Month: June 2023

Alan Arkin, Oscar-Winning ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ Actor, Dies at 89

Alan Arkin, the wry character actor who demonstrated his versatility in everything from farcical comedy to chilling drama as he received four Academy Award nominations and won an Oscar in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine,” has died. He was 89.

His sons Adam, Matthew and Anthony confirmed their father’s death through the actor’s publicist on Friday. “Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man,” they said in a statement.

A member of Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe, Arkin was an immediate success in movies with the Cold War spoof “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” and peaked late in life with his win as best supporting actor for the surprise 2006 hit “Little Miss Sunshine.” More than 40 years separated his first Oscar nomination, for “The Russians are Coming,” from his nomination for playing a conniving Hollywood producer in the Oscar-winning “Argo.”

In recent years he starred opposite Michael Douglas in the Netflix comedy series “The Kominsky Method,” a role that earned him two Emmy nominations.

“When I was a young actor people wanted to know if I wanted to be a serious actor or a funny one,” Michael McKean tweeted Friday. ‘I’d answer ‘Which kind is Alan Arkin?’ and that shut them up.”

Arkin once joked to The Associated Press that the beauty of being a character actor was not having to take his clothes off for a role. He wasn’t a sex symbol or superstar, but was rarely out of work, appearing in more than 100 TV and feature films. His trademarks were likability, relatability and complete immersion in his roles, no matter how unusual, whether playing a Russian submarine officer in “The Russians are Coming” who struggles to communicate with the equally jittery Americans, or standing out as the foul-mouthed, drug-addicted grandfather in “Little Miss Sunshine.”

“Alan’s never had an identifiable screen personality because he just disappears into his characters,” director Norman Jewison of “The Russians are Coming” once observed. “His accents are impeccable, and he’s even able to change his looks. … He’s always been underestimated, partly because he’s never been in service of his own success.”

While still with Second City, Arkin was chosen by Carl Reiner to play the young protagonist in the 1963 Broadway play “Enter Laughing,” based on Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel.

He attracted strong reviews and the notice of Jewison, who was preparing to direct a 1966 comedy about a Russian sub that creates a panic when it ventures too close to a small New England town. In Arkin’s next major film, he proved he could also play a villain, however reluctantly. Arkin starred in “Wait Until Dark” as a vicious drug dealer who holds a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) captive in her own apartment, believing a drug shipment is hidden there.

He recalled in a 1998 interview how difficult it was to terrorize Hepburn’s character.

“Just awful,” he said. “She was an exquisite lady, so being mean to her was hard.”

Arkin’s rise continued in 1968 with “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” in which he played a sensitive man who could not hear or speak. He starred as the bumbling French detective in “Inspector Clouseau” that same year, but the film would become overlooked in favor of Peter Sellers’ Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” movies.

Arkin’s career as a character actor continued to blossom when Mike Nichols, a fellow Second City alumnus, cast him in the starring role as Yossarian, the victim of wartime red tape in 1970’s “Catch-22,” based on Joseph Heller’s million-selling novel. Through the years, Arkin turned up in such favorites as “Edward Scissorhands,” playing Johnny Depp’s neighbor; and in the film version of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” as a dogged real estate salesman. He and Reiner played brothers, one successful (Reiner), one struggling (Arkin), in the 1998 film “The Slums of Beverly Hills.”

“I used to think that my stuff had a lot of variety. But I realized that for the first twenty years or so, most of the characters I played were outsiders, strangers to their environment, foreigners in one way or another,” he told The Associated Press in 2007.

“As I started to get more and more comfortable with myself, that started to shift. I got one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten from someone a few days ago. They said that they thought my characters were very often the heart, the moral center of a film. I didn’t particularly understand it, but I liked it; it made me happy.”

Other recent credits included “Going in Style,” a 2017 remake featuring fellow Oscar winners Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and “The Kominsky Method.” He played a Hollywood talent agent and friend of Douglas’ character, a once-promising actor who ran an acting school after his career sputtered.

He also was the voice of Wild Knuckles in the 2022 animated film “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Arkin also directed the film version of Jules Feiffer’s 1971 dark comedy “Little Murders” and Neil Simon’s 1972 play about bickering old vaudeville partners, “The Sunshine Boys.” On television, Arkin appeared in the short-lived series “Fay” and “Harry” and played a night court judge in Sidney Lumet’s drama series “100 Centre Street” on A&E. He also wrote several books for children.

Born in New York City’s borough of Brooklyn, he and his family, which included two younger brothers, moved to Los Angeles when he was 11. His parents found jobs as teachers, but were fired during the post-World War II Red Scare because they were Communists.

“We were dirt poor so I couldn’t afford to go to the movies often,” he told the AP in 1998. “But I went whenever I could and focused in on movies, as they were more important than anything in my life.”

He studied acting at Los Angeles City College; California State University, Los Angeles; and Bennington College in Vermont, where he earned a scholarship to the formerly all-girls school.

He married a fellow student, Jeremy Yaffe, and they had two sons, Adam and Matthew.

After he and Yaffe divorced in 1961, Arkin married actress-writer Barbara Dana, and they had a son, Anthony. All three sons became actors: Adam starred in the TV series “Chicago Hope.”

“It was certainly nothing that I pushed them into,” Arkin said in 1998. “It made absolutely no difference to me what they did, as long as it allowed them to grow.”

Arkin began his entertainment career as an organizer and singer with The Tarriers, a group that briefly rode the folk musical revival wave of the late 1950s. Later, he turned to stage acting, off-Broadway and always in dramatic roles.

At Second City, he worked with Nichols, Elaine May, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara and others in creating intellectual, high-speed impromptu riffs the fads and follies of the day.

“I never knew that I could be funny until I joined Second City,” he said.

Chipmaker TSMC Says Supplier Was Targeted in Cyberattack

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. said Friday that a cybersecurity incident involving one of its IT hardware suppliers has led to the leak of the vendor’s company data. 

“TSMC has recently been aware that one of our IT hardware suppliers experienced a cybersecurity incident that led to the leak of information pertinent to server initial setup and configuration,” the company said. 

TMSC confirmed in a statement to Reuters that its business operations or customer information were not affected following the cybersecurity incident at its supplier Kinmax. 

The TSMC vendor breach is part of a larger trend of significant security incidents affecting various companies and government entities. 

Victims range from U.S. government departments to the UK’s telecom regulator to energy giant Shell, all affected since a security flaw was discovered in Progress Software’s MOVEit Transfer product last month. 

TSMC said it has cut off data exchange with the affected supplier following the incident.

FIFA Reveals Social Justice Armbands for Women’s World Cup

FIFA revealed eight different armbands highlighting social causes that sides will be able to wear at the women’s World Cup as world football’s governing body seeks to avoid a row that erupted at last year’s men’s World Cup.

