AXA, the French insurance giant, said last week that it would no longer cover ransom payments. Within days of its announcement, AXA was hit with a ransomware attack that paralyzed information technology operations in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

“This is just business as usual,” John Dickson, a cybersecurity expert at the San Antonio-based Denim Group, said in an interview Thursday. “These attacks should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.”

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Ole Anthony, Scourge of Televangelists, Dies at 82

Ole (pronounced O-lee) Edward Anthony was born on Oct. 3, 1938, in Saint Peter, Minn., about 70 miles southwest of Minneapolis. He grew up in Wickenburg, Ariz., a town 60 miles northwest of Phoenix that once billed itself as the “dude ranch capital of the world.” His father, Rudolph Anthony, left his family soon after the move, and Ole and his sister, Sandra, were raised by their mother, Edna (Norell) Anthony, a nurse who ran a retirement home.

Mr. Anthony’s sister died in 2019. He had no immediate survivors.

His childhood, he said, was marked by drug abuse and crime, both petty and felonious — at one point he and a friend set fire to a 40-foot-tall wooden cross outside Wickenburg. He joined the Air Force in 1956 after being offered the choice of military service or prison.

Mr. Anthony was trained in electronics, and in 1958 he was sent to an island in the South Pacific, where he was supposed to watch a small nuclear test many miles away. But the explosion was much larger than expected, and the radiation left him with scores of knobby tumors throughout his body.

He left the military in 1959 and took a job with Teledyne, a defense contractor. In a 2004 profile in The New Yorker, he told the journalist Burkhard Bilger that he had continued his work for the Air Force, sneaking behind the iron and bamboo curtains to install long-range sensors to detect Chinese and Soviet nuclear tests, though a later investigation by The Dallas Observer, a weekly newspaper, called that claim into question.

Credit…via Trinity Foundation

Mr. Anthony moved to Dallas in 1962 and became involved in Republican politics, working on campaigns and, in 1968, narrowly losing a race for the State Legislature. He was, by his own account, living large, with a luxury high-rise apartment, a $70,000 annual salary (about $550,000 today) and a rotating series of girlfriends.

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Japan’s Plan for Fukushima Wastewater Meets a Wall of Mistrust in Asia

TOKYO — In late 2019, the Japanese government convened diplomats from 22 countries for a briefing on its handling of more than a million tons of wastewater from Fukushima’s crippled nuclear reactors.

Storage space was rapidly running out, the authorities explained, and they were considering several solutions. Among them was removing the most harmful radioactive material from the water and then gradually releasing it into the ocean. The diplomats raised no objections, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

On Tuesday, when Japan officially announced that it would put the plan into action, the knives came out. South Korea denounced it as “utterly intolerable” and summoned the Japanese ambassador. China cited “grave concerns.” Taiwan also raised strong objections.

Japan has dismissed criticism of its plan as unscientific, saying that the treated water is well within safety standards, and pointing out that such releases into oceans are routine around the world. But its argument, as the reaction on Tuesday showed, leaves Tokyo a long way from winning its neighbors’ trust, a challenge made all the more difficult by growing regional tensions on a range of issues.

Japan’s handling of the nuclear disaster. China and South Korea are among 15 countries or regions that have banned or restricted food imports from Fukushima, despite the Japanese government’s abundant efforts to demonstrate that products from the area, from rice to fish, are safe to eat.

International advocacy groups, like Greenpeace, have also criticized the government’s decision, arguing that it is a cost-saving measure that ignores the potential environmental harms. The group advocates building additional storage facilities for the waste instead.

Even at home, the idea of pouring water, treated or not, from the crippled plant into the ocean is unpopular. In a national poll late last year by the Japanese daily The Asahi Shimbun, 55 percent of respondents opposed the plan.

It is even less welcome in Fukushima itself, where residents fear that the mere perception of risk will destroy the local fishing industry, which has been hoping for a rebound after a decade of self-imposed limits.

the 2011 earthquake and tsunami generates more than 150 additional tons a day.

Under the plan, powerful filters will be used to remove all of the radioactive material from the water except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses. Radiation levels in the resulting product, the government says, are lower than those found in drinking water. Japan intends to start releasing the water in 2023, in a process that is expected to take decades.

