Day: September 16, 2020

Scientists Discover Ancient Fossilized Giant Sperm

Scientists say they have found what may be the oldest specimen of fossilized sperm ever discovered, inside a tiny crustacean trapped in a piece of amber 100 million years ago.The researchers say the discovery in amber from Myanmar’s Kachin province, described in a paper published Wednesday in the science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, provides an extremely rare opportunity to study the evolution of the reproductive process.The scientists suspect the crustacean in which the sperm was found, a newly discovered species of ostracod about 1 millimeter long, was likely covered in amber shortly after mating.They say the sperm cell found in the animal was significant, not only because of the age of the specimen but also because of its size — about one-fifth the size of the entire animal that produced it.The researchers say that while most animals produce huge numbers of tiny sperm, there are still animals that exist today that produce so-called “giant” sperm. Some modern ostracods and species of fruit flies produce sperm many times longer than their bodies.One of the authors of the study, the University of Munich’s Renate Matzke-Karasz, says the most significant aspect of the discovery is that it shows this method of reproduction has been around a very long time.The researchers say it is unclear what evolutionary advantage producing a small number of giant sperm, as opposed to a large number of tiny sperm, may have. While a large sperm might have a better chance of reaching an egg, the reproductive organs of the animal producing them must be large as well, which would require a lot of “biological energy.”Matzke-Karasz says that before this discovery, evolutionary scientists questioned whether animals that developed this type of reproductive system were doomed to extinction. Now, she says, they know they can exist for millions of years. 

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UN Chief: COVID-19 Pandemic ‘Out of Control’

The U.N. Secretary-General warned Wednesday the coronavirus pandemic is “out of control,” and he called for global solidarity in making a future vaccine affordable and available to all.
“The virus is the No. 1 global security threat in our world today,” Antonio Guterres told reporters.
There have been nearly 30 million confirmed cases worldwide of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 936,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which tracks global data on the virus.People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus walk in downtown Madrid, Spain, Sept. 16, 2020.Guterres spoke ahead of Tuesday’s start of the U.N. General Assembly annual debate, which typically draws more than a hundred presidents, prime ministers and other senior officials to New York each year. But due to the pandemic, leaders will send pre-recorded video messages, and side meetings will be held virtually.
The U.N. chief said he will appeal next week for full implementation of his March 23 call for a global cease-fire by the end of this year so all attention could be focused on defeating the virus.
As scientists around the globe race to find an effective COVID-19 vaccine, Guterres cautioned that “there is no panacea” for the pandemic.
“A vaccine alone cannot solve this crisis, certainly not in the near term,” he said. “We need to massively expand new and existing tools that can respond to new cases and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months.”
He emphasized that a vaccine must be affordable and available to all, saying it must be seen as a “global public good.” He expressed concern that conspiracy theories and misinformation are spreading about a future vaccine, which could deter vast numbers of people from being inoculated.
The U.N. chief has been a vocal advocate for climate action.He said the global economic recovery from COVID-19 should be aligned with mitigating climate change and achieving development goals.
“The world is burning,” Guterres said of the warming planet. “Recovery is our chance to get on track and tame the flames.”
The United Nations marks its 75th anniversary this year. It was created in 1945in the aftermath of World War II to prevent another global conflict.
“In this 75th anniversary year, we face our own 1945 moment,” Guterres reflected. “We must meet that moment.” 

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US Sanctions 2 Russians in Crypto Theft Scheme

The U.S. government announced sanctions Wednesday on two Russian nationals for their role in the theft of at least $16.8 million worth of cryptocurrency.In the phishing scheme, which was conducted in 2017 and 2018, Danil Potekhin and Dmitrii Karasavidi allegedly created web sites that looked like legitimate currency exchange sites. Victims would enter their information, which was then used to access real accounts.The two, who were identified by the Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security, then allegedly laundered the stolen cryptocurrencies through multiple virtual currency exchanges using fake profiles.“The individuals who administered this scheme defrauded American citizens, businesses and others by deceiving them and stealing virtual currency from their accounts,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. “The Treasury Department will continue to use our authorities to target cybercriminals and remains committed to the safe and secure use of emerging technologies in the financial sector.”According to the statement, the government seized millions of dollars in virtual currency and U.S. dollars in an account owned by Karasavidi.

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Former Global Athletics Chief Sentenced for Corruption Over Russian Doping Scandal

A Paris court has sentenced former World Athletics chief Lamine Diack to four years in prison on charges of corruption, money laundering and abuse of confidence.  The charges stemmed from a Russian doping scandal, and for accepting Russian money to finance the 2012 election campaign of a Senegalese president.
 
The judgment has 87-year-old Senegalese Lamine Diack, ex-World Athletics, or IAAF chief, serving two years in jail, with an additional two-year suspended sentence. The court also fined him nearly $600,000, the maximum under French law.  
 
Diack’s lawyers say they will appeal what they describe as a profoundly unfair verdict. Either way, Diack appears unlikely to go to jail. The presiding judge predicted a conditional release, given his age.  
 
