Month: June 2017

Brazil’s 16-year-old Baseball Wonder Turning MLB Heads

A prospect with a 94 mph fastball gets a lot of attention, no matter where he is pitching — even when that prospect is a diminutive 16-year-old from a country with little baseball tradition.

Eric Pardinho’s blazing fastball has brought scouts to this city 50 miles west of Sao Paulo in soccer mad Brazil. The 5-foot, 8-inch tall right-hander could get a lot more attention July 2, when Major League Baseball teams can begin signing international players. Pardinho is No. 5 on MLB.com’s list of 30 world prospects to watch.  

 

Pretty impressive for a kid who was introduced to baseball almost by accident.

“I am only here because at 6 years of age I was playing paddleball on the beach and my uncle thought my control could be good for baseball back in Bastos,” he said.

Also throws change, slider

Bastos is a small town outside of Sao Paulo with a sizeable Japanese population. The Japanese began bringing their love of baseball and sushi to Brazil in the early 1900s.

Pardinho, whose mother’s parents are Japanese, started gaining attention last year when he struck out 12 in a win over the powerhouse Dominican Republic at the under-16 Pan Am Games. In September he got two outs against Pakistan — both strikeouts — in a qualifier for the World Baseball Classic, a 10-0 win played in New York City.

The young Brazilian’s changeup and slider have also earned praise from local coaches, who already see at him as a potential national star for baseball’s return to the Olympics in 2020 at Tokyo. At the moment Brazil has only one player in MLB, the Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes.

Since January, more and more visitors have come to watch Pardinho workout at a new MLB-sponsored training center in Ibiuna, another city influenced by baseball-loving Japanese immigrants.

Eager to sign

Pardinho is eager to sign with a team and move to the United States.

“There is a lot that I will only learn when I go,” said Pardinho.

 

The pitcher said his height should not be an issue, though his family members still hope that he will grow more in the next year.

“Some time ago there was an issue with shorter players, but now there are teams that don’t care. It matters more that I have a safe fastball and two more good options, including a curveball that I control well,” he said.

‘He destroys them all’

Other MLB hopefuls agree: facing Pardinho is a huge challenge.

“Pardinho’s curveball is amazing, he is more than fast. His height doesn’t matter because his arm can do wonders,” said third baseman Victor Coutinho, also 16.  

 

Also a pitcher, Heitor Tokar practices with Pardinho every day and believes in his friend’s future in the sport.

“Pardinho doesn’t feel any difference when he throws against players taller than him, he destroys them all,” Tokar said.

Even Pardinho’s coach, Mitsuyoshi Sato, knows the teen is headed for bigger challenges, and protects his arm. Sato pitches the soon-to-be pro no more than two innings at weekend tournaments.  

Room for improvement

 

Pardinho’s father Evandro makes the hour-plus drive from Bastos to check on his son, and Sato makes sure Pardinho is a priority for Yakult training center medics. Pardinho has the support of an orthopedist, a physiotherapist and a fitness trainer. He also has a technical trainer.

“He still has to improve physically and mentally. I don’t want him to do too many fastballs now because I worry about a possible injury,” said Sato. “No arm is prepared to pitch that fast, much less the arm of a kid.”  

 

Sato believes Pardinho has room for improvement in the control of his changeup so he can spare his arm and shoulder.

Pardinho thinks if he has success, he could change baseball in Brazil.

“If I do well, maybe more and more Brazilians, not only those of Japanese heritage, will think of playing on a diamond, too.”

 

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Tsetse Fly’s Weakness May Be Its Symbiotic Bacteria

The fly that carries African sleeping sickness may carry the seeds of its own destruction, according to new research.

Scientists have detailed the unique relationship between the tsetse fly and bacteria in its gut the fly can’t live without.

The tsetse fly spreads African sleeping sickness to humans from wild animals and has caused several major epidemics in the past.

The parasite responsible for sleeping sickness is one of the few pathogens able to pass from the blood into the brain. It disrupts the sleep cycle and leads to mood changes, confusion, tremors and ultimately organ failure.

Researchers have long hoped to take advantage of a number of the fly’s unusual properties. Like mammals, the tsetse fly lactates and gives birth to live young.

The tsetse milk contains bacteria called Wigglesworthia that the mother passes on to its young. Despite having one of the smallest known genomes, Wigglesworthia is a big deal for the tsetse fly. Without it, the fly becomes infertile.

In the report published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Pavia in Italy described a number of ways that the tsetse fly depends on Wigglesworthia. The bacteria supply B vitamins that the fly can’t produce on its own and doesn’t get from blood, its only food source. Without B vitamins, the fly can’t properly nourish its young, and they starve.

Proteins’ roles

The scientists also examined the tissue that houses the bacteria. The fly produces a special protein that guides the bacteria where they are needed. Another protein hides the bacteria from the fly’s immune system.