Captains from a number of European countries, including England and Germany, planned to wear a “OneLove” armband in rainbow colors in Qatar in support of LGBTQ rights.

However, they abandoned that stance after being threatened with sporting sanctions just days before the tournament kicked off.

The armband had widely been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

The “unite for inclusion” armband for the women’s World Cup is similar in style to the one outlawed with the words alongside a heart shape in rainbow colors.

Other causes highlighted include gender equality, ending violence against women, hunger and the rights of indigenous people.

Captains will be able to wear a different armband for each match corresponding to the cause being promoted or support one cause for the entire tournament.

“Football unites the world and our global events, such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup, have a unique power to bring people together and provide joy, excitement and passion,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

“After some very open talks with stakeholders, including member associations and players, we have decided to highlight a series of social causes – from inclusion to gender equality, from peace to ending hunger, from education to tackling domestic violence – during all 64 matches at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.”

The women’s World Cup, which will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand, begins on July 20.

Hollywood Actors May Join Writers Strike

Hollywood actors may be on the verge of joining screenwriters in what would be the first two-union strike in the industry in more than six decades, with huge consequences for film and television production. Here is a look at how it could play out, and why it’s happening.

What’s happening with actors’ negotiations?

The contract between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists and the studios, streaming services and production companies that employ them expires Friday night at midnight Pacific time. Unionized actors have voted overwhelmingly to authorize their leaders to call a strike when it does. But that’s hardly a hard deadline. Both sides have indicated a willingness to talk for what may be several days past the expiration, as happened before resolutions were reached in the same negotiations in 2014 and 2017.

Reports have said the talks have been productive. But some actors have expressed worry that their leaders may not be pushing hard enough. More than 1,000 of them, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bob Odenkirk, have added their names to a letter to negotiators saying they are willing to strike, and are concerned they are “ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not.” The letter says, “this is not a moment to meet in the middle.”

The guild, led by president and former “Nanny” star Fran Drescher, represents over 160,000 screen actors, stunt performers, broadcast journalists, announcers, and hosts, but a strike would involve only actors working on television shows and films.

What do the actors want?

Many of the same issues that drove writers to strike are on the table for actors, including what the guilds say is shrinking compensation brought on by a streaming ecosystem in which royalty payments are no longer tethered to the popularity of a film or TV show. A role or a writing credit on a show that became a hit with a long life in reruns is no longer the cash cow that it once was. And the unions say inflation is outpacing the scheduled pay bumps within their contracts.

For both scribes and performers, the move to streaming and its ripple effects have also meant shorter seasons of shows with longer gaps between them, and therefore less work.

And like the writers, actors fear the threat of unregulated use of artificial intelligence. SAG-AFTRA said in a memo to members that the burgeoning ability of AI to recreate the performances of its members is “a real and immediate threat” that it wants to head off.

Have Hollywood actors gone on strike before?

Movie and TV actors last went on strike for three months in 1980, though actors in broadcast commercials have gone on strike twice since then. Overall, they have had far more labor peace than screenwriters, whose walkouts have been far more frequent. That includes the current standoff, in which 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America have been on strike for nearly two months, with no end in sight.

In 1960 the actors’ union, led by then-SAG president and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan, went on strike for six weeks that fell in the middle of a five-month writers’ strike, the only time two major Hollywood unions walked off the job at the same time.

What effect would the combined strikes have for viewers?

The writers’ strike had an almost instant effect on late-night network talk shows, including NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and CBS’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” which all went on hiatus immediately. “Saturday Night Live” axed its last three episodes of the season.

In the two months since, many scripted television series have also shut down, including Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” Max’s “Hacks,” Showtime’s “Yellow Jackets,” and Apple TV+’s “Severance.” Some movies have reportedly also been paused.

Actors joining writers would force nearly every other show or film that hasn’t already been shot into a similar shutdown. Forthcoming seasons of television shows would be delayed indefinitely, and movie releases will be pushed back.

Streaming menus on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video will show no immediate differences, though lovers of those outlets’ original series would eventually have to wait longer for their favorites to return.

Exceptions would be productions taking place outside the United States. And reality shows, game shows and most daytime talk shows will likely be unaffected.

The two strikes are also casting doubt on the viability of the Emmy Awards, whose nominations are scheduled to be announced on July 12 before a September ceremony, though the Tony Awards and BET Awards shows managed to go on despite the writers’ strike.

What’s happening with the writers?

The writers’ strike has seen persistent picketing and some major rallies for two months, but so far, no movement. There are no current negotiations happening between the strikers and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, streamers and production companies in all the industry’s union negotiations.  

Along with the issues they have in common with actors, writers are especially concerned with the shrinking staffs that are used on shows, which they call “mini rooms.” They have meant much less work, and far fewer guarantees of future work.


Deadly Heat Waves Like the One in the Southern US Becoming More Frequent and Enduring

Heat waves like the one that engulfed parts of parts of the South and Midwest and killed more than a dozen people are becoming more common, and experts say the extreme weather events, which claim more lives than hurricanes and tornados, will likely increase in the future.

A heat dome that pressured the Texas power grid and killed 13 people there and another in Louisiana pushed eastward Thursday and was expected to be centered over the mid-South by the weekend. Heat index levels of up to 112 degrees (44 Celsius) were forecast in parts of Florida over the next few days.

Eleven of the heat-related deaths in Texas occurred in Webb County, which includes Laredo. The dead ranged in age from 60 to 80 years old, and many had other health conditions, according to the county medical examiner. The other two fatalities were Florida residents who died while hiking in extreme heat at Big Bend National Park.

Scientists and medical experts say such deaths caused by extreme heat will only increase in the U.S. each summer without more action to combat climate change that has pushed up temperatures, making people especially vulnerable in areas unaccustomed to warm weather.

“Here in Boston we prepare for snowstorms. Now we need to learn how to prepare for heat,” said Dr. Gaurab Basu, a primary care physician and the director of education and policy at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Planting more trees to increase shade in cities and investing in green technology like heat pumps for home cooling and heating could help, Basu said.

Extreme heat already is the deadliest of all weather events in the United States, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and flooding.

“Heat waves are the deadliest because they affect such large areas and can go on for days or weeks,” said Joellen Russell, a climate scientist who teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson and is currently on a Fulbright scholarship in Wellington, New Zealand. “And they catch people by surprise.”

Phoenix, the hottest large city in America, faces an excessive heat warning headed into the weekend. Dangerously hot conditions are forecast from Saturday through Tuesday, including temperatures of 107-115 degrees (41.6-46.1 Celsius) across south-central Arizona.

“Arizona already understands heat to a certain extent, but it’s getting hotter for us, too,” said Russell. “That means a lot of people will continue to die.”

