Day: April 14, 2017

Lady Gaga Will Make History as Female Headliner at Coachella

Lady Gaga will make history when she performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival this weekend, marking a decade since a solo woman has been billed as a headliner on the prestigious musical stage.


Beyonce had been slated to headline the festival in Indio, California, but backed out because she’s pregnant with twins. Bjork was the last solo female to headline Coachella in 2007, so it begs the question: Why has it taken so long?


Women have always performed at Coachella, which began Friday, since it was launched in 1999. In the last few years the number of female performers has grown, including acts that blend alternative and pop, such as Sia and Tegan & Sara, to mega genre-mashers like M.I.A., Janelle Monae and Santigold.


Coachella is known as the festival for cool kids — and musicians. That leaves little to no room for acts that dominate Top 40 radio, where women have a strong presence, from Katy Perry to Rihanna.


Halsey, the Grammy-nominated singer who is readying her second alternative album and had one of last year’s biggest pop hits with “Closer” alongside the Chainsmokers, performed at Coachella last year. The 22-year-old said women who perform alternative music are often billed as pop artists because of their sex.


“Festivals like Coachella, they pride themselves on being part of the counterculture, being tastemakers, upholding themselves to a certain standard of the artists that they include, and I think one of the problems is that female artists are so often tainted as pop artists even when they don’t necessarily intend to be,” Halsey said. “Female artists can put out the same style of a record as a male artist and when a male artist does it, it has a certain type of dignity, it has a certain type of edge … as soon as a woman puts out a record of the same caliber, it’s immediately filed as a pop record no matter what.”


Halsey said it’s something she’s experienced in her own career with the success of “Closer.”


“It was this giant pop record and immediately I was a pop artist even though I put out an alternative album, I played alternative festivals and I was on alternative radio,” she said. “As soon as [you] do one pop record it’s like the kiss of death for a female artist sometimes.”


Gary Bongiovanni, CEO of concert trade publication Pollstar, said he didn’t think the gap between male and female headliners at Coachella was calculated.


“I don’t see that there’s any sexism. There’s nothing more than trying to put together a bill of artists that the public wants to see. And we live in a world where a significant majority of the acts are either male or male-fronted bands versus females or female-fronted bands,” he said. “If you look at the level of business all of those artists do and you try to cobble together a lineup that’s going to be appealing, it’s difficult, and there are a lot of the female acts that may not lend themselves to performing in front of 60,000 or 80,000 people in an open field, versus headlining an area or more likely a theater.”


In last year’s Pollstar chart of the 100 top-grossing North America tours, women made up about 15 percent of the list, which was dominated by male acts and male-fronted bands. Only two women cracked the Top 10: Beyonce was No.1 and Adele came in fifth.


Coachella is sold out before the lineup is announced, so the festival has the luxury of picking performers instead of relying on acts to help sell tickets.


Along with Gaga, this year’s headliners include Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar, who released his hotly anticipated new album Friday. Some of the female performers include Lorde, Banks, Tove Lo, Kehlani, Nao, Kiiara and Bishop Briggs. Yukimi Nagano, who fronts Swedish band Little Dragon, is returning to Coachella for a third time.


Nagano said she was surprised that it’s been 10 years since a woman headlined the festival, adding: “I think it’s a really positive thing.”


Jason White, executive vice president of marketing at Beats by Dre, said the company is purposely, and exclusively, giving attention to women at the festival: Their space at Coachella will only feature female performers, including Erykah Badu, DJ Kiss, Ana Calderon, JCK DVY and Jasmine Solano.


“I think it really meshes incredibly well with what’s going on with Coachella because you do have Gaga, we’re excited about seeing Kehlani [and] there’s some really solid performers this year,” he said.


Halsey, who spoke over the phone Thursday as she drove to the desert to watch Coachella as a fan, said she was thrilled to see Gaga take the stage. She said the recent Super Bowl halftime performer is one of those pioneering female acts that haven’t been boxed into a genre, though she knows “the extremes [Gaga] has to go to maintain that counterculture are much greater than that of what a male artist has to do.”


