Hep C’s number comes up: Can Biden’s 5-year plan eliminate the longtime scourge?

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:22

Michelle Andrews | (TNS) KFF Health News

Rick Jaenisch went through treatment six times before his hepatitis C was cured in 2017. Each time his doctors recommended a different combination of drugs, his insurer denied the initial request before eventually approving it. This sometimes delayed his care for months, even after he developed end-stage liver disease and was awaiting a liver transplant.

“At that point, treatment should be very easy to access,” said Jaenisch, now 37 and the director of outreach and education at Open Biopharma Research and Training Institute, a nonprofit group in Carlsbad, California. “I’m the person that treatment should be ideal for.”

But it was never easy. Jaenisch was diagnosed in 1999 at age 12, after his dad took him to a San Diego hospital because Jaenisch showed him that his urine was brown, a sign there was blood in it. Doctors determined that he likely got the disease at birth from his mom, a former dental surgical assistant who learned she had the virus only after her son’s diagnosis.

People infected with the viral disease, which is typically passed through blood contact, are often outwardly fine for years. An estimated 40% of the more than 2 million people in the U.S. who are infected don’t even know they have it, while the virus may quietly be damaging their liver, causing scarring, liver failure, or liver cancer.

With several highly effective, lower-cost treatments now on the market, one might expect that nearly everyone who knows they have hepatitis C would get cured. But a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in June found that is far from the case. A proposal by the Biden administration to eliminate the disease in five years aims to change that.

Overall, the agency’s analysis found, during the decade after the introduction of the new antiviral treatments, only about a third of the people with an initial hepatitis C diagnosis cleared the virus, either through treatment or the virus resolving on its own. Most infected people had health insurance of some kind, whether Medicare, Medicaid, or commercial coverage. But even among commercially insured patients, who were most likely to receive treatment, only half of those age 60 or older had viral clearance by the end of the study period in 2022.

“Unlike HIV, where you have it for the rest of your life, with hepatitis C it’s a very short time frame, just eight to 12 weeks, and you’re cured,” said Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute. “So why aren’t we doing a better job?”

Experts point to several roadblocks that infected people encounter. When the new treatments were introduced, cost was a huge factor. Private plans and state Medicaid programs limited spending on the pricey drugs by making them tougher to get, imposing prior authorization requirements, restricting access to people whose livers were already damaged, or requiring patients to abstain from drug use to qualify, among other restrictions.

By the time Jaenisch’s case was cured at age 31, the landscape of hepatitis C treatment had changed dramatically. A groundbreaking, once-a-day pill was introduced in 2013, replacing a grueling regimen of weekly interferon injections that had uncertain success rates and punishing side effects. The first of these “direct-acting antivirals” treated the disease in eight to 12 weeks, with few side effects and cure rates exceeding 95%. As more drugs were approved, the initial eye-popping $84,000 price tag for a course of treatment has gradually dropped to about $20,000.

As drug prices have declined, and under pressure from advocates and public health experts, many states have eliminated some of those barriers that have made it difficult to get approved for treatment.

Still more barriers exist that have little to do with the price of the drug.

Ronni Marks, a former hepatitis C patient, advocates for patients who often fall through the cracks. These include rural residents and those who are uninsured, transgender people, or injection drug users. An estimated 13% of people who pass through U.S. jails and prisons each year have a chronic hepatitis C infection, but access to care there is scant.

Marks said that many disadvantaged people need help getting services. “In many cases they have no way to travel, or they’re not in a situation where they can get to testing,” she said.

Unlike the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which for more than 30 years has provided grants to cities, states, and community-based groups to provide medication, treatment, and follow-up care for people with HIV, there’s no coordinated, comprehensive program for patients with hepatitis C.

“In a perfect world, that would have been a good model to replicate,” said Sonia Canzater, the senior project director of the infectious diseases initiative at Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. “That’s probably never going to happen. The closest thing we can hope for is this national plan, to systemically provide access so that people aren’t beholden to the policies in their states.”

The national plan Canzater is referring to is a $12.3 billion, five-year initiative to eliminate hepatitis C that was included in President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2024 budget proposal. Former National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins is spearheading the initiative for the Biden administration.

The program would:

— Speed up the approval of point-of-care diagnostic tests, allowing patients to be screened and begin treatment in a single visit, rather than the current multistep process.

— Improve access to medications for vulnerable groups such as people who are uninsured, incarcerated, part of the Medicaid program, or members of American Indian and Alaska Native populations by using a subscription model. Known as the Netflix model, this approach enables the government to negotiate a set fee with drug companies that would cover treatment for all the individuals in those groups that need it.

— Build the public health infrastructure to educate, identify, and treat people who have hepatitis C, including supporting universal screening; expanded testing, provider training, and additional support for care coordination; and linking people to services.

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“This is both about compassion and good financial sense,” Collins said, pointing to an analysis by Harvard researchers projecting that the program would avert 24,000 deaths and save $18.1 billion in health spending over 10 years.

Collins said legislation to implement the Biden plan, currently in draft form, was expected to be introduced now that Congress has reconvened after its summer recess. The Congressional Budget Office has not yet estimated its cost.

Until COVID-19 burst on the scene in 2020, hepatitis C had the dubious distinction of killing more Americans annually — nearly 20,000 — than any other infectious disease. Advocates are pleased that the virus is finally getting the attention they believe it deserves. Still, they are not confident that Congress will support providing more than $5 billion in new funding for it. The rest would come in the form of savings from existing programs. But, they said, it’s a step in the right direction.

