China’s wandering elephants may finally be heading home

BEIJING — An elephant herd that fascinated locals and people around the world by making a yearlong journey into urbanized southwest China, raiding farms and even a retirement home for food, appears finally to be headed home.

Local authorities have deployed trucks, workers and drones to monitor the elephants, evacuated roads for them to pass safely and used food to steer them away from populated areas. Despite their entrance into villages and a close approach to the Yunnan provincial capital of Kunming, no animals or humans have been injured.

The 14 Asian elephants of various sizes and ages were guided across the Yuanjiang river in Yunnan on Sunday night and a path is being opened for them to return to the nature reserve where they lived in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture.

The elephants left the reserve more than a year ago for unknown reasons and roamed more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) north. After reaching the outskirts of Kunming, a center for business and tourism, they turned south again, but still are far from the reserve.

One male that separated from the herd was subsequently tranquilized and returned to the reserve.

Asian elephants are among the most highly protected animals in China and their population has grown to around 300, even while their habitat has shrunk because of expanded farming and urban growth.

As of Sunday night, the herd was still in Yuanjiang County, approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the reserve.

However, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration said the animals were in a “suitable habitat” after crossing the river.

A notice issued by provincial government said the herd’s progress was significant and it would continue to work on getting the elephants back in their natural habitat soon.

Carmelo Anthony joins his friend LeBron James with title the only goal

LOS ANGELES — Carmelo Anthony realized the time was finally right to join forces with his friend LeBron James.

Whether James and the veteran-led Los Angeles Lakers can help Anthony win his first NBA championship remains to be seen.

“Most people will say we should have gotten together years ago, early in our career, but we were on two different paths. It just felt like right now was the best time,” Anthony said.

He and James have known each other since high school and were part of the star-studded 2003 draft class. James went first overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers out of high school, while Anthony was the third pick by the Denver Nuggets after leading Syracuse to its first NCAA title.

“Bron came to me and said the time is now and that we have to make it happen,” Anthony said. “I took my time with it and weighed my options.”

James won a pair of championships in Miami with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who went fourth and fifth to the Toronto Raptors and Heat, respectively, in 2003. He added two more titles with Cleveland in 2016 and LA last year.

Anthony’s teams, meanwhile, have gone 3-13 in playoff series, and the closest he got to a title was a trip to the Western Conference finals with Denver in 2009.

With James, Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis headlining the Lakers, anything less than a championship would disappoint.

“I’m coming in with a championship in my mind. This is the one thing that I’m missing,” the 37-year-old Anthony said. “I want to experience what it is like going through the ups and downs of a championship season.”

All four players were part of the U.S. gold medal squad at the 2012 London Games. Anthony wants to make sure their camaraderie is consistent even when times get tough.

“I’m more excited about the journey of this season. We are going to win games. Let’s be quite frank: We have to win games,” Anthony said. “The basketball part will take care of itself. It’s how we all come together and support one another. When it’s always sunny, it’s cool, but when it starts raining, then what happens? That’s where the expertise and experience come into play.”

Anthony — the 10th leading scorer in NBA history — joins his seventh team as he enters his 19th season. He averaged 13.4 points and made 40.9% of his 3-pointers coming off the bench for Portland last season, revitalizing his career by proving he can contribute to a solid team as a reserve.

He’s likely to have a similar role with the Lakers.

Anthony’s 3-point shooting should be valuable on a team that has struggled from the perimeter for the past two seasons and added Westbrook, a point guard with a balky outside shot.

The recent additions — which also include Dwight Howard, Wayne Ellington, Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk — have the Lakers with the second-lowest odds to win the NBA title, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Talen Horton-Tucker, who re-signed, is one of the few returnees. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Montrezl Harrell and Markieff Morris are no longer around after the Lakers’ bid for a repeat championship was derailed by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.

Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations keep growing faster, but cases could be leveling off

Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations increased at a faster pace last week, and while the growth in new cases started to slow, it’s too early to know if that trend will stick.

With schools starting to return to in-person learning across the state, it’s particularly important to know if the virus is advancing or retreating. That’s because the number of people the average person is exposed to when classrooms are full and some adults go back to the office will rise, and more social contacts means more opportunities for the virus to spread.

