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Forget Klarna? Investors bet new startups will in ‘buy now, pay later’

Klarna is in talks to raise funds at a sharp discount to its last valuation, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. A spokesperson for the firm said it doesn’t comment on “speculation.”

Jakub Porzycki | NurPhoto via Getty Images

With hype over the “buy now, pay later” trend fading, some investors are betting they’ve found the next big thing.

Buy now, pay later companies like Klarna and Affirm, which let shoppers defer payments to a later date or break up purchases into interest-free installments, are under immense strain as consumers become more wary about spending due to the rising cost of living, and as higher interest rates push up borrowing costs. They’re also facing increased competition, with tech giant Apple entering the ring with its own BNPL offering.

But venture capitalists are betting a new breed of startups from Europe will be the real winners in the space. Companies like Mondu, Hokodo and Billie have raked in heaps of cash from investors with a simple pitch: businesses — not consumers — are a more lucrative clientele for the buy now, pay later trend.

“There’s a big opportunity out there with regards to ‘buy now, pay later’ for the B2B [business-to-business] space,” said Malte Huffman, co-CEO of Mondu, a Berlin-based startup.

Huffman, whose firm recently raised $43 million in funding from investors including Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, predicts the market for BNPL in B2B transactions in Europe and the U.S. will reach $200 billion over the next few years.

Whereas services like Klarna extend credit for consumer purchases — say, a new pair of jeans or a flashy speaker system — B2B BNPL firms aim to settle transactions between businesses. It’s different to some other existing forms of short-term finance like working capital loans, which cover firms’ everyday operational costs, and invoice factoring, where a company sells all, or part, of a bill to their customer for faster access to the cash they’re owed.

A new generation of BNPL start-ups

COUNTRY TOTAL VC FUNDING RAISED
Scalapay Italy $727.5M
Billie Germany $146M
Playter United Kingdom $58.4M
Hokodo United Kingdom $56.9M
Mondu Germany $56.9M
Treyd Sweden $12.3M

Source: Crunchbase

Patrick Norris, a general partner at private equity firm Notion Capital, said the market for B2B BNPL was “much bigger” than that of business-to-consumer, or B2C. Notion recently led a $40 million investment in Hokodo, a B2B BNPL firm based in the U.K.

“The average basket size in B2B is much larger than the average consumer basket,” Norris said, adding this makes it easier for firms to generate revenue and achieve scale.

‘B2C’ players falter

Shares of major consumer-focused BNPL players have fallen sharply in 2022 as concerns about a potential recession weigh on the sector.

Sweden’s Klarna is in talks to raise funds at a sharp discount to its last valuation, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal  — down to $15 billion from $46 billion in 2021. A Klarna spokesperson said the firm doesn’t comment on “speculation.”

Stateside, publicly-listed fintech Affirm has seen its stock plunge more than 75% since the start of the year, while shares of Block, which purchased Australian BNPL firm Afterpay for $29 billion, have fallen 57%. PayPal, which offers its own installment loans feature, is down 60% year-to-date.

BNPL took off in the coronavirus pandemic, offering shoppers a convenient way to split payments into smaller chunks with just a few clicks at retailers’ checkout pages. Now, businesses are getting in on the trend.

“Businesses are still facing cash flow issues in light of worsening macroeconomic conditions and the ongoing supply chain crisis, so any way of receiving money faster on a flexible basis is going to appeal,” said Philip Benton, fintech analyst at market research firm Omdia.

Mondu and Hodoko haven’t disclosed their valuations publicly, but Scalapay and Billie, two B2B BNPL firms from Italy, were last valued at $1 billion and $640 million, respectively.

BNPL services are proving especially popular with small and medium-sized enterprises, which are also feeling the pinch from rising inflation. SMEs have long been “underserved” by big banks, according to Mondu chief Huffman.

“Banks cannot really go down in ticket size to make it economical because the contribution margin they would get with such a loan doesn’t cover the associated costs,” he said. 

“At the same time, fintech companies have proven that a more data-driven approach and a more automated approach to credit can actually make it work and expand the addressable market.”

Recession risk

BNPL products have been met with pushback from some regulators due to fears that they may be pushing people to get into debt that they can’t afford, as well as a lack of transparency around late payment fees and other charges.