“I’m thrilled” that there is a federal proposal to end hepatitis C, said Lorren Sandt, executive director of the Caring Ambassadors, a nonprofit in Oregon City, Oregon, that helps people manage chronic diseases such as hepatitis C. “I’ve cried so many times in joy since that came out.”

(KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs of KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.)

©2023 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Local News

Feds’ cash stream supports Colorado River conservation — but the money will dry up

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:17

Matt Vasilogambros | Stateline.org (TNS)

Despite a megadrought, states in the West have been able to avoid drastic cuts to their allocations of Colorado River water this year not only because of surprising storms but also thanks to generous financial incentives from all levels of government that have encouraged people to conserve.

The temporary Colorado River water-sharing agreement that Arizona, California and Nevada announced in May depends on an injection of $1.2 billion from the federal government. Some of the 30 tribal nations in the river basin also are getting federal dollars. The Gila River Indian Community, for example, will receive $233 million from the feds over the next three years, mostly to conserve water.

Fueled by the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the feds will spend a total of $15.4 billion for drought resiliency programs over the coming years, mostly for large-scale projects for water storage and recycling but also to persuade people to use less water.

Water experts worry that paying people to conserve isn’t a long-term solution; states must make long-term investments and rethink water-sharing agreements if the Colorado River is to survive, they say.

But in the meantime, the money is helping to sustain the river basin. Conservation spurred by federal dollars has spared the seven Western states whose 40 million residents depend on the Colorado River’s water from painful cuts, said Michael Cohen, a senior researcher at the Pacific Institute, an Oakland, California-based water think tank. (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming comprise the upper basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada make up the lower basin.)

The federal government has a long history of sending money when disasters such as a hurricane or earthquake hit, Cohen said. The drought is no different.

“It’s hugely important,” Cohen said. “This is an example of the United States actually getting out in front to say let’s try to offset or at least reduce the demand on this very stressed water system.”

For years, some Western states and localities have offered money to farmers to not irrigate their crops and to residents who rip out grass lawns and install water-efficient appliances.

In Arizona, cities such as Gilbert and Scottsdale offer residents up to $800 and $5,000, respectively, to tear out their grass lawns. Peoria and Surprise will pay residents hundreds of dollars to encourage them to plant native desert plants and shrubs in their yards instead of grass.

For the past 20 years, Las Vegas has offered rebates for residents to tear out their grass lawns and replace them with plants more appropriate for a desert climate. The effect has been staggering.

In 2002, the city used more than 300,000 acre-feet of water annually. (An acre-foot is a common measurement in the water industry that amounts to 326,000 gallons.) This year, it will use less than 200,000, in large part due to the incentives, said Cohen, at the Pacific Institute.

“Incentivizing people has worked,” he said. “But the bigger question is whether we’re going to get to the level of reductions necessary to stabilize the system. And that remains to be seen.”

Upcoming negotiations

The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages the Colorado River basin, is asking states for long-term proposals to conserve water to prepare for a drier future exacerbated by climate change.

The agency went to states last year and laid out two options to protect the Colorado River from the effects of a two-decade megadrought that is worse than anything the region has seen in 1,200 years: Either they voluntarily reduce water use and get compensated, or the feds would force those cuts by fiat.

Under the agreement announced in May, Arizona, California and Nevada — the lower basin states — will reduce their water use by 3 million acre-feet over the next three years. The region avoided disaster this year because of an especially wet winter and recent summer storms that swept through the Southwest. But the deal was easier for those states to make because of federal money.

That was just a short-term fix, said George Frisvold, a professor of agricultural economic policy at the University of Arizona.

“They’re treading water, pardon the pun,” he said. “It’s going to be challenging.”

The region’s broader conservation strategy might change, however. In the years to come, there will be more scrutiny over what the feds got from those billions spent, Frisvold said. Money to encourage conservation may start coming more from localities than from the federal government, he added.

States are preparing for negotiations on a long-term Colorado River water-sharing agreement that would kick in after 2026. A crucial challenge: what role agriculture will play in conserving Colorado River water.

Money for agriculture

Western agriculture, a major part of the region’s economy and a key contributor to the country’s food supply, consumes more Colorado River water than any other user.

To conserve more water, farmers have used federal and local dollars to line canals, install drip irrigation systems and fallow fields to temporarily halt crop growth on sections of their land.

Farming is getting more efficient in the West partly through financial incentives, said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that represents agricultural interests.

He pointed to California’s Imperial Valley, where Southern California’s urban water users have for the past two decades paid inland farmers to transfer a half-million acre-feet of their share of Colorado River water to cities.

“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “It’s not taking people out of business. It’s covering the costs of business temporarily interrupted to achieve conservation savings in the Colorado River.”

Wade calls it a model for other Colorado River states, a way to prevent mandatory cuts that might threaten peoples’ livelihoods and instead invest in communities and businesses. In the long term, however, he said that these investments must come from local governments.

But there is disagreement over whether paying farmers is the right path forward.

It is not a sustainable solution, said Mark Gold, director of water scarcity solutions at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The payments are just getting the Colorado River basin through 2026, when states must negotiate new terms for sharing the water.

“There needs to be a very different mindset,” he said. “Paying farmers not to farm is just not an efficient nor sustainable way to save 2 [million] to 4 million acre-feet of water a year.”

This past wet winter bought a two-year reprieve on having to make difficult decisions, he said.

Moving forward, the region needs to get beyond short-term incentives, said Katherine Wright, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, a conservation nonprofit that emphasizes market-based solutions. Inflation Reduction Act money will run out eventually, but the underlying problem is not going away, she said.