In the week ending Sunday, new hospital admissions increased 38% compared to the previous week. They had risen 17% in the week ending Aug. 1 and 10% in the week ending July 24. It’s a worrisome trend, said Talia Quandelacy, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health.

“If you weren’t masking indoors, in particular in crowded spaces, it would be a good idea,” she said.

As of Monday afternoon, 540 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That’s higher than the summer 2020 peak, but about 200 fewer than during the peak of the fourth wave in May 2021.

COVID-19 cases leveled out somewhat toward the end of the week, though Quandelacy cautioned against assuming the worst is over. Sometimes, for reasons that aren’t clear, new cases will stabilize or dip for a few days, then jump again, she said.

“I think it’s going to be a few days before we know if that small dip continues,” she said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recorded 6,324 new cases in the week ending Sunday, which was an increase of about 300 from the previous week. They had risen faster in recent weeks.

The percentage of tests coming back positive also slowed its rise slightly in recent days, though it remains above the state’s 5% goal. The higher the positivity rate is, the more likely it is that the state is missing cases.

Jessica Bralish, spokeswoman for the state health department, said the highly contagious delta variant of the virus is “threatening our progress” toward returning to normal.

“The vaccine has provided us with a critical tool against the virus that we didn’t have during some other periods of rising cases,” she said in a statement. “It’s why we are committed to using it to the maximum extent possible — and are committed to making sure it’s accessible to every Coloradan.”

Colorado isn’t one of the worst in the U.S. when it comes to a COVID spike. Hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past two weeks in much of the southeast and Texas.

In the first week of August, more than 60,000 people a day were receiving hospital care for COVID-19 nationwide — about 2,000 more than at the peak of the spring 2020 wave, according to The New York Times data tracker.

All but 12 of Colorado’s 64 counties have “substantial” or “high” spread of the virus, which means they have at least 50 cases for every 100,000 people — the level where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks indoors, even if they’re fully vaccinated.

The 10 counties with the highest rates of new cases, compared to population, are:

  • San Juan: 1101.9
  • Summit: 248.5
  • Hinsdale: 244.2
  • Las Animas: 186.3
  • Sedgwick: 179.5
  • Pitkin: 174.6
  • Kit Carson: 168.4
  • Alamosa: 166.9
  • Eagle: 156.2
  • Archuleta: 150

The increasing cases even in highly vaccinated areas like Summit County doesn’t mean the vaccine is useless, Quandelacy said. Even if 80% of the eligible population is vaccinated, 20% remains highly vulnerable, and children under 12 still can’t get the shot, she said.

“I think that’s what happening in the metro areas,” she said. “It really underscores the need to get vaccinated and to wear your mask.”

U.N. climate report reaction: Colorado “scrambling” to endure intensifying heat, calamities

Climate-driven heat waves, droughts, fires, floods and bad air already are causing damage that Colorado leaders say they cannot fully control — and a major United Nations scientific report released Monday warns all of these calamities inevitably will intensify over the next 30 years.

The impacts are obvious now, leaders said, with Interstate 70 still closed due to mudslides from the burn-scarred Glenwood Canyon and wildfire smoke from California prompting stay-at-home health advisories. But they remained hopeful that President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure overhaul and other federal funds over the next few decades can help residents endure.

“We’re scrambling. We have to prepare,” Fort Collins Mayor Jeni Arndt, a Democrat, said, referring to recent erosion that turned the Poudre River black and power outages. “People are going to be moving here. Maybe we’re going to be moving.”

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report declared a “Code Red for humanity,” warning a hotter future is certain. Climate-driven calamities will increase and sea levels will rise nearly a foot at least through 2050, according to the report, which is based on hundreds of studies worldwide and represents a scientific consensus on climate change.

Scientists determined that deep, quick worldwide cuts in greenhouse gas emissions could still stabilize rising temperatures by 2040.

“In light of the updated science provided by the IPCC,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said, city emergency managers and climate officials will update the city’s 2017 “hazard mitigation plan.” They’ll include plans to improve cooling systems to help residents endure heat and convert parks land to better absorb sudden surges of water in storms.

“The science is clear: climate change is happening right now,” Hancock said. “Every level of government and the private sector must take bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid even greater catastrophes.”