The U.K. has led the charge on the regulatory front, with government officials hoping to bring in stricter rules for the sector as early as 2023. Still, Norris said business-focused BNPL companies face less regulatory risk than firms like Klarna.

“Regulation in B2C is going to offer much needed protection to consumers and help them to shop smart and stay out of debt,” he said. “In B2B, the risk of businesses overspending on items they don’t need is negligible.”

One thing the B2B players will need to be wary of, however, is the level of risk they’re taking on. With a possible recession on the horizon, a big challenge for B2B BNPL startups will be sustaining high growth while also preparing for potential insolvencies, Norris said.

“B2B will generally be high value, low volume so naturally the risk appetite will be higher and affordability checks more important,” Omdia’s Benton said.

How ’90s Teen Movies Reflected The Real-Life Homophobia Throughout The Decade

There are few more unsettling examples of movies as mirrors to society than some of the great teen films of the ’90s. Those who lived through the decade might recall that while more politicians voiced their support for same-sex marriages, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was also in effect and casual homophobia and heteronormativity were as rampant as ever, including throughout high school hallways.

Movies like “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Cruel Intentions” and “Clueless” captured that period, to a startling degree. They reinforced what had already been in the cultural zeitgeist, including queer teens’ own internalized homophobia.

Reflecting on some of their images today, with over 20 years of hindsight, is a brutal reminder of the roles we were all socialized to play as teens in an oppressively homophobic society.

A plotline from “Cruel Intentions” immediately springs to mind. Prickly playboy Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) has just been rejected by his latest female conquest Annette (Reese Witherspoon), and his ego is bruised. So, Sebastian turns to his openly gay acquaintance Blaine (Joshua Jackson) to seduce closeted football jock Greg (Eric Mabius), the one who blabbed about Sebastian’s reputation to Annette.

Eric Mabius (left) and Joshua Jackson in a scene from "Cruel Intentions," released in 1999.
Eric Mabius (left) and Joshua Jackson in a scene from “Cruel Intentions,” released in 1999.

Right on cue as Greg and Blaine are lying in bed together, Sebastian comes in and takes a picture of the pair that he uses to manipulate Greg into walking back what he said about him to Annette. Or else he’ll publicly out Greg using the photo.

Erika Abad, who will serve as an assistant professor of communication at Nevada State College in the fall, remembers this storyline with painful precision.

“I can describe the scene because it was so traumatic,” she told HuffPost. “It’s probably so traumatic because it was the first time I had seen normalized the internalized homophobic shame I had experienced as an adolescent.”

She recalled that Greg also pretends to be drunk, and goes as far to say that Blaine made him have sex, when Sebastian “catches” them. “So the first powerful scene of that movie is, my gay act is an act of violence,” Abad continued. “And [Sebastian] is like, ‘I don’t care what you’re doing. I just need you to do me a favor.’ It was entrapment.”

And with Greg apparently now taken care of, the movie is kicked into high gear and leaves both him and Blaine far in its rearview mirror to be merely remembered as the plot devices for the straight white male character.

While the threat of revenge porn was not as prevalent among teens in the ’90s as it is today, what plotlines like the one in “Cruel Intentions” do is illuminate the era’s persistent need to weaponize queerness or incite enough fear in queer people so that they’re silenced entirely.

The movie bolstered an already understood reality that there was no safe space to be queer at all. Many queer teens like Emily Gallagher and Austin Elston, filmmakers and co-founders of Fishtown Films, didn’t even know a lot of openly queer teens in high school, for that reason.

“I think that speaks specifically to the culture as well,” Elston said. “You didn’t feel comfortable in the ’90s, or at least in my school, to be like, ‘Hey, I’m queer. I’m out. This is who I am.’”

Selma Blair (left) and Sarah Michelle Gellar in a scene from "Cruel Intentions."
Selma Blair (left) and Sarah Michelle Gellar in a scene from “Cruel Intentions.”

“Cruel Intentions” was also released just one year after 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was killed in a hate crime. Fear among young queer people was already part of their daily lives. “We’re coming out of the Reagan era, Bush one,” Elston recalled. “Even into Clinton to some degree. We have the AIDS epidemic presented as a gay disease and all these [things] signaling to us that there’s a problem with it. Like, if you are this way, you are going to end up dead.”

