American mountaineer found mummified in Peru 22 years after vanishing

LIMA, Peru — The preserved body of an American mountaineer — who disappeared 22 years ago while scaling a snowy peak in Peru — has been found after being exposed by climate change-induced ice melt, police said Monday.

William Stampfl was reported missing in June 2002, aged 59, when an avalanche buried his climbing party on the mountain Huascaran, which stands more than 6,700 meters (22,000 feet) high. Search and rescue efforts were fruitless.

Peruvian police said his remains were finally exposed by ice melt on the Cordillera Blanca range of the Andes.

Stampfl’s body, as well as his clothes, harness and boots had been well-preserved by the cold, according to images distributed by the police.

His passport was found among his possessions in good condition, allowing police to identify the body.

The mountains of northeastern Peru, home to snowy peaks such as Huascaran and Cashan, are a favorite with mountaineers from around the world.

In May, the body of an Israeli hiker was found there nearly a month after he disappeared.

And last month, an experienced Italian mountaineer was found dead after he fell while trying to scale another Andean peak.

Paramount, Skydance merge, ending Redstone family reign

NEW YORK — The entertainment giant Paramount will merge with Skydance, closing out a decades-long run by the Redstone family in Hollywood and injecting desperately needed cash into a legacy studio that has struggled to adapt to a shifting entertainment landscape. 

It also signals the rise of a new power player, David Ellison, the founder of Skydance and son of billionaire Larry Ellison, the founder of the software company Oracle. 

Shari Redstone’s National Amusements has owned more than three-quarters of Paramount’s Class A voting shares through the estate of her late father, Sumner Redstone. She had battled to maintain control of the company that owns CBS, which is behind blockbuster films such as “Top Gun” and “The Godfather.” 

Just weeks after turning down a similar agreement with Skydance, however, Redstone agreed to a deal on terms that had not changed much. 

“Given the changes in the industry, we want to fortify Paramount for the future while ensuring that content remains king,” said Redstone, who is chair of Paramount Global.

The new combined company is valued at around $28 billion. In connection with the proposed transaction, which is expected to close in September 2025 pending regulatory approval, a consortium led by the Ellison family and RedBird Capital will be investing $8 billion. 

Skydance, based in Santa Monica, California, has helped produce some major  

Paramount hits in recent years, including Tom Cruise films like “Top Gun: Maverick” and installments of the “Mission Impossible” series. 

Skydance was founded in 2010 by David Ellison and it quickly formed a production partnership with Paramount that same year. If the deal is approved, Ellison will become chairman and chief executive officer of what’s being called New Paramount. 

Ellison outlined the vision for New Paramount on a conference call about the transaction Monday. In addition to doubling down on core competencies, notably with a “creative first” approach, he stressed that the company needs to transition into a “tech hybrid” to stay competitive in today’s evolving media landscape. 

“You’ve watched some incredibly powerful technology companies move into the … media space and do so very successfully,” Ellison said. He added that it was “essential” for New Paramount to chart a similar course going forward. 

That includes plans to “rebuild” the Paramount+ streaming service, Ellison noted — pointing to wider goals to expand direct-to-consumer business, such as increasing engagement time on the platform and reducing user churn. He also said that the company aims to transition to more cloud-based production and continue the use of generative artificial intelligence to boost efficiency. 

Executives also outlined further restructuring plans for New Paramount on Monday’s conference call, with chairman of RedBird Sports and Media Jeff Shell noting that they had identified some $2 billion in cost efficiencies and synergies that they’ll “attempt to deliver pretty rapidly.” 

Shell and others addressed the declining growth of linear TV. Flagship linear brands will continue to represent a big chunk of the company’s operations, but learning how to run this portion of business differently will be key, he said. 

Paramount’s struggles

The on-again, off-again merger arrives at a tumultuous time for Paramount, which has struggled to find its footing for years and its cable business has been hemorrhaging. In an annual shareholder meeting in early June, the company also laid out a restructuring plan that included major cost cuts. 

Leadership at Paramount was also volatile earlier this year after its CEO Bob Bakish, following several disputes with Redstone, was replaced with an “office of the C.E.O,” run by three executives. Four company directors were also replaced. 

Paramount is one of Hollywood’s oldest studios, dating back its founding in 1914 as a  distributor. Throughout its rich history, Paramount has had a hand in releasing films — from “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Godfather,” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Titanic.” 

The studio also distributed several early Marvel Cinematic Universe films, including “Iron Man” and “Thor,” before the Disney acquisition. In addition to “Mission: Impossible” and “Top Gun,” Paramount’s current franchises include “Transformers,” “Star Trek” and “Jackass.” 

While Paramount has not topped the annual domestic box office charts for over a decade, the wild box office success of “Top Gun: Maverick” in 2022 (nearly $1.5 billion worldwide) was an important boon to both movie theaters and the industry’s pandemic recovery. 

Still, its theatrical output has declined somewhat in recent years. Last year it released only eight new movies and came in fifth place for overall box office at around $2 billion — behind Universal (24 films), Disney (17 films), Warner Bros. and Sony. 

Movie plans

This year the release calendar is similarly modest, especially with the absence of “Mission: Impossible 8,” which was pushed to 2025 amid the strikes. The studio has had some successes, with “Bob Marley: One Love” and “A Quiet Place: Day One,” and still to come is Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” sequel. 

The National Association of Theatre Owners, a trade organization that represents over 35,000 screens in the U.S., said in a statement Monday that it plans to look closely at the details of the merger with an eye toward whether it will produce more or less theatrical releases. 

“We are encouraged by the commitment that David Ellison and the Skydance Media team have shown to theatrical exhibition in the past,” said Michael O’Leary, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “A merger that results in fewer movies being produced will not only hurt consumers and result in less revenue, but negatively impact people who work in all sectors of this great industry — creative, distribution and exhibition.” 

Park benches and grandmothers: Zimbabwe’s novel mental health therapy spreads overseas

Harare, Zimbabwe — After her son, the family’s shining light and only breadwinner, was arrested last year, Tambudzai Tembo went into meltdown. In Zimbabwe, where clinical mental health services are scarce, her chances of getting professional help were next to zero. She contemplated suicide.

“I didn’t want to live anymore. People who saw me would think everything was OK. But inside, my head was spinning,” the 57-year-old said. “I was on my own.”

A wooden bench and an empathetic grandmother saved her.

Older people are at the center of a homegrown form of mental health therapy in Zimbabwe that is now being adopted in places like the United States.

The approach involves setting up benches in quiet, discreet corners of community clinics and in some churches, poor neighborhoods and at a university. An older woman with basic training in problem-solving therapy patiently sits there, ready to listen and engage in a one-on-one conversation.

The therapy is inspired by traditional practice in Zimbabwe in which grandmothers were the go-to people for wisdom in rough times. It had been abandoned with urbanization, the breakdown of tight-knit extended families and modern technology. Now it is proving useful again as mental health needs grow.

“Grandmothers are the custodians of local culture and wisdom. They are rooted in their communities,” said Dixon Chibanda, a psychiatry professor and founder of the initiative.

“They don’t leave, and in addition, they have an amazing ability to use what we call ‘expressed empathy’… to make people feel respected and understood.”

Last year, Chibanda was named the winner of a $150,000 prize by the U.S.-based McNulty Foundation for revolutionizing mental healthcare. Chibanda said the concept has taken root in parts of Vietnam, Botswana, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania and is in “preliminary formative work” in London.

In New York, the city’s new mental health plan launched last year says it is “drawing inspiration” from what it calls the Friendship Bench to help address risk factors such as social isolation. The orange benches are now in areas including Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

In Washington, the organization HelpAge USA is piloting the concept under the DC Grandparents for Mental Health initiative, which started in 2022 as a COVID-19 support group of people 60 and above.