Counting heat deaths has become a science in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes metro Phoenix. The county tallied 425 heat-associated deaths last year, a 25% increase over 2021.

Located in the Sonoran Desert, Maricopa County counts not just deaths due to exposure but also deaths in which heat is among several major contributing factors, including heart attacks and strokes.

The county’s Office of the Medical Examiner updates suspected and confirmed heat-associated deaths every week through the warm season, which runs from May through October. So far this season, there have been six heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County, home to nearly 4.5 million people.

Dr. Sameed Khatana, a staff cardiologist at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said deaths in which heat contributed significantly to fatalities from causes like heart failure should also be considered to provide a more complete picture.

Khatana participated in research published last year that suggested that from 2008 and 2017 between 13,000 to 20,000 adult deaths were linked to extreme heat, about half due to heart disease.

Older people and those with diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other serious health conditions are most at risk, he said.

“Hurricanes, flooding and wildfires are very dramatic,” said Khatana. “Heat is harder to see and especially affects people who are socially isolated or living on the margins.”

The city of Phoenix’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation has opened summertime shelters for homeless people, operates cooling centers in libraries and other community spaces to help people get out of the sun and distributes bottled water, hats and sunscreen. The city also has a “Cool Callers” program with volunteers dialing vulnerable residents who ask to be checked on during hot periods.

Even the Phoenix Zoo is taking measures to cool off the monkeys, big cats and rhinos, spraying them with water, delivering frozen treats, and providing shaded areas and cooled water pools.

Extreme heat deaths are a global problem.

Mexican health authorities this week said there have been at least 112 heat-related deaths so far this year, acknowledging for the first time the deadliness of a recent heat wave that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador previously dismissed as an invention of alarmists.

The report released Wednesday also shows a significant spike in heat-related fatalities in the last two weeks. So far this year, Mexico’s overall heat-related deaths are almost triple the figures seen in 2022.

A flash study released this spring said record-breaking April temperatures in Spain, Portugal and northern Africa were made 100 times more likely by human-caused climate change.

Deaths and widespread hospitalizations were caused by searing heat wave that broiled parts of southern Asia in April with temperatures of up to 113 degrees (45 Celsius) was made at least 30 times more likely by climate change, according to a rapid study by international scientists.

Australia to Use Psychedelic Drugs as Approved Medicines

SYDNEY – Australia on Saturday will become one of the first countries to recognize psychedelic drugs as medicines. In February, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia’s medical regulator, sanctioned use of psychedelics for some mental health conditions. Experts agree that psychedelic-assisted therapies in Australia are in their infancy.

Starting Saturday, authorized psychiatrists in Australia will be able to prescribe methylenedioxy methamphetamine – MDMA, the active ingredient in such party drugs as ecstasy or molly — to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

They will also be allowed to prescribe psilocybin, a compound found in psychotropic “magic” mushrooms, to treat depression that has not responded to other therapies.

Susan Rossell, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Swinburne University in Melbourne, is conducting one of Australia’s biggest clinical trials of psilocybin. Preliminary results show significant improvements in some patients’ mental health while others have shown no signs of getting better.

Rossell told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that psychedelic therapies research is still in its early stages.

“We have been stuck for very many years in terms of mental health treatments for people with treatment-resistant conditions,” she said. “So, the fact that psychedelic medicines do seem to be working for a number of people is fantastic. However, they are not working for some people as well, and that is where I would note a great deal of caution in this field at the moment.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has issued new guidelines for its members’ use of psychedelic drugs. They must only be administered in a hospital or clinic, where two psychotherapists must stay with the patient for six to eight hours to ensure their safety.

The organization has said that with a lack of mental health professionals in Australia, it is likely that few providers will be able to meet these conditions.

Other experts fear that the new regulations that permit the use of MDMA and psilocybin in Australia have been approved too quickly. They believe there is potential for psychedelic substances to provoke anxiety, panic or cause psychological damage to patients.

Australia’s official medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, approved the use of psychedelics to treat some mental health conditions in February, making the country one of the first in the world to recognize the drugs as medicines.

In announcing its decision, the regulators said the “benefits to patients and public health … outweigh the risks.”

Chinese, Russian Firms to Build Lithium Plants in Bolivia

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – Chinese and Russian companies will invest more than $1.4 billion in the extraction of lithium in Bolivia, one of the countries with the largest reserves of the mineral used in electric car batteries, the government in La Paz said Friday.  

China’s Citic Guoan and Russia’s Uranium One Group — both with a major government stake — will partner with Bolivia’s state-owned YLB to build two lithium carbonate processing plants, Bolivian President Luis Arce said at a public event.  

Lithium is often described as the “white gold” of the clean-energy revolution, a highly coveted component of mobile phones and electric car batteries.  

“We are consolidating the country’s industrialization process,” Arce said.

Bolivia, which claims to have the world’s largest deposits, in January also signed an agreement with Chinese consortium CBC to build two lithium battery plants.  

The country’s energy ministry said in a statement that each of the two new plants would have the capacity to produce up to 25,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate per year.  

Construction will begin in about three months.  

China and Russia are among Bolivia’s main lithium buyers.  

Lithium is mostly mined in Australia and South America. 

Italian Researchers Reach the Edge of Space on Virgin Galactic’s Rocket-Powered Plane

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO — A team of Italian researchers reached the edge of space Thursday morning, flying aboard Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered plane as the company prepares for monthly commercial flights.

The flight launched from Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert, with two Italian Air Force officers and an engineer with the National Research Council of Italy focusing on a series of microgravity experiments during their few minutes of weightless.

One wore a special suit that measured biometric data and physiological responses while another conducted tests using sensors to track heart rate, brain function and other metrics while in microgravity. The third studied how certain liquids and solids mix in that very weak gravity.

Virgin Galactic livestreamed the flight on its website, showing the moment when the ship released from its carrier plane and the rocket was ignited. The entire trip took about 90 minutes, with the plane’s touchdown on the runway prompting cheers and claps by Virgin Galactic staff.

With the ship’s copilots, it marked the most Italians in space at the same time. Colonel Walter Villadei, a space engineer with the Italian Air Force, celebrated by unfolding an Italian flag while weightless.

Next up for Virgin Galactic will be the first of hundreds of ticket holders, many who have been waiting years for their chance at weightlessness and to see the curvature of the Earth. Those commercial flights are expected to begin in August and will be scheduled monthly, the space tourism company said.

Virgin Galactic has been working for years to send paying passengers on short space trips and in 2021 finally won the federal government’s approval. The company completed its final test fight in May.

The Italian research flight was initially scheduled for the fall of 2021 but Virgin Galactic at the time said it was forced to push back its timeline due to a potential defect in a component used in its flight control system. Then the company spent months upgrading its rocket ship before resuming testing in early 2023.