It meant that there were times when queer teens felt they had to conform to heteronormativity just to fit in. That was true for Elston, who played sports in school, and says he probably even laughed along with his teammates’ homophobic jokes, as well as Abad, who attended Catholic school as a teenager.

“Even though I was questioning [my identity], I would still say homophobic things because homophobic things were a way to demonstrate that you’re subscribing to the social script,” Abad said. “I didn’t beat anybody up. It was just casual homophobia.”

That casual homophobia was often replicated onscreen in films such as “House Party,” which includes Kid’s (Christopher Reid) nearly two-minute song riddled with homophobic messaging that he raps in order to distract his cellmates from trying to rape him when he ends up in jail.

“It’s reinforced in the films,” Elston said. “And you’re like, this is really fucking problematic. On so many levels.”

There’s also not a single Black queer person in “House Party.” “Not at all, because Black people aren’t gay,” Abad said sarcastically.

The erasure, or muting of queerness, definitely has some nuance when we talk about it within the lens of race and how that’s portrayed — or largely ignored, as Abad implied — in ’90s films. And for that matter, female queerness, aside from rare exceptions like “But I’m A Cheerleader,” is barely considered then because it was too often recognized as a function for straight male lust.

Like, when Sebastian’s villainous step-sister Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) kisses Cecile (Selma Blair) in “Cruel Intentions.” “Watching that kiss, it was like, ‘huh?’” Gallagher said. “What was the motivation for this? This isn’t at all sexy. Like, come on.”

Jennifer Love Hewitt and a boy in a scene from "Can't Hardly Wait," released in 1998.
Jennifer Love Hewitt and a boy in a scene from “Can’t Hardly Wait,” released in 1998.

Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

But that’s attributed to the way that sexuality, as well as gender, was so performative in the ’90s, to the point where teens policed gender so that it fit their individual standards and desires.

The homophobic F-word, for example, was often used as a way to indicate a type of masculinity that was not socially acceptable.

Conversely, what we see in a film like “Can’t Hardly Wait” with — you guessed it, another jock — Mike (Peter Facinelli) is an image of masculinity that is not only permissible; it’s aspirational.

So, when that character tries to get back with ex-girlfriend Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) by professing his love for her in the middle of their class’ graduation house party, it’s met with homophobic shame. That’s also followed by simultaneous laughter both among their peers and us teens watching the film in theaters in 1998.

Justin Walker and Alicia Silverstone in a scene from "Clueless," released in 1995.
Justin Walker and Alicia Silverstone in a scene from “Clueless,” released in 1995.

CBS Photo Archive via CBS/Getty Images

The same thing happens with “Clueless” when Murray (Donald Faison) tells his girlfriend (Stacey Dash) and her friend (Alicia Silverstone) that their new pal (Justin Walker) is gay: “He’s a disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy.” Side-splitting laughter.

Admittedly, it’s an iconic line. There’s also another thing true here. “What’s really happening with these homophobic epithets is trying to reinforce gender normativity through humor and play,” Abad said.

It’s what turns Mike’s otherwise heartfelt moment in “Can’t Hardly Wait” into an opportunity for playful homophobia. Because the mere expression of emotions is considered an attribute of queerness throughout the ’90s.

“He really makes himself vulnerable in front of the entire party,” said Frankie Mastrangelo, a media scholar and sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Then it’s capped with somebody yelling the F-word at him,” she continued. “Any display of vulnerability, trying to express your emotions, is met with the F-word. Homophobia and masculinity are always doing this work of reinforcing one another and operating in tandem.”

They also collaborate to help put the person in question in their place. Like when a lovelorn and drunk Mike is later photographed nude as if in a queer embrace — as part of a revenge porn plot gone awry — with William (Charlie Korsmo), the nerd he used to bully and with whom he reconciles at the party.

Peter Facinelli in a scene from "Can't Hardly Wait."
Peter Facinelli in a scene from “Can’t Hardly Wait.”

Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

We learn in a list of postscripts that that polaroid is deemed “incriminating” when it resurfaces in his adult life and he loses his job at the car wash. Even with mere seconds left until the end of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” the film manages to underscore a dim future for queerness, strengthening teens’ greatest fears at the time.

