both admiration and hatred, yearning and blame.

His critics — among them legislator Fernando Iglesias, who has published several books contending Peronism ruined the country — claim that Perón was an authoritarian leader and his movement’s social assistance disguised corruption and patronage while generating too much dependence on the government.

Critics address Eva too. Her foundation pressed donors for resources, some say. She was careerist and a hypocrite, others assert. On the one hand, she claimed to defend the poor and on the other, she dressed in Dior.

“Would she be the saint of the lazy?” a user tweeted when the union requested her beatification. “Patron of criminals,” someone else wrote.

Erasing her from history was once a command. After a coup overthrew Perón in 1955, it was forbidden to say her name, display her image or keep her gifts. The military removed her embalmed body from a union’s headquarters, where it was initially kept, and sent it to Europe.

The body came back after 14 years, and when the military took over again in the 1970s, it was given to her family under one condition: She would be buried 8 meters underground, sealed in a marble crypt so that no one would ever see her again.

“Evita is the best thing that could have happened to this country,” said Carolina Castro, 22, holding back tears next to Evita’s grave in Recoleta Cemetery, where Argentines and foreigners alike honor her with flowers, letters and rosaries.

According to Castro’s mother, 56-year-old Andrea Vellesi, Evita is a sensitive topic because their family is going through a difficult time. “I have never been in such anguish,” Vellesi said about economic measures that Milei recently decreed and that she claims hurt her business.

Víctor Biscia, 36, says that he doesn’t keep photos of Evita at home, but he does have images of the late President Néstor Kirchner and his wife and successor Cristina Fernández, another Peronist couple that prompts devotion and resentment among Argentines.

“They were key to achieving rights that are being curtailed by the current government,” said Biscia, who thinks of Fernández as a sort of 21st century Evita.

“She reflects a lot of what we are as Argentines,” says Gimena Villagra, 27, standing next to Evita’s tomb. “I don’t think there’s anyone for whom she doesn’t mean something.”

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Dior Postpones Hong Kong Fashion Show ‘Indefinitely’

HONG KONG — Dior has postponed a fashion show set to be held in Hong Kong next month, a city official confirmed Saturday, dealing a blow to the financial hub’s ambitions to boost its economy through major events.

Hong Kong is courting top international celebrities and brands in the hope of rebooting its reputation, which has been battered by years of social unrest and strict pandemic curbs. 

The Dior fashion show — meant to feature artistic director Kim Jones and the men’s autumn collection — was to be one of several “mega events” touted last month by Hong Kong’s culture, sports and tourism chief, Kevin Yeung, as part of the city’s drive to become an event capital. 

But Yeung’s office confirmed to AFP on Saturday that it had “just been notified” by organizers that the fashion show would not go ahead as scheduled on March 23. 

“Large-scale events are postponed from time to time, and we continue to welcome large-scale events to take place in Hong Kong,” a spokesperson for Yeung’s office said. 

Dior said the show had been “postponed indefinitely” without giving specifics, according to a company statement quoted by the South China Morning Post. 

According to the South China Morning Post, the event was expected to cost about $100 million ($12.8 million U.S.) and draw nearly 1,000 attendees.  

Louis Vuitton in November held its men’s pre-fall 2024 show in Hong Kong, led by creative director Pharrell Williams and drawing celebrity guests from China and South Korea. 

The much-hyped runway show was seen as a boon to Hong Kong’s international image and a sign of the luxury giant’s commitment to Asian markets. 

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Chip Giant TSMC Shifts From Hotspot Taiwan With Japan Plant

TOKYO — Chip giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. opened its first semiconductor plant in Japan Saturday as part of its ongoing global expansion.

“We are deeply grateful for the seamless support provided by you at every step,” TSMC Chairman Mark Liu said after thanking the Japanese government, local community and business partners, including electronic giant Sony and auto-parts maker Denso. The company’s founder, Morris Chang, was also present at the ceremony in Kikuyo.