After reaching an altitude of nearly 15,000 meters, Virgin Galactic’s space plane is released from a carrier aircraft and drops for a moment before igniting its rocket motor. The rocket shuts off once it reaches space, leaving passengers weight before the ship then glides back to the runway at Spaceport America.

Virgin Galactic has sold about 800 tickets over the past decade, with the initial batch going for $200,000 each. Tickets now cost $450,000 per person.

The company said early fliers have already received their seat assignments.

Meta Oversight Board Urges Cambodia Prime Minister’s Suspension from Facebook

Meta Platforms’ Oversight Board on Thursday called for the suspension of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for six months, saying a video posted on his Facebook page had violated Meta’s rules against violent threats.

The board, which is funded by Meta but operates independently, said the company erred in leaving up the video and ordered its removal from Facebook.

Meta, in a written statement, agreed to take down the video but said it would respond to the recommendation to suspend Hun Sen after a review.

A suspension would silence the prime minister’s Facebook page less than a month before an election in Cambodia, although critics say the poll will be a sham due to Hun Sen’s autocratic rule.

The decision is the latest in a series of rebukes by the Oversight Board over how the world’s biggest social media company handles rule-breaking political leaders and incitement to violence around elections.

The company’s election integrity efforts are in focus as the United States prepares for presidential elections next year.

The board endorsed Meta’s 2021 banishment of former U.S. President Donald Trump – the current front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot, but criticized the indefinite nature of his suspension and urged more careful preparation for volatile political situations overall.

Meta reinstated the former U.S. president earlier this year.  

Last week, the board said Meta’s handling of calls for violence after the 2022 Brazilian election continued to raise concerns about the effectiveness of its election efforts.

Hun Sen’s video, broadcast on his official Facebook page in January, showed the prime minister threatening to beat up political rivals and send “gangsters” to their homes, according to the board’s ruling.

Meta determined at the time that the video fell afoul of its rules, but opted to leave it up under a “newsworthiness” exemption, reasoning that the public had an interest in hearing warnings of violence by their government, the ruling said.

The board held that the video’s harms outweighed its news value.

UNESCO Expected to Accept US Return

Members of the U.N.’s cultural agency are gathering Thursday for the start of two days of meetings in Paris that are expected to include a vote to accept the return of the United States to the organization.

The United States withdrew in 2018 complaining of anti-Israel bias and mismanagement at the agency.

Before leaving, the U.S. was UNESCO’s largest single donor, providing about one-fifth of the agency’s overall funding.

U.S. officials said earlier this month that the desire to return to UNESCO was motivated by concerns about China’s influence in policymaking at the agency, particularly regarding artificial intelligence and technology education.

As part of the proposed return plan, the Biden administration has requested $150 million in funding for 2024 UNESCO dues and arrears.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

WHO to Say Aspartame a Possible Carcinogen, Sources Say

LONDON – One of the world’s most common artificial sweeteners is set to be declared a possible carcinogen next month by a leading global health body, according to two sources with knowledge of the process, pitting it against the food industry and regulators.

Aspartame, used in products from Coca-Cola diet sodas to Mars’ Extra chewing gum and some Snapple drinks, will be listed in July as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” for the first time by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research arm, the sources said.

The IARC ruling, finalized earlier this month after a meeting of the group’s external experts, is intended to assess whether something is a potential hazard or not, based on all the published evidence.

It does not take into account how much of a product a person can safely consume. This advice for individuals comes from a separate WHO expert committee on food additives, known as JECFA (the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives), alongside determinations from national regulators.

However, similar IARC rulings in the past for different substances have raised concerns among consumers about their use, led to lawsuits, and pressured manufacturers to recreate recipes and swap to alternatives. That has led to criticism that the IARC’s assessments can be confusing to the public.

JECFA, the WHO committee on additives, is also reviewing aspartame use this year. Its meeting began at the end of June, and it is due to announce its findings on the same day that the IARC makes public its decision – on July 14.

Since 1981, JECFA has said aspartame is safe to consume within accepted daily limits. For example, an adult weighing 60 kilograms would have to drink between 12 and 36 cans of diet soda – depending on the amount of aspartame in the beverage – every day to be at risk. Its view has been widely shared by national regulators, including in the United States and Europe.

An IARC spokesperson said both the IARC and JECFA committees’ findings were confidential until July, but added they were “complementary,” with IARC’s conclusion representing “the first fundamental step to understand carcinogenicity.” The additives committee “conducts risk assessment, which determines the probability of a specific type of harm (e.g., cancer) to occur under certain conditions and levels of exposure.”

However, industry and regulators fear that holding both processes at around the same time could be confusing, according to letters from U.S. and Japanese regulators seen by Reuters.

“We kindly ask both bodies to coordinate their efforts in reviewing aspartame to avoid any confusion or concerns among the public,” Nozomi Tomita, an official from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, wrote in a letter dated March 27 to WHO’s deputy director general, Zsuzsanna Jakab.

The letter, reviewed by Reuters, also called for the conclusions of both bodies to be released on the same day, as is now happening. The Japanese mission in Geneva, where the WHO is based, did not respond to a request for comment.


The IARC’s rulings can have huge impact. In 2015, its committee concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic.” Years later, even as other bodies like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contested this assessment, companies were still feeling the effects of the decision. Germany’s Bayer in 2021 lost its third appeal against U.S. court verdicts that awarded damages to customers blaming their cancers on use of its glyphosate-based weedkillers.

The IARC’s decisions have also faced criticism for sparking needless alarm over hard to avoid substances or situations. It has previously put working overnight and consuming red meat into its “probably cancer-causing” class, and using mobile phones as “possibly cancer-causing,” similar to aspartame.

“IARC is not a food safety body, and their review of aspartame is not scientifically comprehensive and is based heavily on widely discredited research,” said Frances Hunt-Wood, the secretary general of the International Sweeteners Association (ISA).

The body, whose members include Mars Wrigley, a Coca-Cola unit and Cargill, said it had “serious concerns with the IARC review, which may mislead consumers.”

Aspartame has been extensively studied for years. Last year, an observational study in France among 100,000 adults showed that people who consumed larger amounts of artificial sweeteners – including aspartame – had a slightly higher cancer risk.

It followed a study from the Ramazzini Institute in Italy in the early 2000s, which reported that some cancers in mice and rats were linked to aspartame.

However, the first study could not prove that aspartame caused the increased cancer risk, and questions have been raised about the methodology of the second study, including by EFSA, which assessed it.

Aspartame is authorized for use globally by regulators who have reviewed all the available evidence, and major food and beverage makers have for decades defended their use of the ingredient. The IARC said it had assessed 1,300 studies in its June review.