This leaves the researchers with several attack strategies as they move forward. They could try to produce drugs that target Wigglesworthia directly, or unleash the flies’ immune system on the bacteria, or block one of the several pathways that the bacteria use to support the fly.

“There’s a lot of potential places you could throw a wrench into the works,” study co-author and entomologist Geoffrey Attardo told VOA.  “It’s just finding a place that’s optimal.”

Recent efforts to stem the spread of sleeping sickness have been largely successful. According to the World Health Organization, the number of reported cases fell from almost 40,000 in 1998 to just 2,804 in 2015.

But researchers say it is still important to develop new control methods that are cheaper, easier to deploy and more effective.

“During epidemics, the political will to address this is there, but then when the disease goes away, the control efforts stop,” said Attardo. “Then flies come back in from wild areas, and the cycle starts again. And 20 or 30 years later, you have another epidemic.”

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Chilean Scientists Produce Biodiesel From Microalgae

Biodiesel made from microalgae could power buses and trucks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent, Chilean scientists said, possibly curbing pollution in contaminated cities like Santiago.

Experts from the department of Chemical Engineering and Bioprocesses at Chile’s Catholic University said they had grown enough algae to fragment it and extract the oil which, after removing moisture and debris, can be converted into biofuel.

“What is new about our process is the intent to produce this fuel from microalgae, which are microorganisms,” researcher Carlos Saez told Reuters.

Most of the world’s biodiesel, which reduces dependence on petroleum, is derived from soybean oil. It can also be made from animal fat, canola or palm oil.

Saez said a main challenge going forward would be to produce a sufficient volume of microalgae. A wide variety of fresh and salt water algaes are found in Chile, a South American nation with a long Pacific coast.

The scientists are trying to improve algae growing technology to ramp up production at a low cost using limited energy, Saez said.

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Trump Revives National Space Council, to Be Led by Pence

President Donald Trump is forming a National Space Council to be led by Vice President Mike Pence.

 

The president signed an executive order Friday to revive a council last in place in 1993.

 

Trump says the announcement sends a clear signal to the world about the United States’ leadership in space. He says space exploration would help the economy and national security.

 

Members of the council are to include the secretaries of state, defense, commerce, transportation and homeland security, as well as the head of NASA, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the national security adviser and the director of national intelligence.

The council will also draw on insights from scientists and business leaders.

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Research: In a Warming Climate, the Poor Get Poorer

Climate change will have an impact, not just on the temperature, but on the economy, according to a new analysis. A group of researchers has just released a study focused on the future economic effects of climate change in the U.S. Using six different economic variables, the team is predicting, with county by county accuracy, how a warming climate will rapidly change American society over the next century. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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India to Rollout Momentous Tax Reform, But Many Fear Rocky Transition

India is set to rollout a momentous tax reform at midnight Friday that will transform the country of 1.3 billion people into a single market.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) will replace an entanglement of more than a dozen confusing levies with a single tax and bring down barriers between states.

But the transition is bringing upheaval. The new tax has sparked strikes, protests and concerns it could disrupt many businesses unprepared for a leap into the digital economy.

In markets across the country, confusion and chaos prevail among millions of small shopkeepers and traders, who have for decades maintained records in dusty ledgers and issued paper receipts to customers. Some are hurriedly investing in computers as new rules require all but the smallest businesses to submit online taxes every month.

Calculator to computer

Suresh Kumar, who runs a family owned store in a bustling neighborhood market in New Delhi, has never operated a computer and does not have an Internet connection in his shop. His customers mostly pay in cash and a calculator on his counter is the only modern gadget he has used since he opened this shop 47 years ago.

“How will I pay the salary of an accountant? I can barely cover the costs of these three men who help me,” Kumar said, pointing out that stores like his run on wafer-thin profit margins to stay in business.

The archaic accounting systems that were the method of operation of thousands of shops and traders also kept them out of the formal economy.

But as GST draws them into the tax net, government revenues are expected to get a huge boost in a country where tax compliance has been very low.

​Growing pains

The government agrees there will be growing pains due to the scale of the task ahead but points to long-term advantages. Over time, the new tax is expected to add about 2 percent to gross domestic output and vastly improve business efficiencies in the world’s fastest growing economy.

Economists say the GST will be a benefit for manufacturers, because it will free up domestic trade by cutting through a gigantic bureaucracy that involved a myriad of tax inspectors and checkpoints at state borders.

At the moment, trucks transporting goods lose an estimated 60 percent of transit time as they wait at state borders. Paying bribes was a fact of life accepted by businesses.

The tax will also make India’s $2 trillion economy more attractive to investors as it makes the economy more transparent.