Beyond infrastructure, the city’s climate office director Grace Rink said dealing with climate-induced disasters requires preparing people “to withstand the coming challenges.”

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a Republican, could not be reached for comment.

Colorado leaders increasingly count on the federal government to help deal with worsening damage from floods, drought and fire.

Gov. Jared Polis has asked for $116 million to help reopen I-70. And Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse has been pushing the $10 billion launch of a new Civilian Climate Corps to handle work on the front lines.

On Monday, Neguse said in an interview that the world is close to a catastrophic “tipping point” with horrific implications.

“We have to do much, much more and we have to do it quickly,” and it’ll require “hundreds of billions” to equip towns and cities, Neguse said, adding that some of his constituents are frightened.

“Folks also are fed up with the inaction in Washington and they’re demanding that Congress do something about this existential threat of our time,” he said. “The IPCC report confirms that, if we don’t take drastic action soon, we’re not going to be able to avoid the most catastrophic consequences.”

Denver ties record high temperature Monday

As if the smoky air wasn’t enough, just pack on the heat.

Denver hit 98 degrees Monday afternoon, which ties a record set in 1989, according to the National Weather Service.

With the high temperatures and smoky conditions, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) warns of possible respiratory issues for even healthy adults.

Denver will continue to see high temperatures in the 90s through the rest of the week. As for the smoke, that is staying around the next few days, too. However, a pattern shift will help to decrease the amount of smoke by the end of the week.

Dog tests positive for plague in Teller County, experts urge caution

A dog tested positive for plague after a likely exposure near the Divide Trail Loop in Teller County’s Hayden Divide Park, according to a Monday news release from El Paso and Teller County public health officials.

Experts are warning the public to take precautions to help prevent plague exposure.

“While plague is common in the summer months, taking simple precautions can lower the risk of transmission to pets and humans,” said Michelle Hewitt, El Paso County public health information officer, in the news release.

Plague is spread by a bacteria that can be transmitted to people and pets from infected flea bites or by direct contact with infected animals, Hewitt said.

Anyone who suspects they may have been exposed should contact a health care provider immediately, Hewitt said.

Symptoms can include sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness and tender, painful lymph nodes.

Plague is treatable in people and pets if caught early with the use of antibiotics, Hewitt said. Experts strongly advised use of veterinary-approved flea control products for pets.

Plague is commonly found in prairie dogs, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and other rodents.

In July, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged residents to be careful around animals after plague was found in mammals and fleas from six counties and the state recorded its first death from the disease since 2015.

Colorado reported 22 human cases of plague from 2015 to 2020, according to the state health department. Almost half of the cases were in La Plata County, though at least one case has been reported in the last six years in Adams, Archuleta, Boulder, Denver, Grand, Larimer, Mesa and Pueblo counties

To help protect yourself, your pets or stock animals from plague, experts irecommend the following:

  • Avoid fleas with insect and flea repellant for humans and vet-approved flea treatment for animals;
  • Don’t handle wildlife directly;
  • Leash pets;
  • Keep pets away from wildlife, especially dead rodents and rabbits;
  • Don’t allow dogs or cats to hunt prairie dogs, rodents or rabbits;
  • Don’t feed wildlife;
  • See a doctor if you come down with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes;
  • Contact a veterinarian immediately if your pet or livestock become ill with a high fever and/or abscess or swollen lymph nodes.

To report sudden die-offs of rabbits or rodents or multiple dead animals, call El Paso County Public Health at 719-578-3220 or Teller County Public Health and Environment at 719-687-6416.

‘Unprecedented.’ Massive Forest Fire Ravages Greece’s Second Largest Island

ARKITSA, Greece — Firefighters and residents battled into the night Monday for a seventh day against a massive fire on Greece’s second-largest island as the nation endured what the prime minister described as “a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions.”

Smoke and ash from Evia, a rugged island of forests and coves close to the Greek mainland, blocked out the sun and turned the sky orange. The fire, which began Aug. 3, is the most severe of hundreds in the past week across Greece, gobbling up pristine pine forests as well as homes and businesses and forcing hundreds to quickly evacuate by sea to save their lives.
[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Greece has been baked by its worst heat wave in three decades, which sent temperatures up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) and turned its prized pine forests into bone-dry tinderboxes.