Recent recipe tweaks by soft drinks giant Pepsico demonstrate the struggle the industry has when it comes to balancing taste preferences with health concerns. Pepsico removed aspartame from sodas in 2015, bringing it back a year later, only to remove it again in 2020.

Listing aspartame as a possible carcinogen is intended to motivate more research, said the sources close to the IARC, which will help agencies, consumers and manufacturers draw firmer conclusions.

But it will also likely ignite debate once again over the IARC’s role, as well as the safety of sweeteners more generally.

Last month, the WHO published guidelines advising consumers not to use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control. The guidelines caused a furor in the food industry, which argues they can be helpful for consumers wanting to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet. 

‘Godfather of AI’ Urges Governments to Stop Machine Takeover

Geoffrey Hinton, one of the so-called godfathers of artificial intelligence, on Wednesday urged governments to step in and make sure that machines do not take control of society.

Hinton made headlines in May when he announced he had quit Google after a decade of work to speak more freely on the dangers of AI, shortly after the release of ChatGPT captured the imagination of the world.

The highly respected AI scientist, who is based at the University of Toronto, was speaking to a packed audience at the Collision tech conference in the Canadian city.

The conference brought together more than 30,000 startup founders, investors and tech workers, most looking to learn how to ride the AI wave and not hear a lesson on its dangers.

“Before AI is smarter than us, I think the people developing it should be encouraged to put a lot of work into understanding how it might try and take control away,” Hinton said.

“Right now there are 99 very smart people trying to make AI better and one very smart person trying to figure out how to stop it taking over and maybe you want to be more balanced,” he said.

AI could deepen inequality, says Hinton

Hinton warned that the risks of AI should be taken seriously despite his critics who believe he is overplaying the risks.

“I think it’s important that people understand that this is not science fiction, this is not just fearmongering,” he insisted. “It is a real risk that we must think about, and we need to figure out in advance how to deal with it.”

Hinton also expressed concern that AI would deepen inequality, with the massive productivity gain from its deployment going to the benefit of the rich, and not workers.

“The wealth isn’t going to go to the people doing the work. It is going to go into making the rich richer and not the poorer and that’s very bad for society,” he added.

He also pointed to the danger of fake news created by ChatGPT-style bots and said he hoped that AI-generated content could be marked in a way similar to how central banks watermark cash money.

“It’s very important to try, for example, to mark everything that is fake as fake. Whether we can do that technically, I don’t know,” he said.

The European Union is considering such a technique in its AI Act, a legislation that will set the rules for AI in Europe, which is being negotiated by lawmakers.

‘Overpopulation on Mars’

Hinton’s list of AI dangers contrasted with conference discussions that were less over safety and threats, and more about seizing the opportunity created in the wake of ChatGPT.

Venture Capitalist Sarah Guo said doom and gloom talk of AI as an existential threat was premature and compared it to “talking about overpopulation on Mars,” quoting another AI guru, Andrew Ng.

She also warned against “regulatory capture” that would see government intervention protect the incumbents before it had a chance to benefit sectors such as health, education or science.

Opinions differed on whether the current generative AI giants, mainly Microsoft backed OpenAI and Google, would remain unmatched or whether new actors will expand the field with their own models and innovations.

“In five years, I still imagine that if you want to go and find the best, most accurate, most advanced general model, you’re probably going to still have to go to one of the few companies that have the capital to do it,” said Leigh Marie Braswell of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

Zachary Bratun-Glennon of Gradient Ventures said he foresaw a future where “there are going to be millions of models across a network much like we have a network of websites today.”

Florida Issues Health Advisory After 4 Contract Malaria

TERRA CEIA ISLAND, FLORIDA — The Florida Health Department has issued a statewide mosquito-borne illness advisory after four locally contracted cases of malaria were reported along the Gulf Coast south of Tampa. 

On Monday, a health alert issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also noted that another case had been detected in Texas, marking the first time there has been a local spread of malaria in the United States in 20 years. 

The four residents in Sarasota County received treatment and have recovered, according to the state’s Health Department advisory. Malaria, caused by a parasite that spreads through bites from Anopheles mosquitoes, causes fever, chills, sweating, nausea and vomiting, and headaches. It is not spread person to person. 

It’s the threat of the mosquito-borne illness that concerns Kathleen Gibson-Dee, who lives on Terra Ceia Island, which is about 32 kilometers north of Sarasota County. 

Even though no malaria cases have been reported in Manatee County, where Terra Ceia is located, Gibson-Dee said that she’s now routinely using bug repellent while working in her garden. 

“I don’t go out without it,” she told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “And we don’t go out in the evening because you can see clouds and clouds of bugs now. They may not all be mosquitoes, but there’s certainly mosquitos out there.” 

Another resident, Tom Lyons, says news of the malaria cases “makes me take mosquito protection a little more seriously.” 

The mosquito population thrives in Terra Ceia because “it’s an island surrounded by a lot of shallow water and mangroves, and ideal places for mosquitoes,” Lyons said. 

Stepping up control efforts

Officials in Manatee County have ramped up efforts to control the mosquito population. 

Chris Lesser, director of the Manatee County mosquito control district, said they’re primarily using helicopters to combat the mosquito population because they cover between 6,070 to 8,082 hectares in one night. A truck can only cover around 404 hectares a night, he said. 

“We really want to focus on killing the adult mosquito before they have the opportunity to feed on one person that may be infected with malaria and then transmit that disease to a second person,” Lesser said. 

He said the time frame for when a mosquito can become infected to when it can transmit the disease to a person is about 14 days. 

“So, we’re trying to get in there about once every seven to 10 days and really knock down the mosquito population. And that process will continue until the public health alert that we’re currently under is lifted,” Lesser said. 

“It’s a curtain,” he continued. “We’re trying to keep the malaria mosquitos from coming into our county through our southern border by using aggressive mosquito control activities.” 

Officials in Sarasota County area also are using similar tactics to control mosquitos, the county’s health department said in an advisory. 

The initial malaria advisory was issued in Sarasota County after the first case was reported in late May. That was followed by a second case, and then two more, said Jae Williams, the press secretary for the Florida Department of Health. 

“As soon as it crossed over from one to two confirmed cases, it progressed to an alert,” Williams said, comparing it to the system of issuing a hurricane watch versus a hurricane warning — when a storm is imminent. 

“Listen, the conditions are favorable,” Williams continued. “It’s not just some rogue one mosquito. People need to be paying attention.” 

Williams said health officials are being proactive. 

“We know we are going into the Fourth of July holiday. We know the summer’s only getting hotter and wetter over the next couple of months,” Williams said. “So, we just wanted to give Floridians a big kind of heads up, put the whole state on notice.” 

About 2,000 U.S. cases of malaria are diagnosed each year — the vast majority in travelers coming from countries where malaria commonly spreads. 