“Drake is still considered a rap/rhythm artist even though he is essentially a pop artist when you look at the decisions that he makes and the climate that kind of surrounds his projects,” Halsey said.


“And when you have a female artist in the same lane, they get written off as a pop artist simply because they’re female, simply because the conversation with them, it goes to fashion, makeup or whatever, and those are questions and comments that don’t surround the brand and surround the career of a male artist.”


Julian Lennon Honors Mom, the Environment in Children’s Book

Julian Lennon is looking to nurture a new generation’s commitment to the environment, with a little help from a white feather.


The firstborn son of the late John Lennon has co-authored “Touch the Earth,” a picture book for kids as young as 3 about the world’s water problems, from polluted oceans to the need for clean drinking water in the developing world.


Out later this month, the book from Sky Pony Press has a group of kids loaded into a plane called the White Feather Flier as they span the globe and learn about the need for filtration, irrigation and ocean life protection. With illustrations created both by hand and computer, it’s the first of three children’s books he plans, in line with the environmental and humanitarian work of his White Feather Foundation.


“We’ve failed miserably in looking after our environment. I think this is a great way to approach children into realizing what’s at stake, and to help educate and help them make decisions about the right things to do for the future,” Lennon said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “It’s for those with inquiring minds who are asking why?”


Lennon has taken on environmental issues in song, including his 1991 “Saltwater,” and in film, including the 2006 documentary “Whaledreamers,” covering a gathering of indigenous and tribal leaders that explores connections among whales, dolphins and humanity.


Appealing to the next generation of prospective eco-warriors grew out of his friendship with co-writer Bart Davis after the two put aside plans — for now — for the 54-year-old Lennon to write a biography. But he hasn’t completely abandoned the idea.


“I feel time’s marching on, you know. A lot of my friends and people I know are popping their clogs,” Lennon laughed. “You know, who knows what’s next. It’s in the cards in the next few years, absolutely, before it’s too late.”


So what’s up with the white feather for Lennon, the former Beatle’s son with his first wife, Cynthia? He shares the story at the back of the book.


“On the odd occasion when I saw dad he mentioned once that should he ever pass, a way he would let me know that he was OK, or that we were all going to be OK, would be in the form of a white feather,” Lennon explained. “I thought that quite peculiar. I told mum about it, too, and we just sort of went on with life.”


Later, while on tour in Australia, he was presented with a white swan feather by an aboriginal tribal elder of the Mirning people.


“It was a freaky moment, but one I took to heart immediately,” he said. “I realized that this was about stepping up to the plate now and, you know, I can sing all I want about this stuff but am I actually going to do something about it? So I spent 10 years making a documentary about the Mirning people.”


It’s also when he established his foundation, visiting Ethiopia with the head of a clean water initiative and touring schools and health clinics in Kenya. A portion of the books’ proceeds will go the foundation, which now does a range of work, including providing scholarships for girls in Kenya.


Lennon’s father was shot to death in 1980. His mother died two years ago of cancer at age 75. Her loss remains tender. Lennon dedicates the book to Cynthia, and he established the Kenya scholarships in her name.


“I talk to her every night, pretty much,” Lennon said. “She has given me the strength to carry on. Where I’m at at the moment, I feel very strong, very zenlike. I just want to do the right thing. To try to continue to be the best that I can be. That was all based around wanting to make her proud. I try to continue all the work that I do in her name.” 


Hackers Release Files Indicating NSA Monitored Global Bank Transfers

Hackers released documents and files Friday that cybersecurity experts said indicated the U.S. National Security Agency had accessed the SWIFT interbank messaging system, allowing it to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks.

The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity, said Shane Shook, a cybersecurity consultant who has helped banks investigate breaches of their SWIFT systems.

The documents and files were released by a group calling themselves the Shadow Brokers. Some of the records bear NSA seals, but Reuters could not confirm their authenticity.

The NSA could not immediately be reached for comment.

Shook said criminal hackers could use the information released Friday to hack into banks and steal money in operations mimicking a heist last year of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank.

“The release of these capabilities could enable fraud like we saw at Bangladesh Bank,” Shook said.