As the population continues to grow in cities in the Southwest, Wright sees a long-term solution in private transactions between, for example, farmers and cities to transfer water allocations without federal money.

“We need to do something in the short term, because cities need water and they don’t have water, and it’s unrealistic that we’re going to change a policy today,” she said. “More broadly, it’s a call for facilitating conversations between farmers and tribes and cities. What can we do in the long term to address water scarcity?”

Stateline is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit news organization focused on state policy.

©2023 States Newsroom. Visit at stateline.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Local News

Bruce Springsteen postpones San Francisco concerts due to illness

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:14

Bay Area Bruce Springsteen fans will have to wait a bit longer to see “The Boss” in concert.

That’s because Springsteen has just announced that he’s postponing all remaining 2023 dates until next year — including two shows at Chase Center in San Francisco that were originally scheduled for December.

The new rescheduled dates are expected to be announced next week.

Here’s the announcement from Springsteen’s website:

“Bruce Springsteen has continued to recover steadily from peptic ulcer disease over the past few weeks and will continue treatment through the rest of the year on doctor’s advice. With this in mind, and out of an abundance of caution, all remaining 2023 tour dates for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band will be postponed until 2024. Rescheduled dates for each of the 2023 shows, including those postponed earlier this month, will be announced next week, all taking place at their originally scheduled venues.

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“When the new 2024 dates are announced, those unable to attend on the new date who purchased their tickets through official ticketing companies have 30 days to request a refund. All tickets for postponed performances will remain valid for the newly announced dates.”

The statement ended with a quote from Springsteen, thanking fans for their support.

“Thanks to all my friends and fans for your good wishes, encouragement, and support. I’m on the mend and can’t wait to see you all next year,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said.

Categories: Local News

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony rapper Krayzie Bone hospitalized in California with ‘life-threatening’ condition

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:13

David Matthews | New York Daily News

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s Krayzie Bone is hospitalized and in “life-threatening” condition.

According to All Hip Hop, the rapper is “fighting for his life” after checking into a Los Angeles-area hospital on Friday “after he started coughing up large amounts of blood.”

Krayzie, whose real name is Anthony Henderson, reportedly suffers from sarcoidosis, a rare condition where a person’s immune system overreacts and causes inflamed tissue clusters called granulomas.

Henderson, 50, was examined at the hospital and a CAT scan found an artery in one of his lungs was leaking. He underwent emergency surgery but the bleeding did not stop. He was purportedly put on a ventilator and sedated in the intensive care unit on Sunday.

According to TMZ, Henderson was to undergo a second surgery on Monday in hopes of stopping the bleeding.

“Pray 4 Kray,” bandmate Bizzy Bone posted on his Instagram Story. “Can’t sleep. Sometimes you just gotta pray.”

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who is also from Ohio, offered his support for the rapper on social media.

“Prayers to Krayzie man!!!!” the Akron native posted.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony formed in 1991 in Cleveland, Ohio by Krayzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Flesh-N-Bone, Wish Bone and Layzie Bone. They won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for “Tha Crossroads” in 1996

“Sarcoidosis most commonly affects the lungs and lymph nodes, but it can affect any organ including the eyes, skin, heart and nervous system,” according to the American Lung Association.

The disease is rare with only about 150,000 to 200,000 cases in the United States every year and approximately 27,000 new cases per year.


©2023 New York Daily News. Visit at nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Local News

Google deal may have kept Apple from building search engine, exec says

ARS Technica - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:12
Apple Senior Vice President of Services Eddy Cue.

Enlarge / Apple Senior Vice President of Services Eddy Cue. (credit: Justin Sullivan / Staff | Getty Images North America)

One of the most anticipated witnesses in the Department of Justice's antitrust trial over Google's search business was Apple executive Eddy Cue. But Cue, who testified this week for approximately four hours, publicly revealed very few details about the hotly debated deal between the two tech giants that set Google as the default search engine on Apple devices for the past two decades, The New York Times reported. He largely defended the deal as an obvious business choice for Apple.

“I didn’t think at the time, or today, that there was anybody out there who is anywhere near as good as Google at searching,” Cue told the court. “Certainly there wasn’t a valid alternative."

During Cue's approximately two hours of open court testimony, however, it was perhaps a passing remark from Cue that raised eyebrows the most.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

To Bring Socializing Back to Social Networks, Apps Try A.I. Imagery

N.Y. Times - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:09
Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and several newcomers are betting on artificial intelligence to rejuvenate the fun, interactivity and whimsy of creating and sharing images.
Categories: Local News

Meet the A.I. Jane Austen: Meta Weaves A.I. Throughout Its Apps

N.Y. Times - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:07
Meta introduced artificially intelligent characters based on Jane Austen, Snoop Dogg and others into Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, as the race to lead the technology heats up.
Categories: Local News

Murder Suspect Calling Himself ‘Laseranon’ Charged With Threatening Anti-Nazi Sheriff

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:05

An Alaska man who called himself “laseranon” and is currently facing two murder charges has now joined the ranks of the 4chan posters charged with threatening an anti-Nazi sheriff.

Joshua Wahl, 31, was charged earlier this week with threatening Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood. Chitwood has been the target of online neo-Nazis since he made an impassioned anti-Nazi speech in February. Wahl is currently facing one first-degree and one second-degree murder charge, which police say are not connected to the online threats. 