Since 1992, there have been 11 outbreaks involving malaria from mosquitoes in the U.S. The last one occurred in 2003 in Palm Beach County, Florida, where eight cases were reported.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen Leaves Facebook for Telegram 

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a devoted and very active user of Facebook — on which he has posted everything from photos of his grandchildren to threats against his political enemies — said Wednesday that he would no longer upload to the platform and would instead depend on the Telegram app to get his messages across. 

Telegram is a popular messaging app that also has a blogging tool called “channels.” In Russia and some neighboring countries, it is actively used both by government officials and opposition activists for communicating with mass audiences. Telegram played an important role in coordinating unprecedented anti-government protests in Belarus in 2020, and it currently serves as a major source of news about Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Hun Sen, 70, who has led Cambodia for 38 years, is listed as having 14 million Facebook followers, though critics have suggested a large number of them are merely “ghost” accounts purchased in bulk from so-called “click farms,” an assertion the long-serving prime minister has repeatedly denied. The Facebook accounts of Joe Biden and Donald Trump by comparison boast 11 million and 34 million followers, respectively, though the United States has about 20 times the population of Cambodia. 

Hun Sen officially launched his Facebook page on September 20, 2015, after his fierce political rival, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, effectively demonstrated how it could be used to mobilize support. Hun Sen is noted as a canny and sometimes ruthless politician, and he has since then managed to drive his rival into exile and neutralize all his challengers, even though Cambodia is a nominally democratic state. 

Controversial remarks

Hun Sen said he was giving up Facebook for Telegram because he believed the latter would be more effective for communicating. In a Telegram post on Wednesday, he said it would be easier for him to get his message out when traveling in other countries that officially ban Facebook use, such as China, the top ally of his government. Hun Sen has 855,000 followers so far on Telegram, where he appears to have started posting in mid-May. 

It is possible, however, that Hun Sen’s social media loyalty switch has to do with controversy about remarks he posted earlier this year on Facebook that in theory could see him get at least temporarily banned from the platform very soon. 

In January, speaking at a road construction ceremony, he decried opposition politicians who accused his ruling Cambodian People’s Party of stealing votes. 

“There are only two options. One is to use legal means and the other is to use a stick,” the prime minister said. “Either you face legal action in court, or I rally [the Cambodian] People’s Party people for a demonstration and beat you up.” His remarks were spoken on Facebook Live and kept online as a video. 

Perhaps because of heightened consciousness about the power of social media to inflame and trigger violence in such countries as India and Myanmar, and because the remarks were made ahead of a general election in Cambodia this July, complaints about his words were lodged with Facebook’s parent company, Meta. 

Facebook’s moderators declined to recommend action against Hun Sen, judging that his position as a national leader made his remarks newsworthy and therefore not subject to punishment despite their provocative nature. 

However, the case was forwarded in March to Meta’s Oversight Board, a group of independent experts that is empowered to render an overriding judgment that could limit Hun Sen’s Facebook activities. They are expected to issue a decision on Thursday. The case is being closely watched as an indicator of where Facebook will draw the line in countries with volatile political situations. 

Hun Sen said his Facebook account would remain online, but that he would no longer actively post to it. He urged people looking for news from him to check YouTube and his Instagram account as well as Telegram and said he had ordered his office to establish a TikTok account to allow him to communicate with his country’s youth.

South Koreans Become a Little Younger Under New Law

South Korea is changing the way it calculates a person’s age. 

Under a new law that takes effect Wednesday, South Korea is adopting the international method that uses a person’s actual date of birth to determine their age.   

Under its traditional method, South Koreans are considered to be one year old at birth, including their months in the womb, and become a year older every January 1 regardless of their actual date of birth. 

The new law that takes effect Wednesday means all South Koreans will officially become a year or two younger.   

Officials say a separate method of calculation that uses the date a person is born and then adds a year each January 1 will remain in effect for compulsory military service, education and the legal drinking age. 

Some information for this report came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse.  

Generative AI Might Make It Easier to Target Journalists, Researchers Say

Since the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT launched last fall, a torrent of think pieces and news reports about the ins and outs and ups and downs of generative artificial intelligence has flowed, stoking fears of a dystopian future in which robots take over the world.  

While much of that hype is indeed just hype, a new report has identified immediate risks posed by apps like ChatGPT. Some of those present distinct challenges to journalists and the news industry.  

Published Wednesday by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the report identified eight risks related to generative artificial intelligence, or AI, including disinformation, cyberattacks, privacy violations and the decay of the news industry.  

The AI debate “is getting a little confused between concerns about existential dangers versus what immediate harms generative AI might entail,” the report’s co-author Paul Barrett told VOA. “We shouldn’t get paralyzed by the question of, ‘Oh my God, will this technology lead to killer robots that are going to destroy humanity?'” 

The systems being released right now are not going to lead to that nightmarish outcome, explained Barrett, who is the deputy director of the Stern Center.  

Instead, the report — which Barrett co-authored with Justin Hendrix, founder and editor of the media nonprofit Tech Policy Press — argues that lawmakers, regulators and the AI industry itself should prioritize addressing the immediate potential risks.  

Safety concerns

Among the most concerning risks are the human-level threats that artificial intelligence may pose to the safety of journalists and activists.  

Doxxing and smear campaigns are already among the many threats that journalists face online over their work. Doxxing is when someone publishes private or identifying information about someone — such as their address or phone number — on the internet.  

But now with generative AI, it will likely be even easier to dox reporters and harass them online, according to Barrett.  

“If you want to set up a campaign like that, you’re going to have to do a lot less work using generative AI systems,” Barrett said. “It’ll be easier to attack journalists.”  

Propaganda easy to make

Disinformation is another primary risk that the report highlights, because generative AI makes it easier to churn out propaganda.  

The report notes that if the Kremlin had access to generative AI in its disinformation campaign surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Moscow could have launched a more destructive and less expensive influence operation.  

Generative AI “is going to be a huge engine of efficiency, but it’s also going to make much more efficient the production of disinformation,” Barrett said.  

That bears implications for press freedom and media literacy, since studies indicate that exposure to misinformation and disinformation is linked to reduced trust in the media.  

Generative AI may also exacerbate financial issues plaguing newsrooms, according to the report. 

If people ask ChatGPT a question, for instance, and are happy with the summarized answer, they’re less likely to click on other links to news articles. That means shrinking traffic and therefore ad dollars for news sites, the report said.  

But artificial intelligence is far from all bad news for the media industry.  

For example, AI tools can help journalists research by scraping PDF files and analyzing data quickly. Artificial intelligence can also help fact-check sources and write headlines.  

In the report, Barrett and Hendrix caution the government against allowing this new industry to make the same mistakes as were made with social media platforms.  