More time needed

But in recent weeks many businesses have called for a postponement of the July 1 rollout, saying they did not get enough time to prepare.

K.E. Raghunathan, president of the All India Manufacturers Organization, said businesses need more time to adjust.

“The way it is being implemented, it is bound to create lots of chaotic conditions,” he said.

Underlining concerns of millions of small and medium manufacturers, he said, “they neither have the wherewithal to understand the sudden implementation and if they approach chartered accountants or consultants, it costs lots of money.”

A big concern is that the GST being rolled out by India is far more complex than that introduced by other countries where a single rate prevails. There will be four layers of taxation with rates of 5, 12, 18 and 28 percent.

Manufacturers and traders complain the different levels are creating confusion.

More than 50,000 textile traders went on strike this week. Thousands of other traders shut businesses Friday.

Many big and small retailers worried about the switchover have been offering massive discount sales across the country to get rid of their inventories.

Government pushes ahead

But the government has brushed aside concerns about businesses not being prepared for the switchover. 

“If he is still not ready, then I am afraid he does not want to be ready,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently as he rejected calls for a delay of the rollout.

Businesses say the tax rollout is the second disruption they have faced, coming months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s radical move to scrap 86 percent of the country’s currency, which slowed the economy.

As customers pour into his shop to buy stationery and other items, New Delhi shopkeeper Vimal Jain wonders whether he will handle customers or enter transactions in a computer starting Saturday. 

“Now this is another headache,” he said. “We had barely begun to recover from demonetization and now this sword hangs over our head.”

The tax will be ushered in at a grand midnight ceremony in parliament, but even that has become contentious. Calling it a “publicity stunt,” the main opposition Congress Party and several other parties have said they will boycott the special session.

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In the Age of Smart Devices, How to Protect Yourself from Surveillance, Abuse?

As technology has become part of our daily life, it’s increasingly been used to intimidate victims of domestic violence. In Australia, an organization is helping victims discover smart devices abusers might be using to invade their privacy and control them from afar. As Faiza Elmasry has the story. VOA’s Faith Lapidus narrates.

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Experiencing Hurricane-Force Wind

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has arrived. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there’s a 45 percent chance that this year’s activity will be above normal, with up to four major hurricanes. VOA’s George Putic visited the wind tunnel at the nearby University of Maryland to experience the hurricane-strength wind and check out the latest in the science of predicting the stormy weather.

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US Growth in First Quarter Better Than Expected, Global Outlook Improves

U.S. economic growth in the first quarter of 2017 was better than expected but not by much. The Commerce Department says U.S. GDP, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the country, grew 1.4 percent from January to March, 0.2 percent faster than the previous estimate. But many analysts believe U.S. growth will improve in the second quarter. And growth prospects for the global economy are the best they’ve been in six years. Mil Arcega has more.

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Preterm Births in US Increase for a Second Year 

New government data show the health of pregnant women and babies in the U.S. is getting worse, and a report by the National Center for Health Statistics shows the number of babies born prematurely has been increasing since 2014.

Preterm American births increased in 2016 and 2015 after seven years of steady declines. Prematurity rose by 2 percent in 2016 and by 1.6 percent the year before.

Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, a nonprofit U.S. group that works to eliminate prematurity and birth defects, called the increase “an alarming indication that the health of pregnant women and babies in our country is heading in the wrong direction.”

Expand health care

Stewart called on Washington to expand access to quality prenatal care and promote proven ways to help reduce the risk of preterm birth. Noting that the U.S. Senate is considering a health care bill that many Americans believe would reduce health benefits for poor families and change coverage for maternity and newborn care, Stewart said now “is not the time to make it harder for women to get the care they need to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.”

In the U.S., about 400,000 babies born each year before the 37th week of pregnancy are considered preterm. No one knows all the causes of prematurity, but researchers have discovered that even late-term “preemies” face developmental challenges that full-term babies do not. Several studies show that health problems related to preterm births persist through adult life, problems such as chronic lung disease, developmental handicaps and vision and hearing losses.

African-American rates

Research also shows that African-American women are 48 percent more likely to bear a child prematurely than all other women. And African-American infants born with birth defects are much more likely to face severe outcomes, compared to other U.S. newborns.

African-American women in general are worse off than low-income white women, Stewart said.

“We want to make sure that all babies have access to opportunities to be delivered at full term,” she told VOA, “that mothers have the opportunity to have healthy pregnancies and deliver their babies full term, and we know we must do a much better job in African-American and Hispanic communities and in other communities of color,” to make sure that solutions are available.

The report from the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that preterm rates rose in 17 of the 50 U.S. states, and that none reported a decline.

The incidence of low birth weight, a risk factor for some serious health problems, also rose for a second straight year in 2016. Again, rates of low birth weight babies were higher for African-Americans than for other racial groups.

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