So far, 20 grandmothers have been trained by a team from Friendship Bench Zimbabwe to listen, empathize and empower others to solve their problems, said Cindy Cox-Roman, the president and chief executive of HelpAge USA.

Benches will be set up at places of worship, schools and wellness centers in Washington’s low-income communities with people who “have been historically marginalized and more likely to experience mental health problems,” she said.

Cox-Roman cited fear and distrust in the medical system, lack of social support and stigma as some of the factors limiting access to treatment.

“People are hurting, and a grandmother can always make you feel better,” she said.

More than one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

“The mental health crisis is real. Where it’s a real crisis after the pandemic is that many clinicians have dropped out of the workforce,” said Dr. Jehan El-Mayoumi, who works as an expert with HelpAge USA and is a founding director of the health equity Rodham Institute at Georgetown University. She has struggled to get psychiatrists for acutely suicidal patients.

El-Mayoumi said the Zimbabwean concept provides people with “someone you can trust, open up your heart to, that you can tell your deepest secrets [and] that requires trust, so that’s what’s so wonderful about the Friendship Bench.”

The idea was born out of tragedy. Chibanda was a young psychiatrist, and one of just over 10 in Zimbabwe in 2005. One of his patients desperately wanted to see him, but she could not afford the $15 bus fare. Chibanda later learned that she had killed herself.

“I realized that I needed to have a stronger presence in the community,” Chibanda said. “I realized that actually one of the most valuable resources are these grandmothers, the custodians of local culture.”

He recruited 14 grandmothers in the neighborhood near the hospital where he worked in the capital, Harare, and trained them. In Zimbabwe, they get $25 a month to help with transport and phone bills.

The network, which now partners with the health ministry and the World Health Organization, has grown to over 2,000 grandmothers across the country. Over 200,000 Zimbabweans sat on a bench to get therapy from a trained grandmother in 2023, according to the network.

Siridzayi Dzukwa, the grandmother who talked Tembo out of suicide, made a home follow-up visit on a recent day. Using a written questionnaire, she checked on Tembo’s progress. She listened as Tembo talked about how she has found a new lease on life and now sells vegetables to make ends meet.

Dzukwa has become a recognizable figure in the area. People stop to greet and thank her for helping them. Some ask for a home visit or take down her number.

“People are no longer ashamed or afraid of openly stopping us on the streets and ask us to talk,” she said. “Mental health is no longer something to be ashamed of.”

Spain recovers lost ‘language’ of ringing church bells by hand

JOANETES, Spain — Xavier Pallàs plants his feet on the belfry floor, grips the rope, and with one tug fills the lush Spanish valley below with the reverberating peal of a church bell. 

Clang-clong! Clang-clong! Clang-CLONG! The swinging bronze bell resonates with each strike of the clapper, filling the small stone tower with an undulating hum. Once Pallàs finishes his peals, the metallic melody fades to stillness. Silence returns to the tower, giving the valley’s soundscape back to the birdsongs and rooster crows. 

For most, church bells are just a quaint bit of automated background noise. But Pallàs and his 18 students at the Vall d’en Bas School of Bell Ringers are trying to change that by resuscitating the dwindling art of tolling — and communicating — by hand. 

The shift to mechanical tolling devices over the past century has flattened the bells’ dynamic songs and muted their messaging powers, said Pallàs, the school’s founder and director. If played with the know-how, the sounding of church bells in various sequences, tones and rhythms can signal the time for rejoicing or mourning and when to run to the aid of a neighbor in need. 

“For centuries, the tolling of church bells was our most important communication method,” said Pallàs, standing inside the belfry which doubles as his classroom. 

“Machines cannot reproduce the richness of the sounds that we used to hear, so there has been a simplification and unification of bell ringing. The language has been lost little by little until now, when we are finally recognizing its worth.” 

Before newspapers, radio, telephones, television and the internet, it was bellringing that transmitted important information. A physically demanding job that required long hours and complete dedication, to be a bellringer was to be a human clock and the public loudspeaker. 

While manual church bell ringing has persisted in Eastern Orthodox countries, it has largely been replaced by bell ringing systems in Catholic and Protestant churches in Western Europe. 

Many of Spain’s church bell towers that were automized in the 1970s and ’80s are in a dire state, said Pallàs, who witnessed widespread problems while researching the belfries of Garrotxa, a county in northeast Catalonia. The rural area is known for its verdant hills, dormant volcanoes and picturesque villages where most people speak Catalan before Spanish. 

His research included the 12th century Sant Romà church in Joanetes, a tiny village about two hours north of Barcelona, where Pallàs has spent the past 10 months teaching the inaugural class one Saturday a month. 

“Since the last generation of bellringers had died off, the only thing to do was to train new ones in how to toll the bells. And that’s where the idea of the school was born,” Pallàs said. 

Intangible heritage 

The initiative comes two years after UNESCO added manual bellringing in Spain to its compendium of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage. UNESCO described how the bells had knitted together communities even before they were functioning modern states. 

“The first thing we have to do is rediscover the bells. That is why this school is so important,” said Roman Gené Capdevila, president of Catalonia’s Bell Ringers brotherhood. “There are so many ways to ring a bell, what we need are bellringers.” 

The bellringing course, officially recognized by the ISCREB theology school in Barcelona, finished last week with a demonstration by the class. All drawn to the allure of the banging bells, the students were men and women with diverse professional backgrounds ranging from engineering to teaching. One was in his 20s; several were retirees. 

They spent the past few months researching old chiming sequences, documenting their origins and learning to play them. That ethnographic task meant students had to search out old bellringers, or their family members, to record what they knew. 

Roser Sauri jumped at the chance to reconnect with her childhood by recovering and playing the chiming sequence that had sounded in her grandfather’s village when he was baptized. 

“The bells formed a part of my life,” said Sauri, who now works in artificial intelligence. She missed their constancy while studying for her computing doctorate in Boston, where she heard none. 

“When I visited my family, I began to associate the sound of church bells with being back home.” 

The human touch 

The students took turns tolling sequences for everything from calls to Easter Mass, bad weather warnings, help for fighting a fire to orders for the village militia. They also could tell workers to get back to reaping wheat, or housewives when the fresh fish was coming to market and even how much it cost. Many of the ringers wore earplugs or headphones to muffle the deafening peals. 

The students tolled a gamut of death announcements that could specify gender and social class. Juan Carles Osuna and two others tolled for the death of a woman. That meant swinging the largest bell at 429 kilos (945 pounds). It still had a clapper secured in the traditional method of using a dried skin of an ox penis. 

Osuna, who paints church murals, also performed a complex sequence with all four of belfry’s bells that required him to sit in a chair with ropes looped around his hands and feet. 

“Whew! It’s an emotional experience. You feel your blood pumping. You feel the strength, and how you are communicating with everyone in earshot,” he said. “For me it is an honor, it’s a way to honor both humans and God.”

The hesitation, the variation in the strength of each toll: in these details, and sometimes mistakes, the listener can hear the creator of the sound. 

“The (automated) hammer will always be mathematically precise,” Osuna said. “There is emotion in the human touch. There is a human element.” 

Utopian, quixotic? Maybe not 

What might seem like a quixotic mission has so far had a promising start. 

While admitting that his dream of having a bell ringer for every bell tower is “utopian,” Pallàs said he has a full class lined up for the fall and some 60 more people on a waiting list. Many of his graduating pupils, including Sauri and Osuna, hope to continue playing at their local parishes or help convert their belfries into systems that allow manual ringing. 

Pallàs believes that a recovery of bell ringing in a neighborhood or town’s life could help strengthen communities in this dizzying age of technological, economic and political change. 

“This is a means of communication that reaches everyone inside a local community and can help it come together at concrete moments,” Pallàs said. “That can include a death in the community or the celebration of a holiday. It can help mark the rituals that we need.” 

