Gun supervisor gets 18 months in prison for fatal movie set shooting by Alec Baldwin

santa fe, new mexico — A movie weapons supervisor was sentenced to 18 months in prison in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin on the set of the Western film “Rust,” during a hearing Monday in which tearful family members and friends gave testimonials that included calls for justice and a punishment that would instill greater accountability for safety on film sets.

Movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted in March by a jury on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and has been held for more than a month at a county jail on the outskirts of Santa Fe.

Prosecutors blamed Gutierrez-Reed for unwittingly bringing live ammunition onto the set of “Rust” where it was expressly prohibited and for failing to follow basic gun safety protocols.

Gutierrez-Reed was unsuccessful in her plea for a lesser sentencing, telling the judge she was not the monster that people have made her out to be and that she had tried to do her best on the set despite not having “proper time, resources and staffing.”

Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer for “Rust,” was pointing a gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal on a movie set outside Santa Fe in October 2021 when the revolver went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. He is scheduled for trial in July at a courthouse in Santa Fe.

The sentence against Gutierrez-Reed was delivered by New Mexico Judge Mary Marlowe Summer, who is overseeing proceedings against Baldwin. The judge said anything less than the maximum sentence would not be appropriate given that Gutierrez-Reed’s recklessness amounted to a serious violent offense.

“You were the armorer, the one that stood between a safe weapon and a weapon that could kill someone,” the judge told Gutierrez-Reed. “You alone turned a safe weapon into a lethal weapon. But for you, Ms. Hutchins would be alive, a husband would have his partner and a little boy would have his mother.”

 

Gutierrez-Reed teared up as Hutchins’ agent, Craig Mizrahi, spoke about the cinematographer’s creativity and described her as a rising star in Hollywood. He said it was a chain of events that led to Hutchins’ death and that had the armorer been doing her job, that chain would have been broken.

Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred read a statement by Hutchins’ mother, Olga Solovey, who said her life had been split in two and that time didn’t heal, rather it only prolonged her pain and suffering. A video of a tearful Solovey, who lives in Ukraine, also was played for the court.

“It’s the hardest thing to lose a child. There’s no words to describe,” Solovey said in her native language.

Defense attorneys for Gutierrez-Reed requested leniency in sentencing — including a possible conditional discharge that would avoid further jail time and leave an adjudication of guilt off her record if certain conditions are met.

Gutierrez-Reed was acquitted at trial of allegations she tampered with evidence in the “Rust” investigation. She also has pleaded not guilty to a separate felony charge that she allegedly carried a gun into a bar in Santa Fe where firearms are prohibited.

Defense attorneys have highlighted Gutierrez-Reed’s relatively young age “and the devastating effect a felony will have on her life going forward.”

They said the 26-year-old will forever be affected negatively by intense publicity associated with her prosecution in parallel with an A-list actor, and has suffered from anxiety, fear and depression as a result.

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey urged the judge to impose the maximum prison sentence and designate Gutierrez-Reed as a “serious violent offender” to limit her eligibility for a sentence reduction later, describing the defendant’s behavior on the set of “Rust” as exceptionally reckless.

Defense attorneys argued Monday that Gutierrez-Reed was remorseful and had breakdowns over Hutchins’ death. They also pointed to systemic problems that led to the shooting.

“Rust” assistant director and safety coordinator Dave Halls last year pleaded no contest to negligent handling of a firearm and completed a sentence of six months unsupervised probation. “Rust” props master Sarah Zachry, who shared some responsibilities over firearms on the set of “Rust,” signed an agreement with prosecutors to avoid prosecution in return with her cooperation.

your ad here

US Commerce Dept. grants Samsung $6.4 billion for Texas chip plants

your ad here

At birthplace of Olympics, performers at flame-lighting ceremony feel a pull of ancient past

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece — No one knows what music in ancient Greece sounded like or how dancers once moved.

Every two years, a new interpretation of the ancient performance gets a global audience. It takes place in southern Greece at a site many still consider sacred: the birthplace of the Olympic Games.

Forty-eight performers, chosen in part for their resemblance to youths in antiquity as seen in statues and other surviving artwork, will take part Tuesday in the flame-lighting ceremony for the Paris Olympics. 

Details of the 30-minute performance are fine-tuned — and kept secret — right up until a public rehearsal Monday.

The Associated Press got rare access to rehearsals that took place during weekends, mostly at an Olympic indoor cycling track in Athens. 

As riders whiz around them on the banked cycling oval, the all-volunteer Olympic performers snatch poses from ancient vases. Sequences are repeated and re-repeated under the direction of the hyper-focused head choreographer Artemis Ignatiou.

“In ancient times there was no Olympic flame ceremony,” Ignatiou said during a recent practice session.

“My inspiration comes from temple pediments, from images on vases, because there is nothing that has been preserved — no movement, no dance — from antiquity,” she said. “So basically, what we are doing is joining up those images. Everything in between comes from us.”

Ceremonies take place at Olympia every two years for the Winter and Summer Games, with the sun’s rays focused on the inside of a parabolic mirror to produce the Olympic flame and start the torch relay to the host city.

Women dressed as priestesses are at the heart of the ceremony, first held for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Leading the group is an actress who performs the role of high priestess and makes a dramatic appeal to Apollo, the ancient god of the sun, for assistance moments before the torch is lit.

Over the decades, new ingredients have been progressively added: music, choreography, new colors for the costumes, male performers known as “kouroi” and subtle style inclusions to give a nod to the culture of the Olympic host nation.

Adding complexity also has introduced controversy, inevitably amplified by social media. Criticism this year has centered on the dresses and tunics to be worn by the performers, styled to resemble ancient Greek columns. Faultfinders have called it a rude departure from the ceremony’s customary elegance.

Organizers hope the attire will create a more positive impression when witnessed at the ruins of ancient Olympia.

Counting out the sequences, Ignatiou controls the music with taps on her cell phone while keeping track of the male dancers at the velodrome working on a stop motion-like routine and women who glide past them like a slowly uncoiling spring.

