Archive For October 14, 2021

United States commits another 17 million COVID vaccine doses to the African Union

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United States commits another 17 million COVID vaccine doses to the African Union

The vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The White House says Thursday that the U.S. will commit 17 million additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union.

Picture Alliance/dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

Picture Alliance/dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

The White House says the United States will donate more than 17 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from its domestic supplies to the African Union.

President Biden made the announcement Thursday as he met with Kenyan Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House, Biden’s first one-on-one meeting with an African leader.

“We’re continuing our shared fight against COVID,” Biden said during the meeting.

The vaccine donation comes on top of the 50 million vaccines doses already donated by the United States to the African Union, according to the White House.

The 17 million J&J vaccines will be available for delivery immediately and will be delivered to the African Union within the coming weeks.

Kenyatta thanked Biden for assisting both Kenya and other African countries, saying that the U.S. has “stepped up” when it comes to vaccine donation and access to vaccines for other countries.

News of Kenya’s 17 million vaccine donation comes after the World Health Organization said last month the African continent was almost 500 million doses short of what is needed to achieve its goal of vaccinating 40% of people by the end of 2021.

“African countries need clear delivery dates so they can plan properly. We also need strong structures set up to ensure that all promises made are promises kept,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa in a statement addressing the shortage.

To date, under half of the African countries that have received COVID-19 vaccines have fully vaccinated only 2% or less of their populations, according to the WHO.

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Adele, ‘Easy On Me’

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Adele, ‘Easy On Me’

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For her first new song in six years, Adele deviates from the expected show-stopping lead single — goodbye, “Hello.” Instead, the determinedly straightforward and achingly honest “Easy On Me” is a slow burn. Produced by frequent collaborator Greg Kurstin, Adele’s return single finds the British singer-songwriter acknowledging internal demons and the damage they’ve inflicted. It’s not a heartbreak anthem as much as a tentatively hopeful ballad from a woman emerging from an emotionally marooned period. Rough with feeling, Adele’s pliant vibrato stretches before leaping over an intense piano progression. “Easy On Me” is a plea: a reminder to oneself and a loved one that giving up isn’t necessarily a failure and that even in our missteps, we’re worthy of tender patience. 30, Adele’s fourth studio album, will be released Nov. 19.

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A Boeing test pilot has been indicted in connection with the 737 Max

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A Boeing test pilot has been indicted in connection with the 737 Max

A line of Southwest Air Boeing 737 jets are parked earlier this year in Everett, Wash.

Elaine Thompson/AP

Elaine Thompson/AP

DALLAS — A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes.

The indictment accuses Mark A. Forkner of giving the Federal Aviation Administration false and incomplete information about an automated flight-control system that played a role in the crashes, which killed 346 people.

Prosecutors said that because of Forkner’s “alleged deception,” the system was not mentioned in key FAA documents, pilot manuals or pilot-training material supplied to airlines.

The flight-control system automatically pushed down the noses of Max jets that crashed in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia. The pilots tried unsuccessfully to regain control, but both planes went into nosedives minutes after taking off. Most pilots were unaware of the system, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, until after the first crash.

Forkner, 49, was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors said he is expected to make his first appearance in court on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. If convicted on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.

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A meteorite crashes through a home in Canada, barely missing a woman’s head

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A meteorite crashes through a home in Canada, barely missing a woman’s head

A scenic view of a lake against the sky at night in British Columbia. Earlier this month, a resident of Golden, B.C., woke up to the sound of a crash and found that a meteorite had landed in her bed.

Nadia Palici/Getty Images

Nadia Palici/Getty Images

Ruth Hamilton had a rude awakening earlier this month when a large meteorite plunged from space, through her roof and landed in her bed.

The resident of Golden, British Columbia, woke up to the sound of a crash and her dog barking.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Hamilton, 66, told the Canadian Press of the Oct. 3 incident that occurred about 11:35 p.m. “I wasn’t sure what to do so I called 911 and, when I was speaking with the operator, I flipped over my pillow and saw that a rock had slipped between two pillows.”

“I didn’t feel it,” she told CTV News in Vancouver. “It never touched me. I had debris on my face from the drywall, but not a single scratch.”

A police officer arrived on the scene, but suspected the object that landed in Hamilton’s bed was from a nearby construction site.

“He called the [construction site] and they said they hadn’t done a blast but that they had seen an explosion in the sky and, right then and there, we realized it was a meteorite,” she told the Canadian Press.

It turns out that the 2.8-pound space rock, about the size of a small cabbage, was part of a meteor shower identified by Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary, and his colleagues. The group said the trajectory of the meteorite that hit Hamilton’s house would have made it visible throughout southeastern British Columbia and central and southern Alberta.

Hamilton said she was in shock after the incident. “The odds of that happening are so small so I’m pretty grateful to be alive,” she said.

Long odds, indeed. “The chances of a meteorite big enough to penetrate a roof and hit a bed are about one and 100 billion per year,” says Peter Brown, a professor and the Canada Research Chair in planetary small bodies.