The SWIFT messaging system is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day. Belgium-based SWIFT said Friday that it had no evidence that the main SWIFT network had been accessed.

It was possible that the local messaging systems of some SWIFT client banks had been breached, SWIFT said in a statement, which did not specifically mention the NSA.

“We have no evidence to suggest that there has ever been any unauthorized access to our network or messaging services,” SWIFT said in a statement to Reuters.

When cyberthieves robbed the Bangladesh Bank last year, they compromised that bank’s local SWIFT network to order money transfers from its account at the New York Federal Reserve.

Contents of documents

The documents released by the Shadow Brokers on Friday indicate that the NSA may have accessed the SWIFT network through service bureaus. SWIFT service bureaus are companies that provide an access point to the SWIFT system for the network’s smaller clients, and may send or receive messages regarding money transfers on their behalf.

“If you hack the service bureau, it means that you also have access to all of their clients, all of the banks,” said Matt Suiche, founder of the United Arab Emirates-based cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, who has studied the Shadow Broker releases and believes the group has access to NSA files.

The documents posted by the Shadow Brokers include Excel files listing computers on a service bureau network, user names, passwords and other data, Suiche said.

“That’s information you can only get if you compromise the system,” he said.

Cris Thomas, a prominent security researcher with the cybersecurity firm Tenable, said the documents and files released by the Shadow Brokers show “the NSA has been able to compromise SWIFT banking systems, presumably as a way to monitor, if not disrupt, financial transactions to terrorist groups.”

Since the early 1990s, interrupting the flow of money from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere to al-Qaida, the Taliban and other militant Islamic groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries has been a major objective of U.S. and allied intelligence agencies.

Mustafa Al-Bassam, a computer science researcher at University College London, said on Twitter that the Shadow Brokers documents show that the “NSA hacked a bunch of banks, oil and investment companies in Palestine, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, more.”

He added that NSA “completely hacked” EastNets, one of two SWIFT service bureaus named in the documents that were released by the Shadow Brokers.

Reuters could not independently confirm that EastNets had been hacked.

EastNets, based in Dubai, denied it had been hacked in a statement, calling the assertion “totally false and unfounded.”

EastNets ran a “complete check of its servers and found no hacker compromise or any vulnerabilities,” according to a statement from EastNets’ chief executive and founder, Hazem Mulhim.

‘Not a drill’

In 2013, documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said the NSA had been able to monitor SWIFT messages.

The agency monitored the system to spot payments intended to finance crimes, according to the documents released by Snowden.

Reuters could not confirm whether the documents released Friday by the Shadow Brokers, if authentic, were related to NSA monitoring of SWIFT transfers since 2013.

Some of the documents released by the Shadow Brokers were dated 2013, but others were not dated.

The documents released by the hackers did not clearly indicate whether the NSA had actually used all the techniques cited for monitoring SWIFT messages.

On Friday, Snowden tweeted that the Shadow Brokers release was “not a drill” and that it shows the NSA was capable of hacking fully updated Microsoft Windows systems.

Several of the alleged NSA hacking techniques identified in the Shadow Brokers documents appeared to target older Windows operating systems, including Windows XP.

That may indicate that the documents, if they are authentic, are older. Microsoft stopped releasing routine security updates for Windows XP in 2014, but some businesses and individual users continue to use Windows XP.

Microsoft said in a statement to Reuters that it was reviewing the matter “and will take the necessary actions to protect our customers.”


Russia Boycotts Kyiv-hosted Eurovision Event Over Contestant Kerfuffle

Russia’s leading state broadcaster has announced plans to boycott the Eurovision 2017 song contest after the host country, Ukraine, barred Russia’s contestant, wheelchair-bound singer Yulia Samoylova, from entering the country.

Kyiv’s decision in late March to ban the 28-year-old Russian paraplegic vocalist stemmed from her June 2015 performance in Crimea, where she appeared without the approval of Ukrainian authorities after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula.

Announcing the boycott Friday, Channel One, the state broadcaster that transmits the competition to large Russian audiences, said event organizers had offered the option of sending a different contestant or having Samoylova perform via video link from Moscow.