Diack’s Dakar-based son, Papa Massata Diack, got a tougher sentence in absentia — five years in prison, along with a nearly $1.2 million fine. The younger Diack is accused of overseeing a vast network of corruption as a former IAAF marketing adviser.  
 
Papa Massata Diack refused to attend the Paris trial. Speaking to reporters in Dakar earlier this week, he insisted he was innocent. In addition, an investigation against him is underway in Senegal.  
 
During the Paris trial, the senior Diack also denied corruption. He admitted to slowing the handling of Russian doping allegations, but he said it was to snag lucrative Russian sponsorship deals that would help shore up the organization’s finances.  
 
Furthermore, the senior Diack denied charges of taking Russian funds to finance the successful 2012 election campaign of Senegalese President Macky Sall.   
 
Trial observers say Diack’s testimony was often confusing. One of Diack’s lawyers urged leniency, saying it was important he die in dignity in his native land. Prosecutors argued Diack’s behavior deeply tarnished the IAAF.  
 
A once-powerful figure in the sports world, Diack headed the IAAF for 16 years, before stepping down in 2015. Olympic gold medalist Sebastian Coe took over as head of the organization, which has been renamed World Athletics.  
 

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Software Helps People Waiting in Lines to Social Distance

Indonesia has had more than 220,000 COVID-19 cases and the country still hasn’t reached its peak. Social distancing is an important part of controlling the virus and new technology aims to help people stay safely apart. VOA’s Rendy Wicaksana reports from Bandung, West Java, Indonesia.
Camera: Rendy Wicaksana 
 

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In Europe, Native American History Celebrated During Mayflower Commemoration

Much has been written about the 102 Europeans who crossed the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Much less has been written about the Wampanoag Native American community the Europeans met on the other side. After four centuries, a new exhibition in the place where the ship set sail aims to highlight the largely ignored history of the Wampanoag people.In the year 1620, the Mayflower left the port of Plymouth in southern England and arrived 10 weeks later in what is now the U.S. state of Massachusetts. The story of the religious separatists and colonists has been well documented over the centuries, unlike the experiences of the Wampanoag Native American community that was already living there.An exhibition in Plymouth marking the 400-year anniversary of the Mayflower voyage is putting the history of the Wampanoag front and center.The newly renovated Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship that sailed from England in 1620, sails back to its berth in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Aug. 10, 2020.Steven Peters, a citizen of the Wampanoag tribe who is involved in curating the exhibit in Britain, said the arrival of the Mayflower has historically been told from a European point of view.“We think that once everyone has a chance to listen to all perspectives, and absorb the perspective of both the Europeans and the Native Americans, they can then come to an understanding of what this history was and what those impacts were on the native communities that that unfolding were colonized,” he said.The arrival of the Mayflower is commonly associated with the American tradition of Thanksgiving celebrations, the first of which was – according to history – in 1621 when Europeans and native Americans joined in celebration. But critics say the traditional Thanksgiving narrative overlooks how the arrival of the settlers ultimately meant loss of land, culture and lives for many Native Americans over the centuries that followed.An interior view of the Mayflower II, in Plymouth Mass., Nov. 11, 2008. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel)Peters said working on projects having to do with the history of his ancestors is part of a difficult journey.“Often the history and the stories that that we’re retelling are tragic and there’s a lot of death and sickness. And so, it’s emotional for us,” he said.British curator Jo Loosemore of the Mayflower 400, Legacy and Legend exhibition hopes to fill knowledge gaps.Co-curator Jo Loosemore adjusts a display of the white and purple shells of whelks and quahog, the shells to make a wampum belt by members of the Wampanoag native American people, at the SeaCity museum in Southampton, England, Aug. 13, 2020.There is a wealth of information about the maritime journey, the religious perspective and the separatists’ movement. But she said that for most English people the story only begins in 1620.“What the Wampanoag people have enabled us to see is that the Mayflower certainly wasn’t the first ship to cross the Atlantic with traders or settlers or colonists. And also the story most definitely does not begin in 1620 years for the Wampanoag, you’re talking a 12,000-year civilization and society, a history and the culture,” she said.An estimated 30 million Americans can trace an ancestral connection to the Mayflower. 

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US Charges 5 Chinese Hackers, 2 Malaysian Businessmen in Global Computer Intrusion Campaign

U.S prosecutors announced charges on Wednesday against five suspected Chinese hackers and two Malaysian businessmen in connection with cyber-attacks on more than 100 companies in the United States and abroad.The five Chinese hackers, one of whom allegedly bragged about ties to China’s civilian intelligence service, remain at large. The two Malaysian businessmen, accused of conspiring with two of the hackers to profit from hacks on gaming companies, were arrested in Malaysia on Sept. 14, the Justice Department announced.The Chinese hackers were charged in two separate indictments handed down in August 2019 and August 2020. The Malaysian businessmen were charged in a third indictment returned in August, 2020.U.S. prosecutors alleged the hackers targeted a wide range of entities, including software development firms, computer hardware manufacturers, telecommunications providers, social media companies, video game companies, non-profit organizations, universities, think tanks, and foreign governments, as well as pro-democracy politicians and activists in Hong Kong.”The Department of Justice has used every tool available to disrupt the illegal computer intrusions and cyberattacks by these Chinese citizens,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “Regrettably, the Chinese communist party has chosen a different path of making China safe for cybercriminals so long as they attack computers outside China and steal intellectual property helpful to China.”In addition to charging the suspects, U.S. authorities seized hundreds of accounts, servers, domain names, and command-and-control (C2) “dead drop” web pages used by the defendants to conduct their computer intrusion offenses.The indictments are the latest in a series of charges against suspected Chinese hackers and come as amid growing tensions between the U.S. and China over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, and Hong Kong.President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the spread of the coronavirus and top administration officials have publicly called out China for cyber-intrusions and other alleged misbehavior on the global stage in support of its strategic objectives.In July, Attorney General William Barr accused China of engaging in an “economic blitzkrieg” to supplant the United States as the world’s only superpower, and he warned U.S. businesses not to bow to Chinese pressure in pursuit of profit.

