Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Facebook Launches Dating Service in Europe

Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it is launching its dating service in 32 European countries after the rollout was delayed earlier this year due to regulatory concerns.The social media company had postponed the rollout of Facebook Dating in Europe in February after concerns were raised by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), the main regulator in the European Union for a number of the world’s biggest technology firms, including Facebook.The DPC had said it was told about the Feb. 13 launch date on Feb. 3 and was very concerned about being given such short notice.It also said it was not given documentation regarding data protection impact assessments or decision-making processes that had been undertaken by Facebook.Facebook Dating, a dedicated, opt-in space within the Facebook app, was launched in the United States in September last year. It is currently available in 20 other countries.In a blog post on Wednesday, Kate Orseth, Facebook Dating’s product manager, said users can choose to create a dating profile, and can delete it at any time without deleting their Facebook accounts.The first names and ages of users in their dating profiles will be taken from their Facebook profiles and cannot be edited in the dating service, Orseth said, adding that users’ last names will not be displayed and that they can choose whether to share other personal information on their profiles.

Science & Health

Common Cold Could Protect Against COVID-19, Research Shows

Having a cold might protect sufferers from a severe case of COVID-19, new research shows.COVID-19 patients who had recently been infected with a common cold virus were less likely to die or require intensive care compared with those who did not have a recent cold, according to the study published recently in the Medical staff of the intensive care unit of the Casalpalocco COVID-19 Clinic in the outskirts of Rome tend to patients, Oct. 21, 2020. (Associated Press)Sagar and his colleagues compared people who’d had a recent common cold infection with those who had not. They found that both groups contracted COVID-19 at the same rate, but people who had recently beaten a common cold experienced less severe COVID-19 symptoms.“They were much less likely to require admission to the intensive care unit. And they were much less likely to die from the infection,” said Sagar.For many adults and most children, COVID-19 causes only minor coldlike symptoms or no symptoms at all. In these people, the immune system effectively clears away virus particles and destroys infected cells, preventing serious disease.But the “immune system is a double-edged sword,” said Andrea Cox, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Exaggerated or poorly regulated immune responses can cause inflammation that leads to breathing troubles, organ failure and death. These severe outcomes usually occur in the elderly or people with other conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.Such vastly different responses to the COVID-19 virus could be explained, in part, by the immune system’s past experiences, experts say. Recognition of SARS-CoV-2 by preexisting T cells could enable a faster and stronger immune response and milder COVID-19 symptoms.Common colds could worsen COVID-19It is also possible that T cells produced from past common colds could impair the immune system’s response to COVID-19.“We have this preexisting standing force of fighters against [disease-causing viruses], and when we encounter those [viruses], there’s expansion of that force that preexists,” said Cox. “The concern is that you might expand [a force] designed to fight something else, not designed perfectly to fight SARS-CoV-2, and that could sort of skew you down this pathway that isn’t the right path to go down.”Prior immune experiences can be harmful in some diseases such as dengue fever. Antibodies and T cells produced in response to one version of the dengue virus can worsen the disease if they encounter a different version of the virus.Currently, there is little evidence that T cells produced in response to common cold coronaviruses worsen COVID-19 disease, but researchers say it is too early to say that they provide protection either.Immunity may also depend on the individual.“Not everyone who gets infected with the virus makes exactly the same immune response. In fact, even identical twins do not make the same exact immune responses to a virus when they get exposed,” said Cox. “So, it may depend on who is being infected. And it may depend on where you are in the world, where different seasonal cold coronaviruses come in different times, and also where you have different genetic backgrounds of people being exposed.”

Science & Health

Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to US Federal Criminal Charges