This comes as Japan is trying to regain its presence in the chip production industry.

Japan Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing, or JASM, is set to be up and running later this year. TSMC also announced plans for a second plant in Japan earlier this month, with production expected to start in about three years. Private sector investment totals $20 billion for both plants. Both plants are in the Kumamoto region, southwestern Japan.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sent a congratulatory video message, calling the plant’s opening “a giant first step.” He stressed Japan’s friendly relations with Taiwan and the importance of cutting-edge semiconductor technology.

Japan had previously promised TSMC 476 billion yen ($3 billion) in government funding to encourage the semiconductor giant to invest. Kishida confirmed a second package, raising Japan’s support to more than 1 trillion yen ($7 billion).

Although TSMC is building its second plant in the U.S. and has announced a plan for its first in Europe, Japan could prove an attractive option.

Closer to Taiwan geographically, Japan is an important U.S. ally. Neighboring China claims the self-governing island as its own territory and says it must come under Beijing’s control. The long-running divide is a flashpoint in U.S.-China relations.

The move is also important for Japan, which has recently earmarked about 5 trillion yen ($33 billion) to revive its chips industry.

Four decades ago, Japan dominated in chips, headlined by Toshiba Corp. and NEC controlling half the world’s production. That’s declined lately to under 10%, due to competition from South Korean, U.S. and European manufacturers, as well as from TSMC.

The coronavirus pandemic negatively affected the supply of electronic chips, stalling plants, including automakers, with Japan almost entirely dependent on chip imports. This pushed Japan to seek chip production in pursuit of self-sufficiency.

Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation, Denso Corporation and top automaker Toyota Motor Corporation are investing in TSMC’s Japan plant, with the Taiwanese giant retaining an 86.5% ownership of JASM.

Once the two plants are up and running, they’re expected to create 3,400 high-tech jobs directly, according to TSMC.

Ensuring access to an ample supply of the most advanced chips is vital with the growing popularity of electric vehicles and artificial intelligence. Some analysts note Japan still leads in crucial aspects of the industry, as seen in Tokyo Electron, which manufactures the machinery used to produce chips.

Still, it’s clear the Japanese government is intent on playing catchup. Tokyo is supporting various semiconductor projects nationwide, such as those involving Western Digital and Micron of the U.S., and Japanese companies such as Renesas Electronics, Canon and Sumitomo.

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Study Finds Seniors Enjoy Virtual Reality 

POMPANO BEACH, Florida — Retired Army Colonel Farrell Patrick taught computer science at West Point during the 1970s and then at two private universities through the 1990s, so he isn’t surprised by the progress technology has made over the decades. 

But when the 91-year-old got his first virtual reality experience recently, he was stunned. Sitting in a conference room at John Knox Village, a suburban Fort Lauderdale, Florida, retirement community, Patrick sat up straight as his eyes and ears experienced what it would be like to be in a Navy fighter jet flying off the Florida coast. 

“Oh, my God, that’s beautiful,” he blurted before the VR program brought the jet in for a landing on an aircraft carrier. 

John Knox Village was one of 17 senior communities around the country that participated in a recently published Stanford University study that found that large majorities of 245 participants between 65 and 103 years old enjoyed virtual reality, improving both their emotions and their interactions with staff. 

The study is part of a larger effort to adapt VR so it can be beneficial to seniors’ health and emotional well-being and help lessen the impact dementia has on some of them. 

Variety of experiences

During the testing, seniors picked from seven-minute virtual experiences such as parachuting, riding in a tank, watching stage performances, playing with puppies and kittens, or visiting places like Paris or Egypt. The participants wore headsets that gave them 360-degree views and sounds, making it seem as if they had been all but dropped into the actual experience. 

“It brought back memories of my travels and … brought back memories of my experience growing up on a farm,” Terry Colli, a former public relations director at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., said of his 2022 experience. Colli, 76, liked swiveling in a chair to get a panoramic view. “That was kind of amazing.” 