“In our view this represents discrimination against the Russian entry, and of course our team will not under any circumstances agree to such terms,” said Yuri Aksyuta, the station’s chief producer for musical and entertainment programs.

The contest organizers also condemned the Ukrainian decision but said the event will go ahead.

In March, a Ukrainian security services official told VOA that the ban on Samoylova was “based solely on the norms of Ukrainian law and national security interests.”

The Kremlin called it political pettiness.

“Practically everyone has been to Crimea; there are hardly any people who haven’t been to Crimea,” said Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Peskov also challenged criticism that Samoylova’s nomination was a deliberately provocative act by Kremlin officials — an attempt to make Kyiv appear cruel for restricting participation of a disabled artist.

“We don’t see anything provocative in this,” Peskov said, explaining that Channel One producers had nominated Samoylova independently.

Despite the high-blown kerfuffle, Ukrainian political analyst Mikhail Bassarab told VOA that Ukraine’s law can’t allow for exceptions.

“On the basis of Ukraine and international law, the Russian contestant violated the law,” he told VOA’s Russian service. “Naturally, anybody, including this particular Russian citizen, should be barred entry into Ukraine. There is nothing personal in this position. We can’t make exceptions … [just because] they were nominated for an international contest or have a disability.”

Politics or entertainment?

Ukrainian political analyst Yaroslav Makitra says Kyiv’s ban touches on a broader range of questions.

“It’s critical to decide what matters to us more, politics or entertainment,” he said. “If it’s politics, then we should have said ‘no’ to hosting Eurovision. … But if we want to promote the Ukraine across the globe, then we need to seek legislative and legal opportunities that would allow the Russian contestants to come to Ukraine.”

Otherwise, he said, Kyiv risks turning Eurovision into a competition of political finger-pointing.

Samoylova, a 2013 runner-up in the Russian version of The X Factor, who also performed at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics, says that if she were permitted to perform, political tensions would be far from her mind.

“I’m simply not thinking about that. It is all out of the mix and it’s not very important,” she said. “I sing and my goal is to sing well, to represent Russia and not to embarrass myself.”

Frank Dieter Freiling, chairman of Eurovision’s steering committee, issued a statement Friday condemning Kyiv’s decision to ban Samoylova on the ground that it violates Eurovision’s ethos as a nonpolitical event.

“However, preparations continue apace for the Eurovision Song Contest in the host city, Kyiv. Our top priority remains to produce a spectacular Eurovision Song Contest.”

Dima Bilan was the last Russian to win Eurovision in 2008. The 62nd international song contest will be held in May in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

Svetlana Cunningham translated from Russian. This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Russian service. Some information is from Reuters.


The iPhone of Cars? Apple Enters Self-driving Car Race

Apple is joining the fiercely competitive race to design self-driving cars, raising the possibility that a company that has already re-shaped culture with its iPhone may try to transform transportation, too.


Ending years of speculation, Apple’s late entry into a crowded field was made official Friday with the disclosure that the California Department of Motor Vehicles had awarded a permit for the company to start testing its self-driving car technology on public roads in the state.


The permit covers three vehicles — all 2015 Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUVs — and six individual drivers. California law requires people to be in a self-driving car who can take control if something goes wrong.


Apple Goes Mobile … In a New Way


Apple confirmed its arrival in the self-driving car market, but wouldn’t discuss its intentions. Its interest in autonomous vehicle technology, however, has long been clear .


The Cupertino, California, company pointed to a statement that it issued in December. “Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems,” the company said then. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation.”


Apple released that statement after Steve Kenner, a former Ford Motor executive who is now Apple’s director of product integrity, notified federal regulators of the company’s interest in self-driving cars in a letter.


Like others, Apple believes self-driving cars could ease congestion and save millions of people who die annually in traffic accidents often caused by drunk or distracted motorists.


Self-driving cars could also be a lucrative new market. And Apple has been searching for its next act for a while, one that will take it beyond its mainstay phones, tablets and personal computers.


A Next Big Thing


Although iPhone’s ongoing popularity has helped Apple remain the world’s most valuable company, the company hasn’t had a breakthrough product since the 2010 debut of the iPad, currently in the throes of a three-year sales slump. The dry spell has raised doubts as to whether Apple lost some of its trend-setting magic with the death of co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.