It’s only when Gallagher revisited the film recently that these images crystallized in her mind.

“It was saying that in 20 years, this was still going to be problematic,” Gallagher said. “I didn’t realize how much overt homophobia was everywhere in everything. You just move through it like, ‘Okay, this is just what it is.’ You just have to be quiet and you’ll find your people eventually.”

Statements like Gallagher’s is why looking back on these films that defined our formative years, for better and worse, begs us to reckon with our nostalgia as well as the unflinching mirror they held up to ourselves and the problematic world around us.

But that’s also why there are still so many of us who enjoy rewatching these films. Because just as much as they trigger “the vibes, the feels” of our past, as Gallagher believes, they challenge us in ways that it needs to in order to truly evolve as humans.

“I have a lot of affinity for films that aren’t perfect because they allow for thought to be had,” Elston said. “Like, okay, this is where we were as a culture. Even if it’s not intentional, this is what it’s talking about.”

And, ultimately, it’s about how to absorb this new context today. “It engages me in a way that I can actually converse with myself about where I stand now and what I like,” Elston said.

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Wimbledon, a Longstanding Tradition, Opens with a Flurry of Changes

WIMBLEDON, England — It is about tradition this year at Wimbledon on the 100th anniversary of Centre Court, but as the defending men’s singles champion Novak Djokovic walked back onto the grass on Monday to launch this year’s tournament, it was also about change.

There is plenty of it at the All England Club in 2022: large and small; obvious and subtle.

The big stuff: Russian and Belarusian players (and journalists) have been barred because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The tournament has been expanded from 13 days of play, with no matches scheduled on the first Sunday, to a full 14 days that will leave no respite for the grass and the leafy neighborhood.

The little stuff: The benches and desks in the Centre Court press seats have been replaced with padded chairs. All England Club members with their circular purple badges no longer serve as moderators at news conferences. Now, the stars sit alone at the rostrum, as they do nearly everywhere else in the tennis world.

As if to underscore the theme, Djokovic and his first-round opponent, Kwon Soon-woo, arrived on the most celebrated court in tennis in novel fashion.

Players have long exited the clubhouse and made a hard left, passing behind a screen with a club member leading the way, before taking a hard right and stepping onto the grass.

Beginning this year, they walk straight ahead and unaccompanied out of the clubhouse and onto the court through a new set of green doors that are quickly closed behind them.

It seemed unceremoniously abrupt to those used to the old ways and fond of the murmurs from the crowd that used to build into cheers as the players navigated the passageway before coming fully into public view.

But the pixie dust was still there, as Djokovic confirmed after his 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory, which seemed even closer than the score.

“Childhood dreams were realized here in 2011,” Djokovic said of the first of his six Wimbledon singles titles. “I will never forget that. It will always have a special place in my heart. Of course, every time I step out there on the court, there is this goose bumps type of feeling, butterflies in the stomach.”

It happens the first time, too, as Emma Raducanu later confirmed. All in a rush last year, she became a global star and a superstar in Britain by winning the U.S. Open at age 18, becoming the first player to win a Grand Slam singles title as qualifier. Victories have been much harder to come by since then, but she already had fine memories of Wimbledon after reaching the fourth round in her first appearance in the main draw last year.

Monday, however, was her first match on Centre Court, and though she has barely played on grass this season because of injuries, she managed the moment, and a tricky opponent in Alison Van Uytvanck, to win 6-4, 6-4.

Raducanu may not be ready to take over women’s tennis. No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who just turned 21, has taken up that air and space. But Raducanu clearly knows how to rise to an occasion.

“From the moment I walked out through those gates, I could really just feel the energy and the support and everyone was behind me from the word ‘go,’” she said. “I just really tried to cherish every single point on there, played every point like it could have been one of my last on that court.”

That was imaginative thinking indeed, considering that Raducanu, Britain’s first women’s Grand Slam singles champion since Virginia Wade in the 1970s, is poised to be a Centre Court fixture for a decade or more if she can remain healthy.

Andy Murray knows the drill. He, too, became a Centre Court regular in his teens and eventually lived up to the billing by ending a 77-year drought for British men in singles by winning Wimbledon in 2013 and again in 2016.