The story was first reported by Court Watch

A recently unsealed indictment against Wahl paints a picture of a man with a disturbing and embarrassing online footprint. Wahl posted to YouTube under the name “laseranon” (“anon” is apparently a nod to 4chan) and had videos of him “using high powered lasers and videos of others using lasers as weapons to blind law enforcement officials.” In 2019, the indictment alleges, he posted a photo of a pipe bomb with the caption “Kill all Jewish and Israeli children.”

In February, Chitwood went viral when during a press conference about a neo-Nazi group in his county he called them “pure evil” and “losers,” showed pictures of them, and told the world of their past convictions—including how one attempted to solicit sex from a 14-year-old girl. 

“This clown group wants me to shut my big mouth and put a bullet in the back of my head,” Chitwood said. “Go for it." 

Like many other racist posters before him, Wahl couldn't resist this siren call, the documents allege. On 4Chan—an infamous image board known for its trolling and racist user base—Wahl allegedly posted “numerous threats to injure and kill Chitwood.” These threats are not too dissimilar to the other men charged with threatening the law enforcement official, but what sets Wahl apart is what he threatened him with. 

“On or about March 31, 2023, Wahl sent Chitwood the following email threatening to injure and kill Chitwood, in that Wahl stated that he was armed with lasers and explosives, and included links to a video from Wahl's YouTube account showing Wahl utilizing a laser to burn a hole in a photograph of Chitwood, specifically in Chitwood’s face, and holding apparent explosives in front of a photograph of Chitwood,” reads the document.  

He posted similar threats on 4chan, the indictment states, and on April 5 posted that he was going to “blind and kill shitwood (in real life). I have been posting this for a month and I have not been arrested. I also got away with trying to blow up a synagogue.” 

He ended his post with, “I am an actual terrorist!!!!”

Later that day, he posted that he would shoot Chitwood in the face with an “overpressure 10mm round” and that “until you get the balls to arrest me (in real life) I’ll still be here.” He resumed posting on April 21 and allegedly wrote that he was going to “kill Mike Chitwood (in real life,) not fucking video games… Come and do something about it fedboy.” Wahl was charged with cyberstalking and threatening Chitwood earlier this week.  

In August, Wahl was arrested and charged with first- and second-degree murder after a man and woman were found dead in a Dillingham apartment. Police have not released a motive for the killings. Police state the 31-year-old man took to 4Chan to post a video of the gun—which had the term “absolution” carved into it—found at the crime scene. He is currently in custody.

Since Chitwood made his infamous anti-Nazi speech at the start of the year, online neo-Nazis haven't been able to help themselves from threatening the man. In March, a 38-year-old man who lived with his mother was arrested in New Jersey for making similar threats on 4Chan. During the arrest his mother apologized to police for her son’s room smelling ‘like a fucking gym locker.” Just a month later, another man was arrested for posting that he was planning on “shooting” Chitwood.

“STOP TELLING CHITWOOD YOULL KILL HIM!” one worried 4Chan user wrote after the arrests.

Speaking with VICE News in April, Chitwood said he’s happy to continue challenging the toxic ideology of the neo-Nazis, but it’s come with some consequences. On top of the frequent death threats, his parents have been doxxed and online neo-Nazis attempted, unsuccessfully, to SWAT them. Unsurprisingly, Chitwood was not silent about the most recent arrest. 

“Not every loser threatening violence on the Internet gets caught,” he wrote on Tuesday. “But I’m glad one more is getting a dose of reality.” 

Categories: Tech News

As COVID infections rise, nursing homes still waiting for vaccines

Seattle Times - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:04

Now that the government stepped back from issuing COVID vaccines, long-term care homes have yet to start administering shots to their vulnerable populations.
Categories: Local News

Ubuntu and Fedora clash in beta race, but who wears GNOME better?

The Register - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:04
Big two corporate-backed free distros are nearly ready for their close-ups

Both Fedora Workstation 39 and Ubuntu Desktop 23.10 are now in beta, preparing for release next month. We looked at their official GNOME-based flavors to see what to expect.…

Categories: Tech News

Pac-12 picks: Washington’s history of desert doom in spotlight as Huskies visit Tucson

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:04

It’s hardly uncommon for Pac-12 teams to struggle in specific venues, or against certain opponents. Oregon, for instance, has experienced remarkable difficulty against Stanford over the years. Washington State has dominated its series with Oregon State of late.

In Washington’s case, there’s an unexpected antagonist. It’s not a team or a stadium. It’s a state. UW has a longstanding aversion to playing in Arizona.

And guess where the seventh-ranked Huskies are headed this week?

In advance of UW’s tangle with unranked Arizona, the Hotline examined two decades of points spreads and results of games in Tucson and Tempe.

The picture is uglier than we imagined.

The Huskies have played 17 games in the desert in the past 20 years and are 4-13 against the spread.

In the Pac-12’s expansion era, which began in 2011, they are just 2-7 against the betting line when visiting Arizona and Arizona State.

Perhaps it’s the heat. Or the travel. Or a lack of motivation. It could be a combination of factors. Maybe there is no logical explanation whatsoever.

But filter for instances in which the Huskies have been the betting favorite at Arizona or ASU, and the numbers are downright gruesome: They have covered just once in six games (as a six-point favorite in Tucson in 2019).

Last year, they stumbled in Tempe in early October as double-digit favorites, and the defeat ultimately kept them out of the Pac-12 championship game.

They haven’t lost since and are favored by 17 points this week.

Give the points at your own risk.