Apple will be vying against 29 other companies that already have California permits to test self-driving cars. The list includes major automakers, including Ford, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen and Tesla, as well as one of its biggest rivals in technology, Google, whose testing of self-driving cars has been spun off into an affiliate called Waymo.


Since Google began its work on self-driving vehicles eight years ago, Waymo’s fleet of self-driving cars has logged more than 2 million miles on the road.


That means Apple has a long way to catch up in self-driving technology. But it has often been a follower in markets that it eventually revolutionized. It wasn’t the first to introduce a digital music player, smartphone, or tablet before its iPod, iPhone and iPad came out.


Deep Pockets


With $246 billion in cash, Apple also could easily afford to buy technology that accelerates its development of self-driving cars. There has been recurring speculation that Apple might eventually acquire Tesla, which has a market value of about $50 billion. Neither Apple nor Tesla has given any inkling that they’re interested in joining forces, though.


Speculation about Apple’s interest in expanding into automobiles began swirling in 2015 amid media reports that the company had begun secretly working on building its own electric car under the name project “Titan.” Apple never confirmed the existence of Titan, which is now believed to be dead.


‘The Promise’ Brings Tragedy of 1915 Armenian Massacre to Big Screen

Celebrities of Armenian descent including Cher and the Kardashians lent their support this week to “The Promise,” a period drama centered around the massacre of Christian Armenians during World War I in what is now Turkey.

“The Promise,” out in U.S. theaters on April 21, stars Oscar Isaac as an Armenian medical student and Christian Bale as an American foreign correspondent, both of whom fall in love with the same woman.

Their love triangle unfolds as the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the war is followed by the 1915 massacre of Christian Armenians.

“So many people, when confronted with a period film, they tend to ask that question ‘why is this still relevant?'” Bale told Reuters at Wednesday’s red carpet premiere in Los Angeles.

“You only have to look at the news to see sadly how relevant this story still is,” he added.

Terry George, who directed 2004 Oscar-nominated historical drama “Hotel Rwanda,” said shooting “The Promise” coincided with news of Yazidi refugees besieged by Islamic militants in northern Iraq and the mass exodus of Syrians attempting to flee the war-torn country for Europe.

“As we were shooting, we were watching the same events in the same location – people under siege in the mountains and drowning in the Mediterranean,” George said.

The nature and scale of the massacre of Christian Armenians remains a contentious issue.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in partisan fighting beginning in 1915, but denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and that this constituted an act of genocide, a term used by many Western historians and foreign parliaments.

Singer Cher, whose father was Armenian-American, joined reality TV stars Kim and Kourtney Kardashian at the premiere.

“There is something about people when they don’t see other people as human beings, then they objectify and then they can do anything to them,” Cher said about the massacre.

“Westworld” actress Angela Sarafyan, who plays Isaac’s wife in the film and is of Armenian descent, described the role as very personal.

“My great-great-grandparents fled to Syria, Aleppo to survive and to start a family and today, people from Syria, Aleppo leave to other places so they can live,” she said.

“One hundred years have gone by and that is still happening,” she added.


Rian Johnson Debuts Teaser Trailer for ‘The Last Jedi’

Is the Force still strong with Luke Skywalker?


The first trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” dropped on Friday, showcasing a morose and withdrawn Skywalker. The two-minute teaser , unveiled by director Rian Johnson at the “Star Wars Celebration” fan event in Orlando, Florida, offered few clues to the film. But it notably includes Mark Hamill’s iconic hero gravely intoning, “It’s time for the Jedi to end,” from a dark cave.


The trailer whetted the appetites of ravenous “Star Wars” fans who turned out in droves in Orlando and online, where the event was streamed live. Actor Josh Gad, a Disney star from another universe (“Frozen,” “Beauty and the Beast”), hosted a panel including Johnson, producer Kathleen Kennedy and cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and a new addition, Kelly Marie Tran.