Playing with an artificial hip at age 35, Murray has proved his love of his craft beyond a reasonable doubt. Though he will never bridge the achievement gap that separates him from the Big Three of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer — each with 20 or more major singles titles — Murray remains a threat on grass on any given afternoon.

He demonstrated it with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over James Duckworth that closed play on Centre Court on opening day, almost exactly eight hours after it had begun and almost exactly 100 years after the first opening day on Centre Court.

That was on June 26, 1922, after the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club moved from its cozier, original home on Worple Road after purchasing land on Church Road to accommodate a new, larger stadium. The main court at Worple Road had been called Centre Court because it was actually at the center of the grounds. The club kept the name even though the new primary court was no longer so central.

The new Wimbledon got off to a soggy start with rain and more rain, forcing the 1922 edition to finish on a Wednesday, but it was still a popular success with worthy singles champions: the stylish and long unbeatable Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen and the Australian men’s star Gerald Patterson, a two-time Wimbledon champion nicknamed “The Human Catapult” because of his big serve (he could volley, too).

Both Lenglen and Patterson would have been in for a few surprises if they had been watching on Monday. Centre Court is now rainproof with its retractable, accordion-style roof that was put to good use for Djokovic’s and Kwon’s duel.

The electronic scoreboards and the touch screen operated by the chair umpire would also have caught their eyes, as would the once-unthinkable fact that the chair umpire for Monday’s opening men’s match was a woman: Marija Cicak.

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COVID-19 may increase risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke: study

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A new Danish study found COVID-19 outpatients had a higher risk of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke and bleeding into the brain when compared with COVID-19 negative patients, but most neurological disorders were not more frequent after COVID-19 than after other respiratory infections, according to a recent study published in Frontiers in Neurology this June.  

“More than two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the precise nature and evolution of the effects of COVID-19 on neurological disorders remained uncharacterized,” said lead author Dr. Pardis Zarifkar, member of the Department of Neurology at Rigshospitalet hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark.  

“Previous studies have established an association with neurological syndromes, but until now it is unknown whether COVID-19 also influences the incidence of specific neurological diseases and whether it differs from other respiratory infections.” 

The study, which was recently presented at the 8th European Academy of Neurology Congress, found 43,375 individuals tested positive for COVID-19 while 876,356 individuals tested negative for the disease out of a total of 919,731 participants. 

Small pea-sized human midbrain-like organoids – which are essentially three-dimensional, multicellular, in vitro tissue constructs that mimic the human midbrain – are grown from human stem cells to enable scientists to study how the human brain develops and communicates. A new Danish study found COVID-19 outpatients had a higher risk of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke and bleeding into the brain when compared with COVID-19 negative patients, but most neurological disorders were not more frequent after COVID-19 than after other respiratory infections, according to a recent study published in Frontiers in Neurology this June.  

Small pea-sized human midbrain-like organoids – which are essentially three-dimensional, multicellular, in vitro tissue constructs that mimic the human midbrain – are grown from human stem cells to enable scientists to study how the human brain develops and communicates. A new Danish study found COVID-19 outpatients had a higher risk of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke and bleeding into the brain when compared with COVID-19 negative patients, but most neurological disorders were not more frequent after COVID-19 than after other respiratory infections, according to a recent study published in Frontiers in Neurology this June.  
(Hyunsoo Shawn Je, Duke-NUS Medical School)

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The study used electronic health records that covered approximately 50% of Denmark’s population, which has an estimated population of 3 million. 

The study analyzed those who tested positive for COVID-19 and bacterial pneumonia in hospital-based facilities between February 2020 and November 2021, as well as reviewed influenza patients from the corresponding pre-pandemic period between February 2018 and November 2019. 

Out of the 43,375 patients who tested positive for COVID-19, 35,362 were outpatients while 8,013 were hospitalized.  

The researchers found the outpatients who tested positive for COVID-19 had a 3.5 times the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, 2.6 times increased risk with Parkinson’s disease, 2.7 times increased risk with ischemic stroke and 4.8 times increased risk with intracerebral hemorrhage, which is bleeding in the brain.  

But when the researchers compared the relative risk of neurological disorders with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, the increased risk of most neurological diseases was not higher in COVID-19-positive patients compared to those diagnosed with other respiratory illnesses – with one exception.  

