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NBA owners approve 22-team season restart plan

The NBA’s Board of Governors has approved a 22-team format for restarting the league season in late July at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida, another major step toward getting teams back onto the court and playing games again.

The format calls for each team playing eight games to determine playoff seeding plus the possible utilization of a play-in tournament for the final spot in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference postseason fields. The National Basketball Players Association has a call on Friday to approve the plan as well.

Thursday’s vote was the most significant step yet in the process of trying to resume a season that was suspended nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are numerous other details for the league to continue working through — including finalizing specifics of what the testing plan will be once teams arrive next month at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex and the calculating the financial ramifications of playing a shortened regular season.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.”

Meanwhile, a person speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the details of the ongoing talks have not been publicly released, said the NBPA and the NBA are continuing to work on a “lengthy” medical protocols document. The details of that document will be shared with teams once those discussions are completed, said the person, who added that teams should receive them in plenty of time for them to prepare for their arrivals at the Disney-ESPN complex.

The NBA also said it is planning to have the draft lottery Aug. 25, the draft on Oct. 15 and start next season on Dec. 1.

If all 22 teams that are going to Disney next month play their allotted eight games before the postseason begins, the NBA would play 1,059 games in this regular season. That means 171 regular season games would be canceled, which could cost players around $600 million in salary.

Those 22 clubs would play somewhere between 71 and 75 regular season games if the Disney portion of the schedule is completed, down from the customary 82-game slate. The teams who didn’t qualify for the restart will see their seasons end after having played somewhere between 64 and 67 games.

But one of the biggest hurdles is now cleared, and if things go according to plan an NBA champion for a season unlike any other will be crowned in October. The season could go into that month if the league goes ahead with its plan for the same playoff rules as usual, that being every round utilizing a best-of-seven format.

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Teams will likely arrive at the Disney complex around July 7. Once there, camps will continue and teams will likely have the chance to have some scrimmages or “preseason” games against other clubs before the regular season resumes.

Thursday’s move by the board of governors — one that came, coincidentally, on the same day this season’s NBA Finals would have started if these were normal times — was largely a formality. The NBA considered countless restart options after suspending the season on March 11, whittled that list down to four possibilities last week and from there the 22-team plan quickly began gaining momentum.

The 22-team plan includes all teams that were holding playoff spots when the season was stopped, plus all other clubs within six games of a postseason berth.

Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and reigning NBA champion Toronto had already clinched playoff berths. Now with only eight games remaining for each team, it means that eight other clubs — Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City and Houston — have postseason spots secured, and Dallas virtually has one as well.

That leaves nine teams vying for three remaining playoff berths. In the East, Brooklyn, Orlando and Washington are in the race for two spots. In the West, Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix will jostle for one spot.

If the gap between eighth place and ninth place in either conference is four games or less when the shortened regular season ends, those teams will go head-to-head for the No. 8 seed. The team in ninth place would have to go 2-0 in a two-game series to win the berth; otherwise, the No. 8 seed would advance to the postseason.

Thursday’s decision also means that the seasons for Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, Golden State, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte are over. The Knicks will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the third-longest current drought in the league behind Sacramento and Phoenix — who still have chances of getting into the playoffs this season.

And with the Hawks not moving on, it also means Vince Carter has almost certainly played the final game of his 22-year NBA career — the longest in league history.

Carter, the first player in NBA history to appear in four different decades, is retiring. He appeared in 1,541 NBA games, behind only Robert Parish (1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) on the league’s all-time list.

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HOW TO CHOOSE THE PERFECT CAREER

As a kid, we all have dreams we want to go after in our adulthood. When you start to come of age, you begin realizing your passions and talents. The best thing is harnessing them into an achievable goal. Here are some tips to help you figure out a career suited for you.

1. Do What You Love

While it might sound like a cliche, it still rings true. Doing something you love makes it easier to enjoy the journey that comes with the work. If you are fortunate enough to be a person who can make money from an activity you enjoy,  go for it.