Ignatiou has been involved with the ceremony for 36 years, as priestess, high priestess, assistant and then head choreographer since 2008. She takes in the criticism with composure.

She’s still moved to tears when describing the flame lighting, but defers to her dancers to describe their experience of the five-month participation at practices.

Most in their early twenties, the performers are selected from dance and drama academies with an eye on maintaining an athletic look and classic Greek aesthetic, the women with hair pulled back in neat double-braids.

Christiana Katsimpraki, a 23-year-old drama school student who is taking part at Olympia for the first time, said she wants to repay the kindness shown to her by older performers.

“Before I go to bed, when I close my eyes, I go through the whole choreography — a run through — to make sure I have all the steps memorized and that they’re in the right order,” she said. “It’s so that the next time I can come to the rehearsal, it all goes correctly and no one gets tired.”

The ceremony is performed to sparse music, and final routine modifications are made at Olympia, in part to cope with the pockmarked and uneven ground at the site.

Dancers describe the fun they have in messaging groups, the good-natured pranks played on newcomers and fun they have on the four-hour bus ride to the ancient site in southern Greece — but also the significance of the moment and the pull of the past.

“I’m in awe that we’re going there and that I’m going to be part of this whole team,” 23-year-old performer Kallia Vouidaski said. “I’m going to have this entire experience that I watched when I was little on TV. I would say, ’Oh! How cool would it be if I could do this at some point.’ And I did it.”

The flame-lighting ceremony will start at 0830 GMT Tuesday. A separate flame-handover ceremony to the Paris 2024 organizing committee will be held in Athens on April 26. 

your ad here

AI-generated fashion models could bring more diversity to industry — or leave it with less

Chicago, Illinois — London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect: Her counterpart is made of pixels instead of flesh and blood.

The virtual twin was generated by artificial intelligence and has already appeared as a stand-in for the real-life Alexsandrah in a photo shoot. Alexsandrah, who goes by her first name professionally, in turn receives credit and compensation whenever the AI version of herself gets used — just like a human model.

Alexsandrah says she and her alter-ego mirror each other “even down to the baby hairs.” And it is yet another example of how AI is transforming creative industries — and the way humans may or may not be compensated.

Proponents say the growing use of AI in fashion modeling showcases diversity in all shapes and sizes, allowing consumers to make more tailored purchase decisions that in turn reduces fashion waste from product returns. And digital modeling saves money for companies and creates opportunities for people who want to work with the technology.

But critics raise concerns that digital models may push human models — and other professionals like makeup artists and photographers — out of a job. Unsuspecting consumers could also be fooled into thinking AI models are real, and companies could claim credit for fulfilling diversity commitments without employing actual humans.

“Fashion is exclusive, with limited opportunities for people of color to break in,” said Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit aiming to advance workers’ rights in the fashion industry. “I think the use of AI to distort racial representation and marginalize actual models of color reveals this troubling gap between the industry’s declared intentions and their real actions.”  

Women of color in particular have long faced higher barriers to entry in modeling and AI could upend some of the gains they’ve made. Data suggests that women are more likely to work in occupations in which the technology could be applied and are more at risk of displacement than men.

In March 2023, iconic denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it would be testing AI-generated models produced by Amsterdam-based company Lalaland.ai to add a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics on its website. But after receiving widespread backlash, Levi clarified that it was not pulling back on its plans for live photo shoots, the use of live models or its commitment to working with diverse models.

“We do not see this (AI) pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such,” Levi said in its statement at the time.

The company last month said that it has no plans to scale the AI program.

The Associated Press reached out to several other retailers to ask whether they use AI fashion models. Target, Kohl’s and fast-fashion giant Shein declined to comment; Temu did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for Nieman Marcus, H&M, Walmart and Macy’s said their respective companies do not use AI models, although Walmart clarified that “suppliers may have a different approach to photography they provide for their products, but we don’t have that information.”

Nonetheless, companies that generate AI models are finding a demand for the technology, including Lalaland.ai, which was co-founded by Michael Musandu after he was feeling frustrated by the absence of clothing models who looked like him.

“One model does not represent everyone that’s actually shopping and buying a product,” he said. “As a person of color, I felt this painfully myself.”

Musandu says his product is meant to supplement traditional photo shoots, not replace them. Instead of seeing one model, shoppers could see nine to 12 models using different size filters, which would enrich their shopping experience and help reduce product returns and fashion waste.

The technology is actually creating new jobs, since Lalaland.ai pays humans to train its algorithms, Musandu said.

And if brands “are serious about inclusion efforts, they will continue to hire these models of color,” he added.

London-based model Alexsandrah, who is Black, says her digital counterpart has helped her distinguish herself in the fashion industry. In fact, the real-life Alexsandrah has even stood in for a Black computer-generated model named Shudu, created by Cameron Wilson, a former fashion photographer turned CEO of The Diigitals, a U.K.-based digital modeling agency.

Wilson, who is white and uses they/them pronouns, designed Shudu in 2017, described on Instagram as the “The World’s First Digital Supermodel.” But critics at the time accused Wilson of cultural appropriation and digital Blackface.

Wilson took the experience as a lesson and transformed The Diigitals to make sure Shudu — who has been booked by Louis Vuitton and BMW — didn’t take away opportunities but instead opened possibilities for women of color. Alexsandrah, for instance, has modeled in-person as Shudu for Vogue Australia, and writer Ama Badu came up with Shudu’s backstory and portrays her voice for interviews.

Alexsandrah said she is “extremely proud” of her work with The Diigitals, which created her own AI twin: “It’s something that even when we are no longer here, the future generations can look back at and be like, ‘These are the pioneers.'”

But for Yve Edmond, a New York City area-based model who works with major retailers to check the fit of clothing before it’s sold to consumers, the rise of AI in fashion modeling feels more insidious.

Edmond worries modeling agencies and companies are taking advantage of models, who are generally independent contractors afforded few labor protections in the U.S., by using their photos to train AI systems without their consent or compensation.