The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday that Purdue Pharma, maker of the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin, pleaded guilty to three federal criminal charges and agreed to pay more than $8 billion in fines.
OxyContin is a prescription drug that many experts said helped spark a nationwide opioid epidemic in the U.S. that is responsible for more than 470,000 overdose deaths since 2000.
As part of the settlement, Purdue Pharma admitted that it misled the federal government by falsely stating it maintained a program to avoid the transfer of controlled substances from individuals for whom they were prescribed to other people for illicit use.
Purdue Pharma also admitted it violated federal laws by paying physicians to write more prescriptions for its opioids and to use electronic health records software to influence the prescription of pain medication.
The company also admitted to violating federal law by “knowingly and intentionally” conspiring to “aid and abet” the dispensing of medication from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose.”
The plea agreement does not protect the company’s executives or members of the Sackler family, which owns the company, from criminal liability.
When announcing the settlement in Washington, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said, “Just as the department prosecutes illicit drug traffickers, the department is committed to doing the same with respect to abuse and diversion of prescription opioids.”
Rosen added, “Today’s announcement focuses on the problems from wrongful activities in the prescription opioids realm, so let me note that our efforts there appear to be making a difference.”
Before the agreement was reached, there was opposition from state attorneys general, Democratic lawmakers and advocates who asked Attorney General William Barr in a letter not to negotiate with the company and the Sackler family because the proposed deal did not hold them fully accountable.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement that the Justice Department “failed” by not “exposing the truth and holding perpetrators accountable, not rushing a settlement to beat an election.” The announcement comes less than two weeks before President Donald Trump stands for re-election on Nov. 3.
In their letter to Barr, 38 Democratic legislators said, “If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law.”
The settlement requires Purdue to make a direct payment of $225 million to the federal government, which is part of a $2 billion forfeiture. The company also faces a more than $3.5 billion criminal fine, which it may not have to fully pay because it will likely be taken through a bankruptcy.
In addition to paying $2.8 billion in damages to resolve its civil liability, the U.S. company will be required to transform into a public benefit company that would be managed by a trust without the involvement of the Sackler family.
The settlement, which mirrors a part of the company’s proposal to settle about 3,000 lawsuits filed by state, local and Native American governments, also requires some of the settlement money to be spent on medically assisted treatments and other programs to combat the opioid epidemic. 

Science & Health

NASA Spacecraft Skims Asteroid Surface to Capture Sample

A spacecraft from the U.S. space agency NASA briefly touched an asteroid Tuesday on a mission to collect dust and pebbles to bring back to Earth.The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft — an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer — carried out the operation on the asteroid Bennu located about 321 million kilometers from Earth.NASA said telemetry data from the spacecraft indicated the mission went as expected, but that scientists will need a week to confirm how much material the spacecraft was able to collect.NASA Plans to Land First Woman on the Moon in 2024Lunar landing will be America’s first since 1972If the amount is not enough, the spacecraft will carry out a second attempt at another location on Bennu in January.Scientists are interested in Bennu because they believe it contains material from the early solar system and may contain the molecular precursors to life and Earth’s oceans.  “A piece of primordial rock that has witnessed our solar system’s entire history may now be ready to come home for generations of scientific discovery, and we can’t wait to see what comes next,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.The asteroid is about as tall as the Empire State Building and could potentially threaten Earth late in the next century, with a 1‐in‐2,700 chance of affecting our planet during one of its close approaches.  The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will orbit the asteroid until next year, when it will begin its journey home to Earth. It is expected to land with the sample in 2023.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Artworks Vandalized at 3 Berlin Museums

German police and museum officials reported Wednesday that vandals have damaged more than 70 artworks and artifacts at some of Berlin’s most renowned museums.  The targeted attacks were kept quiet by authorities for more than two weeks.Christina Haak, deputy director of Berlin’s state museums, told reporters that at least 63 works at the Pergamon Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Neues Museum were all sprayed with what she described as an oily liquid that left stains. She said there was no thematic link between the targeted works and “no pattern is discernible” to the perpetrator’s approach.The museums are all part of the Museum Island complex, a UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of Germany’s capital that is one of the city’s main tourist attractions.Police said they initially decided not to go public about the incident out of “tactical considerations related to the investigation.” Local media in Berlin broke the story late Tuesday. On Wednesday, police asked witnesses to come forward with any accounts of suspicious people or events they noticed October 3.German media have noted that the Pergamon Museum has in recent months been targeted by conspiracy theorists. Attila Hildmann, an activist who has railed against government measures to contain the coronavirus, has spread conspiracy theories about Museum Island.Through the internet, he claimed the Pergamon Museum held the “throne of Satan” and was the center of a “global satanist and corona criminal scene” where “they sacrifice humans at night and abuse children.”Haak told reporters that some of the museums had been vandalized over the summer with graffiti and torn banners on the outside of the buildings.  