New Orleans Essence Festival wraps up 4-day celebration of Black culture

New Orleans, Louisiana — For 30 years, the Essence Festival of Culture has brought together people from all walks of life and from around the world to connect through conversation, shared experiences and, of course, music.

The nation’s largest annual celebration of Black culture was set to end Sunday with musical performances by Janet Jackson and a special tribute to Frankie Beverly & Maze, the soul band that closed the event for the festival’s first 15 years. Beverly, now 77, has said he is stepping away from performing live, and the group has been on a farewell tour.

Others scheduled to perform included Victoria Monet, Teedra Moses, Tank and the Bangas, Dawn Richard, SWV, Jagged Edge, Bilal and Anthony Hamilton.

Barkue Tubman-Zawolo, chief of staff, talent and diasporic engagement for Essence Ventures, told The Associated Press the festival helps connect the global Black community.

“Historically, as Black people, sometimes we’re not sure where our heritage comes from,” Tubman-Zawolo said. “America is just one place. But within America there’s a melting pot of different Black cultures: Africa, Latin, Europe, the Caribbean. Understanding that allows our power to be even greater.”

Tubman-Zawolo said those connections could be seen throughout this year’s Film Festival, held at the city’s convention center, where fans heard from storytellers from Nigeria, Ghana and the Caribbean “who are targeting our stories about us, for us, globally.”

She noted similar connections through the Food and Wine stage, where discussions highlighted Caribbean and African cuisine; the Soko Market Place, where vendors from all over the world shared their craft; and on the Caesars Superdome stage, which spotlighted Caribbean and African artists including Machel Montano of Trinidad and Ayra Starr of Nigeria.

“All of that occurred over four days,” Tubman-Zawolo said. “But the beauty of it is, it doesn’t stay here. (Fans) take it with them.”

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell said this year’s “We Love Us” theme was appropriate.

“This whole ‘We Love Us’ theme brought us together to build communities,” she said.

The festival’s impact on the city and state has surpassed $300 million, with more than 500,000 people visiting since 1994.

Essence started the festival as a way to celebrate 25 years of the magazine’s history.

“The locals are being incorporated in a manner that we can see and touch and feel and smell. That has been a part of the evolution of Essence,” Cantrell said.

The event’s current contract ends in 2026, but Essence Ventures CEO Caroline Wanga has said the festival’s “forever home” is New Orleans.

“That’s what we believe as well,” Cantrell said. “We have a foundation that’s been laid over 30 years. The city is always ready and prepared to host this event and more. I think staying in New Orleans is the best fit and best marriage, the best partnership.”

‘Despicable Me 4’ debuts, raking in $122.6 million since opening Wednesday

New York — After a historically bad first half of the year, the box office is suddenly booming.

“Despicable Me 4,” the Illumination Animation sequel, led the way over the holiday weekend with $75 million in ticket sales Friday through Sunday and $122.6 million since opening Wednesday, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The Independence Day holiday weekend haul for the Universal Pictures’ release further extends the considerable box-office reign of the Minions, arguably the most bankable force in movies today. And it also kept a summer streak going for Hollywood.

Though overall ticket sales were down more than 40% from levels prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, heading into the summer moviegoing season, theaters have lately seen a succession of hits. After Sony’s “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” outperformed expectations, Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” rapidly cleared $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide, making it the first release since “Barbie” to reach that mark. Last weekend, the Paramount prequel “A Quiet Place: Day One” also came in above expectations.

With “Deadpool & Wolverine” tracking for a $160 million launch later this month, Hollywood’s summer is looking up.

“If you look at the mood of the industry about eight weeks ago, very different than today,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. “The song says what a difference a day makes. What a difference a month has made.”

It helps to have the Minions at your disposal. Since first debuting in the 2010 original “Despicable Me,” each entry of the franchise — including two sequels and two “Minions” spinoffs — has seemingly guaranteed to gross around $1 billion. The four previous movies all made between $939 million (2022’s “Minions: Rise of Gru”) and $1.26 billion (2015’s “Minions”) globally.

That run has helped give Illumination founder and chief executive Chris Meledandri one of the most enviable track records in Hollywood. “Despicable Me 4,” directed by Chris Renaud and Patrick Delage, returns the voice cast led by Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig and doubles down on more Minion mayhem. Reviews (54% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) weren’t particularly good for the latest installment, which includes a witness protection plot and a group of Minions transformed into a superhero squadron. But in their 12-year run, little has slowed down the Minions.

“This is one of the most beloved franchises, quite frankly, in the history of film, and certainly animation,” said Jim Orr, distribution chief for Universal. “Chris Meledandri and Illumination have their finger on the pulse of what families and audiences around the world want to see.”

Family movies are powering the box office. “Despicable Me 4” performed strongly despite the still considerable drawing power of “Inside Out 2.” In its fourth weekend of release, the Pixar sequel added another $30 million domestically and $78.3 million overseas.

“Inside Out 2,” with $1.22 billion in ticket sales thus far, is easily the year’s biggest hit and fast climbing up the all-time ranks for animated releases. It currently ranks as the No. 5 animated release worldwide.

Instead of cannibalizing the opening weekend for “Despicable Me 4,” “Inside Out 2” may have helped get families back in the habit of heading to theaters.

“What happened, I think, is the release calendar finally settled into a nice rhythm,” said Dergarabedian, referencing the jumbled movie schedule from last year’s strikes. “It’s all about momentum.”

The continued strong sales for “Inside Out 2” were enough to put the film in second place for the domestic weekend. Last week’s top new film, “A Quiet Place: Day One,” slid to third with $21 million in its second weekend, with another $21.1 million from overseas theaters. That was a steep decrease of 60%, though the Paramount prequel has amassed $178.2 million worldwide in two weeks.

The run of hits has caused some studios to boost their forecasts for the summer movie season. Heading into the most lucrative season at theaters, analysts were predicting a $3 billion summer, down from the more typical $4 billion mark. Now, closer to $3.4 billion appears likely.

The weekend’s other top new release was Ti West’s “MaXXXine,” the third in a string of slasher films from A24 starring Mia Goth. In 2,450 locations, “MaXXXine” collected $6.7 million in ticket sales, a franchise best. The film, which follows “X” and “Pearl” (both released in 2022), stars Goth as a 1980s Hollywood starlet being hunted by a killer known as the Night Stalker.

Angel Studios, which last year released the unexpected summer hit “Sound of Freedom,” struggled to find the same success with its latest Christian film, “Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot.” It debuted with $3.2 million.

Kevin Costner’s big-budget gamble, “Horizon: An American Saga,” didn’t do much to turn around its fortunes in its second weekend. The first chapter in what Costner hopes will be a four-part franchise – including a chapter two Warner Bros. will release in August – earned $5.5 million in its second weekend. The film, which cost more than $100 million to make, has grossed $22.2 million in two weeks.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Despicable Me 4,” $75 million.

  2. “Inside Out 2,” $30 million.

  3. “A Quiet Place Day One,” $21 million.

  4. “MaXXXine,” $6.7 million.

  5. “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” $6.5 million.

  6. “Horizon: An American Saga, Chapter 1,” $5.5 million.

  7. “Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot,” $3.2 million.

  8. “Kaiki 2898,” $1.8 million.

  9. “The Bikeriders,” $1.3 million.

  10. “Kinds of Kindness,” $860,000.

Torrid heat bakes millions of people in large swaths of US, setting records and fanning wildfires

Las Vegas — Roughly 130 million people were under threat over the weekend and into next week from a long-running heat wave that broke or tied records with dangerously high temperatures and is expected to shatter more from East Coast to West Coast, forecasters said.