She described one incident in which a client asked to photograph Edmond moving her arms, squatting and walking for “research” purposes. Edmond refused and later felt swindled — her modeling agency had told her she was being booked for a fitting, not to build an avatar.

“This is a complete violation,” she said. “It was really disappointing for me.”

But absent AI regulations, it’s up to companies to be transparent and ethical about deploying AI technology. And Ziff, the founder of the Model Alliance, likens the current lack of legal protections for fashion workers to “the Wild West.”

That’s why the Model Alliance is pushing for legislation like the one being considered in New York state, in which a provision of the Fashion Workers Act would require management companies and brands to obtain models’ clear written consent to create or use a model’s digital replica; specify the amount and duration of compensation, and prohibit altering or manipulating models’ digital replica without consent.

Alexsandrah says that with ethical use and the right legal regulations, AI might open up doors for more models of color like herself. She has let her clients know that she has an AI replica, and she funnels any inquires for its use through Wilson, who she describes as “somebody that I know, love, trust and is my friend.” Wilson says they make sure any compensation for Alexsandrah’s AI is comparable to what she would make in-person.

Edmond, however, is more of a purist: “We have this amazing Earth that we’re living on. And you have a person of every shade, every height, every size. Why not find that person and compensate that person?”

your ad here

Cameroon opens museum honoring oldest sub-Saharan kingdom

Foumban, Cameroon — To enter the Museum of the Bamoun Kings in western Cameroon, you have to pass under the fangs of a gigantic two-headed snake — the highlight of an imposing coat of arms of one of the oldest kingdoms in sub-Saharan Africa.

Thousands of Cameroonians gathered in the royal palace square in Foumban on Saturday to celebrate the opening of the Museum of the Bamoun Kings.

Sultan King Mouhammad Nabil Mforifoum Mbombo Njoya welcomed 2,000 guests to the opening of the museum located in Foumban — the historic capital of the Bamoun Kings.

The royal family, descendants of a monarchy that dates back six centuries, attended the event dressed in traditional ceremonial attire with colorful boubous and matching fezzes.

Griot narrators in multicolored boubous played drums and long traditional flutes while palace riflemen fired shots to punctuate the arrival of distinguished guests which included ministers and diplomats.

Then, princes and princesses from the Bamoun chieftaincies performed the ritual Ndjah dance in yellow robes and animal masks.

For Cameroon, such a museum dedicated to the history of a kingdom is “unique in its scope”, Armand Kpoumie Nchare, author of a book about the Bamoun kingdom, told AFP.

“This is one of the rare kingdoms to have managed to exist and remain authentic, despite the presence of missionaries, merchants and colonial administrators,” he said.

The Bamoun kingdom, founded in 1384, is one of the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa.

To honor the Bamoun, the museum was built in the shape of the kingdom’s coat of arms.

A spider, which is over 5,000 square meters (54,000 square feet), sits atop the building while the entrances represent the two-headed serpent.

“This is a festival for the Bamoun people. We’ve come from all over to experience this unique moment,” 50-year-old spectator Ben Oumar said.

“It’s a proud feeling to attend this event. We’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” civil servant Mahamet Jules Pepore said.

The museum contains 12,500 pieces including weapons, pipes and musical instruments — only a few of which were previously displayed in the royal palace.

“It reflects the rich, multi-century creativity of these people, both in terms of craftsmanship and art — Bamoun drawings — as well as the technological innovations of the peasants at various periods: Mills, wine presses etc.,” Nchare said.

Also on display are items from the life of the most famous Bamoun King, Ibrahim Njoya, who reigned from 1889 to 1933 and created Bamoune Script, a writing system that contains over 500 syllabic signs.

The museum exhibits his manuscripts and a corn-grinding machine he invented.

“We pay tribute to a king who was simultaneously a guardian and a pioneer… a way for us to be proud of our past in order to build the future” and “show that Africa is not an importer of thoughts,” Njoya’s great-grandson, the 30-year-old Sultan King Mouhammad said.

To commemorate his grandfather’s work, former Sultan King Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya launched the construction of the museum in 2013 after realizing the palace rooms were too cramped.

The opening of the museum comes months after the Nguon of the Bamoun people, a set of rituals celebrated in a popular annual festival, joined UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

 

your ad here

Coachella heavy on indie rock nostalgia, Taylor Swift buzz

Indio, USA — Coachella day two was heavy on alt-rock throwbacks including a highly anticipated No Doubt reunion, but it was Taylor Swift — who wasn’t on the lineup and didn’t perform — creating buzz on Saturday.

Her mere presence at the mammoth festival in the California desert set the internet alight, after she made a much-speculated appearance… as a fan, canoodling and dancing with beau Travis Kelce as Bleachers performed a rollicking set.

The rock band Bleachers is fronted by Jack Antonoff, Swift’s friend and longtime producer.

Kelce’s blocking skills came in handy as the 6’5″ (1.96 meters) NFL tight end did well to obscure his wildly famous girlfriend from view, as the couple enjoyed the show from just offstage.

Still, an AFP journalist saw the lovebirds twirling and singing along during the performance of Antonoff, who’s co-written and produced several of Swift’s albums.

Fan videos quickly started circulating online. Swift’s cameo comes less than a week before her forthcoming album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” drops on April 19.

Shortly after the Bleachers set Swift and Kelce were caught by fan cameras as they stood in the VIP section for a blazing performance from Ice Spice, the Bronx rapper who collaborated on a remix of Swift’s “Karma.”

The crowd went berserk when Ice Spice shouted out her megastar pal — but the rapper performed “Karma” on her own with a backing track, giving Swift the chance to watch a rendition of her own song from the vantage point of the crowd.

The 34-year-old billionaire is currently on break from her blockbuster Eras tour.

Some fans had speculated Swift might join friend and fellow Antonoff associate Lana Del Rey, who headlined Friday’s opening night.

There’s always next weekend, which is essentially a repeat of the first three days of the festival but usually includes a few shakeups.

Tyler, the Creator was the top-billed act Saturday, bursting onto the stage in flames from inside a camper van that was parked in a set mimicking a desert mountain scene.

