Tehran, Jul 11 (AP/UNB) — At a trendy restaurant in Iran's capital, customers sip Coca-Cola through bending straws as waiters bring caddies to their tables full of Heinz ketchup and two types of Tabasco sauce.
Welcome to dining in the Islamic Republic, brought to you by America.
Whether at upscale restaurants or corner stores, American brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi can be seen throughout Iran despite the heightened tensions between the two countries.
U.S. sanctions have taken a heavy toll on oil and other major industries in the country of 80 million people, but Western food, movies, music and clothing are still widely available. And 40 years after the Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy, despite billboards and rallies declaring "Death to America," Iranians — particularly the young — embrace U.S. products.
"The American lifestyle is very attractive," said Ahmad Rezaee, a 21-year-old student at Tehran University who drained two bottles of Coke while out with a friend. Coca-Cola "portrays that lifestyle for us."
Tensions have soared following the Trump administration's decision last year to withdraw from Iran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and restore sanctions. In recent weeks Iran has begun openly breaching limits set by the accord, saying it cannot abide by the deal unless other signatories provide economic relief.
Despite that, drinking a "Coca" or a Pepsi after eating kebab in Iran comes as second nature, though the soft drinks don't taste quite as syrupy or sweet as their American counterparts. Both brands are bottled by local firms, Khoshgovar Mashhad Co. for Coca-Cola and Sasan Co. and Neysun Shargh Co. for Pepsi, which are affiliated with the Imam Reza Foundation, an economic conglomerate tied to the country's Shiite theocracy.
Coca-Cola held a 28% market share in Iran, according to a 2016 report by research firm Euromonitor International, while Pepsi had around 20%.
Asked about Coca-Cola sales in Iran, the Atlanta-based company said it had sold concentrate to Iran for over 20 years in line with U.S. sanctions policies.
"The authorizations are very restrictive in nature," Coca-Cola said. "The company does not have any ownership interest in the Iran bottler and does not have any tangible assets in Iran."
Pepsi did not respond to requests for comment. Pittsburgh-based Kraft Heinz Co. said that "like many Western companies, a few of our products are made available via a local Iranian distributor." The McIlhenny Co. of Avery Island, Louisiana, the maker of Tabasco, said it "expressly prohibits its distributors from reselling Tabasco brand products in Iran."
"Unfortunately, as is the case with all manufacturers, McIlhenny Co. has only a limited ability to stop illegal third-party distribution networks from secretly diverting our products to Iran and often must rely on U.S. agencies and law enforcement to identify front companies and individuals engaged in sanctions evasion," CEO Harold Osborn told The Associated Press in a statement.
At V Café near Tehran University, diners drank Coca-Colas and lathered their food with American condiments as videos played on a giant screen of travel destinations from around the world. Rezaee and a friend, Sima Najafzadeh, a 21-year-old fellow student, each drank Cokes, saying they enjoyed the taste. They also would like to see more iPhones, McDonald's restaurants and other trappings of Americana.
"We love Americans," Najafzadeh said.
That goes for American films as well. Rezaee acknowledged having to find a pirated copy of "Avengers: Endgame" online as it never played in Iran. Others without a strong internet connection can find recently released films like "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum" for under 40 cents apiece on Tehran's busy Enghelab Street, where hawkers also sell portraits of a young Al Pacino. Western pop and rock music seeps out of the occasional passing car.
Iranian state television channels even air older American movies dubbed in Farsi. The 2000 Dennis Quaid film "Frequency" was on one recent night.
At the city's Grand Bazaar, the capital's beating heart, a beach towel showing Mickey Mouse with a surf board in "So Cal" — southern California — hung on one rafter. Stacks of blue jeans were also on offer, but American brands like Levi Strauss have largely disappeared in recent months as Iran's currency has plummeted.
That's been a boon for the Par Group, a local jean manufacturer that produces some 3 million square meters of jeans a month from locally sourced and foreign material. Sales associates at their shop in the bazaar acknowledged the product's roots in American cowboy culture but said jeans remain popular on the streets of Tehran.
"All over the world, people want jeans," said Amin Moradi, a salesman at the shop. "Iranians are very fashionable."
At Tehran's massive Iran Mall, a store called TOMSon sells what appears to be the eponymous slip-on Toms shoes. The firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Of all the American imports, the most unlikely might be the Tehran Research Reactor, a nuclear gift from America that arrived in 1967 as part of its "Atoms for Peace" program, and which still runs today.
Pamplona, Jul 11 (AP/UNB) — One person was gored in the arm and five others were injured during the fifth bull run of this year's San Fermin festival in Pamplona, officials in the northern Spanish city said Thursday.
Regional hospital spokesman Tomás Belzunegui said that the six were in need of hospital care after being injured during the race along the 930-yard (850-meter) cobbled-street course to the bullring.
The most serious injury was suffered by a 27-year-old man from the Spanish city of Valencia who was gored in the arm. The other injuries were from blows received in falls as the crowds of runners tumble out of the way of the much faster bulls.