Anne Selby, a 79-year-old retired counselor and artist, found VR “stimulated virtually every area of my brain, all of the senses.” 

“I particularly enjoyed the ones dealing with pets because I have a cat and I’ve had pets most of my life,” she said. 

Stanford’s peer-reviewed study, working with the company Mynd Immersive, found that almost 80% of seniors reported having a more positive attitude after their VR session and almost 60% said they felt less isolated socially. The enjoyment lessened somewhat for older respondents whose sight and hearing had deteriorated. Those who found VR less enjoyable were also more likely to dislike technology in general. 

In addition, almost 75% of caregivers said residents’ moods improved after using VR. More than 80% of residents and almost 95% caregivers said talking about their VR experience enhanced their relationships with each other. 

“For the majority of our respondents, it was their first time using virtual reality. They enjoyed it. They were likely to recommend it to others, and they looked forward to doing it again,” said Ryan Moore, a Stanford doctoral candidate who helped lead the research. 

“We are proving VR to be a tool that really does help with the well-being of our elders,” said Chris Brickler, Mynd’s CEO and co-founder. The Texas-based company is one of a handful that specializes in virtual reality for seniors. “It is far different than a two-dimensional television or an iPad.” 

Residents with dementia

Separate from the study, John Knox Village uses virtual reality in its unit that houses seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. It helps spur memories that lead to conversations with caregivers. 

“It is like they come back to life when they tell their story.” said Hana Salem, the facility’s meaningful-life coordinator. She said others who don’t talk much perk up when given a VR experience putting them in nature. 

“They’ll start laughing and saying, ‘Ooh, I’m going to catch the butterflies,’ ” Salem said. Catching butterflies is also part of a game Mynd developed that helps seniors enhance their mobility and flexibility as they stand and reach for objects. 

“It’s more fun for these seniors to come in and catch butterflies and work on shoulder rehab than it is to go pick up a weight,” Brickler said. 

Brickler said his company’s systems will soon attach to Google Earth, so seniors can virtually visit neighborhoods where they lived, schools they attended and places they have visited, sparking further conversations with caregivers. 

Such virtual visits “can bring back a tremendous amount of joy, a tremendous amount of memories. And when the therapist or the other caregiver can work with that older adult and talk through things we see, we definitely see that it provides an uplift,” Brickler said. 

The company has worked on the biggest complaints seniors in the study had about VR — the headsets were too heavy, the heat they generated made their foreheads sweat, and sometimes the experience created nausea, he said. The new headsets weigh about 6 ounces (189 grams) instead of a pound (454 grams), they have a built-in fan for cooling, and the videos aren’t as jumpy. 

The findings that seniors in their 80s and 90s enjoy VR less than those in their 70s might lead to changes for them, such as requiring less neck rotation to see all of the scenery and making the visuals bigger, Moore said. 

On a recent afternoon at John Knox, a handful of seniors who live independently took turns again using virtual reality. Pete Audet experienced what it would be like to fly in a wingsuit, soaring over show-capped mountains before landing in a field. 

“Oooh, running stop!” exclaimed Audet, a 76-year-old retired information technology worker. He thinks other seniors “will really enjoy it. But they just need to learn how to use it.” 

His wife, Karen, “played” with puppies and was so entranced by her virtual walk around Paris that she didn’t hear questions being asked of her. 

“I was there. But I was here!” said Karen Audet, an 82-year-old retired elementary school teacher. 

Farrell, the retired Army computer expert, said he hopes to live to 100 because he believes the next five years will see momentous change in VR. Still a technology enthusiast, he believes the cost of systems will drop dramatically and become part of everyday living, even for seniors. 

“It is not going to be as elementary as it is now. It is going to be very realistic and very responsive,” he said. “It will probably be connected to your brain.” 

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Private US Moon Lander ‘Alive and Well’ After Rocky Landing

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