Ukiah, north of San Francisco, hit 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius) on Saturday, breaking the city’s record for the date and tying its all-time high. Livermore, east of San Francisco, hit 111 F (43.8 C), breaking the daily maximum temperature record of 109 F (42.7 C) set more than a century ago in 1905.

Las Vegas tied the record of 115 F (46 C), last reached in 2007, and Phoenix topped out at 114 F (45.5 C), just shy of the record of 116 F (46.7 C) dating to 1942.

The National Weather Service said it was extending the excessive heat warning for much of the Southwest through Friday.

“A dangerous and historic heatwave is just getting started across the area, with temperatures expected to peak during the Sunday-Wednesday timeframe,” the National Weather Service in Las Vegas said in an updated forecast.

In Las Vegas, where the mercury hit 100 F (37.7 C) by 10:30 a.m., Marko Boscovich said the best way to beat the heat is in a seat at a slot machine with a cold beer inside an air-conditioned casino.

“But you know, after it hits triple digits it’s about all the same to me,” said Boscovich, who was visiting from Sparks, Nevada to see a Dead & Company concert Saturday night at the Sphere. “Maybe they’ll play one of my favorites — ‘Cold Rain and Snow.’”

In more humid parts of the country, temperatures could spike above 100 F (about 38 C) in parts of the Pacific Northwest, the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, said Jacob Asherman, a weather service meteorologist.

Heat records shattered across the Southwest

Meteorologists predicted that temperatures would be near daily records in the region through most, if not all, of the coming week, with lower desert highs reaching 115 to 120 degrees F (46.1 to 48.8 C).

Rare heat advisories were extended even into higher elevations including around Lake Tahoe, on the border of California and Nevada, with the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada, warning of “major heat risk impacts, even in the mountains.”

“How hot are we talking? Well, high temperatures across (western Nevada and northeastern California) won’t get below 100 degrees (37.8 C) until next weekend,” the service posted online. “And unfortunately, there won’t be much relief overnight either.”

Indeed, Reno hit a high of 104 F (40 C) on Saturday, smashing the old record of 101 F (38.3 C).

More extreme highs are in the near forecast, including 129 F (53.8 C) for Sunday at Furnace Creek, California, in Death Valley National Park, and then around 130 F (54.4 C) through Wednesday.

The hottest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was 134 F (56.67 C) in July 1913 in Death Valley, eastern California, though some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 130 F (54.4 C), recorded there in July 2021.

The worst is yet to come across the West and mid-Atlantic

Triple-digit temperatures are likely in the West, between 15 and 30 F (8 and 16 C) higher than average into next week, the National Weather Service said.

The Eastern U.S. also was bracing for more hot temperatures. Baltimore and others parts of Maryland were under an excessive heat warning as heat index values could climb to 110 F (43 C), forecasters said.

“Drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors,” read a National Weather Service advisory for the Baltimore area. “Young children and pets should never be left unattended in vehicles under any circumstances.”

Deaths are starting to mount

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, there have been at least 13 confirmed heat-related deaths this year, along with more than 160 other deaths suspected of being related to heat that are still under investigation, according to a recent report.

That does not include the death of a 10-year-old boy last week in Phoenix who suffered a “heat-related medical event” while hiking with family at South Mountain Park and Preserve, according to police.

California wildfires fanned by low humidity, high temperatures

Firefighters dispatched aircraft and helicopters to drop water or retardant on a series of wildfires in California.

In Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, the Lake Fire has scorched more than 19 square miles (49 square kilometers) of grass, brush and timber. Firefighters said the blaze was displaying “extreme fire behavior” and had the “potential for large growth” with high temperatures and low humidity.

Festival revelers meet the heat with cold water and shade

At the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon, music fans coped by drinking cold water, seeking shade or freshening up under water misters. Organizers of the weekend revelries also advertised free access to air conditioning in a nearby hotel.

Angelica Quiroz, 31, kept her scarf and hat wet and applied sunscreen.

“Definitely a difference between the shade and the sun,” Quiroz said Friday. “But when you’re in the sun, it feels like you’re cooking.”


Pope deplores state of democracy, warns against ‘populists’

Vatican City — Pope Francis decried the state of democracy and warned against “populists” during a short visit to Trieste in Italy’s northeast on Sunday ahead of a 12-day trip to Asia — the longest of his papacy.

“Democracy is not in good health in the world today,” Francis said during a speech at the city’s convention center to close a national Catholic event.

Without naming any countries, the pope warned against “ideological temptations and populists” on the day that France holds the second round of a snap parliamentary vote that looks set to see the far-right National Rally party take the largest share of the vote.

“Ideologies are seductive. Some people compare them to the Pied Piper of Hamelin: they seduce but lead you to deny yourself,” he said in reference to the German fairytale.

Ahead of last month’s European parliament elections, bishops in several countries also warned about the rise of populism and nationalism, with far-right parties already holding the reins to power in Italy, Hungary and the Netherlands.

Francis also urged people to “move away from polarizations that impoverish” and hit out at “self-referential power.”

After Venice in April and Verona in May, the half-day trip to Trieste, a city of 200,000 inhabitants on the Adriatic Sea that borders Slovenia, marked the third one within Italy this year for the 87-year-old pontiff, who has suffered increasing health problems in recent years.

Since travelling to the French city of Marseille in September 2023, the Argentine Jesuit has limited himself to domestic travel.

But he plans to spend nearly two weeks in Asia in September visiting Indonesia, Singapore and the islands of Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

He arrived in Trieste shortly before 9 a.m. and was due to meet with various groups from the religious and academic spheres, along with migrants and the disabled.

The papal visit is due to conclude with a Mass in the city’s main public square before he departs for the Vatican in the early afternoon. 

TikTok has launched tons of trends. Will its influence last?

new york — TikTok and its bite-sized videos arrived in the United States as a global version of the Chinese app Douyin in 2018. Less than six years later, the social media platform is deeply woven into the fabric of American consumerism, having shortened the shelf life of trends and revamped how people engage with food and fashion. 

The popularity of TikTok — coupled with its roots in Beijing — led the U.S. Congress — citing national security concerns, to pass a law that would ban the video-sharing app unless its Chinese parent company sells its stake. Both the company, ByteDance, and TikTok have sued on First Amendment grounds. 

But while the platform faces uncertain times, its influence remains undisputed. 

Interest in bright pink blush and brown lipstick soared last year, for example, after the cosmetics were featured in TikTok videos with looks labeled as “cold girl” and “latte” makeup. An abundance of clothing fads with quirky names, from “cottagecore” to “coastal grandma,” similarly owe their pervasiveness to TikTok.   

Plenty of TikTok-spawned crazes last only a week or two before losing steam. Yet even mini trends have challenged businesses to decipher which ones are worth stocking up for. A majority of the more than 170 million Americans who use TikTok belong to the under-30 age group coveted by retailers, according to the Pew Research Center. Whether fans of the platform or not, shoppers may have a #tiktokmademebuyit moment without knowing the origin story behind an eye-catching product. 

Platform’s algorithm is ‘secret sauce’

What made TikTok such a trendsetter compared to predecessor platforms? Researchers and marketing analysts have often described the platform’s personalized recommendation algorithm as the “secret sauce” of TikTok’s success. The company has disclosed little about the technology it employs to populate users’ “For You” feeds.   

Jake Bjorseth, founder of the advertising agency Trndsttrs, which specializes in Generation Z, thinks the app’s use of an interest-based algorithm instead of personal contacts to connect like-minded people is what gave TikTok the edge. 

TikTok also changed the standard for what was considered desirable in social media content. The beginner-friendly platform featured videos made without filters, lighting setups or production-level audio. TikTok creators could develop more intimate relationships with their followers because they appeared more authentic, Bjorseth said. 