Brown is appealing to the public in and around Golden “to check their home and business security cameras” for video of the meteor as it streaked across the sky.” He said that it is “vitally important in tracking the origin of this meteor, and by knowing its origin, we’ll have a much better chance at telling a complete story of this incredible astronomical event.”

Ruth Hamilton says she wants to keep the meteorite

After her startling experience, Hamilton handed over the meteorite to scientists to study, but told The New York Times that when they’re through with it, she wants to keep it as a sort of lucky talisman.

But if she ever did decide to sell it, the meteorite might fetch a pretty hefty price, according to Mendy Ouzillou, a member of The Meteoritical Society, who also oversees several enthusiast sites on Facebook and owns Skyfall Meteorites.

Ouzillou tells NPR that a number of factors could determine how valuable a meteorite might be to collectors, but “hitting a car, going through a roof … these meteorites do over time get a mystique about them and increase in value.”

These so-called “hammer stones” that have crashed into something made by humans, are prized, he says.

What a meteorite is made out of can make a big difference, Ouzillou says.

He cautions that valuing such an object as Hamilton’s sight unseen is fraught with caveats. But he says it might fetch a minimum of $40 and $100 per gram, putting it between about $50,000 and $127,000.

But, as Ouzillou notes, it doesn’t seem like she’s willing to part with her lucky meteorite, anyway. “Not everyone who finds a Picasso in their attic wants to sell it,” he says.

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A young, all-women ensemble upends the percussion paradigm

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A young, all-women ensemble upends the percussion paradigm

The percussion ensemble Recap has released its striking debut album, Count to Five.

Jacob Blickenstaff

Jacob Blickenstaff

The story begins in a New Jersey elementary school, where four young girls of color — Aline Vasques, Alexis Carter, Tiahna Sterling and Arlene Acevedo — were all best friends. In middle school they began studying percussion together with Joe Bergen, a member of the Mantra Percussion ensemble. They continued through high school and graduated from Mantra’s Youth Percussion Program. Now, at ages 19 and 20 — still mentored by Bergen — they’ve formed Recap and released Count to Five, an outstanding debut album.

These young women, and their new recording, represent nothing less than a paradigm shift in the field of percussion, where ensembles have long been populated almost exclusively by men. In addition, all the music on Count to Five is by women composers. Acevedo, talking about the new album online, said, “We want to show the world that anyone can do this. We’re young women of color doing this and you can too.”

Each of the six pieces on the album establishes a unique sound world. On Hammers, Sterling doubles as a flutist, deftly negotiating the jagged rhythms that interlock with various sizes of drums played by her colleagues. The music is by Allison Loggins-Hull, who happens to be Sterling’s flute professor at Montclair State University.

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The album is anchored by Lesley Flanigan’s Hedera, a mesmerizing and surprisingly meditative 20-minute work. Recap, on bass drums and tom-toms, lays down a pulsating foundation. Over top, the composer’s voice floats like pastel-colored clouds, increasing in density.

Percussion isn’t only about banging on drums. The album’s title track, by Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón, sounds like you’ve opened up a dusty box of household items — and memories. Playing cards get shuffled, bubble wrap is squeezed, wine glasses are struck and chairs get dragged across the floor while a harmonica repeats a single note. Memory also plays a part in “Samar’s Song” by Mary Kouyoumdjian. Her voice — backed by violin, vibraphone and bass drum – pours out in grieving tones to remember the story of 5-year-old Samar Hassan, whose parents became civilian casualties before her eyes during the Iraq War.

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Two recent Pulitzer-winning composers, Ellen Reid and Caroline Shaw, contribute to Count to Five. Reid’s shimmering Fear / Release twirls like a kaleidoscope of shiny metal, while Shaw looks back in time with the song “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown.” She borrows words from an old 19th century hymn, one that’s also been recorded by the likes of George Jones. But the song assumes a new identity when Recap takes to marimbas, backed with subtle colorings of strings, piano and clarinets by the new music ensemble Transit. Shaw keeps the old-world feeling, but in this rendition the song feels more like an incantation than something to be sung in church.

With this impressive debut, the members of Recap see themselves as role models for other young women interested in percussion. And now, they’re all off to college — but oddly none are majoring in percussion. Still, for the time being, they simply want to continue playing together, strengthening that longstanding bond of music among friends.

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Facebook will adopt new policies to address harassment targeting public figures

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Facebook will adopt new policies to address harassment targeting public figures

The U.S. online social media and social networking service Facebook’s logo is shown on a laptop screen. Facebook has announced changes to its policies on online bullying.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook will expand its current harassment policies to further protect users from abuse and harmful content on the platform.

On Wednesday, the company announced it would ban content that degrades or sexualizes public figures, such as elected officials, celebrities, activists, and journalists. This builds on the company’s current policies that exist to protect ordinary users in the same way.

Facebook said in its announcement that it would remove “severe sexualizing content” and some other types of content used to sexually harass these public figures.