The eccentric performer — who sported both Palestinian and Congolese flag pins — invited a number of special guests including Kali Uchis, Childish Gambino and A$AP Rocky.

Doja Cat is on deck to headline Sunday.

Alt-rock roots and Paris Hilton

Coachella started as a rock festival but in recent years it’s leaned increasingly into pop, rap and the Latino megastars who rule the streaming charts.

But Saturday’s lineup offered a portrait of nostalgia: No Doubt — the group fronted by Gwen Stefani — played together for the first time in 15 years.

Stefani, 54, bounded across the stage boasting the vocals of her youth, leading the crowd in singalongs of the group’s classics including “Just A Girl” and “Don’t Speak.”

English rockers Blur also took the stage, while stoner reggae rock group Sublime — the 1990s act beloved for hits including “Santeria” — drew throngs of fans to the main stage for a sunset performance featuring the late frontman Brad Nowell’s son Jakob leading the way.

Vampire Weekend made a last-minute return to the desert, having last performed there more than a decade ago.

The veteran indie rockers whose hits including “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” were brought in just last week, and frontman Ezra Koenig, who sported a striped Pogues sweatshirt, told cheering fans he’d been leaning back sipping ranch water — a cocktail of seltzer, tequila and lime — in Texas when he got a text asking if they’d come on board.

The group just released their fifth album, “Only God Was Above Us,” and played a mix of fan favorites and new work, including a 15-minute honky tonk mash-up.

They also randomly brought Paris Hilton onstage to play a quick round of cornhole — a popular North American bean bag-based lawn game — as part of a giveaway of chocolate for front-row fans.

“I haven’t played this game since ‘The Simple Life,'” the cowboy-hat wearing socialite and reality TV icon quipped, a referencing to the cult mid-2000s series she starred in with Nicole Richie.

“Make some noise for ‘The Simple Life!'” yelled Koenig to laughs and applause.

 

your ad here

Instagram blurring nudity in messages to protect teens, fight sexual extortion

LONDON — Instagram says it’s deploying new tools to protect young people and combat sexual extortion, including a feature that will automatically blur nudity in direct messages.

The social media platform said in a blog post Thursday that it’s testing out the features as part of its campaign to fight sexual scams and other forms of “image abuse,” and to make it tougher for criminals to contact teens.

Sexual extortion, or sextortion, involves persuading a person to send explicit photos online and then threatening to make the images public unless the victim pays money or engages in sexual favors. Recent high-profile cases include two Nigerian brothers who pleaded guilty to sexually extorting teen boys and young men in Michigan, including one who took his own life, and a Virginia sheriff’s deputy who sexually extorted and kidnapped a 15-year-old girl.

Instagram and other social media companies have faced growing criticism for not doing enough to protect young people. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Instagram’s owner Meta Platforms, apologized to the parents of victims of such abuse during a Senate hearing earlier this year.

Meta, which is based in Menlo Park, California, also owns Facebook and WhatsApp but the nudity blur feature won’t be added to messages sent on those platforms.

Instagram said scammers often use direct messages to ask for “intimate images.” To counter this, it will soon start testing out a nudity-protection feature for direct messages that blurs any images with nudity “and encourages people to think twice before sending nude images.”

“The feature is designed not only to protect people from seeing unwanted nudity in their DMs, but also to protect them from scammers who may send nude images to trick people into sending their own images in return,” Instagram said.

The feature will be turned on by default globally for teens under 18. Adult users will get a notification encouraging them to activate it.

Images with nudity will be blurred with a warning, giving users the option to view it. They’ll also get an option to block the sender and report the chat.

For people sending direct messages with nudity, they will get a message reminding them to be cautious when sending “sensitive photos.” They’ll also be informed that they can unsend the photos if they change their mind, but that there’s a chance others may have already seen them.

As with many of Meta’s tools and policies around child safety, critics saw the move as a positive step, but one that does not go far enough.

“I think the tools announced can protect senders, and that is welcome. But what about recipients?” said Arturo Béjar, former engineering director at the social media giant who is known for his expertise in curbing online harassment. He said 1 in 8 teens receives an unwanted advance on Instagram every seven days, citing internal research he compiled while at Meta that he presented in November testimony before Congress. “What tools do they get? What can they do if they get an unwanted nude?”

Béjar said “things won’t meaningfully change” until there is a way for a teen to say they’ve received an unwanted advance, and there is transparency about it.

Instagram said it’s working on technology to help identify accounts that could be potentially be engaging in sexual extortion scams, “based on a range of signals that could indicate sextortion behavior.”

To stop criminals from connecting with young people, it’s also taking measures including not showing the “message” button on a teen’s profile to potential sextortion accounts, even if they already follow each other, and testing new ways to hide teens from these accounts.

In January, the FBI warned of a “huge increase” in sextortion cases targeting children — including financial sextortion, where someone threatens to release compromising images unless the victim pays. The targeted victims are primarily boys between the ages of 14 to 17, but the FBI said any child can become a victim. In the six-month period from October 2022 to March 2023, the FBI saw a more than 20% increase in reporting of financially motivated sextortion cases involving minor victims compared to the same period in the previous year.

your ad here

As many cities sour on hosting Olympics, Salt Lake City’s enthusiasm endures

SALT LAKE CITY — The International Olympic Committee was effusive Wednesday in its support for a decadeslong effort to bring back the Winter Games to Utah’s capital city in 2034.

Unlike so many other past hosts that have decided bringing back the Games isn’t worth the time, money or hassle, Salt Lake City remains one of the few places where Olympic fever still burns strong. Olympic officials praised the city for preserving facilities and public enthusiasm as they kicked off their final visit ahead of a formal announcement expected this July.

Reminders of the 2002 Winter Games are nestled throughout the city, from a towering cauldron overlooking the valley to an Olympic emblem stamped on manhole covers downtown. Leaving the airport, a can’t-miss arch amid snow-capped mountains shows visitors they’re entering an Olympic city.