The platform has plenty of critics. Some experts argue that TikTok, like other social media sites, can be addictive and promote unnecessary spending. Others accuse TikTok of encouraging harmful behavior, like girls engaging in skin care rituals intended for older women. 

Yet for all the detractors who won’t mourn TikTok if it goes away, a vocal base of fans hopes it doesn’t come to that. 

Influencing fashion, accessories

Casey Lewis, a trend analyst based in New York, said TikTok’s clout in the fashion arena first became apparent to her when videos about Birkenstock’s Boston clogs overtook her “For You” feed in 2022.   

As the number of TikTok videos exploded, creators advised their followers where they could find the suddenly sold-out clogs. Lewis thought it was odd since her brother, whom she described as a “frat boy” and not a fashionista, wore the cork-soled comfort shoes in college.   

“I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure there’s some psychology where your brain goes from thinking like, ‘How weird? Is that fashion?’ And then suddenly you’re obsessed with it,” she said.   

The pace with which TikTok-shaped trends pop can be dizzying. In the last year, the hot pink ensembles of “Barbiecore” coexisted with the deliberately unsexy looks of “dadcore” — think chunky white sneakers, baggy jeans and polo shirts. The linen-draped “coastal grandma” aesthetic gave way to “eclectic grandpa.”   

While the rotating cast of “cores” may not drive their adherents to buy entire wardrobes, they’re “influencing spending in small ways, and that adds up,” Lewis said.   

Influencers provide tips, tricks

Daniella Lopez White, 21, a recent college graduate on a tight budget, said TikTok influencers provided tips on finding affordable clothes but also connected her to plus-size creators featuring fashions for larger-bodied women, which made her more confident. 

“Those TikTok trends really helped me figure out what parts of my body I want to accentuate and feel cute in, and still incorporate my sense of style,” she said. 

A go-to spot

With easy-to-follow cooking videos and clever hacks, TikTok became a go-to spot for home cooks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform made humble ingredients a star and earned endorsements from some of the stars of the food world.   

“Every day, honestly, I am blown away by the creativity from the FoodTok community,” restaurateur and chef Gordon Ramsay said in a TikTok video late last year.   

Like the clothing styles of earlier eras, foods that had fallen out of fashion were resurrected via TikTok. U.S. sales of cottage cheese jumped 34% between April 2022 and April 2024 after videos promoting cottage cheese ice cream, cottage cheese toast and other recipes racked up millions of views. 

Ben Sokolsky, the general manager of sales and marketing for Dallas-based dairy company Daisy Brand, said cottage cheese is seeing its highest sustained growth in nearly 50 years. The curdled milk product used to be a “secret sensation,” but social media helped expose new customers to its benefits, Sokolsky said. 

Topics that went viral on TikTok have even spawned analog equivalents. Last summer, TikToker Olivia Maher posted what she called her “girl dinner” of bread, cheese, pickles and grapes. It was a hit, with more than 1.6 million views. A handful of “girl dinner” cookbooks soon followed.   

But the eagerness to try trendy foods had a downside. A 14-year-old in Massachusetts died after trying a challenge involving an extremely spicy tortilla chip that appeared on TikTok and other social media sites. An autopsy of the boy, who had a congenital heart defect, found that eating a large quantity of chile pepper extract caused his death. Paqui, the maker of the chip, pulled it off the market. 

Upending cosmetic industry

TikTok has upended the cosmetics industry by causing ingredients to get labeled as the next miracle cure or to be avoided and featuring videos of people gleefully applying or panning the contents of their latest shopping hauls. 

Influencers on TikTok and elsewhere have made freckles an asset with clips showing how to add faux ones with eyebrow pencils or broccoli florets. The “clean girl” aesthetic, a renamed version of the no-makeup makeup look, prompted both luxury and drugstore brands to rush out their own versions of skin tints and lip oils. 

Some veteran users of TikTok have noted the platform is almost too good in its role as both a tastemaker and a shopping search engine. A popular category of beauty videos shows influencers “decluttering” drawers filled with piles of barely used lipsticks, blushes and eyeshadow palettes. 

Though the desire for clicks can encourage creators to follow the same hair and makeup trends, TikTok’s defenders credit the platform with forcing brands to create products for a wider range of skin tones and hair types. 

Tiffany Watson, who currently has more than 31,00 followers on TikTok and has done paid partnerships with brands like Colourpop Cosmetics, said the platform has promoted a more inclusive image of beauty compared to other sites. 

“I see more diversity on TikTok because (with) every video you’re swiping, you’re seeing somebody new,” she said. 

Oldest inhabited termite mounds have been active for 34,000 years

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Scientists in South Africa have been stunned to discover that termite mounds that are still inhabited in an arid region of the country are more than 30,000 years old, meaning they are the oldest known active termite hills.

Some of the mounds near the Buffels River in Namaqualand were estimated by radiocarbon dating to be 34,000 years old, according to the researchers from Stellenbosch University.

“We knew they were old, but not that old,” said Michele Francis, senior lecturer in the university’s department of soil science who led the study. Her paper was published in May.

Francis said the mounds existed while saber-toothed cats and woolly mammoths roamed other parts of the Earth and large swathes of Europe and Asia were covered in ice. They predate some of the earliest cave paintings in Europe.

Some fossilized termite mounds have been discovered dating back millions of years. The oldest inhabited mounds before this study were found in Brazil and are around 4,000 years old. They are visible from space.

Francis said the Namaqualand mounds are a termite version of an “apartment complex” and the evidence shows they have been consistently inhabited by termite colonies.

Termite mounds are a famous feature of the Namaqualand landscape, but no one suspected their age until samples of them were taken to experts in Hungary for radiocarbon dating.

“People don’t know that these are special, ancient landscapes that are preserved there,” Francis said.

Some of the biggest mounds — known locally as “heuweltjies,” which means little hills in the Afrikaans language — measure around 30 meters across. The termite nests are as deep as 3 meters underground.

Researchers needed to carefully excavate parts of the mounds to take samples, and the termites went into “emergency mode” and started filling in the holes, Francis said.

The team fully reconstructed the mounds to keep the termites safe from predators like aardvarks.

Francis said the project was more than just a fascinating look at ancient structures. It also offered a peek into a prehistoric climate that showed Namaqualand was a much wetter place when the mounds were formed.

The southern harvester termites are experts at capturing and storing carbon by collecting twigs and other dead wood and putting it back deep into the soil. That has benefits in offsetting climate change by reducing the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

It’s also good for the soil. Masses of wildflowers bloom on top of the termite mounds in a region that receives little rain.

Francis called for more research on termite mounds given the lessons they offer on climate change, sustaining ecosystems and maybe even for improving agricultural practices.

“We will do well to study what the termites have done in the mounds. They were thought to be very boring,” she said.

Fossils show huge salamanderlike predator with sharp fangs existed before the dinosaurs

WASHINGTON — Scientists have revealed fossils of a giant salamanderlike beast with sharp fangs that ruled waters before the first dinosaurs arrived.

The predator, which was larger than a person, likely used its wide, flat head and front teeth to suck in and chomp unsuspecting prey, researchers said. Its skull was about 60 centimeters (2 feet) long.

“It’s acting like an aggressive stapler,” said Michael Coates, a biologist at the University of Chicago who was not involved with the work.

Fossil remnants of four creatures collected about a decade ago were analyzed, including a partial skull and backbone. The findings on Gaiasia jennyae were published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The creature existed some 40 million years before dinosaurs evolved.

Researchers have long examined such ancient predators to uncover the origins of tetrapods: four-legged animals that clambered onto land with fingers instead of fins and evolved to amphibians, birds and mammals including humans.

Most early tetrapod fossils hail from hot, prehistoric coal swamps along the equator in what’s now North America and Europe. But these latest remnants, dating back to about 280 million years ago, were found in modern-day Namibia, an area in Africa that was once encrusted with glaciers and ice.