In an effort to ease minds at home, the authorities have placed dosimeters around the prefecture to monitor radiation levels and conduct routine screenings of seafood from the region. The government has held public hearings on the plan in Fukushima and in Tokyo.

The authorities say that they have also discussed the issue extensively with other countries and at international forums. In a news briefing on Tuesday, a Japanese official said that the country had held 108 group briefings for diplomats in Japan and had met with representatives from China and South Korea on the day of the announcement to explain the decision.

The United States came out in support of the plan. The International Atomic Energy Agency also endorsed it, saying in a statement that it was “in line with practice globally, even though the large amount of water at the Fukushima plant makes it a unique and complex case.”

The gap between such reassurances and the strident reactions closer to home was striking.

The outrage in the region is “quite understandable,” said Nanako Shimizu, an associate professor of international relations at Utsunomiya University in Japan who is opposed to the plan.

“If South Korea or China announced the same thing, I’m sure that the Japanese government and the vast majority of the Japanese people would also object,” she said.

Governments in the region most likely feel domestic pressure to take a strong stance, said Eunjung Lim, an associate professor of international relations at Kongju National University in Gongju, South Korea, who specializes in Japan and South Korea.

Whether their worries are rational or not, many people in the region “are going to be very, very anxious about what would happen if this radioactive material came into our near seas and contaminated our resources,” she said.

Even under the best of circumstances, Japan would find it “really difficult to persuade its neighbors to accept this kind of decision, because obviously, it’s not our fault. It’s Japan’s fault, so why do we have to experience this kind of difficulty?” she added.

Regional tensions have made surrounding countries even less receptive to the plan. In recent years, territorial disputes and disagreements over trade and historical issues related to World War II have strained Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, with spillover effects on government dialogues across a broad range of issues.

China warned Japan on Tuesday against taking any decision without further consultation with the international community, saying that it “reserved the right to take further action.”

In its statement, South Korea accused Japan of taking “unilateral action” without seeking consultation and understanding with South Korea, which “lies closest to Japan.”

Some in Japan believe that such complaints should be met with more than scientific arguments. Shunichi Tanaka, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said that the criticism smacked of hypocrisy.

South Korea itself operates four heavy-water reactors that routinely discharge water containing tritium at higher levels than those planned in Fukushima, he said in a recent interview.

“When South Korea makes claims like this, we shouldn’t be quiet, we need to properly refute them,” he said.

But the challenge Japan faces is not just on the global stage. At home, many are reluctant to trust the government or Tepco, the nuclear plant’s operator.

A parliamentary commission found that the meltdowns had been the result of a lack of oversight and of collusion between the government, the plant’s owner and regulators. And Tepco was forced to retract assertions that it had treated most of the wastewater. In fact, it had completely processed only about one-fifth, a problem that arose from a failure to change filters in the decontamination system frequently enough.

Ultimately, Japan is in a battle to alter perceptions, whether of the trustworthiness of its own government or of the risk posed by the treated water, said Hirohiko Fukushima, a professor at Chuo Gakuin University specializing in local governance issues.

In Fukushima, the government’s response to local concerns has often come across as highhanded, he said. Changing that view will require the authorities to improve transparency around their decisions and build new relationships, he said.

“From my perspective,” he added, “it’s probably difficult for Japan to convince foreign countries when it can’t even convince its own people.”

Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul. Albee Zhang contributed research from Shanghai.

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Japan to Start Releasing Radioactive Water From Fukushima in 2 Years

Japan said on Tuesday that it had decided to gradually release tons of treated wastewater from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean, describing it as the best option for disposal despite fierce opposition from fishing crews at home and concern from governments abroad.

The plan to release the water in two years was approved during a cabinet meeting of ministers early Tuesday.

Disposal of the wastewater has been long delayed by public opposition and by safety concerns. But the space used to store the water is expected to run out next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told lawmakers on Monday that the ocean release was “unavoidable” and could no longer be postponed.

The Fukushima crisis was set off in March 2011 by a huge earthquake and tsunami that ripped through northeastern Japan and killed more than 19,000 people. The subsequent meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Tens of thousands of people fled the area around the plant or were evacuated, in many cases never to return.