Last week: 3-3
Season: 16-15
Five-star special: 3-1

All picks against the spread
Lines taken from BetMGM (via VegasInsider.com)

(All times Pacific)

Utah at Oregon State (Friday)
Kickoff: 6 p.m. on FS1
Line: Oregon State -3.5 (total: 44.5)
Comment: The first of four Friday night conference games is a weighty affair as the hosts attempt to rebound from a loss (at WSU) and the visitors aim to remain undefeated. The status of Utah quarterback Cameron Rising is unknown — he hasn’t played all season and will be rusty whenever he returns. But the Utes are struggling without him and have relied on their defense for salvation. The Beavers rushed for 260 yards in an eight-point head-to-head win two years ago in Reser Stadium. Their approach Friday will be similar, but can they repeat the success against the best defense in the conference? We aren’t convinced.
Pick: Utah

USC at Colorado
Kickoff: 9 a.m. on FOX
Line: USC -21.5 (total: 73.5)
Comment: Credit USC for agreeing to have breakfast in Boulder and turning this hotly anticipated duel into another ‘Big Noon’ appearance for Colorado. Notably, the point spread is identical to the betting line last week for CU’s matchup against Oregon. That 21-point line came with the Buffaloes on the road against a better team than they will encounter this weekend. We expect Caleb Williams and the Trojans to score early and often, but the same goes for Shedeur Sanders and the Buffs. Don’t be surprised if there’s high drama in the thin air.
Pick: Colorado

Arizona State at Cal
Kickoff: 12 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Cal -11.5 (total: 47.5)
Comment: The third matchup of the weekend lacks the stakes or the hype of the Friday night and Saturday morning affairs, but it’s a critical game for the Bears (2-2) in their quest for a bowl berth. We can’t help but wonder about the Sun Devils’ physical and emotional condition after the taxing duel with USC last weekend. Both teams are unsettled at quarterback: ASU is without injured starter Jaden Rashada while Cal lacks a high-level option on its roster. We view the line as a tad too high, even though the Bears are in desperation mode.
Pick: Arizona State

Oregon at Stanford
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Oregon -27.5 (total: 61.5)
Comment: Fresh off the blowout victory over Colorado, the Ducks must muster some degree of urgency to handle their next test. Yes, they have struggled against subpar Stanford teams in the past and lost in overtime two years ago when they were ranked third in the nation. But that Cardinal team had more talent than this version and better quarterback play. Unless Oregon commits a rash of turnovers, the game should be in hand with five minutes remaining. But the line is too high for our liking and provides a back door for the underdog once all the starters for both teams have been removed.
Pick: Stanford

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Washington at Arizona
Kickoff: 7 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Washington -17.5 (total: 67.5)
Comment: This week’s only night game has the potential to be a riveting affair if the Wildcats execute with maximum efficiency and the Huskies finally play like mortals after so many displays of dominance. Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura injured his ankle in the narrow escape at Stanford. If he can’t play, rookie Noah Fifita must handle Washington’s dangerous edge rushers. That seems like a recipe for a rout, but we expect a plot twist or two given the aforementioned history of this series.
Pick: Arizona

Straight-up winners: Utah, USC, Cal, Oregon and Washington

Five-star special: Utah. There aren’t many chances to take the two-time defending Pac-12 champions as an underdog. We’ll happily accept the Utes and the points.

*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to pac12hotline@bayareanewsgroup.com or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

Categories: Local News

Chess grandmaster Hans Niemann ‘categorically’ denies using vibrating sex toys to cheat in the sport

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:04
By Ben Morse | CNN

If Hans Niemann had hoped to put an alleged cheating scandal behind him, the chess grandmaster’s interview with Piers Morgan on Monday might have just scuttled that wish.

Niemann has repeatedly denied cheating in over-the-board chess, but speaking on “Piers Morgan Uncensored” on Monday, the 20-year-old addressed specific accusations that he cheated using vibrating sex toys, allegations that emerged from social media, although it’s not clear who originally made the accusations.

When he was pressed by Morgan if he had used such toys “while playing chess,” Niemann replied: “Well, your curiosity is a bit concerning, you know – maybe you’re personally interested, but I can tell you, no.

“Categorically, no, of course not.”

In the aftermath of his victory over five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen last year, the New York Times reported that Niemann said: “They want me to strip fully naked, I’ll do it. I don’t care, because I know that I’m clean. You want me to play in a closed box with zero electronic transmission? I don’t care, you know? Name whatever you guys want.”

Niemann, a US chess prodigy, was accused of cheating by Carlsen after Niemann had beaten the Norwegian at the 2022 Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis.

Although Carlsen did not provide details about what he alleged Niemann did during their September 2022 over-the-board match, social media was rife with accusations of Niemann using vibrating sex toys to receive signals to instruct him as to which moves to make.

The accusations of cheating aimed at Niemann evolved into a scandal which gripped the world of chess over the last year.

In an interview with the St. Louis Chess Club shortly after his game against Carlsen in 2022, Niemann said that he had never cheated in over-the-board games, though he did admit to cheating in “random games on Chess.com” as a younger player, which he called “the single biggest mistake of my life.”

However, a 72-page report by Chess.com – the online chess platform – later alleged that Niemann “likely cheated” in more than 100 online matches between July 2015 and August 2020, “including several with prize money events.”

The report claimed that Niemann privately confessed to cheating to the website’s chief chess officer in 2020, which led to the now 20-year-old being temporarily banned from the platform.

Niemann then filed a $100 million defamation lawsuit against Chess.com, Carlsen and popular streamer and player Hikaru Nakamura.

Niemann’s lawsuit described the cheating allegations, as well as Chess.com’s claim that he had twice confessed to cheating, as “false.”