“Generative AI doesn’t deserve the deference enjoyed for so long by social media companies,” they write.  

They recommend the government enhance federal authority to oversee AI companies and require more transparency from AI companies.  

“Congress, regulators, the public — and the industry, for that matter — need to pay attention to the immediate potential risks,” Barrett said. “And if the industry doesn’t move fast enough on that front, that’s something Congress needs to figure out a way to force them to pay attention to.” 

Southern US Swelters in Brutal, Deadly Heat Wave

A dangerous and prolonged heat wave blanketed large parts of the southern United States on Tuesday, buckling highways and forcing people to shelter indoors in what scientists called a climate-change supercharged event. 

Excessive heat warnings were in place from Arizona in the southwest to Alabama in the southeast, with south and central Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley worst hit, the National Weather Service said. 

Victor Hugo Martinez, a 57-year-old foreman who was leading workers repairing a road in Houston, told AFP: “We can’t keep up with it. It’s too much, we have like 10 or 12 spots like this right now.” 

The crew wrapped bandanas around their heads to protect themselves from the blazing heat, with Martinez explaining they made sure to drink plenty of water and take several breaks to protect their health. 

The National Weather Service meanwhile urged Americans in across the South to drink water, stay indoors, and check on vulnerable friends and relatives. 

Andrew Pershing, a scientist with Climate Central, told AFP the “really unusual thing about this event is how big it is, and how long it has lasted.” 

“There have been places in Texas that have had more than two weeks of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which are just really unusual temperatures for this time of year even in a region that is used to heat.” 

Extreme weather more likely

Accumulated historic greenhouse emissions made the extreme weather event at least five times more likely than otherwise, according to preliminary calculations by a team led by Pershing. 

The sweltering conditions are expected to expand throughout the South beginning Wednesday and continue into the long July 4 holiday weekend.  

The extreme heat appears to have claimed some lives. 

Last week, a 66-year-old postal worker in Dallas fainted while delivering mail as the heat index hovered around 115 F. He died hours later, the U.S. Postal Service told the media, though the cause of death is still being investigated. 

And on Friday, a 14-year-old boy collapsed from exhaustion while hiking in Big Bend National Park in Texas and later died, according to an official statement. 

His stepfather left the scene to hike back to their vehicle to find help while the teen’s brother attempted to carry him back to the trailhead. The father was later found dead in a car crash. 

Power grid strained

The strain is sure to put the power grid in Texas to the test, as millions of people switch on their air conditioners to cope, with demand peaking around late afternoon. 

ERCOT, the state utility operator, has issued a Weather Watch, calling on individuals and institutions to voluntarily save energy to avoid an emergency, and has so far been able to cope, thanks in part to an increasing contribution from solar power in recent years. 

Public cooling centers run by local authorities or the Red Cross are available for vulnerable people. 

Animals, too, were suffering. The Houston Humane Society said 12 cats and one dog were found dead in an abandoned apartment. The group was able to rescue six cats from the property. 

Air conditioning can be climate feedback loop

Kristina Dahl, principal climate scientist of the Union of Concerned Scientists said that the widespread use of air conditioning was itself a climate feedback loop. 

“We know that one of the most effective things you can do to prevent heat, illness and death during heat waves is to run the air conditioning,” she told AFP.  “And yet if we are not powering that air conditioning with clean renewable energy sources, we are contributing more carbon emissions to the atmosphere which will further worsen heat which will necessitate greater air conditioning use.” 

Recent years have seen an explosion in litigation aimed at shifting the financial responsibility of climate disasters toward fossil fuel companies.  

Last week, a county in the northwestern state of Oregon filed a lawsuit against major fossil fuel companies seeking more than $51 billion over the 2021 “heat dome,” which blighted Canada and the United States.  

“Communities everywhere are now paying the price for the fossil fuel industry’s decades of climate deception and pollution,” Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, told AFP.   

Actor Julian Sands Died While Hiking on California Mountain, Authorities Confirm

Actor Julian Sands, who starred in several Oscar-nominated films in the late 1980s and ’90s including “A Room with a View” and “Leaving Las Vegas,” was found dead on a Southern California mountain five months after he disappeared while hiking, authorities said Tuesday.

An investigation confirmed that it was Sands whose remains hikers found Saturday in wilderness near Mount Baldy, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said. The 65-year-old actor was an avid and experienced hiker who lived in Los Angeles and was reported missing January 13 after setting out on the peak that rises more than 3,048 meters east of the city. Crews aided by drones and helicopters had searched for him several times but were severely hampered by wintry conditions that lasted through spring. No sign of him was found until the civilian hikers came upon him.

The chances of Sands being discovered alive had long since diminished to nearly nothing, but the Sheriff’s Department, which conducted an official search the day before he was found, emphasized that the case remained active.

An autopsy has been conducted, but further test results are needed before the cause of death can be determined, authorities said.

Sands, who was born, raised and began acting in England, worked constantly in film and television, amassing more than 150 credits in a 40-year career. During a 10-year span from 1985 to 1995, he played major roles in a series of acclaimed films.

After studying at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Sands embarked on a career in stage and film, playing small parts in films including “Oxford Blues” and “The Killing Fields.” He landed the starring role of George Emerson, who falls in love with Helena Bonham Carter’s Lucy Honeychurch while on holiday in Tuscany in the 1985 British romance, “A Room with a View.”

The film from director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for best film, and was nominated for eight Oscars, winning three.

In the wake of its success, Sands moved to the United States to pursue a career in Hollywood.

He played the title role in the 1989 horror fantasy “Warlock” and its sequel. In the 1990 horror comedy “Arachnophobia,” with Jeff Daniels and John Goodman, Sands played an entomologist specializing in spiders.

The following year he appeared in director David Cronenberg’s surreal adaptation of the William Burroughs novel “Naked Lunch” in 1991. In 1993, Sands starred in the thriller “Boxing Helena.”

In 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas,” Sands played an abusive Latvian pimp alongside Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue. The film was nominated for four Oscars, with Cage winning best actor.

Sands touted his love of the outdoors in a 2020 interview with the Guardian, saying he was happiest when “close to a mountain summit on a glorious cold morning” and that his biggest dream was scaling “a remote peak in the high Himalayas, such as Makalu.”

The actor said in the interview that in the early 1990s, he was caught in an “atrocious” storm in the Andes and was lucky to survive when three others near his party didn’t.

After “Leaving Las Vegas,” the quality of the films Sands was cast in, and the size of his roles, began declining. He worked steadily, appearing in director Wim Wenders’ “The Million Dollar Hotel” and director Dario Argento’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Sands was born in Yorkshire, the middle child of five brothers raised by a single mother. He had three children of his own.