In a televised nationwide address, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the destruction in Evia and elsewhere “blackens everyone’s hearts” and pledged compensation for all affected, as well as a huge reforestation and regeneration effort. He also apologized for “any weaknesses” shown in addressing the emergency, a nod to criticism from some residents and officials who said Greece’s firefighting efforts and equipment were woefully inadequate.

“These last few days have been among the hardest for our country in decades,” Mitsotakis said. “We are dealing with a natural disaster of unprecedented dimensions.”

With roads on the island cut off by the flames, residents and tourists fled to Evia’s beaches and jetties to be ferried to safety by a flotilla of ferries and boats.

“We were completely forsaken. There were no fire brigades, there were no vehicles, nothing!” David Angelou, who had been in the seaside village of Pefki, said Sunday night after leaving by ferry to the mainland.

“You could feel the enormous heat, there was also a lot of smoke. You could see the sun, a red ball, and then, nothing else around,” he said.

Mitsotakis said Monday he “fully understands” the pain of those who lost homes or property, and the anger of those seeking airborne assistance “without knowing whether the firefighting aircraft were operating elsewhere or whether conditions made it impossible for them to fly.”

But he urged Greeks to reflect “not only on what was lost but also on what was saved in such an unprecedented natural disaster.”

Other big wildfires were still burning Monday in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region. Over the past week, hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed or damaged, and at least 40,000 hectares (nearly 100,000 acres) have been burned. Power cuts on Monday affected at least 17,000 households.

The causes of the blazes are as yet undetermined, though several people have been arrested for alleged arson. Greece’s top prosecutor has ordered an investigation into whether the high number of fires could be linked to criminal activity.

GREECE-FIRE
ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty ImagesLocal youths and volunteers gather in an open field and wait to support firefighters during a wildfire next to the village of Kamatriades, near Istiaia, northern Evia (Euboea) island on August 9, 2021.

More than 20 countries in Europe and the Mideast have responded to Greece’s call for help, sending planes, helicopters, vehicles and manpower.

On Monday, Greece’s Foreign Ministry tweeted that neighboring Turkey — Greece’s historic regional rival — will be sending two firefighting planes because a top envoy said Turkey’s wildfires “are now under control.” The ministry also said Russia would be sending two firefighting planes and two helicopters.

Greek authorities, scarred by a deadly wildfire in 2018 near Athens that killed more than 100 people, have emphasized saving lives, issuing dozens of evacuation orders. The coast guard said 2,770 people had been evacuated by sea across the country between July 31 and Aug. 8.

Some residents ignored the orders to try to save their villages, spraying homes with garden hoses and digging mini firebreaks.

“The villagers themselves, with the firefighters, are doing what they can to save their own and neighboring villages,” said Yiannis Katsikoyiannis, a volunteer from Crete who came to Evia to help his father save his horse farm near Avgaria.

“If they had evacuated their villages, as the civil protection told them to, everything would have been burnt down – perhaps even two days sooner,” he said. “Of course, they never saw any water-dropping aircraft. And of course now the conditions are wrong for them to fly, due to the smoke.”

On Monday, the flames raced across northern Evia, threatening yet more villages even as 600 firefighters struggled to tame the inferno, aided by emergency teams from Ukraine, Romania and Serbia, 5 helicopters and 5 water-dropping planes.

One Greek volunteer firefighter died near Athens last week while four more were in the hospital Monday, two in critical condition with extensive burns.

Wildfires were also burning in southern Italy, North Macedonia and Montenegro, where a large fire in the Malo Brdo district of the capital Podgorica was coming close to houses on Monday.

In Italy, authorities urged the public to be careful with fire amid a heat wave forecast for this week, when many Italians take summer vacations. Firefighters for weeks have been battling blazes in Sardinia, Sicily and Calabria, and two have died.

“We have faced very difficult and dramatic days fighting fires, and the temperatures that are forecast require the utmost attention,’’ said Fabrizio Curcio, head of Italy’s Civil Protection agency. “We are asking the maximum collaboration and caution from citizens … to avoid any behavior that can set off a fire and report immediately the smallest blaze.”