Those remnants are part of a long-term strategy Utah leaders launched on the heels of their first Olympics to remind residents that the Games are part of the fabric of their city, and that being a host city is a point of pride.

Olympic officials said they were greeted with such excitement Wednesday that it felt like the 2002 Winter Games never ended.

In the decades since Salt Lake City first opened its nearby slopes to the world’s top winter athletes, the pool of potential hosts has shrunk dramatically. The sporting spectacular is a notorious money pit, and climate change has curtailed the number of sites capable of hosting.

Even though Salt Lake City got caught in a bribery scandal that nearly derailed the 2002 Winter Olympics, it has worked its way back into the good graces of an Olympic committee increasingly reliant on passionate communities as its options dwindle. The city is now a prime candidate if officials eventually form a permanent rotation of host cities, Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi told reporters.

“We are in an environment here where we look for opportunities more than concerns,” Dubi said. “For the next 10 years, we’re not so much looking at what is challenging, but what are the opportunities to work together.”

The committee was left with only two bid cities for 2022 — Beijing, China, and Almaty, Kazakhstan — after financial, political and public concerns led several European contenders to drop out.

“The International Olympic Committee needs Salt Lake City a lot more than Salt Lake City needs the International Olympic Committee, or the Olympics,” said Jules Boykoff, a sports and politics professor at Pacific University.

For Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, securing the bid is central to his goal of cementing the state as North America’s winter sports capital.

Cox has continued a long-running push by state leaders to beckon professional sports leagues and welcome international events like last year’s NBA All-Star Game that could help burnish its image as a sports and tourism mecca, while chipping away at a lingering stigma that Utah is a bizarre, hyper-religious place.

About half of the state’s 3.4 million residents and the majority of state leaders belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church.

Dave Lunt, a historian at Southern Utah University who teaches about the Olympics, said the Games give members of that faith, and other residents, a chance to clear up misconceptions and share their values with the world.

“Latter-day Saints really just want to be liked. No disrespect or anything, that’s my community, but there’s this history of, we want to show that we fit in, we’re good Americans,” he said. “We’re happy to host the party at our house.”

The 2002 Games, widely regarded as one of the most successful Olympics, brought government funding for a light-rail system and world-class athletic facilities. The city grew rapidly in its wake.

Utah bid leaders declined to release a budget estimate, saying they should be able to provide one next month. But they assured the committee that they could keep costs down by using most of the same venues they’ve spent millions to maintain since 2002. They also touted bipartisan support for hosting in the Democratic capital city of a predominantly Republican state.

With few options remaining for the Olympic committee, Salt Lake City has leverage to dictate terms, Boykoff said. Those can include funds, deadlines and even which sports are included.

And with NBC’s multibillion-dollar broadcasting contract with the Olympic committee set to expire in 2032 — two years before Utah would host — the committee has a vested interest in selecting a U.S. city in a better time zone for live broadcasts to entice U.S.-based broadcasting giants.

Unlike many cities, Salt Lake City residents did not get to vote on whether they wanted another Games, even as leaders say their polling shows more than 80% approval statewide.

Olympic historians say the hype can distract residents from downsides for other hosts, such as gentrification, corruption, rising taxes or empty promises of environmental improvements.

So far, no opposition has formed in Utah.

“If we consider the Olympics a cultural institution,” Lunt said, “maybe it’s worth paying some money if the people of Utah decide that’s important to us, collectively.”

your ad here

US newsman who created no-frills PBS newscast dies

new york — Robert MacNeil, who created the even-handed, no-frills PBS newscast “The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour” in the 1970s and co-anchored the show with his late partner, Jim Lehrer, for two decades, died on Friday. He was 93. 

MacNeil died of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, according to his daughter, Alison MacNeil. 

MacNeil first gained prominence for his coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings for the public broadcasting service and began his half-hour “Robert MacNeil Report” on PBS in 1975 with his friend Lehrer as Washington correspondent. 

The broadcast became the “MacNeil-Lehrer Report” and then, in 1983, was expanded to an hour and renamed the “MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour.” The nation’s first one-hour evening news broadcast, and recipient of several Emmy and Peabody awards, it remains on the air today with Geoff Bennett and Amna Nawaz as anchors. 

It was MacNeil’s and Lehrer’s disenchantment with the style and content of rival news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC that led to the program’s creation. 

“We don’t need to SELL the news,” MacNeil told the Chicago Tribune in 1983. “The networks hype the news to make it seem vital, important. What’s missing [in 22 minutes] is context, sometimes balance, and a consideration of questions that are raised by certain events.” 

MacNeil left anchoring duties at “NewsHour” after two decades in 1995 to write full time. Lehrer took over the newscast alone, and he remained there until 2009. Lehrer died in 2020. 

When MacNeil visited the show in October 2005 to commemorate its 30th anniversary, he reminisced about how their newscast started in the days before cable television. 

“It was a way to do something that seemed to be needed journalistically and yet was different from what the commercial network news (programs) were doing,” he said. 

Wrote memoirs, novels

MacNeil wrote several books, including two memoirs “The Right Place at the Right Time” and the best seller “Wordstruck,” and the novels “Burden of Desire” and “The Voyage.” 

“Writing is much more personal. It is not collaborative in the way that television must be,” MacNeil told The Associated Press in 1995. “But when you’re sitting down writing a novel, it’s just you: Here’s what I think, here’s what I want to do. And it’s me.” 

MacNeil also created the Emmy-winning 1986 series “The Story of English,” with the MacNeil-Lehrer production company, and was co-author of the companion book of the same name. 

Another book on language that he co-wrote, “Do You Speak American?,” was adapted into a PBS documentary in 2005. 

Explored post 9/11 challenges

In 2007, he served as host of “America at a Crossroads,” a six-night PBS package exploring challenges confronting the United States in a post-9/11 world. 

Six years before the 9/11 attacks, discussing sensationalism and frivolity in the news business, he had said: “If something really serious did happen to the nation — a stock market crash like 1929, … the equivalent of a Pearl Harbor — wouldn’t the news get very serious again? Wouldn’t people run from `Hard Copy’ and titillation?” 