Brain disease diagnosis with medical doctor seeing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) film diagnosing elderly ageing patient neurodegenerative illness problem for neurological medical treatment. But when the researchers compared the relative risk of neurological disorders with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, the increased risk of most neurological diseases was not higher in COVID-19-positive patients compared to those diagnosed with other respiratory illnesses -- with one exception.  

Brain disease diagnosis with medical doctor seeing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) film diagnosing elderly ageing patient neurodegenerative illness problem for neurological medical treatment. But when the researchers compared the relative risk of neurological disorders with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, the increased risk of most neurological diseases was not higher in COVID-19-positive patients compared to those diagnosed with other respiratory illnesses — with one exception.  
(iStock)

The researchers found the risk for ischemic stroke increased among COVID-19 hospitalized patients when compared to inpatients with influenza. 

The study was limited because it did not account for potential confounding variables like socioeconomic, lifestyle, pre-existing comorbidities and length of hospitalization. 

Medical illustration of a brain with stroke symptoms. The researchers found the risk for ischemic stroke increased among COVID-19 hospitalized patients when compared to inpatients with influenza. 

Medical illustration of a brain with stroke symptoms. The researchers found the risk for ischemic stroke increased among COVID-19 hospitalized patients when compared to inpatients with influenza. 
(iStock)

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Although the study included a large population, it was only able to review a subset of the country’s absolute number of tested individuals as only COVID-19 tests performed in the hospital facilities are registered in the Danish electronic health record system that the study used to analyze the records. 

“While the risk of ischemic stroke was increased with COVID-19 compared to influenza, reassuringly, most neurological disorders do not appear to be more frequent after COVID-19 than after influenza or community-acquired bacterial pneumonia,” the researchers concluded.  

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“Frequencies of multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barré syndrome and narcolepsy did not differ after COVID-19, influenza and bacterial pneumonia,” the study added.  

“These findings will help to inform our understanding of the long-term effect of COVID-19 on the body and the role that infections play in neurodegenerative diseases and stroke,” Zarifkar said. 

How to book a reservation to hike Fern Canyon Trail

A hiker passes 50-foot-tall walls covered in ferns.

Fern Canyon Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Orick, Calif., greets visitors with 50-foot-tall walls covered in ferns.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Your feet will get wet, your car will need washing and you won’t mind. That’s just one measure of what awaits on the short, scenic hike through Fern Canyon in Humboldt County’s Prairie Creek Redwood State Park.

The Fern Canyon Loop Trail, which neighbors Gold Bluffs Beach, measures barely a mile. The altitude change is only about 150 feet. But the path takes you up a narrow canyon into a primordial jumble of greenery between walls that rise 50 to 80 feet on each side, nearly straight up.

People hike through water on the green trail.

Warning: Your feet will get wet.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

If the scene seems familiar, that’s understandable. Parts of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” were shot here 25 years ago, as were parts of the BBC’s “Walking With Dinosaurs.” A special-effects team added the film’s scampering dinosaurs in postproduction, but as you splash along now, it will be easy enough to imagine a Spinosaurus or Ceratosaurus lurking behind the next log.

It’s also easy to recognize that you’re far from Southern California — because there’s water everywhere.

The walls weep. The fronds drip. Home Creek riffles through the canyon and underfoot. Unless you’re a wizard at hopping rock to rock and balancing atop loose logs, your feet and ankles will get wet. Maybe your shins too. (Bring water shoes.)

 People stand on logs on the Fern Canyon Trail.

Expect some log-hopping on the trail.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Sword ferns, five-fingered ferns, lady ferns, chain ferns, deer ferns — they all mingle here, along with northern red-legged frogs, Pacific giant salamanders and sometimes Roosevelt elk. The tall trees throw deep shade, but photographer Myung Chun and I hit sunny patches too.

I felt guilty enjoying such a rare setting after such a short, easy walk. But I got over it.

“We’ve done Yosemite and seen the sequoias. But we wanted to see the redwoods. They’re different. And this is beautiful,” said hiker Jim Newton, who had come with his family from Maryland.

The second half of the loop is a more conventional route through Sitka spruce forest on higher ground. When I finished, I turned around to rehike the wet bit.

Logs on the wet and green Fern Canyon Trail.