“The Last Jedi” picks off where “The Force Awakens” left off, with Rey (Ridley) meeting Luke on a remote island, filmed off the coast of Ireland. Some shots in the trailer also suggested Skywalker training Rey on the island. In “The Force Awakens,” Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren has turned to the dark side after being tutored by Luke.

The presentation was mostly a game of teasing hints about the film while revealing very little about it.


“I actually can tell you some things. A small amount,” said Ridley, laughing. She said the film will go “deep” into Rey’s story and reveal how it can be difficult meeting your heroes — presumably alluding to a cranky Skywalker. “They may not be what you expect,” said Ridley to knowing groans in the crowd.


“The Force Awakens” director and “Last Jedi” producer J.J. Abrams has previously hailed Hamill’s performance in the film, suggesting it could land him an Oscar nomination. Hamill, the most raucously received star on Friday, said he drew on his own experiences for this new chapter in Luke’s life.


“I said: I have to relate to things that are real in my own life to understand where Luke is at this point in his life,” Hamill said.


“The Last Jedi” is due in theaters Dec. 15.


Meet the Rival to the ‘Mother of All Bombs’

The so-called “Mother of All Bombs,” may be the biggest conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal, but it’s not the biggest non-nuclear bomb in the world.

That title goes to Russia’s “Father of All Bombs,” which is reportedly four times heavier than the 10,300-kilogram Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), the official name of the U.S. GBU-43/B.

FOAB is also quite a different kind of bomb. While the MOAB is conventional, the FOAB is thermobaric, meaning it uses oxygen in the atmosphere to increase the damaging effects.

According to Business Insider, the FOAB explodes in midair with a “fuel-air mixture” that, according to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, creates an intense “pressure wave” as well as a vacuum that “ruptures the lungs.”

Even if the fuel does not ignite, it’s highly toxic and likely deadly to anyone coming into contact with it, the DIA wrote.

The blast radius of the FOAB is around 300 meters, with an explosion equivalent to 44 tons of TNT, Reuters reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. military used its MOAB for the first time on the battlefield, dropping it on tunnels in Afghanistan that were reportedly used by Islamic State terrorists.


Ugandan Inventors Invent Better Way to Diagnose Pneumonia

Three university engineering graduates in Uganda are taking on one of the leading killers of young children in Africa – pneumonia. They say the prototype of their invention, a “smart jacket”  they have named Mama’s Hope, can diagnose the illness faster and more accurately than the current medical protocol.

Four-month-old Nakato Christine writhes on a hospital bed, breathing fast. On the other end of the bed is her twin sister, in the same condition.

Nakato coughs as Senior Nurse Kyebatala Loy adjusts the nasal gastric tube.

“They have been put on oxygen because they have difficulty in breathing and the feeding is also difficult because of their fast breathing,” Kyebatala said.

Since January, 352 babies have been admitted with pneumonia to pediatric ward 16 at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala.

Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death for children under five years of age in Africa and south Asia, according to the World Health Organization. In 2015, pneumonia killed nearly a million children worldwide.

A key problem is the challenge involved in diagnosing the disease. The sooner the sick children start receiving antibiotics, the better their chance of survival. But health workers armed with stethoscopes and thermometers can miss the infection in its early stage. Dr. Flavia Mpanga of the U.N. Children’s Fund in Kampala says other methods, like the respiratory timer, can lead to misdiagnosis.

“If you see the respiratory timer, it’s got a ticking mechanism that confuses the community health workers. When they are taking the breathe rates, they confuse the ticking sound of the respiratory timer with the breathe rates and every child is almost diagnosed with pneumonia,” said Dr. Mpanga.

She says over-diagnosis means some children are taking antibiotics they don’t need, which is also a public health problem.

A trio of recent university engineering graduates in Uganda think they have an answer. They have been working with the Mulago School of Public Health to test a prototype of their invention, the smart jacket, called Mama’s Hope.

Two of the inventors, 26-year-old Beseufekad Shifferaw and 25-year-old Brian Turyabagye, gave VOA a demonstration.