That means tetrapods may have thrived in colder climates earlier than scientists expected, prompting more questions about how and when they took over the Earth.

“The early story of the first tetrapods is much more complex than we thought,” said co-author Claudia Marsicano at the University of Buenos Aires, who was part of the research.

The creature’s name comes from the Gai-As rock formation in Namibia where the fossils were found and for the late paleontologist Jennifer Clack, who studied how tetrapods evolved.

Russian-linked cybercampaigns focus on Olympics, French elections

paris — Photos of blood-red hands on a Holocaust memorial. Caskets at the Eiffel Tower. A fake French military recruitment drive calling for soldiers in Ukraine, and major French news sites improbably registered in an obscure Pacific territory, population 15,000.

All are part of disinformation campaigns orchestrated out of Russia and targeting France, according to French officials and cybersecurity experts in Europe and the United States. France’s legislative elections and the Paris Olympics sent them into overdrive.

More than a dozen reports issued in the past year point to an intensifying effort from Russia to undermine France, particularly the upcoming Games, and President Emmanuel Macron, who is one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters in Europe.

The Russian campaigns sowing anti-French disinformation began online in early summer 2023, but first became tangible in October, when more than 1,000 bots linked to Russia relayed photos of graffitied Stars of David in Paris and its suburbs.

A French intelligence report said the Russian intelligence agency FSB ordered the tagging, as well as subsequent vandalism of a memorial to those who helped rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

Photos from each event were amplified on social media by fake accounts linked to the Russian disinformation site RRN, according to cybersecurity experts. Russia denies any such campaigns. The French intelligence report says RRN is part of a larger operation orchestrated by Sergei Kiriyenko, a ranking Kremlin official.

“You have to see this as an ecosystem,” said a French military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal information about the Russian effort. “It’s a hybrid strategy.”

The tags and the vandalism had no direct link to Russia’s war in Ukraine, but they provoked a strong reaction from the French political class, with denunciations in the legislature and public debate. Antisemitic attacks are on the rise in France, and the war in Gaza has proven divisive.

The Stars of David could be interpreted either as support for Israel or as opposition. The effect was to sow division and unease. French Jews in particular have found themselves unwittingly thrust into the political fray despite, at just 500,000 people, making up a small proportion of the French population.

In March, just after Macron discussed the possibility of mobilizing the French military in Ukraine, a fake recruitment drive went up for the French army in Ukraine, spawning a series of posts in Russian- and French-language Telegram channels that got picked up in Russian and Belarusian media, according to a separate French government report seen by The Associated Press. On June 1, caskets appeared outside the Eiffel Tower, bearing the inscription “French soldiers in Ukraine.”

The larger disinformation efforts show little traction in France, but the Russian audience may have been the real target, officials said, by showing that Russia’s war in Ukraine is, as Putin has said, really a war with the West.

Among the broader goals, the French military official said, was a long-term and steady effort to sow social discord, erode faith in the media and democratic governments, undermine NATO, and sap Western support for Ukraine. Denigrating the Olympics, from which most Russian athletes are banned, is a bonus, according to French officials monitoring the increasingly strident posts warning of imminent unrest ahead of the Games.

On June 9, the French far-right National Rally trounced Macron’s party in elections for the European Parliament. The party has historically been close to Russia: One of its leading figures, Marine Le Pen, cultivated ties to Putin for many years and supported Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. And its leading contender for prime minister, Jordan Bardella, has said he opposes sending long-range weapons to Kyiv.

In more than 4,400 posts gathered since mid-November by antibot4navalny, a collective that analyzes Russian bot behavior, those targeting audiences in France and Germany predominated. The number of weekly posts ranged from 100 to 200 except for the week of May 5, when it dropped near zero, the data showed. That week, as it happens, was a holiday in Russia.

Many of the posts redirect either to RRN or to sites that appear identical to major French media, but with the domain — and content — changed. At least two of the more recent mirrored sites are registered in Wallis and Futuna, a French Pacific territory 10 time zones from Paris. A click on the top of the fake page redirects back to the real news sites themselves to give the impression of authenticity. Other posts redirect to original sites controlled by the campaign itself, dubbed Doppelganger.

The redirects shifted focus for the European elections and continued after Macron called the surprise legislative elections with just three weeks to spare. Three-quarters of posts from the week ahead of the June 30 first-round legislative vote that were directed toward a French audience focused on either criticizing Macron or boosting the National Rally, antibot4navalny found in data shared with The Associated Press.

One post on a fake site purported to be from Le Point, a current affairs magazine, and the French news agency AFP, criticizing Macron.

“Our leaders have no idea how ordinary French people live but are ready to destroy France in the name of aid for Ukraine,” read the headline on June 25.

Another site falsely claimed to be from Macron’s party, offering to pay 100 euros for a vote for him — and linking back to the party’s true website. And still another inadvertently left a generative artificial intelligence prompt calling for the rewrite of an article “taking a conservative stance against the liberal policies of the Macron administration,” according to findings last week from Insikt Group, the threat research division of the cybersecurity consultancy Recorded Future.

“They’re scraping automatically, sending the text to the AI and asking the AI to introduce bias or slants into the article and rewrite it,” said Clément Briens, an analyst for Recorded Future.

Briens said metrics tools embedded within the site are likely intended to prove that the campaigns were money well-spent for “whoever is doing the payouts for these operations.”

The French government cybersecurity watchdog, Viginum, has published multiple reports since June 2023 singling out Russian efforts to sow divisions in France and elsewhere. That was around the time that pro-Kremlin Telegram feeds started promoting Olympics has Fallen — a full-length fake Netflix film featuring an AI-generated voice resembling Tom Cruise that criticized the International Olympic Committee, according to the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center.

Microsoft said this campaign, which it dubbed Storm-1679, is fanning fears of violence at the Games and last fall disseminated digitally generated photos referring, among other things, to the attacks on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

The latest effort, which started just after the first round of the elections on June 30, merges fears of violence related to both the Olympics and the risk of protests after the decisive second round, antibot4navalny found. Viginum released a new report Tuesday detailing the risks ahead for the Games — not for violence but for disinformation.

“Digital information manipulation campaigns have become a veritable instrument of destabilization of democracies,” Viginum said. “This global event will give untold informational exposure to malevolent foreign actors.” The word Russia appears nowhere.

Baptiste Robert, a French cybersecurity expert who ran unsuccessfully as an unaffiliated centrist in the legislative elections, called on his government — and especially lawmakers — to prepare for the digital threats to come.

“This is a global policy of Russia: They really want to push people into the extremes,” he said before the first-round vote. “It’s working perfectly right now.”

Turkey supporters make controversial hand gesture en route Euro 2024 stadium

berlin — Turkish supporters making their way to the European Championship quarterfinal against the Netherlands made the same nationalistic hand gesture that got a Turkey player banned from the match.

More did the gesture again in the stadium during Turkey’s national anthem before Saturday’s game.

Berlin police said on X on that the gesture was “massively shown” by the fans on their way to the Olympiastadion and they had therefore stopped their march and asked them to stop making it. Fans were asked to make their own way as individuals to the game – as long as they had a ticket for it.

“When a lot of people are doing this gesture, it becomes a political demonstration and a football march is not political demonstration,” police spokesperson Valeska Jakubowski told The Associated Press.

The fans were making a gesture that is used by Turkish nationalists and associated with the Turkish ultra-nationalist organization Ulku Ocaklari, which is more widely known as the Gray Wolves.

Jakubowski acknowledged that showing the gesture is not banned in Germany. She said some arrests were made, “very few,” but they were likely for other reasons.