The company said, “Because what is ‘unwanted’ can be subjective, we’ll rely on additional context from the individual experiencing the abuse to take action. We made these changes because attacks like these can weaponize a public figure’s appearance, which is unnecessary and often not related to the work these public figures represent.”

Under its new policy, Facebook will also remove coordinated mass intimidation and harassment that come from multiple users. Those types of targeted harassment campaigns are used to attack government dissidents, the company said.

“We will also remove objectionable content that is considered mass harassment towards any individual on personal surfaces, such as direct messages in inbox or comments on personal profiles or posts,” Facebook said.

To combat those assaults, the social media platform will remove state-linked and state-sponsored organizations using private groups to coordinate mass posting on profiles of government critics.

For example, Manal al-Sharif, a well-known activist who has pushed for women to be able to drive in Saudi Arabia, said in 2018 that she had to delete Twitter and Facebook due to harassment she faced from “pro-government mobs,” according to The Guardian.

Facebook has recently faced criticism in the wake of whistleblower Frances Haugen’s interview and Congressional testimony. In addition to Haugen’s testimony, major reporting by The Wall Street Journal, which used leaked collection documents, suggested that Facebook hid research about its platform’s negative effects on mental health in teenagers.

The company has said that research was taken out of context.

Concerns and allegations still remain over the site’s inability or reluctance to address misinformation.

Haugen has testified that the company stokes division among users by allowing disinformation on the platform to go unchecked.

She has shared her opinion that Facebook’s algorithms could be stoking tensions and fanning ethnic violence, particularly in Ethiopia. The country’s government and Tigray rebels have been engaged in a civil war.

Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine because of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and Tigray rebels. Zecharias Zelalem, a journalist covering the region and its conflict, recently told NPR that “prominent Facebook posters would post unverified, often inflammatory posts or rhetoric that would then go on to incite mob violence, ethnic clashes, crackdowns on independent press or outspoken voices.”

“My fear is that without action, divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are only the beginning,” Haugen told Congress. “What we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the opening chapters of a story so terrifying, no one wants to read the end of it.”

Editor’s note: Facebook is among NPR’s financial supporters.

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Federal judge rejects a government bid to delay Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement

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Federal judge rejects a government bid to delay Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement

A federal judge says work to implement the controversial bankruptcy deal for Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma may continue.

Toby Talbot/AP

Toby Talbot/AP

In a surprise ruling late Wednesday a federal judge in New York allowed work to continue on implementation of a controversial bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin.

The U.S. Justice Department’s bankruptcy watchdog agency had urged Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan to put the brakes on the deal until it was reviewed on appeal.

During a hearing Tuesday, McMahon signaled support for a stay. But in her ruling on Wednesday, she said work on the settlement, valued at between $5 and $10 billion, can go forward.

“Unless someone is lying to me, the only steps being taken … are preliminary and administrative,” McMahon wrote. “No step is being taken that would commence consummation of the plan itself.”

In the past, appeals courts have been reluctant to second-guess federal bankruptcy settlements once they’ve been partially consummated — a procedural roadblock known as “equitable mootness.”

In her ruling, McMahon acknowledged that equitable mootness was a “serious concern” in this case. She ordered supporters of the Purdue Pharma plan to enter written agreements that they won’t try to block an appeal using the equitable mootness argument.

The Justice Department is trying to block the settlement

The Purdue Pharma bankruptcy plan was confirmed by federal bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain last month. The DOJ quickly appealed, as did several states.

During Tuesday’s hearing, McMahon signaled she believes there are significant legal questions raised by the complex settlement that warrant review by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

She pointed in particular to a provision of the deal that would grant immunity from opioid lawsuits to members of the Sackler family who own the drug firm.

In exchange the Sacklers, who say they’ve done nothing wrong, have agreed to pay roughly $3.2 billion from their private estates and trusts. They will also give up control and ownership of Purdue Pharma.

Attorneys for the DOJ argue that agreement violates the U.S. Constitution by stripping people and governments of the right to sue the Sacklers without due process.

“The core issue is the Sackler release … whether it is constitutional,” McMahon said.

Supporters of this bankruptcy plan say it will provide billions of dollars for drug treatment and addiction programs over the next decade.

Work will now continue to create a complex network of trusts and organizations that will eventually distribute that cash.

Oxycontin marketing helped usher in the opioid crisis

This case has emerged as part of a broader legal reckoning over corporate America’s role in the opioid crisis that has embroiled more than a dozen major firms in courtrooms all over the U.S.

Public health experts believe Purdue Pharma’s aggressive and at times illegal marketing of Oxycontin played a key role ushering in the opioid crisis that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Sale of the pain medication generated roughly $10 billion in profits for the Sacklers. Family members who served as executives and board members at Purdue Pharma maintain they did nothing wrong.

Their private firm pleaded guilty twice to federal crimes linked to opioid sales and marketing, most recently in 2020.

It’s unclear when the Second Circuit will take up the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy. Another procedural hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday in the federal bankruptcy court of Judge Robert Drain.

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