“Ahh so…[zipper sound]… the jacket…is placed on the child…first, this goes around the child and then the falcon fastening is placed, and then the flaps are placed…[fade out]”

“This jacket will simply measure the vital signs of pneumonia. That is the breathing rate, the state of the lungs and the temperature,” said Turyabagye. “Now those signs are transmitted to our unit here, through which a health worker can read off the readings, which include cough, chest pains, nausea or difficulty in breathing. With those additional signs and symptoms, they are coupled with the result that has been measured by the jacket and it gives a more accurate diagnosis result.”

For now, it is just a prototype. But the inventors say their tests have shown that the smart jacket can diagnose pneumonia three times faster than traditional exams.

UNICEF has put the team in touch with its office in Copenhagen in charge of innovations to help them advance in the pre-trial stage. Dr. Mpanga sees potential.

“My only hope is that this jacket can reach a commercial value and be regulatory-body approved so that it can help the whole world,” said Dr. Mpanga.

Dr. Mpanga says taking the guess work out of pneumonia diagnosis could save countless lives in the developing world.


What Progress for Parkinson’s Disease?

Shaking, slowness of movement and difficulty talking, those are the most obvious symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The progressive neurological disorder affects the way the brain connects with muscles. It has no cure, and the treatments address only the symptoms. April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Faiza Elmasry has more. VOA’s Faith Lapidus narrates.


CIA Director Defends Secrecy of Intelligence Work

CIA Director Mike Pompeo defended the need for secrecy in United States government agencies tasked with keeping the country safe. In a public discussion Thursday, he warned against celebrating individuals who steal U.S. classified documents and make them public, like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Pompeo said Americans should realize these “whistleblowers” act in their own interest and sometimes in the interest of a hostile country. Zlatica Hoke reports.


Scientists Hunt in Oman Mountains for Clues to Capturing Greenhouse Gas

As humans struggle to control the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet, scientists are searching for natural ways to remove them from the atmosphere. One group of researchers is drilling deep into a mountain range in Oman, looking for answers to how nature turns carbon dioxide gas into rock. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.


US Doctor Arrested in Michigan on FGM Charges

An emergency-room doctor in the U.S. Midwest has been arrested and charged with performing female genital mutilation on girls between the ages of 6 and 8, in the first criminal case brought under a 1996 law that outlawed the practice.

Jumana Nagarwala, a 44-year-old doctor at a hospital in Detroit, Michigan, is accused of performing genital mutilation on young girls as far back as 2005, according to a criminal complaint released Thursday. The U.S. Department of Justice said she “performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims.”

Nagarwala had an initial court appearance before a U.S. magistrate Thursday in Detroit and was ordered detained until Monday, pending a further hearing on the felony charges she is facing, which specifically involve two 7-year-old girls she operated on in February.

Senior officials called the charges “disturbing” and “deplorable,” and said U.S. law-enforcement agencies “are committed to doing whatever is necessary to bring an end to this barbaric practice, and to ensure no additional children fall victim to this procedure.”

Physician denies charges

A preliminary criminal complaint released by the U.S. Department of Justice said Nagarwala told federal agents she knew that performing female genital mutilation is a crime in the United States and denied that she conducted the procedure on anyone.

Nagarwala, who received her medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, has been licensed as a physician in Michigan since 2001; state records show no formal complaints or disciplinary action against her. Her lawyer, Shannon Smith, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

If convicted, Nagarwala faces a fine and up to five years in prison for performing female genital mutilation, also known as FGM. She would be the first person prosecuted under the 1996 law prohibiting FGM.

In the most recent case outlined in the complaint, the FBI, using court-ordered telephone records and video surveillance, tracked two Minnesota mothers and their 7-year-old daughters as they visited Nagarwala at a medical office near Detroit, and where the physician allegedly performed FGM procedures on the girls two months ago.

Examination confirms FGM

One of the children told an investigator this week that they were in Michigan to see a doctor because “our tummies hurt,” and were examined by Nagarwala. The doctor reportedly told the girl she was going to perform a procedure to “get the germs out” of her body.

Doctors who examined the girls this week confirmed that their genital areas were “abnormal” and bore signs of mutilation.

The girls were interviewed by an FBI child forensic expert and identified Nagarwala as the doctor who operated on them. The parents of one of the victims later admitted to the FBI that they had taken their daughter to Nagarwala for a “cleansing” of extra skin.