In North Macedonia, dozens of wildfires followed the worst heat wave in decades. At least eight were still burning Monday, mostly in remote areas where only helicopters and planes could be deployed. Thousands of acres of forest have been destroyed and authorities have arrested five suspected arsonists.

___

Becatoros reported from Athens, Greece. Associated Press journalists Nicolae Dumitrache in Pefki, Greece, Nicholas Paphitis in Kontias, Greece, Suzan Frazer in Ankara, Turkey, Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, North Macedonia, Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, and Predrag Milic in Podgorica, Montenegro, contributed to this report.

‘We Need to Stop It in Its Tracks.’ West Africa Sees First Marburg Virus Death

CONAKRY, Guinea — Authorities in West Africa have confirmed the region’s first known case of Marburg virus after at least one person in Guinea died of the hemorrhagic fever disease, the World Health Organization said Monday.

Health officials said they were trying to track down everyone who may have come into contact with the patient who had sought medical treatment in Gueckedou.

The case was reported in the same part of Guinea where the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic started that ultimately killed at least 11,325 people. A much smaller outbreak of Ebola earlier this year also hit the same area near Guinea’s borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, leaving 12 dead.
[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

The Marburg virus belongs to the same family as Ebola, and previously outbreaks have erupted elsewhere across Africa in Angola, Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.

The new West African case was confirmed by a laboratory in Guinea and again by the Institut Pasteur in nearby Senegal, according to WHO.

“The potential for the Marburg virus to spread far and wide means we need to stop it in its tracks,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa. “We are working with the health authorities to implement a swift response that builds on Guinea’s past experience and expertise in managing Ebola, which is transmitted in a similar way.”

Marburg outbreaks start when an infected animal, such as a monkey or a fruit bat, passes the virus to a human. The virus then spreads from human to human by contact with an infected person’s body fluids.

Marburg symptoms include high fever and muscle pains, and some patients later bleed through body openings like eyes and ears. There is no approved drug or vaccine for Marburg, but rehydration and other supportive care can improve a patient’s chances of survival.

Case fatality rates have been as high as 88% in previous outbreaks, but WHO said the figure has varied, based upon the strain and how cases were managed.

___

Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed.

How Extortion Scams and Review Bombing Trolls Turned Goodreads Into Many Authors’ Worst Nightmare

A few months after posting a message on Goodreads about the imminent release of a new book, Indie author Beth Black woke up to an all-caps ransom email from an anonymous server, demanding that she either pay for good reviews or have her books inundated with negative ones: “EITHER YOU TAKE CARE OF OUR NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS WITH YOUR WALLET OR WE’LL RUIN YOUR AUTHOR CAREER,” the email, shared with TIME, read. “PAY US OR DISAPPEAR FROM GOODREADS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.”

Black, who has self-published both a romance novel and a collection of short stories in the past year, didn’t pay the ransom. “I reported it to Goodreads and then a couple hours later, I started noticing the stars dropping on my books as I started getting all these 1-star reviews,” she says. “It was quite threatening.”
[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Scammers and cyberstalkers are increasingly using the Goodreads platform to extort authors with threats of “review bombing” their work–and they are frequently targeting authors from marginalized communities who have spoken out on topics ranging from controversies within the industry to larger social issues on social media.

Black says she had posted about the upcoming book in a Goodreads community group, and had sent PDF copies to self-proclaimed reviewers. According to Black, the pressure to rack up reviews on Goodreads and Amazon led to her becoming the target of a cyber-extortion attack.

“In order for an author to achieve any kind of success, we’re told that we have to have numerous reviews,” says Black. “For writers who aren’t well connected, this creates anxiety over finding reviewers. You don’t want your reviews to just be from family and friends. That’s nice, but it’s not going to make a career.”

Read more: The Best Books of 2021 So Far

Since its launch in 2007, Goodreads has evolved into the world’s largest online book community. The social networking site now has millions of users who rate and review books, find recommendations for new ones and track their reading. But over time, Goodreads has also become a hunting ground for scammers and trolls looking to con smaller authors, take down books with spammed ratings, cyberstalk users or worse.

With over 120 million members worldwide, Goodreads is far and away the most popular—and influential—digital book database. When the site was purchased by Amazon for $150 million in 2013, The Atlantic reported that: “When all is said and done, in the world of books, Goodreads is just about as influential as Facebook.”