The run featuring bulls from the Victoriano del Río Cortés cattle breeder lasted 2 minutes, 49 seconds, making it the longest of this year's festival. The bulls mainly stayed on course behind the steers which guide them through the narrow, twisting streets to Pamplona's bullring, where the bulls will be killed in bullfights later in the day.
The nine-day San Fermin fiesta that was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel "The Sun Also Rises" attracts about 1 million spectators every year. Most come to party late into the night before watching hundreds test their speed and daring against the bulls each morning.
Atlanta, Jul 11 (AP/UNB) — A white Georgia couple evicted a white tenant because she invited a black family to the home she was renting, according to a federal lawsuit that says the landlords violated civil rights and fair housing laws.
The housing discrimination lawsuit filed Wednesday says Patricia and Allen McCoy used racial slurs when telling Victoria Sutton to leave the home. Reached by phone, Patricia McCoy said she hadn't seen the lawsuit but said they didn't kick Sutton out over black visitors.
"I kicked her out because she was so nasty," McCoy said. "It was because of nastiness, tearing up everything and having a cat in the house when I told her she couldn't have no animals."
The lawsuit, filed on Sutton's behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, says Sutton recorded Patricia McCoy repeatedly using a racial slur when she told Sutton she had to leave.
Sutton and her family moved into the house in Adairsville, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Atlanta, in August 2017.
As a black co-worker with a young child was leaving after a playdate with Sutton's daughters on Sept. 30, 2018, the co-worker hugged Sutton goodbye. Later that day, Allen McCoy came to the house and called Sutton a "(racial slur) lover," the lawsuit says.
He told her he would call Child Protective Services for having a black person on the property and told Sutton she had two weeks to move out, the lawsuit says. When Sutton protested, McCoy told her to call his wife and threatened to call the police if Sutton's black friend came onto his property again.
Sutton called Patricia McCoy and recorded the call, during which McCoy repeatedly used a racial slur, the lawsuit says. Patricia McCoy told her, "I don't put up with (racial slurs) in my house and I don't want them in my property."
When asked Wednesday whether she'd said she didn't want black people on her property, Patricia McCoy said, "I told her I didn't want nobody out of the trailer park on my property because they're drug pushers."
Asked if she used the racial slur, she said no.
When Sutton said she had the right to invite anyone to the home, Patricia McCoy said she would evict her, the lawsuit says. When Sutton said she'd done nothing wrong and would tell a judge that, Patricia McCoy threatened to "stomp the (expletive) out" of her, the lawsuit says.
The McCoys served Sutton with an eviction notice the next day, the lawsuit says. A judge told Patricia McCoy she couldn't evict Sutton without giving her a letter of intent, which would initiate a 60-day period for Sutton to leave. The McCoys left a letter on Sutton's doorstep about two weeks later.
The federal Civil Rights Act and state and federal fair housing laws prohibit landlords from discriminating because of race, whether of the tenant or the tenant's guest, the ACLU said. The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and seeks damages for diverted resources and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages and attorneys' fees.
Charles City, Jul 11 (AP/UNB) — Sturgeon were America's vanishing dinosaurs, armor-plated beasts that crowded the nation's rivers until mankind's craving for caviar pushed them to the edge of extinction.
More than a century later, some populations of the massive bottom feeding fish are showing signs of recovery in the dark corners of U.S. waterways.
Increased numbers are appearing in the cold streams of Maine, the lakes of Michigan and Wisconsin and the coffee-colored waters of Florida's Suwannee River.
A 14-foot Atlantic sturgeon — as long as a Volkswagen Beetle — was recently spotted in New York's Hudson River.
"It's really been a dramatic reversal of fortune," said Greg Garman, a Virginia Commonwealth University ecologist who studies Atlantic sturgeon in Virginia's James River. "We didn't think they were there, frankly. Now, they're almost every place we're looking."
Following the late 1800s caviar rush, America's nine sturgeon species and subspecies were plagued by pollution, dams and overfishing. Steep declines in many populations weren't fully apparent until the 1990s.
"However, in the past three decades, sturgeon have been among the most studied species in North America as a result of their threatened or endangered status," said James Crossman, president of The North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society, a conservation group.
Scientists have been finding sturgeon in places where they were thought to be long gone. And they're seeing increased numbers of them in some rivers because of cleaner water, dam removals and fishing bans.
These discoveries provide some hope for a fish that is among the world's most threatened.
But the U.S. sturgeon population is only a tiny fraction of what it once was — and the health of each species and regional populations vary widely.
While some white sturgeon populations on the Pacific Coast are abundant enough to support limited recreational and commercial fishing, Alabama sturgeon are so rare that none have been caught for years.
Across America, dams still keep some sturgeon populations low by blocking ancient spawning routes. And the fish face newer threats such as rising water temperatures from climate change and the sharp propellers of cargo ships.
It will take decades to measure a population's recovery, experts say. Sturgeon sometimes live longer than humans. And they spawn infrequently, often requiring half a century to bounce back from overfishing.
Environmentalists warn that more conservation efforts are still needed.
"They've survived relatively unchanged for 200 million years," said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is planning a lawsuit seeking federal safeguards for sturgeon in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds. "If they're going to survive us, they're going to need additional protection."