In June, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, with Niemann saying on social media that he was pleased that his “lawsuit against Magnus Carlsen and Chess.com has been resolved in a mutually acceptable manner, and that I am returning to Chess.com. I look forward to competing against Magnus in chess rather than in court.”

He continued: “These difficult times have only strengthened my resolve and character and have only invigorated me even more to reach the top of chess.
There will be a day when I will be the best chess player in the world, and I think it’s time to let my chess speak for itself.”

He was reinstated to Chess.com, which calls itself the world’s largest online platform for chess and says it hosts more than 10 million games every day, shortly afterwards.

Niemann – who was sitting alongside his lawyer during his TV appearance on Monday – said that the whole affair affected him greatly.

“It is very disheartening to be accused of cheating after that victory,” he said.

“These things happened and I learned a lot from that time and it really has taught me a lot of very important lessons about life and chess.”

He went onto describe Carlsen as a “bully.”

“He used his entire empire, he used his connections at Chess.com. He leveraged the fact that there is a merger happening, he got all these people to attack me.
It’s bullying.”

CNN has reached out to Carlsen and Chess.com.

Gaining an edge

Cheating in chess has become more commonplace in the age of technology, with more players choosing to battle over computers because of the connectivity it offers.

Since then, with improvements to computer hardware and software, chess engines have helped shape the sport into a 21st century game.

As defined by Chess.com, a chess engine is a program which “analyzes chess positions and returns what it calculates to be the best move options.”

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Chess engines have become much stronger than humans in recent years, with many exceeding a 3,000 Elo rating – the Elo rating system measures the strength of a chess player relative to their opponents. For context, Carlsen holds the record for the highest Elo rating ever achieved by a human player when he reached 2,882 in 2014.

Stockfish is one of the most advanced chess engines with a rating of more than 3,500, which means it has a 98% probability of beating Carlsen in a match – and a 2% chance of drawing the five-time world champion, essentially rendering a Carlsen victory impossible.

Although chess engines have helped players hone their craft – training against the perfect moves to prepare themselves for every eventuality – they’ve also allowed some players to cheat more easily.

As a result, online chess sites, like Chess.com, have developed anti-cheating technology to detect when players are using outside computer software during games in an attempt to curb foul play.

While FIDE is battling to combat online cheating, there has been a level of purity to over-the-board chess with cheating proving to be much more difficult.

Andy Howie, arbiter and a member of FIDE’s anti-cheating Fair Play Commission, outlined to CNN last year some of the measures in place to prevent over-the-board cheating such as metal detectors, signal scanners, non-linear scanners and thermal imaging.

But safety measures haven’t stopped people from attempting to cheat and the history of the game is rife with scandal.

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Categories: Local News

Bay Area arts: 12 great shows and fests going on this weekend

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:03

There are a lot of fun festivals and live shows to catch in the Bay Area this weekend, including a street fest in San Jose’s Little Italy, “Kinky Boots” in Berkeley and more. Here is a partial rundown.

And if you’re headed to the big Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest in Golden Gate Park, here are 11 acts you should definitely catch.

Fall festivals are here

The autumn festival season is upon us. Here are highlights for this weekend.

Little Italy San Jose Street Festival: This historic district’s annual street festival returns Sunday with a huge lineup of Italian food, plus wine booths, arts and crafts vendors, a Ferrari and Lamborghini exhibit and live entertainment. Headliner Pasquale Esposito will take the stage from 3:15 to 4:45 p.m. Details: Admission is free; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Little Italy near Guadalupe River Park; www.littleitalysj.com

Oktoberfests: Find brats, beer and entertainment at two-day festivals along Clayton’s Main Street and in Oakland’s Dimond district. The former features a carnival; the latter is highlighting local microbreweries. Los Gatos gets into the action on Sunday from 12:30 to 6:30 with an event on the Civic Center Lawn.  Details: claytonoktoberfest.com, oaktoberfest.org, kcat.org/oktoberfestlosgatos.

Mosaic Festival: This third annual festival celebrates the mosaic of American cultures — from the original native American inhabitants to the newest arrivals — with music, dance, arts and crafts, food, healing practices and local vendors. Details: 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Admission is free; get seminar updates with registration at the https://mosaicfestival.org/ website.

— Linda Zavoral and Brittany Delay, Staff

On Stage: Ric Iverson, ‘Kinky Boots’

Here are three productions theater fans should know about.

“Ric Iverson is Alive and Well and Living in Milpitas”: The Bay Area actor, musician and first-rate storyteller is bringing his acclaimed autobiographical solo show with music back to the Bay Area after a successful showing at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Details: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3Below Theaters and Cafe, San Jose; $40-$44; sanjoseplayhouse.org.

“Soul of the City”: Brenda Aoki’s new work combines elements of traditional Japanese theater and music, contemporary spoken word and Asian American jazz in a story about a down on her luck storyteller who embarks on a make-or-break journey to discover the soul of San Francisco. Details: 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Presidio Theater, San Francisco; $25-$60; www.presidiotheatre.org.

“Kinky Boots”: The lovable musical, with a book by Harvey Fierstein and tunes and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, is about a shoe factory in working-class England that finds an unusual way to stay afloat. It’s getting a production by Berkeley Playhouse. Details: Through Oct. 15; Julia Morgan Theatre, Berkeley; $27-$52; berkeleyplayhouse.org.

— Randy McMullen, Staff

Classical picks: Cal Symphony, Jeremy Denk

Symphonic works, a piano recital and chamber music gala are on the calendar this week. Here are the highlights.