With few serious competitors, Goodreads’ influence has only grown. According to Erin Stein, an editor and publisher with experience heading Macmillan Children’s Group’s Imprint and working for Little, Brown and Company, the publishing industry views Goodreads as a “necessary evil.”

“It’s something I wish we didn’t have to deal with, but it’s a key part of the industry,” she tells TIME. Basically, she notes, high Goodreads ratings help books get sold into retail. “A lot of authors are on there, a lot of bloggers are on there and it’s used as a marketing tool by publishers to build awareness for books. You can’t completely ignore it.”

But many authors wish they could ignore Goodreads, as more face bullying and extortion on the site. It has been a frequent topic of discussion on social media, with both authors and readers objecting to how the site functions—especially when it comes to its moderation policies.

Goodreads remains one of the primary tools on the internet for book discovery, meaning lesser-known authors often have to rely on the site to get their work noticed. But at this point, some feel that Goodreads’ ratings and reviews system is causing more harm than good.

In a July 29 statement to TIME, a spokesperson for Goodreads said that the company is actively working to resolve many of these review bombing problems.

“We take swift action to remove users when we determine that they violate our guidelines, and are actively assessing all available options to take further action against the small number of bad actors who have attempted extortion scams,” the statement read. “We have clear guidelines for reviews and participation in our community, and we remove reviews and/or accounts that violate these guidelines… We also continue to invest in making technology improvements to prevent bad actor behavior and inauthentic reviews in order to better safeguard our community.”

Review bombing, ransom emails and extortion

As author Rin Chupeco told TIME, Goodreads is a “good idea that slowly became unmanageable over the years due to lack of adequate moderation and general indifference.”

One emerging issue is review bombing: when a coordinated group, or a few people with multiple accounts, intentionally tank a book’s aggregate rating with a flurry of one-star ratings and negative reviews.

“There are some legitimate great reviews going up and many people take it seriously,” Stein says. “But a lot of people aren’t writing actual reviews of the book. They’re posting reviews of a book well before it’s even published—before advanced copies are even out. So they’re just touting an author or they’re trying to take down an author.”

<strong>“What startled me was that while I made a lot of noise about this, I wasn’t the first victim”</strong>(Goodreads’ review guidelines state that “each book is eligible to be reviewed as soon as it appears on the site.”)

Black says an “army” of fellow authors came to her aid after she publicized the threat. They countered the negative reviews with positive ones in order to drive her ratings back up. Thanks to the high level of attention that was drawn to her case, Black says that Goodreads was fairly quick to remove the offending reviews.

But Black isn’t the only author to be targeted. There are many threads on Goodreads discussing similar issues, with posts from writers who’ve been targeted.

Last January, sci-fi author Alina Leonova shared that she reported a similar scam to Goodreads: trolls bombed Leonova’s books with 1-star ratings, then demanded a ransom. She said the Goodreads support team said the platform was investigating “possible solutions to prevent this from happening in the future.”

However, the problems have continued. “What startled me was that while I made a lot of noise about this, I wasn’t the first victim,” Black says. “[The scammers] have been doing this for a while. People were commenting that it’s a regular thing and that normally, Goodreads does not jump in to save authors.”

The ‘1-star book brigade’ and marginalized authors

When review bombing campaigns take off on Goodreads, Stein says that authors of color are often the target.

“[These authors are] speaking out about important things on social media and some people don’t like what they’re saying,” she says. “So then they go and bomb their books on Goodreads.”

Chupeco, a young-adult fantasy novelist best known for their The Bone Witch, The Girl From the Well and The Never Tilting World book series, is one author who has experienced this firsthand. Last year, Chupeco called out fellow author Mackenzi Lee for signing her name in other authors’ books without their consent, asking on Twitter, “are authors who autograph books written by *other* authors actually a thing? Because I just saw this happen to my book, and the optics of a white author autographing a POC author’s book and then using that as promotion… doesn’t look good to me?”

Chupeco says their tweets about Lee drew the ire of what they refer to as the “1-star book brigade.”