Fern-covered walls reach up to 80 feet.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

And I didn’t feel guilty doing it, because this summer, rangers are experimenting with a cap on summer traffic on this route. For the first time, rangers are requiring summer visitors to either book their canyon-adjacent parking in advance or hike into the canyon from the park visitor center, a 10-mile round trip on the James Irvine Trail.

The requirement remains in place through Sept. 30. The day-use fee is $12 cash at the entrance, whether you come during summer or not. No dogs allowed.

Under the new system, rangers issue half-day reservations to 35 cars for 8 a.m. to noon, 35 more from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 20 all-day reservations. That means no more than 90 cars per day on the usually muddy access road — a dramatic change from 2019 and 2021, when rangers counted an average of about 250 cars per day. On those days, rangers say, the canyon was thronged with hikers.

A hiker holds up a phone to take a photo of a fern-covered canyon wall.

Sword ferns, five-fingered ferns, lady ferns, chain ferns and deer ferns all mingle here.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The new booking requirement, a pilot program, might cut down on spontaneity, but it follows a national pattern. Facing waves of stir-crazy pandemic-era park visitors, including many first-timers, rangers across the U.S. have been adding restrictions in a bid to fend off damage and overcrowding. (The summer’s day-trip reservation requirement in Yosemite National Park through Sept. 30 is part of the same trend.)

Chun and I arrived about 1 p.m. with the afternoon shift of hikers. I spoke with many, and heard no complaints about the reservation requirement or the foot traffic.

“I love to see people falling in love with nature,” said Kim Hill of Washington, D.C. “But I kind of want them to fall in love with nature while I’m not there.”

A hiker piggybacks another on the trail.

One way to keep your feet dry while hiking Fern Canyon Trail.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

If park officials decide the booking requirement is a success, it’s likely to return about May 1 next year.

Whenever you go, don’t underestimate the drive to the Fern Canyon trailhead on Davison Road. It’s a 7.5-mile, all-dirt access route that often features two shallow stream crossings (depending on the weather). Rangers recommend but don’t require SUVs and high-clearance vehicles. On the sunny day that we came, we made it up the road in a rented Chevrolet Malibu, no problem.

Footnote for hikers who hate company: Davison Road will close for grading Sept. 26-30. So if you want to be alone or nearly alone in the canyon, wait until that week. Then hike 5 miles into Fern Canyon from the park visitor center on the James Irvine Trail (and 5 miles back out).

If you go

Where to hike: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, 127011 Newton B. Drury Parkway, Orick; (707) 464-6101.

Where to sleep: Trinidad Inn, 1170 Patrick’s Point Drive, Trinidad; (707) 677-3349. Nine rooms. I paid $123 for the smallest. Reservations by phone only.

Trinidad Bay B&B, 560 Edwards St., Trinidad; (707) 677-0840. Great view of the bay, pier and seastacks below. Four rooms, typically about $325-$395. nightly.

Where to eat: Once you get north of Arcata in Humboldt County, the dining options dwindle. We had one lunch and one dinner at Lighthouse Grill (355 Main St., Trinidad; (707) 677-0077). I’ve eaten well before at nearby Heady’s Pizza and Pour (359 Main St., Trinidad; (707) 677-3077) but this time the inside was crowded and it has no patio seating, so we steered clear. If you need breakfast at 7 a.m. try Murphy’s market and deli (Main and View streets, Trinidad; deli (707) 677-9473).

Ukraine war: Putin will be held responsible for shopping centre ‘war crime’, say G7 leaders

Monday’s Russian missile strike on a crowded shopping centre in central Ukraine has been strongly condemned by the United Nations and the West. G7 leaders have labelled it a war crime and vowed to hold President Putin accountable.

Firefighters and soldiers are searching for survivors in the rubble of the building in Kremenchuk, following the attack which is known to have killed at least 18 people and injured dozens. More than 30 people are missing, authorities say.

Early on Tuesday, family members of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called Russia the world’s “largest terrorist organisation” in the wake of the deadly bombing. More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the building, he said.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.

“Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they wrote in a joint statement tweeted by the German government spokesperson.

At Ukraine’s request, the United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York to discuss the attack.

The UN called the strike “deplorable”, stressing that civilian infrastructure “should never ever be targeted”,  spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. 