“American Traditions”: The California Symphony opens its 23-24 season paying tribute to Aaron Copland with a performance of the composer’s suite from “Appalachian Spring.” “Me Chicano,” a new work by Juan Pablo Contreras, makes its Bay Area premiere, and Kelly Hall-Tomkins is the soloist for Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto in D. Ruth Crawford Seeger’s “Rissolty Rossolty” completes the program. Details: 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday; Lesher Center, Walnut Creek; $45-$90, $20 students under 25; 925-943-7469; californiasymphony.org.

“Alpine” heights: Marsalis also has a piece on this week’s San Francisco Symphony program. Under music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, the orchestra will open the concert with the composer’s “Herald, Holler and Hallelujah.” Leonidas Kavakos is the soloist for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and the program concludes with Richard Strauss’ breath of fresh air, the “Alpine” Symphony. Details: 7:30 Sept. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday;  Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco; $25-$169; 415-864-6000; sfsymphony.org.

Borrow out, Denk in at UC Berkeley: A “heartbroken” pianist Tom Borrow has been forced to cancel a recital that was to be mark his first Bay Area appearance, after he was injured in a bicycle accident, Cal Performances officials have announced. The acclaimed pianist will be replaced by Jeremy Denk in a program that includes works by Mozart, Ligeti, Bach and Beethoven. Details: 3 p.m. Sunday; Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley; $72; 510-642-9988; calperformances.org.

Chamber music gala: San Francisco Performances opens its season with a special gala performance by the Alexander String Quartet, featuring Ravel’s Quartet in F Major, and Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 2 in A Major, No. 68. Details: 7 p.m. Sept. 29, Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; $50; sfperformances.org.

— Georgia Rowe, Correspondent

A story with ‘Soul’: Brenda Wong Aoki is a Bay Area talent who creates the kind of shows you just won’t find anywhere else. The playwright, actor and storyteller’s works are an eclectic blend of Eastern and Western traditional narratives, dance, poetry, Asian and traditional jazz music and other elements that come together in a way that feels both ancient and of the moment. Her latest work  is titled “Soul of the City,” and centers on a beleaguered storyteller who is haunted by demons and ghosts and has run out of what she needs most – stories, and people to tell them to. The story follows her desperate journey to find the “Soul” of San Francisco and a return to her once-rich life. The production incorporates live Asian American jazz, poetry, traditional Japanese theater, contemporary spoken word and multimedia effects. Attendees are encouraged to wear celebratory attire and are invited to bring personal effects to be left at a Soul of the City sacred tree. A Buddist priest will be on hand to perform a purification ceremony. In a sense, everyone in the audience is invited to see the production as a journey to the soul of their own city. Performances are 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Presidio Theatre, 99 Moraga Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$60; go to www.presidiotheatre.org.

— Bay City News Foundation

Mac attack: Taylor Mac, who grew up in Stockton, is a theater-maker who has attained near legendary status in the stage world, even if people can’t always quite figure what the heck he’s up to. Mac’s bizarro shows aim to entertain while turning conventional narrative and character elements on their head. His ridiculously lengthy 2017 show, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” has, despite its staging challenges (in its original form, it runs for 24 hours) been heralded as one of the best plays of the century and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. His 2019 Broadway hit “Gary, A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” (starring Nathan Lane) earned rave reviews and is now getting its Bay Area premiere by the Oakland Theater Project (sans Lane). As its title suggests, the play picks up after the bloody finale of Shakespere’s tragedy, and its characters must grapple with the existential question: Who is going to clean up this gory mess? Featuring Mac’s trademark blend of dark humor, weirdness, politics and pointed observations about the human condition, the 90-minute production, directed by Emilie Whelan, runs through Sunday at the FLEX Art & Design building, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr., Drive, Oakland. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $28-$55. The show will be available on Video on Demand through Sunday ($15-$25). Go to oaklandtheaterproject.org.

— Bay City News Foundation

Categories: Local News

Kerbal Space Program 2 has a big pre-launch issue: Windows registry stuffing

ARS Technica - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:01
Kerbal character next to an overturned aircraft.

Enlarge / It's what you signed up for. (credit: Intercept Games / Private Division)

When it comes to early access games, the only thing harder than code and quality assurance may be setting expectations.

Kerbal Space Program 2 was initially announced for 2020, then, after a whole bunch of development shifts, arrived in early access in February 2023—a bit too early, as suggested by player feedback. There were complaints about missing features and missing tutorials, but now there's an issue with having too much of something: Windows registry entries.

As detailed in a bug report, Kerbal Space Program 2 (KSP2) drops lots and lots of "PqsObjectState" entries into the Windows registry. The initial bug report offers a 322MB text file of them, to the point that the game started throwing "PlayerPrefsException" errors and refusing to load. The issue seems to be with how the game is using the Unity engine's PlayerPrefs game preference storing system.

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Categories: Tech News

Top concerts: Perry Farrell’s Porno for Pyros and other best bets

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:00

Here are three Bay Area shows worth checking out in October:

The return of Porno for Pyros

Porno for Pyros is embarking on its first full-length tour since 1998.

The trek celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Perry Farrell-led band, which formed after Jane’s Addiction called it quits (for the first time) in 1991.

Porno for Pyros delivered two albums during its original run. The first offering, 1993’s eponymous effort, was quite likeable and did good business on the charts, hitting No. 3 on the Billboard 200 on its way to gold certification. Much of that success could be credited to the album’s catchy “Pets,” which was a No. 1 Modern Rock hit.