He had been married since 1990 to journalist Evgenia Citkowitz, with whom he had two adult daughters, Imogen Morley Sands and Natalya Morley Sands. His eldest child was son Henry Sands, whom he had with his first wife, journalist Sarah Harvey.

A few days before he was found, Sands’ family issued a statement saying, “We continue to hold Julian in our hearts with bright memories of him as a wonderful father, husband, explorer, lover of the natural world and the arts, and as an original and collaborative performer.”

Klimt Portrait Sets European Auction Record: $108 Million

A portrait of an unnamed woman by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt sold for 85.3 million pounds ($108.4 million) on Tuesday, setting a record price for any work of art sold at an auction in Europe, London-based auction house Sotheby’s said.  

The painting, which had been given a guide price of 65 million pounds ($82.9 million), was sold after a tense 10-minute bidding war as auctioneer Helena Newman, Sotheby’s head of impressionist and modern art, eked out the final bids in half-million pound increments.

Described by Newman as a “technical tour de force, full of boundary-pushing experimentation, as well as a heartfelt ode to absolute beauty,” the painting titled “Dame mit Fächer” (“Lady with a Fan”) was still on an easel in Klimt’s studio when he died in February 1918.

“It was created when he was still in his artistic prime and brings together all the technical prowess and creative exuberance that define his greatest work,” she said.

The fall of the hammer at 74 million pounds broke the tension, triggering a collective exhalation in the room and a round of applause. The total price includes fees.

The painting sold to a Hong Kong-based art advisory firm, bidding on behalf of a collector based there.

The previous highest price for a painting sold at auction in Europe was Claude Monet’s “Le Bassin Aux Nympheas” in 2008 at $80.4 million, while the record for any work of art sold at auction in Europe was set by Alberto Giacometti’s bronze “Walking Man I,” which went for $104.3 million in 2010.  

Sotheby’s said the painting was one of a small number of Klimt’s portraits in private collections. It is now the most expensive Klimt artwork sold at auction anywhere in the world.

It was last offered for sale nearly 30 years ago, when it was acquired by the family of the present owner for $11.6 million, according to the auction house.

Thousands of Unauthorized Vapes Pouring Into US Despite Crackdown on Fruity Flavors

The number of different electronic cigarette devices sold in the U.S. has nearly tripled to over 9,000 since 2020, driven almost entirely by a wave of unauthorized disposable vapes from China, according to tightly controlled sales data obtained by The Associated Press.

The numbers demonstrate the Food and Drug Administration’s inability to control the tumultuous vaping market more than three years after declaring a crackdown on kid-friendly flavors.

Most disposables e-cigarettes, which are thrown away when they’re used up, come in sweet, fruity flavors like pink lemonade, gummy bear and watermelon that have made them the favorite tobacco product among teenagers. All of them are technically illegal because they haven’t been authorized by the FDA.

Once a niche market, cheaper disposables made up 40% of the roughly $7 billion retail market for e-cigarettes last year, according to data from analytics firm IRI obtained by the AP. The company’s proprietary data collects barcode scanner sales from convenience stores, gas stations and other retailers.

More than 5,800 unique disposable products are now being sold in numerous flavors and formulations, according to IRI’s data, up 1,500% from 365 in early 2020. That’s when the FDA effectively banned all flavors except menthol and tobacco from cartridge-based e-cigarettes like Juul, the rechargeable device blamed for sparking a nationwide surge in underage vaping.

But the FDA’s policy — formulated under President Donald Trump — excluded disposables, prompting many teens to switch from Juul to the newer flavored products.

“The FDA moves at a ponderous pace and the industry knows that and exploits it,” said Dr. Robert Jackler of Stanford University, who has studied the rise of disposables. “Time and again, the vaping industry has innovated around efforts to remove its youth-appealing products from the market.”

Adding to the challenge, FDA has little visibility into a sprawling industry centered in China’s Shenzhen manufacturing hub. Agency records show that FDA inspectors have only conducted a tiny handful of inspections in China, despite the fact that it produces nearly all e-cigarettes used in the U.S. today.

“FDA theoretically has the authority to inspect foreign manufacturing facilities,” said Patricia Kovacevic, an attorney specializing in tobacco regulation. “But practically speaking, the inspection program that the FDA has in place only happens in the U.S.”

Most disposables mirror a few major brands, such as Elf Bar or Puff Bar, but hundreds of new varieties appear each month. Companies copy each other’s designs, blurring the line between the real and counterfeit. Entrepreneurs can launch a new product by simply sending their logo and flavor requests to Chinese manufacturers, who promise to deliver tens of thousands of devices within weeks.

Under pressure from politicians, parents and major vaping companies, the FDA recently sent warning letters to more than 200 stores selling popular disposables, including Elf Bar, Esco Bar and Breeze. The agency also issued orders blocking imports of those three brands. But IRI data shows those companies accounted for just 14% of disposable sales last year, leaving dozens of other brands untouched, including Air Bar, Mr. Fog, Fume and Kangvape.

FDA’s tobacco director, Brian King, said the agency is “unwavering” in its commitment against illegal e-cigarettes.

“I don’t think there’s any panacea here,” King said. “We follow a comprehensive approach and that involves addressing all entities across the supply chain, from manufacturers to importers to distributors to retailers.”

IRI restricts access to its data, which it sells to companies, investment firms and researchers. A person not authorized to share the information gave access to the AP on condition of anonymity.

IRI declined to comment on or confirm the data, saying the company doesn’t offer such details to news organizations.

To be sure, the FDA has made progress in a mammoth task: processing nearly 26 million product applications submitted by manufacturers hoping to enter or stay on the market. And King said the agency hopes to get back to “true premarket review” once it finishes plowing through that mountain of applications.

Meanwhile, parents, health groups and major vaping companies essentially agree: The FDA must clear the market of flavored disposables.

But lobbying by tobacco giant Reynolds American, maker of Vuse e-cigarettes, has made some advocates wary about pushing the issue. The company petitioned the FDA earlier this year to restrict flavors in all disposable vaping products.

FDA’s King says the agency already has ample authority to regulate disposables.

“There’s no loophole to close,” King said, pointing to FDA’s recent actions against disposable makers.

But King’s predecessor at the FDA says the current situation could have been avoided but for a decision by Trump’s White House to exclude disposables from the 2020 flavor ban.

“It was preventable,” said Mitch Zeller, who retired from the FDA last year. “But I was told there was no appeal.”

In September 2019, Trump announced at a news conference a plan to ban non-tobacco flavors from all e-cigarettes — both reloadable devices and disposables. But his political advisers worried that could alienate voters.

Zeller said he was subsequently informed in December 2019 that the flavor restrictions wouldn’t apply to disposables.

“I told them: ‘It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that kids will migrate to the disposable products that are unaffected by this, and you ultimately won’t solve the problem,'” Zeller said.