“Of course you would. You’d have to know what was going on.” 

That was the case — for a while. 

Born in Montreal in 1931, MacNeil was raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1955 before moving to London where he began his journalism career with Reuters. He switched to TV news in 1960, taking a job with NBC in London as a foreign correspondent. 

In 1963, MacNeil was transferred to NBC’s Washington bureau, where he reported on Civil Rights and the White House. He covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas and spent most of 1964 following the presidential campaign between Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, and Republican Barry Goldwater. 

In 1965, MacNeil became the New York anchor of the first half-hour weekend network news broadcast, “The Scherer-MacNeil Report” on NBC. While in New York, he also anchored local newscasts and several NBC news documentaries, including “The Big Ear” and “The Right to Bear Arms.” 

MacNeil returned to London in 1967 as a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp.’s “Panorama” series. While with the BBC, be covered such U.S. stories as the clash between anti-war demonstrators and the Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and the funerals of the Reverand Martin Luther King Jr., Senator Robert Kennedy and President Dwight Eisenhower. 

In 1971, MacNeil left the BBC to become a senior correspondent for PBS, where he teamed up with Lehrer to co-anchor public television’s Emmy-winning coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973. 

your ad here

Swarms of drones can be managed by a single person

The U.S. military says large groups of drones and ground robots can be managed by just one person without added stress to the operator. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports, the technologies may be beneficial for civilian uses, too. VOA footage by Adam Greenbaum.

your ad here

Argentinian’s tiny invention changed pizza delivery forever

Sometimes it’s the little ideas that can make the biggest difference. And that definitely goes for delivery pizza. From Buenos Aires, Gonzalo Bañez Villar has the story of a little idea that had a big impact, in this report narrated by Veronica Villafañe.

your ad here

Clouds gather over Japan’s ambitious Osaka World Expo

Osaka, Japan — One of the largest wooden structures ever built is taking shape in Osaka but hopes that Expo 2025 will unite the world are being dogged by cost blowouts and a lack of public enthusiasm.

The imposing circular centerpiece will be crowned by a 20-meter-high sloping canopy, designed by top architect Sou Fujimoto, known as the “Grand Roof.”

It has a circumference of a staggering 2 kilometers and 161 countries and territories will show off their trade opportunities and cultural attractions at pavilions within the vast latticed ring.

A crane hoisted a block of beams into place this week as organizers said construction was largely on schedule, one year before visitors will be welcomed.

Expo 2025 global PR director Sachiko Yoshimura maintained that global participants would be “united” by the event even though there are conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and elsewhere.

Russia will not be among the participants at Expo 2025, which will run from April 13 to October 13.

“Of course, there are so many crises around the world, but we want everybody to actually get together and think about the future and sustainability,” Yoshimura said.

It has also met a lukewarm response in Japan, where promotion is ramping up and the red-and-blue Expo 2025 mascot “Myaku-Myaku” — billed by the official website as “a mysterious creature born from the unification of cells and water” — is ever-present.

A recent Kyodo News survey found that 82% of Japanese companies, sponsors and others involved said “fostering domestic momentum” would be a challenge.

Ballooning budget

The construction budget has ballooned 27% from 2020 estimates to $1.5 billion due to inflation and Japan’s chronic worker shortage.

Some say the costs are also hard to justify when 6,300 people are still in evacuation centers and hotels after an earthquake on New Year’s Day devastated parts of central Japan.

Fujimoto’s “Grand Roof” alone has a price tag of 35 billion yen and has been slammed by opposition leader Kenta Izumi as “the world’s most expensive parasol.”

The “Grand Roof” and other structures are temporary, with no clear plan for them other than organizers saying they will be reused or recycled.

The site on an artificial island in Osaka Bay will be cleared after the Expo, with plans to build a resort there containing Japan’s first casino.

Jun Takashina, deputy secretary general of the Japan Association for Osaka 2025, acknowledged budget and regulatory “struggles” among foreign participants but said organizers would help make sure the displays are ready in time.

Among the most hotly anticipated attractions are flying electric cars, which take off vertically, showcasing the event’s technological and environmental aspirations.

But the vehicles — subject to reams of regulations — will be a “kind of experiment,” Yoshimura said.

More than 1.2 million tickets have already been sold, and organizers hope to attract 28.2 million visitors, including 3.5 million from abroad.

That would be 4 million more than the last World Fair in Dubai but pales in comparison to the 64 million people who attended the 1970 Expo in Osaka, a record until it was overtaken by Shanghai in 2010.

Future like science fiction

The first world fair to celebrate culture and industrial progress was held in London in 1851, with the Eiffel Tower built for the 1889 Paris World Fair.

Osaka academic Shinya Hashizume, a specialist in architecture history and town planning, said he was amazed as a 10-year-old when he saw a “future that looked like science fiction” at the 1970 Expo.

The first film in IMAX format was shown at that event and visitors could admire rocks brought back from the moon.

“Those six months were extraordinary for Osaka. Simply put, the whole town was having a party,” he said.

The advent of mass tourism and hyper-connected societies may have since lessened the attraction, but some Osaka residents still think it’s a good idea.

Kosuke Ito, a 36-year-old doctor, said it would “strengthen the economy.”

However, Yuka Nakamura, 26, said she might be put off by adult entry fees ranging from $25 to $50 a day.

your ad here

Indiana aspires to become next great tech center

indianapolis, indiana — Semiconductors, or microchips, are critical to almost everything electronic used in the modern world. In 1990, the United States produced about 40% of the world’s semiconductors. As manufacturing migrated to Asia, U.S. production fell to about 12%.  

“During COVID, we got a wake-up call. It was like [a] Sputnik moment,” explained Mark Lundstrom, an engineer who has worked with microchips much of his life. 

The 2020 global coronavirus pandemic slowed production in Asia, creating a ripple through the global supply chain and leading to shortages of everything from phones to vehicles. Lundstrom said increasing U.S. reliance on foreign chip manufacturers exposed a major weakness. 