“My book rating went from 3.9 to 3 overnight, and it was a whole journey to see people telling others not to review bomb Lee’s books when the reality was that my books were the ones getting hit and no one cared until I said something,” Chupeco says.

Read more: 36 New Books You Need to Read This Summer

When Chupeco reached out to Goodreads, they say the company never responded to them.

“I emailed Goodreads while it was happening, and several people from [the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)] tried to help me, but in the end it went nowhere. I’ve emailed Goodreads before about other issues and they were always quick to respond, but they never got back to me on my emails for this one,” Chupeco says. “Goodreads only removes reviews that specifically target the author, but they do not do that for every book, either—just for the authors with big enough marketing and publicity teams to demand these removals.”

 

Chupeco says that many marginalized writers they know have had this happen to their books. And the threat of further harassment often discourages authors from speaking out.

“I’ve seen 1-star reviews just because an author, often Black authors, criticize something online that they found issue with, that has nothing to do with their books,” they say. “A lot of authors don’t want to talk about it publicly, because that only increases the harassment.”

Cyberstalking claims

As the target of a years-long cyberstalking campaign, orchestrated by what he describes as “trolls on Reddit,” review bombing attacks on both Goodreads and Amazon have become almost commonplace for author Patrick S. Tomlinson.

<strong>“A lot of authors don’t want to talk about it publicly, because that only increases the harassment.”</strong>“Over the course of a year and a half or so, this group… managed to create hundreds of sock puppet accounts so that they could leave more than 1,000 fake one-star reviews across all of my various works,” he tells TIME, saying these accounts generally appear to have been recently created, use inappropriate or offensive usernames, and leave “often libelous” reviews and comments. “This was all part of a concerted effort to try and derail my career by driving down my ratings so that reviewers wouldn’t be interested in looking at my books and consumers would see one-and-a-half-star ratings.”

Tomlinson, the author of sci-fi novels like In the Black and Gate Crashers, says that “lax security” at Goodreads enabled his cyberstalkers to create numerous fake accounts to bomb his books. With the help of SFWA, he says he was eventually able to get Goodreads to take action—but it took a significant amount of time and pressure.

“[Review bombing] happens to other authors all the time, but not in such volume. What was being done to my books was blatantly obvious,” he says. “They had people impersonating my ex-wife and my current wife. They had people impersonating other authors and board members of SFWA, trying to make it look like people of great importance and respect within my community were openly trashing me and my work. It took that [level of abuse] and pressure from an organization like SFWA before the admins at Goodreads were like, ‘Fine, we have a problem.’”

To Tomlinson, Goodreads’ response indicates that it’s likely difficult for many authors to get the company to remove fake ratings and reviews in a timely manner. And since he first spoke with TIME, Tomlinson says his books have come under yet another review bombing attack, complete with negative ratings, reviews and comments.

Lack of preventative measures

Although Goodreads’ review bombing problem would be difficult to solve entirely, Tomlinson says that if the platform were to introduce some basic preventative measures used by its parent company Amazon, the problem could be “mostly” fixed.

“On Goodreads, you don’t even need to verify your email address [when creating an account]. You can make a dozen fake accounts a day, and then go on and just completely bomb out the reviews and ratings of whatever book you want or whatever author you want,” he says. “Even something as simple as requiring email verification would cut [this problem] down immensely.”

To leave product reviews on Amazon, users not only have to have a registered account with a verified email and phone number, they must also have spent at least $50 on the site using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months. These systems seem to make it much more difficult for scammers to create and use multiple fake accounts in order to review bomb specific products or sellers. And Tomlinson is not the only author wondering why Goodreads doesn’t

Amazon did not respond to TIME’s requests for comment. And in the days following its statement to TIME, Goodreads issued a similar one to its authors, warning them to be wary of “bad actors” attempting extortion scams.

 

With book discovery remaining such a difficult challenge for so many writers, Black says that maintaining a system in which authors, and especially indie authors, are desperate for reviews makes them “vulnerable to scammers and criminals.”

“And scammers know that, which is why they hang out on Goodreads,” she says.

Goodreads states that its mission is to help people “find and share books they love.” But Stein says today it’s a different beast.

“The intention when it started was great. [In publishing,] we always want it to be easier to discover new books to read, because there’s so many books coming out every year and so many of them are great,” she says. “But at this point, it’s not servicing that need and it’s not working effectively.”