The hospital that employed Nagarwala apparently was not involved in the case, and the physician was not listed as having any links to the office in Livonia, outside Detroit, where she examined the girls.

Agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, who worked together on the case, said they have identified multiple other incidents where young girls have been victims of FGM allegedly performed by Nagarwala between 2005 and 2007, according to the criminal complaint.

“Female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls,” acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch of the Eastern District of Michigan said in a statement. “The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law.”

Female genital mutilation, sometimes called female circumcision, is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. The practice is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and last year UNICEF estimated that 200 million women alive today in 30 countries — 27 African nations, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen — have undergone the procedure.

Many U.S. women at risk

Although it is illegal, female genital mutilation is practiced in some African diaspora communities in the United States. According to a 2012 study by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, more than 500,000 women and girls were at risk of female genital mutilation or its consequences in the United States, more than three times higher than an earlier estimate based on 1990 census data. The study said the increase was due to rapid growth in the number of immigrants from countries where the procedure is commonly practiced.

In 2012, Congress passed a law making it illegal to transport a girl outside the United States for the purpose of performing FGM.

The practice is rooted in attempts to control women’s sexuality and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty that persist in some communities. It is usually initiated and carried out by women, some of whom see it as an honorable practice, or who fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion.

There are no known health benefits from female circumcision, but a wide range of complications can result: recurrent infections, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth and even fatal bleeding.

A survivor’s story

“When we think of female genital mutilation, we usually think of African cultures and non-Christian religions,” said Renee Bergstrom, an American survivor of genital cutting. “However, my FGM took place in white Midwest America.”

Bergstrom and other women discussed the issue in a video produced by the U.S. State Department and posted online last month.

Until Nagarwala’s arrest, the most high-profile case related to FGM in the United States was that of a father in the state of Georgia. Khalid Adem, an Ethiopian citizen, was deported last month after serving 10 years in prison for using scissors to cut the genitals of his 2-year-old daughter. He was charged with aggravated battery and cruelty to children, not under terms of the federal FGM law invoked in Nagarwala’s case.

VOA’s Victoria Macchi contributed to this story.


Water Out of Thin Air? It Can Be Done, Say Scientists

People living in arid, drought-ridden areas may soon be able to get water straight from a source that’s all around them — the air, American researchers said Thursday.

Scientists have developed a box that can convert low-humidity air into water, producing several liters every 12 hours, they wrote in the journal Science.

“It takes water from the air and it captures it,” said Evelyn Wang, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-author of the paper.

The technology could be “really great for remote areas where there’s really limited infrastructure,” she said.

The system, which is currently in the prototype phase, uses a material that resembles powdery sand to trap air in its tiny pores. When heated by the sun or another source, water molecules in the trapped air are released and condensed — essentially “pulling” the water out of the air, the scientists said.

A recent test on a roof at MIT confirmed that the system can produce about a glass of water every hour in 20 to 30 percent humidity.

Companies like Water-Gen and EcoloBlue already produce atmospheric water-generation units that create water from air.

What is special about this new prototype, though, is that it can cultivate water in low-humidity environments using no energy, Wang said.

“It doesn’t have to be this complicated system that requires some kind refrigeration cycle,” she said in an interview with Reuters.

An estimated one-third of the world’s population lives in areas with low relative humidity, the scientists said. Areas going through droughts often experience dry air, but Wang said the new product could help them still get access to water.

“Now we can get to regions that really are pretty dry, arid regions,” she said. “We can provide them with a device, and they can use it pretty simply.”

The technology opens the door for what co-author Omar Yaghi called “personalized water.”

Yaghi, a chemistry professor at University of California, Berkeley, envisions a future where the water is produced off-grid for individual homes and possibly farms using the device.

“This application extends beyond drinking water and household purposes, off grid,” he said. “It opens the way for use of [the technology] to water large regions as in agriculture.”

In the next few years, Wang said, the developers hope to find a way to reproduce the devices on a large scale and eventually create a formal product. The resulting device, she believes, will be relatively affordable and accessible.