Porno for Pyros — which also includes drummer Stephen Perkins, guitarist Peter DiStefano and bassist Martyn LeNoble — plays the Masonic in San Francisco on Oct. 10. Showtime is 8 p.m. The group also performs Oct. 8 at Hard Rock Live Sacramento in Wheatland. Visit livenation.com for information on both shows.

Celebrating Squeeze

English pop-rock act Squeeze, known for such ’80s hits as “Tempted,” “Black Coffee in Bed” and “Pulling Mussels from a Shell,” is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a tour that touches down Oct. 5 at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Joining Squeeze on this trip are fellow new wave greats the Psychedelic Furs, so fans should definitely be ready to sing along to such classics as “Heartbreak Beat” and “Pretty in Pink.” Showtime is 7:30 p.m. and tickets start at $69, mountainwinery.com.

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World premiere

Alam Khan, Arjun K. Verma and Del Sol Quartet will present the world premiere performances of their new work, “The Resonance Between,” Oct. 13-14 at Presidio Theatre in San Francisco. The piece reportedly blends Indian classical tradition with western classical sensibilities. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $20–$55, presidiotheatre.org.

Categories: Local News

A double earthquake threat? Study finds 2 Seattle-area faults ripped about the same time.

Seattle Times - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 11:00

New tree-ring analyses suggest the Puget Sound region was rocked by a 1-2 earthquake punch 1,100 years ago, with the Seattle and Saddle Mountain faults rupturing simultaneously, or in quick succession.
Categories: Local News

Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenians rush to help ‘brothers and sisters’

BBC World News - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 10:58
Every hour, the number of people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh climbs even further.
Categories: World News

Late-night shows announce return as writers strike ends

San Jose Mercury - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 10:58

By Mark Kennedy and Andrew Dalton | Associated Press

NEW YORK — TV’s late-night hosts planned to return to their evening sketches and monologues by next week, reinstating the flow of topical humor silenced for five months by the newly ended Hollywood’s writers strike.

Bill Maher led the charge back to work by announcing early Wednesday that his HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher” would be back on the air Friday. By mid-morning, the hosts of NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on CBS had announced they’d also return, all by Monday. “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver was slated to return to the air Sunday.

Fallon, Meyers, Kimmel, Colbert and Oliver had spent the latter part of the strike teaming up for a popular podcast called “Strike Force Five” — named after their personal text chain and with all proceeds benefiting their out-of-work writers. On Instagram on Wednesday, they announced “their mission complete.”

The plans for some late-night shows were not immediately clear, like “Saturday Night Live” and Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” which had been using guest hosts when the strike hit.

Scripted shows will take longer to return, with actors still on strike and no negotiations yet on the horizon.

On Tuesday night, board members from the writers union approved a contract agreement with studios, bringing the industry at least partly back from a historic halt in production that stretched nearly five months.

Maher had delayed returning to his talk show during the ongoing strike by writers and actors, a decision that followed similar pauses by “The Drew Barrymore Show,” “The Talk” and “The Jennifer Hudson Show.”

The three-year agreement with studios, producers and streaming services includes significant wins in the main areas writers had fought for — compensation, length of employment, size of staffs and control of artificial intelligence — matching or nearly equaling what they had sought at the outset of the strike.

The union had sought minimum increases in pay and future residual earnings from shows and will get a raise of between 3.5% and 5% in those areas — more than the studios had initially offered.

The guild also negotiated new residual payments based on the popularity of streaming shows, where writers will get bonuses for being a part of the most popular shows on Netflix, Max and other services, a proposal studios initially rejected. Many writers on picket lines had complained that they weren’t properly paid for helping create heavily watched properties.

On artificial intelligence, the writers got the regulation and control of the emerging technology they had sought. Under the contract, raw, AI-generated storylines will not be regarded as “literary material” — a term in their contracts for scripts and other story forms a screenwriter produces. This means they won’t be competing with computers for screen credits. Nor will AI-generated stories be considered “source” material, their contractual language for the novels, video games or other works that writers may adapt into scripts.

Writers have the right under the deal to use artificial intelligence in their process if the company they are working for agrees and other conditions are met. But companies cannot require a writer to use artificial intelligence.

Dalton reported from Los Angeles.

Categories: Local News

Meta’s Quest 3 headset launches October 10, starts at $499

ARS Technica - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 10:54
The Quest 3 release date is unveiled at the Meta Connect conference.

Enlarge / The Quest 3 release date is unveiled at the Meta Connect conference.

Following a small tease in July, Meta has announced an October 10 release date for its Quest 3 headset. The follow-up to 2020's hot-selling Quest 2 and 2022's overpriced Quest Pro will start at $499 for a 128GB model or $649 for a 512GB model.

The lower-end model comes bundled with a copy of Asgard's Wrath 2 (available in winter 2023), while the higher-end model also includes a six-month subscription to the Meta Quest+ software subscription service.

The new headset upgrades the Snapdragon XR2 line powering previous Quest headsets to a "Gen 2" chipset, according to specs posted online. That means double the processing power and 30 percent more total resolution than Quest 2 (2064×2208 pixels per eye; 25 pixels per degree). The Quest 3 also sports 8GB of RAM, up from the 6GB of the Quest 2 but down from the 12GB on the Quest Pro.

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Categories: Tech News

A Government Shutdown Could Disrupt Air Travel, Officials Warn

N.Y. Times - Wed, 09/27/2023 - 10:51
If the government shuts down, air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officers will continue to work, but they will not be paid until the shutdown is over.
Categories: Local News