At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised, while about 36 were missing, said Dmytro Lunin, governor of the Poltava region, said on Tuesday. The number of dead is two more than Monday’s overnight figure, and there are fears that more bodies may be found. Emergency service said on Monday that 59 people had been injured.

Russia’s attack on Kremenchuk was one of several across Ukraine to hit civilians on Monday:

  • At least eight were killed and 21 wounded in a Russian bombardment while collecting water in the eastern city of Lysychansk, regional authorities said.
  • Russian forces shelled central districts of the city of Kharkiv, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school and killing five people and wounding 22, the regional governor said. Five children were among the injured, he added.
  • Six people were reportedly injured including a child in a missile strike in the Odesa region, in southern Ukraine, that destroyed residential buildings and caused a fire.

 

The missile strike on Kremenchuk unfolded as Western leaders pledged continued support for Ukraine, and the world’s major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods.

Zelenskyy said the mall presented “no threat to the Russian army” and had “no strategic value”. He accused Russia of sabotaging “people’s attempts to live a normal life, which make the occupiers so angry”.

In his nightly address, he said it appeared Russian forces had intentionally targeted the shopping centre. “Today’s Russian strike at a shopping mall in Kremenchuk is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history,” he added.

Kremenchuk Mayor Vitaliy Maletskiy wrote on Facebook that the attack “hit a very crowded area, which is 100% certain not to have any links to the armed forces”.

Kremenchuk lies some 330 kilometres southeast of Kyiv, and is more than 200 kilometres from the eastern front line.

In the first Russian government comment on the missile strike, UN representative Dmitry Polyanskiy alleged multiple inconsistencies that he didn’t specify, claiming on Twitter that the incident was a “provocation” by Ukraine. He later retweeted a post from another official Russian organisation appearing to hint the attack had been staged.

Russia has repeatedly denied it targets civilian infrastructure, even though Russian attacks have hit other shopping centres, theatres, hospitals, kindergartens and apartment buildings.

Images from the scene in the aftermath of the latest attack showed giant plumes of black smoke, dust and orange flames, with emergency crews rushing in to search broken metal and concrete for victims and put out fires.

Russia has increasingly used long-range bombers in the war. Ukrainian officials said Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flying over Russia’s western Kursk region fired the missile that hit the shopping centre, as well as another that hit a sports arena in Kremenchuk.

The Russian strike echoed attacks earlier in the war that caused large numbers of civilian casualties — such as one in March on a Mariupol theatre where many civilians had holed up, killing an estimated 600, and another in April on a train station in eastern Kramatorsk that left at least 59 people dead.

When Abortion Pills Were Banned in Brazil, Women Turned to Drug Traffickers

Women’s reliance on the black market for access to medication abortions means they may not follow best medical practice. When C., a 24-year-old teacher in Recife, bought misoprostol from a drug dealer last year, she searched Google to figure out how to take it. “Because it was illegal, there was no information about how to take it or what to take,” she said.

Her search found recommendations to insert the tablets in her vagina, as a doctor would if she were in a clinic, but cautioned that traces might be left behind and give her away if she wound up in hospital; instead, she dissolved them under her tongue, a method that also works but less quickly.

C., who asked to be identified only her middle initial out of fear of prosecution, bled for weeks after and wanted to ask her mother, a gynecologist, for advice. But her mother is an anti-abortion activist. Finally, C. said she thought she had miscarried, and her mother took her to see a colleague who performed a dilation-and-curettage under anesthetic.

“When I was having the curettage, I had to keep saying over and over to myself, ‘Don’t say anything, you can’t say anything’ — it was torture,” she said. “Even though I was totally sure that I wanted an abortion, I had no doubts, you still feel like you’ve done something wrong because you can’t talk about it.”

The restriction on misoprostol has complicated regular obstetric care, which uses on the drug for induction of labor, said Dr. Derraik. At the Rio public maternity hospital where she is medical director, a doctor must fill out a request in triplicate for the drug, have it signed by Dr. Derraik, take it to the pharmacy where the supervisor must also sign before taking it out of a locked cabinet, and then the physician must administer the drug with a witness, to ensure it is not diverted for black market sale.

“Not all of these steps are officially required,” Dr. Derraik said. “But hospitals do them because of the intense paranoia around the drug.”