2. Know you

Think deep inside and see what types of things make you tick. What skills do you naturally have that can make a difference? Make a list of your greatest abilities and write down your long- term goals. Think of the money you need to be content with and where you want to be in 5-10 years.

3. Work environment

When you start to know yourself and things become second nature, be realistic. What type of office string would you like? Do you want to work for a smaller company or corporation? A few questions to contemplate:

a. Do you like a 9-5 or want a flexible schedule?

b. Would I be more productive in a city office or working comfortably from home?

c. Do you like to be more behind the scenes or interact with your consumer base?

Think about what type of work scenario you’d most enjoy. The more realistic, the better chance you have of being successful.

4. Career counselor

Speak to a professional career counselor or recruiter. They’ve seen tons of resumes and individuals to give you an idea of what career path you should follow. Maybe you can even take an assessment test to see what kind of natural skills you have to meet certain requirements of the job you want.

5. Do research

Pick a few key jobs and careers. What will take for you to get there? Maybe you need education or special training. Look at the cities you should be in for your career, the salary opportunities, and other benefits.

6. Talk to elders

Get some advice from professionals in your field. Also, it’s good to build connections in case you need a reference. An internship could be a good way to get experience and lead to a future job.

7. Make a plan

Now that you’ve gathered the knowledge, start making a plan. Try to create a set of goals in a timeline to help you get to your career destination.

8. Get schooled

Either get college-level education or go to a trade school for a specific set of skills. It’ll help you get the training needed for the position you desire.

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Scientists detect mysterious repeating radio signal from space

A mysterious radio signal from a distant galaxy has Canadian and U.S. researchers baffled. In a recently published paper, the researchers said that the radio signal, which repeats regularly every 16.35 days, is unlike any they have ever detected from an object in space.

The signal comes from a galaxy about 500 million light years away and consists of “fast radio bursts” that occurred about once an hour for four days, stopped, and started again 12 days later, according to the researchers. They said that this cycle repeated itself for more than a year. The bursts first appeared in analyses of data from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, a radio telescope that groups of Canadian scientists are collaboratively using to study space phenomena.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where several of the paper’s coauthors are based, said in a statement that the signal is probably a celestial object and not aliens. It’s too big for a civilization, even a spacefaring one, to be sending it, the statement said: “Even a highly intelligent species would be very unlikely to produce energies like this. And there is no detectable pattern so far that would suggest there’s a sentient hand at play.”

Some researchers speculate that the source is a planet or other object orbiting a star. The signals cease when the object moves behind the object it is orbiting and the signals are thereby obstructed from reaching Earth, they suggest. They do not know how the object would be sending out these signals on a regular basis, however.

Astronomers have detected fast radio bursts from objects in space before. Most last for only a few milliseconds, and it is thus difficult to determine where they come from.

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Atheists more likely than churchgoers to have cats

The more you go to church, the less likely you are to own a cat, according to a new article in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The authors, Samuel Perry of the University of Oklahoma and Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University, reported finding a statistical correlation between rarely or never attending church and owning one or more cats.

There is “a strong, negative correlation between worship attendance and cat ownership,” they wrote. The authors based their findings on 2018 data of pet ownership nationwide.

They found that pet ownership in general trends downward in relation to church attendance. The average number of pets owned by a person who never goes to church is 1.96, according to their study. The average dips to 1.5 for a person who attends church almost weekly, and goes further down to 1.38 for a person who attends church more than once a week.

But cat ownership skews especially higher among those who do not attend church, they noted. Conversely, they found no significant difference in rates of dog ownership between churchgoers and those who do not go to church.

The authors posited that religious communities provide social connections, and frequent churchgoers feel less need for the companionship that pets provide–whereas someone who is not part of a church community may feel more of a need for pets. Also, frequent church attendance cuts into time that a person can commit to taking care of pets.

“Americans more deeply embedded within a religious community may have less need (or time) for pets generally, and specifically more independent “roommate pets,” like cats,” they wrote.