Ten years later, the cleanup is far from finished at the disabled plant, which is operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. To keep the three damaged reactor cores from melting, cooling water is pumped through them continuously. The water is then sent through a powerful filtration system that is able to remove all of the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses.

said last year that both options were “technically feasible.” Nuclear power plants around the world routinely discharge treated wastewater containing tritium into the sea.

But the Japanese government’s plan faces strong opposition from local officials and fishing crews, who say that it would add to consumer fears about the safety of Fukushima seafood. Catch levels in the area are already a small fraction of what they were before the disaster.

expressed concerns.

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A ‘Game Changer’ for Patients With Esophageal Cancer

The chemotherapy has difficult side effects, and the radiation causes a burning sensation that makes it difficult to swallow. “Food won’t go down,” Ms. Mordecai said. “You just feel rotten.”

The next step is major surgery. A doctor takes out most of the patient’s esophagus, the tract leading from the mouth to the stomach, and then grabs the stomach and pulls it up, attaching it to a stump of esophagus left behind.

The result is a stomach that is vertical, not horizontal, and lacks the sphincter muscle that normally keeps stomach acid from spilling out. For the rest of their lives, patients can never lie flat — if they do, the contents of their stomach, including acid, pours into their throats. They can choke, cough and aspirate.

Recovery is difficult, and morbidity and mortality are high. But most patients go through with the operation once they weigh their options. To refuse the treatment means giving up and letting the cancer close off the esophagus to the point where some cannot even swallow their own saliva, said Dr. Paul Helft, a professor of surgery and an ethicist at Indiana University School of Medicine.

The treatment is so long and harrowing that Dr. Helft often uses it to teach medical students and other trainees about informed consent — about how patients must be fully informed before they start any given treatment. Esophageal cancer patients in particular must be told that they are likely to have a recurrence within the first year.

Ms. Mordecai said her husband had his surgery at the end of September 2008. By Dec. 6, he had untreatable metastases in his liver. Now, she said, patients may have a glimmer of hope.

Dr. Ilson, who has spent his career trying to develop therapies to help patients with esophageal cancer, said that he did not expect this treatment to succeed: “We all get nihilistic when faced with years of negative studies.”

“This is really a landmark paper,” he added, and the drug “will become a new standard of care.”

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The Most Intimate Portrait Yet of a Black Hole

The Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, an international team of radio astronomers that has been staring down the throat of a giant black hole for years, on Wednesday published what it called the most intimate portrait yet of the forces that give rise to quasars, the luminous fountains of energy that can reach across interstellar and intergalactic space and disrupt the growth of distant galaxies.

The black hole in question is a monster 6.5 billion times as massive as the sun, and lies in the center of an enormous elliptical galaxy, Messier 87, about 55 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo. Two years ago, the team photographed it, producing the first-ever image of a black hole; the hitherto invisible entity, a porthole to eternity. It looked like a fuzzy smoke ring, much as Albert Einstein’s equations had predicted a century ago.

The group has spent the last two years extracting more data from their observations about the polarization of the radio waves, which can reveal the shape of the magnetic fields in the hot gas swirling around the hole.

Now, seen through the radio equivalent of polarized sunglasses, the M87 black hole appears as a finely whiskered vortex, like the spinning fan blades of a jet engine, pumping matter into the black hole and energy outward into space.

two papers published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, and in a third paper, by Ciriaco Goddi of Radboud University in the Netherlands and a large international cast, that has been accepted by the same journal.

the Event Horizon Telescope, an international collaboration that now comprises some 300 astronomers from 13 institutions.

The telescope is named after the point of no return around a black hole; beyond the event horizon, all light and matter is consumed. In April 2017, when the telescope spent 10 days observing M87, it consisted of a network of eight radio observatories around the globe — “a telescope as big as the world,” as Dr. Doeleman likes to say, able to spot details as small as an orange on the moon. The team then took two years to process the data. The results came together in April 2019, when Dr. Doeleman and his colleagues presented the first-ever images — radio maps, really — of a black hole, the monster in M87.

framed by a swirling doughnut of radiant gas in the center of the galaxy Messier 87.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” Dr. Doeleman said at the time. The picture appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world, and a copy is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

But that was only the beginning of the journey inward.