Sturgeon swam with the dinosaurs. Bony plates line their bodies. Whisker-like barbels hang from their chins. Their toothless mouths telescope out and vacuum up anything from worms to mussels.
Their meat fed Native Americans, the starving settlers of Jamestown and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Delaware River shad fishermen would yank up their nets as thousands of sturgeons swam toward spawning grounds.
Then came caviar. The Russian delicacy of salt-cured sturgeon eggs became a fad for Europe's new middle class —and that took a heavy toll on American sturgeon.
"People just massacred them, just like we massacred the buffalo," said Inga Saffron, author of the 2002 history "Caviar."
"The difference being they were catching the sturgeon as they were migrating to spawn," she said. "Not only did they kill the fish, they killed future generations of fish."
By 1900, American sturgeon populations were collapsing. Dams were going up. Pollution sucked oxygen from rivers.
But as decades passed, fishing bans took effect, and environmental laws became stronger.
Among the species showing improvement is Atlantic sturgeon, whose range stretches from Florida to eastern Canada.
The population around the Chesapeake Bay was feared to be extinct in the mid-1990s. Now, thousands of are believed to be there, according to Virginia Commonwealth University scientists.
Last fall, Matthew Balazik, a sturgeon research ecologist with the university and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, netted more than 200 baby Atlantic sturgeon in the James River — the first seen there in years. "This could be a kind of a comeback generation," Balazik said.
Not every river is seeing improvement. Dewayne Fox, a fisheries professor at Delaware State University, said the Delaware River's population remains low, possibly because of collisions with cargo vessels or dredging on spawning grounds.
But overall, Atlantic sturgeon appear to be slowly recovering after a species-wide fishing moratorium went into effect in 1998, according to a 2017 assessment by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
The shortnose sturgeon also shows signs of bouncing back. In Maine, scientists have captured about 75 this decade on the Saco River, where they were previously never seen.
In Maine's Kennebec River, the shortnose population nearly doubled from about 5,100 in the late 1970s to more than 9,400 around 2000, and it has likely grown since, said Gail Wippelhauser, a fisheries biologist with Maine's Department of Marine Resources.
Wippelhauser credits cleaner water: "They used to just dump sewage into the river. There were paper mills that used to dump chemicals in."
Lake sturgeon are waging a slow but steady comeback. The largest group is in the river corridor linking Lakes Huron and Erie, said Ed Baker, a research biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The species is benefiting from fishing limits and stocking programs, some by Native American tribes. But dam construction over more than a century has slowed the recovery.
One solution has been a fish elevator and tanks that haul them around two hydroelectric dams on the Menominee River, which flows between Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The number of Gulf sturgeon is also growing, particularly in Florida's Suwannee River. That population has at least doubled since the mid-1990s to about 10,000 fish.
The species still faces various threats including the Gulf Coast's ever-warmer waters, said Adam Kaeser, an aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Decimated by dams, only one Alabama sturgeon has been caught since 2007, but DNA tests of river water confirm some are still there.
"They're hanging on," said biologist Steve Rider with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "But they're barely hanging on."
New York, Jul 11 (AP/UNB) — Scientists say they've identified the earliest sign of our species outside Africa, a chunk of skull recovered from a cave in southern Greece.
Its estimated age is at least 210,000 years old, making it 16,000 or more years older than an upper jaw bone from Israel that was reported last year. It shows our species began leaving Africa much earlier than previously thought, researchers reported Wednesday.
The travelers to Greece evidently left no descendants alive today. Other research has established that the exodus from Africa that led to our worldwide spread didn't happen until more than 100,000 years later. The new work is the latest sign of earlier, dead-end exits from the continent where Homo sapiens evolved.
The fossil, from the rear of a skull, was actually found decades ago — excavated in the late 1970s from the Apidima Cave in the southern Peloponnese region of Greece and later kept in a University of Athens museum.
"Not a lot of attention was paid to it," said Katerina Harvati of the University of Tuebingen in Germany, who was invited to study the fossil.
Harvati and others report the results of their analysis in the journal Nature. To establish the age, they analyzed bits of bone from the fossil. To identify what species it came from, the researchers compared a virtual reconstruction to the shapes of fossils from known species.
Harvati said finding evidence that our species had reached Greece by that time was initially a surprise, though in hindsight "it's not that difficult to imagine that it would have happened."
Eric Delson of Lehman College in New York, who did not participate in the study, said the discovery was somewhat surprising but that southeastern Europe "makes a lot of sense" for a finding that old. Now the question is what happened to these people, he said. Did Neanderthals out-compete them?
But some other scientists are not convinced the fossil's reported age and identification are correct.
Warren Sharp, an expert on dating fossils at the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California, said the age of 210,000 years is "not well supported by the data."
Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York called the case for identifying the fossil as H. sapiens "pretty shaky." Its shape is suggestive, but it's incomplete and it lacks features that would make the identification firmer, he said in an email.
In response, Harvati said the back of the skull is very useful for differentiating H. sapiens from Neanderthals and other related species, and that several lines of evidence support the identification.
At a press conference, Harvati said it's not clear whether scientists will be able to recover DNA or proteins from the fossil to confirm its identity.