Here are the top stories for this week all summarized so you can stay informed and save time!
All sources are at the end of the post.
Republicans push to restrict mail-in voting ahead of US November midterms:
A worker removes mail-in ballots from envelopes at the Sacramento Registrar of Voters in Sacramento, California, U.S., September 14, 2021. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
The Republican Party has pushed new curbs on mail-in voting. This owes to former President Donald Trump's claims that voter fraud cost him the 2020 presidential election. This is in spite of multiple studies finding that higher mail-in voting participation generally does not turn out more Democratic voters than Republicans or improve the odds of Democrats winning. According to University of Chicago public policy professor Anthony Fowler, mail-in voting has higher risks of tampering as the ballot travels a longer distance. He concludes that voting on paper in person is safest, though he recognizes the importance of enfranchising voters unable to reach polling places, such as those lacking reliable transportation, the elderly, and residents of rural areas.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice and Voting Rights Lab, 18 states, mostly Republican-controlled legislatures, passed laws after the 2020 election restricting mail-in voting access while 22 expanded it, all with the stated aim of election security. Some legislation both expanded and restricted it, such as an Indiana law limiting where voters could drop their absentee ballots while making it easier to return one for another voter and to fix mistakes on them. The most major changes have been in Texas where a 2021 law requires that election workers automatically reject mail-in ballots using a different ID number than what is registered. Their mail ballot rejection rate in March was 12.4%, according to data from the secretary of state’s office, compared to Texas’ 0.8% during the 2020 election. In subsequent, though smaller elections in Texas, the rejection rate fell to under 4%, which the law’s defenders said proved that voters had adjusted to the new requirement.
Ukraine retakes territory in Kharkiv region as Russian front crumbles:
Ukrainian forces are seizing areas of previously Russian-held territory in the east in a breakthrough that could be a turning point in the war. Vitaly Ganchev, head of the Russian-backed administration in the Kharkiv region, said on state television that "The enemy is being delayed as much as possible, but several settlements have already come under the control of Ukrainian armed formations." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later said Kyiv's forces had liberated over 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region so far and that fighting continued in the eastern Donbas region and the south.
Such advances have largely been unheard of since Russia abandoned its assault on Kyiv in March, shifting the war mainly into a grind along entrenched front lines. The city is an important target due to connecting several of the main railway lines supplying troops at the front. Western military analysts say the advance could shut the supply lines Moscow has relied on and potentially leave thousands of Russian troops encircled. In the latest reported strike on civilians, Ukrainian officials said Russia had fired across the border, hitting a hospital in the northeastern Sumy region on Friday morning, though Russia denies targeting civilians.
The Ukrainians broke through in the east a week after Kyiv announced the start of a long-awaited counter-offensive hundreds of kilometers away at the other end of the front line, in the southern province of Kherson. Ukrainian officials said Russia moved thousands of troops south to respond to the Kherson advance, leaving other parts of the front line exposed. Russia's RIA agency quoted Russian-appointed Kherson authorities as saying some Ukrainian troops were captured and some Polish tanks they were using were destroyed. Ukraine has been using new Western-supplied artillery and rockets to hit Russian rear positions in the south, with the aim of trapping thousands of Russian troops on the west bank of the wide Dnipro River.
A Smart Watch Saved His Life with Alert About His Heart Slowing–and Stopping:
An Apple smartwatch saved a man’s life when it alerted him that his heart was beating extremely slowly, and had even stopped 138 times in 48 hours. This story of cardio-coincidence began in April when 54-year-old David Last got a new Apple watch from his wife Sarah for his birthday. Straight away, the watch readings showed David had a resting heart rate as low as 30bpm. Resting heart rates for an adult male are usually between 60-100bpm, dropping down into the 50s for those with extraordinary fitness. David’s wife urged him to see a doctor and he eventually went to see a cardiologist which found that he needed an ECG scan to see what was going on with his heart. After the results were in, he found he received 5 missed urgent calls to come to the hospital immediately. The scans found that he had third-degree heart blockage and was at risk of sudden cardiac death. With this knowledge, he was able to go into the hospital and get fitted with a pacemaker to save his life. The apple watch was a gift from his wife and David says that without it he would not be here so he continues to wear it all of the time as a good luck charm.
An AI can decode speech from brain activity with surprising accuracy:
Artificial intelligence takes one step closer to noninvasively decoding what we hear and intend on saying from brain activity data. ANDRIY ONUFRIYENKO/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES
A recently made artificial intelligence can decode words and sentences from brain activity with surprising but still limited accuracy. Using only a few seconds of brain activity data, the AI guesses what a person has heard. It lists the correct answer in its top 10 possibilities up to 73 percent of the time, researchers found in a preliminary study. Developed at the parent company of Facebook, Meta, the AI could eventually be used to help thousands of people around the world unable to communicate through speech, typing, or gestures, researchers report on August 25 at arXiv.org. That includes many patients in minimally conscious, locked-in, or “vegetative states” which is now generally known as unresponsive wakefulness syndrome. The tool uses physical differences in brain structure, brain activity, the context of the activity being done, and speech patterns to guess what someone is trying to say. While the machine itself is expensive and the study hadn’t nailed down a more comprehensive definition of language decoding the AI seems promising. There are also many concerns for dealing with patients who are non-verbal and decoding what they are thinking so we can understand them. Even so, there is a growing hope to help people with speech problems or those who can’t speak for themselves to have a voice.