Turkey defender Merih Demiral was banned for two games by UEFA on Friday for making the gesture after scoring in Turkey’s round-of-16 win over Austria in Leipzig on Tuesday, an incident that led to a diplomatic row between Turkey and Euro 2024 host nation Germany.

The ban rules Demiral out of Saturday’s quarterfinal, and the semifinal should Turkey progress.

The Turkish Football Federation joined Turkish government officials in denouncing the suspension.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan changed plans to visit Azerbaijan to attend Saturday’s match. He had defended Demiral, saying on Friday the defender merely expressed his “excitement” after scoring.

Demiral and Turkish authorities have defended the sign as an expression of Turkish pride. Critics say it glorifies a right-wing group known for racism and violence against minorities.

The Gray Wolves group was founded as the youth wing of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which is currently in an alliance with Erdogan’s ruling party, the Justice and Development Party.

In the decades following its founding in the 1960s, the group was accused of involvement in politically motivated violence, mostly against leftist groups.

German authorities believe the group has around 12,100 in the country. It is monitored by Germany’s federal domestic agency.

The group has been banned in France, while Austria has banned the use of the Gray Wolf salute. 

US records may shatter as excessive heat threatens 130 million

portland, oregon — Roughly 130 million people were under threat Saturday and into next week from a long-running heat wave that already has broken records with dangerously high temperatures — and is expected to shatter more from East Coast to West Coast, forecasters said. 

Oppressive heat and humidity could team up to spike temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 degrees Celsius) in parts of the Pacific Northwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, said Jacob Asherman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

In Oregon, records could be broken in cities including Eugene, Portland and Salem, Asherman said. Dozens of other records throughout the U.S. could fall, Asherman added, causing millions to seek relief from the blanket of heat in cooling centers from Bullhead City, Arizona, to Norfolk, Virginia. 

The National Weather Service said Saturday it was extending the excessive heat warning for much of the Southwest into Friday. 

“A dangerous and historic heatwave is just getting started across the area, with temperatures expected to peak during the Sunday-Wednesday timeframe,” the National Weather Service in Las Vegas said in an updated forecast. 

Excessive heat will likely continue through Friday, the service said. 

In sweltering Las Vegas, where the temperature hit 100 F (37.7 C) by 10:30 a.m., Marko Boscovich said the best way to beat the heat is in a seat at a slot machine with a cold beer inside an air-conditioned casino. 

“But you know, after it hits triple digits it’s about all the same to me,” said Boscovich, who was visiting from Sparks, Nevada, to see a Dead & Company concert later Saturday night at the Sphere. “Maybe they’ll play one of my favorites — ‘Cold Rain and Snow.'” 

Heat records being shattered across the southwest 

By 10:30 a.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service said the temperature already had risen to 100 F (36.6 C) in Phoenix, which saw a record high of 118 F (47.7 C) for Friday. 

Meteorologists predict temperatures will be near daily records region-wide through most, if not all, of the coming week with lower desert highs reaching 115 to 120 F (46.1 to 48.8 C). 

Rare heat advisories had been extended even into the upper elevations, including around Lake Tahoe, with the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada, warning of “major heat risk impacts, even in the mountains.” 

“How hot are we talking? Well, high temperatures across (western Nevada and northeastern California) won’t get below 100 degrees (37.8 C) until next weekend,” the service posted online. “And unfortunately, there won’t be much relief overnight either.” 

A new heat record for the day was set Friday in California’s Death Valley — one of the hottest places on Earth — with the mercury climbing to 127 F (52.8 C). The old mark of 122 F (50 C) was last tied in 2013. 

Palm Springs, California, hit 124 F (51.1 C) Friday, breaking the city’s record of 123 F (50.5 C). 

More extreme highs are in the near forecast, including 129 F (53.8 degrees C) for Sunday at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park, and then around 130 (54.4 C) through Wednesday. The hottest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was 134 degrees (56.67 C) in Death Valley in July 1913, though some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 130 F (54.4 C) recorded there in July 2021. 

Worst is yet to come 

The worst was yet to come across much of the West, with triple-digit temperatures likely higher than average into next week, the National Weather Service said.  

The Eastern U.S. also was bracing for more hot temperatures. Baltimore and other parts of Maryland were under an excessive heat warning, as heat index values could climb to 110 F (43 C), forecasters said.

Heat-related deaths mounting 

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, there have been at least 13 confirmed heat-related deaths this year, along with more than 160 other suspected heat deaths are still under investigation, according to the county’s most recent report. 

That does not include the death of a 10-year-old boy this week in Phoenix who suffered a “heat-related medical event” while hiking with family at South Mountain Park and Preserve, according to police. 

Anti-doping agency sharpens its tools for Paris Olympics

Lausanne, Switzerland — In the battle against drug use at the Paris Olympics, the International Testing Agency plans to deploy a more streamlined, high-tech approach to identify and target potential cheats.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Benjamin Cohen, director general of the ITA, said potential tools at its disposal included biological and performance passports as well as a mountain of other data.

Upgraded software, possibly using artificial intelligence, could also help; an investigative unit aided by whistleblowers was making inroads; and increased cooperation with sports bodies and police was bearing fruit.

The ITA, which was founded in 2018, runs the anti-doping program for the Olympics, the Tour de France and “more than 65 international organizations,” said Cohen.

The challenge was to refine the “risk analysis” and identify athletes to monitor using as little time and resources as possible, said Cohen, a Swiss lawyer who has headed the agency since its creation.

The problem is accentuated in the run-up to the Paris Games.

“We still have 30,000 potentially qualifying athletes and we cannot wait to have the final list to focus on the 11,000 participants,” Cohen said.

“Certain doping practices enable athletes to achieve results very quickly,” he said. “Traditionally the pre-Olympic period is high-risk time … the last moment to make a difference. Athletes know that they will be very closely monitored at the Olympics, so I would hope that very few, if any, will be tempted to take drugs in the Olympic Village in Paris.”

At the Games, only medalists are automatically tested, but the ITA wants to find ways to target potential dopers before the finish.

Cohen said the ITA tries to identify patterns. It looks at the demands of each discipline and the substances it might tempt athletes to use. Then the ITA looks at delegations and “the history of doping in that country.” Finally, it scrutinizes each individual athlete and “the development of his or her performances, any suspicious biological passport profiles, suspicious anti-doping tests and so on.”

“That’s hundreds of thousands of pieces of data.”

“Risk analysis”

“Today we have our own software, and the next stage” will involve “programming computers to extract this data, because we still do a lot of this work manually.”

After that, the ITA hopes to “seize all the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence,” provided “we use these new tools ethically.”

“If it’s done properly,” he said, “AI will enable us to go much further in risk analysis and prediction.”

The ITA is developing a “performance passport” as a counterpart to the long-established biological passport.

The objective is to “predict results on the basis of what an athlete has done over the last four years,” said Cohen.

“Artificial intelligence will enable us to say: ‘This is really an unusual result, which could suggest doping,'” he said. “It could help us flag them.”

The performance passport project was initially tested in swimming and weightlifting, two indoor sports in which athletes compete in identical environments each time.

Weightlifting also is one of the sports that have returned a vast number of positive tests at Summer Olympics.

In 2021, the ITA carried out “a major investigation into weightlifting,” and that enabled them to set up a specialized unit in cooperation with the sport.

Focus on cycling

It now has more than 10 such units. “Cycling is a particular focus,” but “other sports are beginning to understand the benefits of gathering intelligence, having anonymous sources and promoting whistleblowers.”

“It’s a new method that complements traditional testing.”

Cohen said the ITA has been working to build links with law enforcement and exploit “synergies.”

“They are bearing fruit,” he said, referring to the case of 23-year-old Italian cyclist Andrea Piccolo, arrested on June 21 by the Italian Carabinieri who caught him returning to the country with growth hormones.