Science & Health

Senegal Campaigners Urge Breast Cancer Screening Despite COVID-19 Fears

A Senegalese anti-cancer group is encouraging women to get mammograms after a drop in the number of women getting screened because of coronavirus concerns, as Estelle Ndjandjo reports from Dakar.Camera: Estelle NdjandjoProduced by: Barry Unger

Science & Health

Pope Reverts to Mask-Less Old Ways Amid Growing Criticism

A day after donning a face mask for the first time during a liturgical service, Pope Francis was back to his mask-less old ways Wednesday despite surging coronavirus infections across Europe and growing criticism of his behavior and the example he is setting.
Francis shunned a face mask again during his Wednesday general audience in the Vatican auditorium, and didn’t wear one when he greeted a half-dozen mask-less bishops at the end. He shook hands and leaned in to chat privately with each one.
While the clerics wore masks while seated during the audience, all but one took his mask off to speak to the pope. Only one kept it on, and by the end of his tete-a-tete with Francis, had lowered it under his chin.
Vatican regulations now require facemasks to be worn indoors and out where distancing can’t be “always guaranteed.” The Vatican hasn’t responded to questions about why the pope wasn’t following either Vatican regulations or basic public health measures to prevent COVID-19.
Francis has faced sharp criticism even from his most ardent supporters and incredulousness from some within the Vatican for refusing to wear a mask.
Just this week, the Vatican expert and columnist, the Rev. Thomas Reese, wrote a blistering, tough-love open letter to the pope offering him six reasons he should wear a mask and urging like-minded faithful to troll the pope’s @Pontifex Twitter feed to shame him into setting a better example.
“You’re the boss; you should follow your own rules,” Reese wrote. “When the clergy hold themselves above the rules, we call that clericalism, a sin that you have loudly denounced.”
At the start of his audience Wednesday, Francis explained to the faithful why he didn’t plunge into the crowd as he usually would do. But he said his distance from them was for their own well-being, to prevent crowds from forming around him.
“I’m sorry for this, but it’s for your own safety,” he said. “Rather than get close to you, shake your hands and greet you, I greet you from far away. But know that I’m close to you with my heart.”
He didn’t address his decision to forego wearing a mask.
Francis did, however, wear a white face mask throughout an interreligious prayer service in downtown Rome on Tuesday, removing it only to speak. He had previously only been seen wearing one once before as he entered and exited his car in a Vatican courtyard on Sept. 9. Italian law requires masks indoors and out.
At 83 and with part of a lung removed when he was in his 20s due to illness, the pope would be at high risk for COVID-19 complications. He has urged the faithful to comply with government mandates to protect public health.
In the past week, 11 Swiss Guards and a resident of the hotel where Francis lives have tested positive. All told, the Vatican City State has had 27 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University running tally.
In Italy, the onetime European epicenter of COVID-19, coronavirus cases are surging, with the Lazio region around Vatican City among the hardest hit. Lazio has more people hospitalized and in intensive care than any other region except Italy’s most populous and hardest-hit region, Lombardy.
Inside the Vatican auditorium Wednesday, the crowd wore masks as did the Swiss Guards. But Francis, his two aides and some of the protocol officials didn’t.
In his open letter to Francis, which Reese said was a “fraternal correction” from a fellow Jesuit, the American noted that Francis was trained as a scientist, and should know to trust the science on virus protection. He urged Francis to be a good Jesuit and obey doctors and the Vatican’s own mask mandates.
Saying Francis’ decision to forego a mask was a sin, Reese urged Francis to set a better example to others and avoid being lumped in the same camp as COVID-19 negationists and mask-averse U.S. President Donald Trump, with whom Francis has clashed.
“Do you really want to be in company with a man who builds walls rather than bridges, who demonizes refugees and immigrants, who turns his back to the marginalized?” Reese asked. “I don’t think so, but that is where you are as long as, like Trump, you do not wear a mask.”
Reese’s campaign was having an effect. Dutch Catholic theologian Hendro Munsterman tweeted his anger at @Pontifex, writing: “How do we tell our kids to protect themselves and others if you cannot even give an example?”