“We know that AI is going to transform society in the next several years, it requires extremely powerful chips. The most powerful leading-edge chips.” 

Today, Lundstrom is the acting dean of engineering at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, a leader in cutting-edge semiconductor development, which has new importance amid the emerging field of artificial intelligence. 

“If we fall behind in AI, the consequences are enormous for the defense of our country, for our economic future,” Lundstrom told VOA. 

Amid the buzz of activity in a laboratory on Purdue’s campus, visitors can get a vision of what the future might look like in microchip technology. 

“The key metrics of the performance of the chips actually are the size of the transistors, the devices, which is the building block of the computer chips,” said Zhihong Chen, director of Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center, where engineers work around the clock to push microchip technology into the future. 

“We are talking about a few atoms in each silicon transistor these days. And this is what this whole facility is about,” Chen said. “We are trying to make the next generation transistors better devices than current technologies. More powerful and more energy-efficient computer chips of the future.” 

Not just RVs anymore

Because of Purdue’s efforts, along with those on other university campuses in the state, Indiana believes it’s an attractive location for manufacturers looking to build new microchip facilities. 

“Purdue University alone, a top four-ranked engineering school, offers more engineers every year than the next top three,” said Eric Holcomb, Indiana’s Republican governor. “When you have access to that kind of talent, when you have access to the cost of doing business in the state of Indiana, that’s why people are increasingly saying, Indiana.” 

Holcomb is in the final year of his eight-year tenure in the state’s top position. He wants to transform Indiana beyond the recreational vehicle, or “RV capital” of the country.  

“We produce about plus-80% of all the RV production in North America in one state,” he told VOA. “We are not just living up to our reputation as being the number one manufacturing state per capita in America, but we are increasingly embracing the future of mobility in America.” 

Holcomb is spearheading an effort to make Indiana the next great technology center as the U.S. ramps up investment in domestic microchip development and manufacturing.  “If we want to compete globally, we have to get smarter and healthier and more equipped, and we have to continue to invest in our quality of place,” Holcomb told VOA in an interview. 

His vision is shared by other lawmakers, including U.S. Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who co-sponsored the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, which commits more than $50 billion in federal funding for domestic microchip development. 

‘We are committed’

Indiana is now home to one of 31 designated U.S. technology and innovation hubs, helping it qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in grants designed to attract technology-driven businesses. 

“The signal that it sends to the rest of the world [is] that we are in it, we are committed, and we are focused,” said Holcomb. “We understand that economic development, economic security and national security complement one another.” 

Indiana’s efforts are paying off. 

In April, South Korean microchip manufacturer SK Hynix announced it was planning to build a $4 billion facility near Purdue University that would produce next-generation, high-bandwidth memory, or HBM chips, critical for artificial intelligence applications.  

The facility, slated to start operating in 2028, could create more than 1,000 new jobs. While U.S. chip manufacturer SkyWater also plans to invest nearly $2 billion in Indiana’s new LEAP Innovation District near Purdue, the state recently lost bidding to host chipmaker Intel, which selected Ohio for two new factories. 

“Companies tend to like to go to locations where there is already that infrastructure, where that supply chain is in place,” Purdue’s Lundstrom said. “That’s a challenge for us, because this is a new industry for us. So, we have a chicken-and- egg problem that we have to address, and we are beginning to address that.” 

Lundstrom said the CHIPS and Science Act and the federal money that comes with it are helping Indiana ramp up to compete with other U.S. locations already known for microchip development, such as Silicon Valley in California and Arizona. 

What could help Indiana gain an edge is its natural resources — plenty of land and water, and regular weather patterns, all crucial for the sensitive processes needed to manufacture microchips at large manufacturing centers. 

your ad here

Indiana aspires to become next great tech hub

The Midwestern state of Indiana aspires to become the next great technology center as the United States ramps up investment in domestic microchip development and manufacturing. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more from Indianapolis. Videographer: Kane Farabaugh, Adam Greenbaum

your ad here

Cambodia’s relocation of people from UNESCO site raises concerns

RUN TA EK, Cambodia — It’s been more than a year since Yem Srey Pin moved with her family from the village where she was born on Cambodia’s Angkor UNESCO World Heritage site to Run Ta Ek, a dusty new settlement about 25 kilometers away.

Hers is one of about 5,000 families relocated from the sprawling archaeological site, one of Southeast Asia’s top tourist draws, by Cambodian authorities in an ongoing program that Amnesty International has condemned as a “gross violation of international human rights law.” Another 5,000 families are still due to be moved.

The allegations have drawn strong expressions of concern from UNESCO and a spirited rebuttal from Cambodian authorities, who say they’re doing nothing more than protecting the heritage land from illegal squatters.

Yem Srey Pin’s single-room home is a far cry better than the makeshift tent she lived in with her husband and five children when they first arrived, which did little to protect from the monsoon rains and blew down in the winds.

And their 600-square-meter property is significantly bigger than the 90-square-meter plot they occupied illegally in the village of Khvean on the Angkor site.

But the 35-year-old is also in debt from building the new house. Her husband finds less construction work nearby and his wages are lower, and there are no wild fruits or vegetables she can forage, nor rice paddies where she can collect crabs to sell at her mother’s stand.

“After more than a year here I haven’t been able to save any money and I haven’t earned anything,” she said. 

The Angkor site is one of the largest archaeological sites in the world, spread across some 400 square kilometers in northwestern Cambodia. It contains the ruins of Khmer Empire capitals from the 9th to 15th centuries, including the temple of Angkor Wat.

When it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1992, it was named a “living heritage site” whose local population observed ancestral traditions and cultural practices that have disappeared elsewhere.

Still, UNESCO at the time noted that Angkor was under “dual pressures” from some 100,000 inhabitants in 112 historic settlements who “constantly try to expand their dwelling areas,” and from encroachment from the nearby town of Siem Reap.

Cambodia’s answer was a plan to entice the 10,000 families illegally squatting in the area to resettle at Run Ta Ek and another site, as well as to encourage some from the 112 historic settlements to relocate as their families grow in size.