Pentagon to Require COVID Vaccine for All Troops by Sept. 15

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon will require members of the U.S. military to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press. That deadline could be pushed up if the vaccine receives final FDA approval or infection rates continue to rise.

“I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” licensure by the Food and Drug Administration “whichever comes first,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says in the memo to troops, warning them to prepare for the requirement.

He added that if infection rates rise and potentially affect military readiness, “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so. To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”
[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

The memo is expected to go out Monday.

Austin’s decision comes a bit more than a week after President Joe Biden told defense officials to develop a plan requiring troops to get shots as part of a broader campaign to increase vaccinations in the federal workforce. It reflects similar decisions by governments and companies around the world, as nations struggle with the highly contagious delta variant that has sent new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths surging to heights not see since the peaks last winter.

Austin said in his memo says that the military services will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need, and how this mandate will be implemented. The additional time, however, also is a nod to the bitter political divisiveness over the vaccine and the knowledge that making it mandatory will likely trigger opposition from vaccine opponents across the state and federal governments, Congress and the American population.

It also provides time for the FDA to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected early next month. Without that formal approval, Austin would need a waiver from Biden to make the shots mandatory.

Troops often live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, increasing the risks of rapid spreading. And any large outbreak of the virus in the military could affect America’s ability to defend itself in any national security crisis.

The decision will add the COVID-19 vaccine to a list of other inoculations that service members are already required to get. Depending on their location around the world, service members can get as many as 17 different vaccines.

Austin’s memo also said that in the meantime, the Pentagon will comply with Biden’s order for additional restrictions on any federal personnel who have not been vaccinated. Those restrictions will include wearing masks, social distancing and travel limits.

According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million troops are fully vaccinated and another 237,000 have received one shot. But the military services vary widely in their vaccination rates.

The Navy said that more than 74% of all active duty and reserve sailors have been vaccinated with at least one shot. The Air Force, meanwhile, said that more than 65% of its active duty and 60% reserve forces are at least partially vaccinated, and the number for the Army — by far the largest service — appears to be closer to 50%.

Military officials have said the pace of vaccines has been growing across the force, with some units — such as sailors deploying on a warship — seeing nearly 100% of their members get shots. But the totals drop off dramatically, including among the National Guard and Reserve, who are much more difficult to track.

Some unvaccinated service members have suggested they’d get the shot once it’s required, but others are flatly opposed. Military officials have said that once the vaccine is mandated, a refusal could constitute failure to obey an order, and may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Army guidance, for example, includes counseling soldiers to ensure they understand the purpose of the vaccine and the threat the disease poses. The Army also notes that if a soldier “fails to comply with a lawful order to receive a mandatory vaccine, and does not have an approved exemption, a commander may take appropriate disciplinary action.”

Military service officials have said they don’t collect data on the number of troops who have refused other mandated vaccines, such as anthrax, hepatitis, chicken pox or flu shots over the past decade or more. And they weren’t able to provide details on the punishments any service members received as a result of the refusal.

Officials said they believe the number of troops refusing other mandated vaccines is small. And the discipline could vary.

Also, service members can seek an exemption from any vaccine — either temporary or permanent — for a variety of reasons including health issues or religious beliefs. Regulations involving the other mandatory vaccines say, for example, that anyone who had a severe adverse reaction to the vaccine can be exempt, and those who are pregnant or have other conditions can postpone a shot.

Some have argued that those who have already had the virus — and have antibodies — are immune and thus should not have to get the shot. It’s not clear how the military will act on those types of assertions.

According to defense officials, some senior military leaders have expressed support for making the vaccine mandatory believing it will help keep the force healthy. Military commanders have also struggled to separate vaccinated recruits from unvaccinated recruits during early portions of basic training across the services in order to prevent infections. So, for some, a mandate could make training and housing less complicated.

Navy officials said last week that there has been only one case of COVID-19 hospitalization among sailors and Marines who are fully vaccinated. In comparison, the Navy said there have been more than 123 hospitalizations “in a similarly sized group of unvaccinated sailors and Marines.” It said fewer than 3% of its immunized troops have tested positive for COVID-19.

The other military services did not provide similar data.