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Celebs Join Instagram ‘Freeze’ to Protest Facebook Inaction

Kim Kardashian West, Katy Perry and Leonardo DiCaprio are among celebrities taking part in a 24-hour Instagram “freeze” on Wednesday to protest against what they say is parent company Facebook’s failure to tackle violent and hateful content and election misinformation.
They were among the high profile names lending their backing to the “#StopHateforProfit” movement’s latest campaign. The movement asks people to put up a message highlighting what they called the damage Facebook does but otherwise refrain from posting on Instagram for a day.
“I can’t sit by and stay silent while these platforms continue to allow the spreading of hate, propaganda and misinformation – created by groups to sow division and split America apart – only to take steps after people are killed,” Kardashian West posted on her Instagram account on Tuesday.
Facebook declined to comment but pointed to recent announcements about what it’s doing to limit the reach on its platform of groups that support violence and its efforts to protect the U.S. election in November.  
With 188 million followers, Kardashian West is one of the most influential people on Instagram and support from her and other big names for the boycott saw Facebook shares slide in aftermarket trading late Tuesday. They were down 1.3% ahead of the market open on Wednesday.
The organizers behind “#StopHateforProfit,” including civil rights groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Color Of Change, had previously led a campaign that got hundreds of companies and groups to join a Facebook advertising boycott in July.  
Ashton Kutcher, Mark Ruffalo, Kerry Washington, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Foxx and Sacha Baron Cohen were among at least two dozen other Hollywood stars supporting the campaign, the organizers said.  
DiCaprio said he was standing with the civil rights groups to call “on all users of Instagram and Facebook to protest the amplification of hate, racism, and the undermining of democracy on those platforms.”  
Social media companies, led by Facebook, are facing a reckoning over what critics call indefensible excuses for amplifying divisions, hate and misinformation on their platforms.

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US House Report: Boeing, FAA Failures to Blame for 737 MAX Crashes

Two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed all 346 passengers and crew aboard were the “horrific culmination” of failures by the planemaker and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a U.S. House panel concluded after an 18-month investigation.
The crashes “were not the result of a singular failure, technical mistake, or mismanaged event,” the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Democratic majority said in its highly critical report released on Wednesday.
“They were the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA.”
The 737 MAX was grounded in March 2019 after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 near Addis Ababa which killed all 157 aboard.
In October 2018, a Lion Air 737 MAX had crashed in Indonesia killing all 189 on board.
“Boeing failed in its design and development of the MAX, and the FAA failed in its oversight of Boeing and its certification of the aircraft,” the report said, detailing a series of problems in the plane’s design and the FAA’s approval of it.
Boeing said it “learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents … and from the mistakes we have made.”
It said it had cooperated fully with the House committee and that revised design work on the 737 MAX had received intensive internal and external review involving more than 375,000 engineering and testing hours and 1,300 test flights.
The FAA said in a statement it would work with lawmakers “to implement improvements identified in its report.”
It added it was “focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organization, processes, and culture.”
The report said Boeing made “faulty design and performance assumptions” especially regarding a key safety system, called MCAS, which was linked to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
MCAS, which was designed to help counter a tendency of the MAX to pitch up, could be activated after data from only a single sensor.
The FAA is requiring new safeguards to MCAS, including requiring it receive data from two sensors, before it allows the 737 MAX to return to service.
The report criticized Boeing for withholding “crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and 737 MAX pilots” including “concealing the very existence of MCAS from 737 MAX pilots.”
The FAA “failed to ensure the safety of the traveling public,” the report said.
Lawmakers have proposed numerous reforms to restructure how the FAA oversees aircraft certification. A Senate committee will take up a reform bill Wednesday.
Lawmakers suggested Boeing was motivated to cut costs and move quickly to get the 737 MAX to market.
“This is a tragedy that never should have happened,” House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio told reporters.
“We’re going to take steps in our legislation to see that it never happens again as we reform the system.”

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Scientists: Climate Change Making Western Wildfires Worse

Fires burning in California are the largest on record. In Washington state, a larger area burned in five days than have burned in any previous year on record save one. And in Oregon, one-tenth of the state’s population was under fire evacuation warnings or orders last week. Scientists say climate change is making fires worse in the American West. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

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