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New #MeTooBots scan emails to detect harassment

Artificial-intelligence programmers are developing software programs that will scan read emails for content indicates sexual harassment or bullying. The programmers plan to introduce the software to businesses across the globe who are in the market for new solutions to help root out sexual harassment within their workplaces.

The software will flag any communications that its algorithms determine to be problematic. But even the developers admit that a computer may have a hard time knowing harassment when it sees it.

Jay Lieb, chief executive of NexLP, is marketing a platform that already has more than 50 corporate customers. Lieb said in an interview harassment comes in more forms than even he knew.

“I thought it was just talking dirty. It comes in so many different ways. It might be 15 messages … it could be racy photos,” he said.

He declined to say exactly how the software will determine which communications are harassing and which are not. In more general terms, it will look for anomalies in the language or in the frequency and timing of messages over spans of weeks, he said.

Critics question whether the software will be able to learn all of the cues that indicate harassment. Some critics also contend that electronically monitoring employees’ communications creates a climate of mistrust and that companies will need to find ways to protect employees’ privacy while collecting all of their data.

The law firm Morgan Lewis is using the technology in an alternative way: to analaze clients’ past communications, according to Tess Blair, a partner at the firm. Blair said that while the technology has helped attorneys build cases, the attorneys are able to exercise their human judgement and determine which flagged messages are really relevant or not.

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GirlsDoPorn ex-performers win lawsuit against website

Pornographic website GirlsDoPorn is guilty of misleading at least 22 women into appearing into video for mass distribution and must pay them $12.8 million in damages, San Diego Superior Court Judge Keven Enright ruled Thursday. The judge acknowledged that many of the women have suffered extreme emotional distress and real-life harassment as a result of the videos in which they performed, and that they did not know when appearing in the videos that the videos would be posted publicly online.

“As a result, plaintiffs have suffered and continue to suffer far-reaching and often tragic consequences,” Enright wrote. He noted that plaintiffs described major damage to their personal relationships and career prospects, loss of academic opportunities, and that some were so traumatized that they contemplated suicide.

The judge also ordered the site’s owners to remove the videos from their site and get them removed from other sites in which they were posted.

The women were 18-23 years old at the time they appeared in the videos. Many were students in need of extra money, according to court documents.

The court heard evidence that the site had falsely promised the actresses that the videos they performed in would be for private personal use only and would not be posted online for mass subscribing audiences. Some of the women were given alcohol and cannabis just before being asked to sign the eight-page contracts authorizing the site to feature them in videos.

It also heard testimony that the site had shared private information about the actresses with third-party forums, which led to some of their real names being revealed and them and their families suffering harassment online.

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China sentences scientist who edited babies’ genes to jail

A Chinese court in Shenzhen sentenced the scientist who created the world’s first “gene-edited” babies to three years in jail and a fine of 3 million yuan ($430,000) on Monday. The scientist, He Jiankui, will also be permanently banned from further involvement in reproductive medicine, according to China’s Xinua news agency.

The court, Shenzhen Nanshan District People’s Court, also sentenced He’s coworkers Zahang Renli and Qin Jinzhou to prison terms of two years and 18 months, respectively. Like their boss, they are going to prison for “caarrying out human embryo gene editing… for repdroductive purposes,” the court said in a statement.

“The three accused did not have the proper certification to practise medicine, and in seeking fame and wealth, deliberately violated national regulations in scientific research and medical treatment,” the court said. “They’ve crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics.”

Jiankui made news worldwide last year when he claimed to have created genetically modified human twins, who were named Lulu and Nana. He and his team were using CRISPR, a DNA-editing technology, to alter the twins’ genomes while they were only fertilized embryos in a petri dish. After completing the gene-editing procedure, the team implanted the embryos into a woman’s uterus for them to be carried to term.

He said at the time that he wanted to make the twins immune to HIV by giving them a gene that makes some people HIV-resistant. Subsequent research published in the MIT Technology Review found that he may not have been successful in reporducing this gene in the twins, however.