“The number of people were on the rise, including those coming illegally,” said Long Kosal, spokesperson for the Cambodian agency known as APSARA that’s responsible for managing the Angkor site. “What we did was that we provided an option.”

Cambodia began moving people to Run Ta Ek in 2022, giving those who volunteered to leave their homes in the Angkor area plots of land, a two-month supply of canned food and rice, a tarp and 30 sheets of corrugated metal to use to build a home. Benefits also included a Poor Card, essentially a state welfare program giving them around 310,000 riel (about $75) monthly for 10 years.

In a November report, Amnesty questioned how voluntary the relocations actually were, saying many people they interviewed were threatened or coerced into moving and that the relocations were more “forced evictions in disguise.”

The rights group cited a speech from former Prime Minister Hun Sen in which he said people “must either leave the Angkor site soon and receive some form of compensation or be evicted at a later time and receive nothing.”

Amnesty also noted Hun Sen’s track record, saying that under his long-time rule Cambodian authorities had been responsible for several forced evictions elsewhere that it alleged “constituted gross violations of human rights.” It said Run Ta Ek — with dirt roads, insufficient drainage, poor sanitation and other issues — did not fulfil international obligations under human rights treaties to provide people adequate housing.

That has now changed: Homes with outhouses have been built, roads paved, and sewers installed. Primitive hand pumps made of blue PVC piping provide water, and electricity has been run in.

There’s a school, a health center, a temple; bus routes were added, and a market area was built but is not yet operating, Long Kosal said.

But Amnesty maintains there are major concerns.

Among other things, families have had to take on heavy debt to build even basic houses, and there is little work to be found, said Montse Ferrer, the head of Amnesty’s research team investigating the Angkor Wat resettlements.

“They had a clear source of income at the time — tourism — but also other sources of income linked to the location at Angkor,” she said. “They are now at least 30 minutes away from the site and can no longer access these sources.”

Following Amnesty’s scathing report, UNESCO moved up the timeline for Cambodia’s submission of its own report on the state of conservation at the Angkor site, specifically asking for the allegations to be addressed.

In that report, submitted to UNESCO in March, Cambodia said it had not violated any international laws with the relocations, saying it was only moving people involved in the “illegal occupation of heritage land” and that in Run Ta Ek many were now property owners for the first time in their lives.

UNESCO said it would not comment on the situation until it has been able to analyze Cambodia’s response.

It referred The Associated Press to previous comments from Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, who stressed the agency had “always categorically rejected the use of forced evictions as a tool for management of World Heritage listed sites.”

Yem Srey Pin said even though Run Ta Ek has slowly improved since she arrived in February 2023, and her new home will be paid off fairly soon, she’d rather return to her village if it were possible.

But with almost all of the village’s 400 families moving out, Yem Srey Pin says there’s nothing left for her there.

“I can’t live in my old village alone,” she said.

your ad here

Muslims worldwide celebrate Eid al-Fitr in the shadow of Gaza’s misery 

Istanbul — Muslims around the world celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday Wednesday, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But events were overshadowed by the worsening crisis in Gaza and Israel’s expected military offensive in Rafah city after six months of war.

“We should not forget our brothers and sisters in Palestine,” imam Abdulrahman Musa said in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “They have been subjected to unjustified aggression and a lot of violence (as) the world is watching in silence.”

In a holiday message, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent support to Gaza, which he called a “bleeding wound on the conscience of humanity.”

In Istanbul, thousands of worshipers gathered at the Aya Sofya Mosque for prayers, some carrying Palestinian flags and chanting slogans in support of people in Gaza, where the United Nations and partners warn that more than a million people are at threat of imminent famine and little aid is allowed in.

Elsewhere, people were grateful for the plenty they had after a month of fasting and reflection. Before the Eid al-Fitr holiday, markets around the world teemed with shoppers. Residents poured out of cities to return to villages to celebrate with loved ones.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, nearly three-quarters of the population were traveling for the annual homecoming known locally as “mudik.”

“This is a right moment to reconnect, like recharging energy that has been drained almost a year away from home,” said civil servant Ridho Alfian, who lives in the Jakarta area and was traveling to Lampung province at the southern tip of Sumatra island.

For Arini Dewi, Eid al-Fitr is a day of victory from economic difficulties during Ramadan. “I’m happy in celebrating Eid holiday despite the surge of food prices,” said the mother of two.

Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, was flooded with devotees offering morning prayers.

Preachers in their sermons called on people to pray for Muslims in Gaza who were suffering after six months of war.

“This is the time for Muslims and non-Muslims to show humanitarian solidarity, because the conflict in Gaza is not a religious war, but a humanitarian problem,” said Jimly Asshiddiqie, who chairs the advisory board of the Indonesian Mosque Council.

In Berlin, worshipers reflected the world, coming from Benin, Ghana, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkey.

“It’s a day where we feel grateful for everything we have here, and think and give to those who are poor, facing war and have to go hungry,” said Azhra Ahmad, a 45-year-old mother of five.

In Pakistan, authorities deployed more than 100,000 police and paramilitary forces to maintain security at mosques and marketplaces.

In Malaysia, ethnic Malay Muslims performed morning prayers at mosques nationwide just weeks after socks printed with the word “Allah” at a convenience store chain sparked a furor. Many found it offensive to associate the word with feet or for it to be used inappropriately.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim called for unity and reconciliation in his message on the eve of Eid, saying no groups should be sidelined based on religion or any other reason.

“We must be firm, resolute and unwavering in our commitment to foster values and build a dignified nation,” he said. “However, let us not take this as a license or opportunity to insult, undermine, or damage the cultural practices and way of life of others.”

your ad here

Ukrainian civilians help build up their country’s drone fleet

Inexpensive first-person view – or radio controlled – drones have become a powerful weapon in Ukraine’s war against Russian invaders. As the country presses the West for more military aid, many Ukrainian civilians are stepping in to help by making homemade attack drones. Lesia Bakalets has the story from Kyiv.

your ad here