“ITA asked the Italian authorities to open his luggage, which would not have been possible six years ago,” Cohen said.

“We carry out the controls, we monitor the performances of these athletes, we know the networks, the doctors involved and the drugs they are taking. And they can seize and open suitcases and enter hotel rooms.”

Mount Everest’s highest camp is littered with frozen garbage

KATHMANDU, Nepal — The highest camp on the world’s tallest mountain is littered with garbage that is going to take years to clean up, according to a Sherpa who led a team that worked to clear trash and dig up dead bodies frozen for years near Mount Everest’s peak.

The Nepal government-funded team of soldiers and Sherpas removed 11 tons of garbage, four dead bodies and a skeleton from Everest during this year’s climbing season.

Ang Babu Sherpa, who led the team of Sherpas, said there could be as much as 40-50 tons of garbage still at South Col, the last camp before climbers make their attempt on the summit.

“The garbage left there was mostly old tents, some food packaging and gas cartridges, oxygen bottles, tent packs, and ropes used for climbing and tying up tents,” he said, adding that the garbage is in layers and frozen at the 8,000-meter altitude where the South Col camp is located.

Since the peak was first conquered in 1953, thousands of climbers have scaled it and many have left behind more than just their footprints.

In recent years, a government requirement that climbers bring back their garbage or lose their deposits, along with increased awareness among climbers about the environment, have significantly reduced the amount of garbage left behind. However, that was not the case in earlier decades.

“Most of the garbage is from older expeditions,” Ang Babu said.

The Sherpas on the team collected garbage and bodies from the higher-attitude areas, while the soldiers worked at lower levels and the base camp area for weeks during the popular spring climbing season, when weather conditions are more favorable.

Ang Babu said the weather was a big challenge for their work in the South Col area, where oxygen levels are about one-third the normal amount, winds can quickly turn to blizzard conditions and temperatures plunge.

“We had to wait for good weather when the sun would melt the ice cover. But waiting a long time in that attitude and conditions is just not possible,” he said. “It’s difficult to stay for long with the oxygen level very low.”

Digging out the garbage is also a big task, since it is frozen inside ice and breaking the blocks is not easy.

It took two days to dig out one body near the South Col which was frozen in a standing position deep in the ice, he said. Part way through, the team had to retreat to lower camps because of the deteriorating weather, and then resume after it improved.

Another body was much higher up at 8,400 meters and it took 18 hours to drag it to Camp 2, where a helicopter picked it up.

The bodies were flown to Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu for identification.

Of the 11 tons of garbage removed, three tons of decomposable items were taken to villages near Everest’s base and the remaining eight were carried by porters and yaks and then taken by trucks to Kathmandu. There it was sorted for recycling at a facility operated by Agni Ventures, an agency that manages recyclable waste.

“The oldest waste we received was from 1957, and that was rechargeable batteries for torch lights,” said Sushil Khadga of the agency.

Why do climbers leave garbage behind?

“At that high altitude, life is very difficult and oxygen is very low. So climbers and their helpers are more focused on saving themselves,” Khadga said.

Hurricane Beryl destroys homes, uproots trees in Grenada

new york — The extent of Hurricane Beryl’s damage became clearer Friday, as communications were reestablished with the small, storm-ravaged eastern Caribbean islands and relief began to arrive. 

The Grenadian islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique sustained the most severe damage when Beryl made landfall Monday as a Category 4 storm and later saw its winds strengthen to a Category 5. About 11,000 people inhabit the two islands. 

“The desalination plants have been knocked out; all of the cell towers have been knocked out; all of the fiber optic cables have been knocked out,” said Simon Springett, the United Nations resident coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. “The roads are impassable. We probably have about 95% of the housing stock destroyed. And by default, all of the local businesses, all the income-generating activities — and the list goes on.” 

Beryl is the first Category 5 hurricane on record in the Atlantic Ocean in June. The hurricane season runs until November 30 and officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are forecasting 17 to 25 named storms.

Springett, who briefed reporters from Grenada, said communications were only restored with Carriacou Thursday night. About 9,000 people live on the island known for its coral reefs and sandy beaches. 

“The entire island is completely affected,” he said. 

Rough seas hamper delivery of help

Springett said the relief operation has been complicated by extremely rough seas following the hurricane and airport control towers being knocked offline. 

“So, there is only fly-by visibility,” he said. “Even when things get into the airport, there are no roads to be able to access the goods.” 

He said a French naval vessel is due to arrive in Carriacou on Friday. Neighbors Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago also have sent support. 

The United Nations, which has nine agencies active in Grenada normally, is surging more staff in. Springett said a supply ship would be arriving Saturday from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to bring aid to the outer islands of the Grenadines and then continue to Carriacou and Petite Martinique. 

Three islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines also were hit badly: Canouan, Union Island and Mayreau. Springett said about 15,500 people live there. 

One confirmed death in Jamaica

Beryl hit Jamaica Wednesday. It was the strongest storm there in over a decade, but the island was spared the worst. 

Dennis Zulu, U.N. resident coordinator for Jamaica, told reporters on the same briefing call that about 70% of people are without water and 40% without power. 

The island is a major tourism destination and Zulu said the government had moved quickly to reopen the main tourist airport at Montego Bay and to clear road access to resorts. 

“From preliminary assessments, very little harm came to the infrastructure in terms of tourist hotels and resorts,” Zulu said.  “So that is really positive.” 

He said at least one person was confirmed dead in Jamaica from Beryl and a flash flood warning remains in effect. There was damage to homes, but some government shelters were shutting after people had returned home. 

“Jamaica is up and running, if I may say that, and the government is moving seriously to ensure that,” Zulu said. 

The United Nations has made an initial allocation of $1.5 million from its emergency fund for Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Another $2.5 million has been allocated for Jamaica. 

Australia plans to build secret data centers with Amazon

SYDNEY — Australia said Thursday a $1.35 billion deal with U.S. technology giant Amazon to build three secure data centers for top-secret information will increase its military’s “war-fighting capacity.”

The data centers are to be built in secret locations in Australia and be run by an Australian subsidiary of the U.S. technology company Amazon Web Service, the government said.

The deal is part of Australia’s National Defense Strategy, outlining its commitment to Indo-Pacific security and maintaining “the global rules-based order.” The country has a long-standing military alliance with the United States and is a member, with the United Kingdom, U.S., Canada and New Zealand, of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

Australian officials said the project would create a “state-of-the-art collaborative space” for intelligence and defense agencies to store and gain access to sensitive information in a centralized network.

Andrew Shearer, director-general of Australia’s Office of National Intelligence, said in a statement that the project would allow “greater interoperability with our most important international intelligence partners.”

Similar data clouds have been set up in the United States and Britain, allowing the sharing of information among agencies and departments.

Richard Marles, Australia’s deputy prime minister and defense minister, told reporters that highly sensitive national security data will be safely secured in the new system.

“If you consider that any sensor which is on a defense platform, which in turn feeds that data to a high tech capability, such as the Joint Strike Fighter, which will use that to engage in targeting or perhaps to defend itself from an in-coming threat, or … to defend another asset, such as a ship — all of that is top secret data,” Marles said.

The government said the Amazon Web Services storage system will use artificial intelligence to detect suspected intrusions and to retrieve data.

Richard Buckland, a professor in CyberCrime, Cyberwar and Cyberterror at the University of New South Wales, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the storage plan has risks.

“Putting more data together in a central spot and sharing it widely as people intend to do obviously increases the risk of a data breach,” he said.

In a statement, Amazon Web Services’ managing director in Australia, Iain Rouse, said the system would “enable the seamless sharing of classified data between Australia’s National Intelligence Community and the Australian Defense Force.”

The so-called top-secret cloud is scheduled to be in operation by 2027.