It took another two years for researchers to produce the polarized images released on Wednesday.

Jets and lobes of radio, X-ray and other forms of energy extend more than 100,000 light-years from the black hole in M87. Much of this radiation comes from energetic electrical particles spiraling around in magnetic fields.

The newly processed image allows the astronomers to trace these fields back to their origins, in a hot, chaotic ring of electrified gas, or plasma, about 30 billion miles across — four times as wide as the orbit of Pluto. That achievement is made possible because the light from the disk is partly polarized, vibrating more in one direction than in others.

“The direction and intensity of the polarization in the image tells us about the magnetic fields near the event horizon of the black hole,” said Andrew Chael, an astrophysicist at Princeton University who is part of the Event Horizon team.

Astronomers have debated for years whether the magnetic fields surrounding so-called low-luminosity black holes like M87 were weak and turbulent or “strong” and coherent. In this case, Dr. Chael said, the magnetic fields are strong enough to disrupt the fall of the gas and transfer energy from the spinning black hole to the jet.

“The E.H.T. images also provide hints that the bright jet in M87 is actually powered from the rotational energy of the black hole, which twists the magnetic fields as it rotates,” said Michael Johnson another Event Horizon member from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

As a result, Dr. Doeleman said, “This gives the emitted radio waves the azimuthal twist” observed in the curving pattern of the new, polarized images. He noted that azimuthal twist would be a “fine name for a cocktail.”

A byproduct of the work, Dr. Doeleman said, was that the astronomers were able to estimate the rate at which the black hole is feeding on its environment. Apparently it isn’t terribly hungry; the black hole is eating “a paltry” one-thousandth of the mass of the sun per year.

“Yet it’s enough to launch powerful jets that stretch for thousands of light years, and it’s radiant enough for us to capture it with the E.H.T.,” he said.

Dr. Doeleman is already laying the groundwork for what he calls the “next generation” Event Horizon Telescope, which will produce movies of this magnetic propulsion structure in action.

“This is really the next big question,” Dr. Doeleman said. “How do magnetic fields extract energy from a spinning black hole? We know it happens, but we don’t know how it works. To solve that, we will need to create the first black hole cinema.”

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Bringing Rigorous Testing to Health Care Policy

That evaluation method is reminiscent of the traditional approach to assessing new surgical techniques — which have sometimes been shown to be worthless or worse, after being subjected to more rigorous testing. Radical mastectomies, for example, were widely used for decades before randomized trials showed that much less extensive and disfiguring surgery followed by radiation was an equally effective treatment.

Of course, conducting randomized trials can pose more challenges for evaluating a new surgery than a new drug. A surgical technique may be harder to standardize enough to be able to test it on a broad population, and blinding the patient to which treatment she receives can be far more difficult.

But such feasibility issues do not apply to new payment methods, which are well-defined and standardized interventions, and where blinding medical providers to the payment rules is not desired.

Still, as in medicine, not all public policies can — or should — have randomized evaluations. One-of-a-kind government projects — like the “Big Dig” in Boston or the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas — have no natural comparison group, randomized or otherwise. In times of crisis, or when policy disagreements are more about ideology than impact, evaluation itself may be ill advised.

But when — as is often the case — there is an opportunity for prospective evaluation and the law requires it, the Innovation Center’s experience underscores the value and feasibility of randomized trials of social policy. They can often be done at the same speed and cost as any prospective study, and can yield more compelling results. Random assignment where the government chooses by lottery who can receive the program may also be the fairest way to allocate an intervention on a limited basis.

Randomized testing may not be the standard for government evaluation yet, but such things take time. For example, the Food and Drug Administration was empowered in 1962 to obtain “substantial evidence” of a new drug’s safety and efficacy, yet it took more than five years for the agency to embrace randomized trials as the appropriate standard.

Now that the Biden administration is, again, properly emphasizing that all federal agencies need to make “evidence-based decisions” based on the highest scientific standards, perhaps truly rigorous testing of social policy will become as commonplace as it is for new vaccines. That would help ensure that government services are delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible.


Amy Finkelstein is the John and Jennie S. MacDonald professor of economics at M.I.T. She co-directs J-PAL North America, a research center at M.I.T. that conducts randomized evaluations.

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