Most countries ban the practice of editing unborn children’s genes.

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Mindfulness video game boosts players’ attention spans, researchers say

Digital devices get a lot of blame for distracting kids from learning, but researchers have developed a “mindfulness” video game that they said could make its young players more attentive. The researchers, working at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Irvine, said that young people playing this game show positive growths in areas of the brain associated with attention.

The game, called “Tenacity,” directs players to take deep breaths and count their breaths by tapping a touch screen once per breath. The players advance as they do this through relaxing landscapes and backgrounds, such as ancient Greek ruins or outer space.

The players are supposed to tap once per breath for their first four breaths and then tap twice every fifth breath. Players earn more points and advance in the game when they count five breaths in sequence accurately. The game’s designers said that counting of breaths helps train the players in mindfulness, the state of being calmly aware of the present moment.

“Most educational video games are focused on presenting declarative information: various facts about a particular subject, like biology or chemistry,” said Elena Patsenko, a research scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds and lead author on the recently published paper. “Our aim is different. We want to actually change the cognitive or emotional processes—how people think or process information they’re trying to learn.”

The research team gathered 95 middle-school children into two groups and had one group play Tenacity for 30 minutes a day for two weeks; the other group played another educational video game that did not involve mindful breathing. The Tenacity group showed increased connectivity between areas of their brains essential to attention; ans they performed better than the other group on an attention task.

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Spotify will halt selling political ads in 2020

Music-streaming service Spotify is following Twitter and Google and halting political advertising, starting in the new year. Spotify announced the change Friday in a statement in which it said that its platform does not have the capability to fact-check political ads and screen out misinformation.

“At this point in time, we do not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content,” the company said.

The halt will be in effect in the U.S. market only, according to the company, which said that such ads will be prohibited on both the site’s ad-supported tier and its exclusive podcasts. The U.S. market is the only one in which the platform has sold political ads. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has run ads for his presidential campaign on Spotify, and the Republican National Committee has used the site to advertise for Republican candidates.

Spotify is not the first tech company to actively rein in political advertising on its platform. Twitter announced an indefinite ban in October on any paid content that refers to political candidates, parties, legislation, or ballot initiatives. Twitter’s announcement came in response to a statement by Facebook earlier this year that it will not fact-check statements in political ads on its platform.

Google will also implement new restrictions on political ads. Its policy will go into effect worldwide on January 6th and will limit advertisers from targeting people based on their party affiliations or voting records, although it will still allow geo-targeted political ads and ads targeting demographics such as age or gender.

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Iraqi PM resigning as protests rage across Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation Friday, ceding to pressure from dissenting top clerics and increasingly violent protests from Iraqi citizens who were decrying government corruption. His announcement comes at the end of six weeks of confrontations between demonstrators and government security forces in which more than 400 Iraqis have died and the Iranian consulate in Najaf was torched.

A parliamentary session will convene Sunday to discuss Mahdi’s resignation and ways to end the crisis.

Protests first broke out October 1, when demonstrators in cities in southern and central Iraq accused the government establishment of ignoring its citizens’ needs and using oil revenues to enrich themselves. Security forces attempted to suppress demonstrations with force, and protests turned bloody. 

Instead of dispersing, however, the protests morphed into antigovernment movements calling for toppling the country’s leadership. An estimated 200,000 Iraqis have participated in the demonstrations.

“How is it that we are one of the richest countries and our people are broke? How is it that we still don’t have access to water though we have two major rivers? We have high unemployment, corruption, no services and they still have the guts to fire at us when we protest,” said Karrar Moussawi, a Baghdad resident who joined the protests.

Dissent also arose from national religious leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who demanded that Iraq’s parliament hold hearings on Mahdi. Sistani, who hold great influence among the public and only speaks on political matters in times of crisis, urged the government Friday to stop killing protesters and told protesters to refrain from further violence.