Taliban End Game, Texas Protects Abortion Clinics, El Salvador’s Legal Bitcoin
Welcome to Tuesday, where the Taliban end game is playing out in Panjshir valley, the U.S. Justice Department vows to protect abortion clinics in Texas and El Salvador becomes the world's first country to authorize the use of bitcoin as legal currency. French daily Le Monde also looks at how artificial intelligence could make the dream of automatic live translation come true.
• Taliban says they took Panjshir, but resistance holds on: The Taliban say they have officially captured the Panjshir valley, north of Kabul as of Monday but resistance groups have vowed they would continue fighting. Meanwhile, protests taking place on the streets of Kabul were met with heavy gunfire as the Taliban tried to stop it.
• U.S. Justice Department to protect Texas abortion clinics: In response to Texas' recently enacted law that imposed a near-total ban on abortions, the U.S. Justice Department said it would not tolerate any attacks against people seeking or providing abortions in the State. A spokesman said they would provide protection via the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE).
• Maria Kolesnikova sentenced to 11 years in prison: Maria Kolesnikova, a Belarusian musician and prominent opposition figure, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. A Belarusian court had charged that Kolesnikova and another opposition activist, Maxim Znak, with extremism and conspiring to "seize state power in an unconstitutional way."
• German federal police also used Pegasus: The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), the German federal police, secretly purchased the Pegasus spyware and used it for surveillance of suspects, German newspapers revealed. This follows revelations that the software had been used on a large scale in many countries, with some 50,000 politicians, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists spied on.
• COVID-19 update: In Vietnam, a man was jailed for five years after breaching the country's strict quarantine rules and passing the virus to at least eight other people. Meanwhile, Chile has just approved China's Sinovac vaccine for children as young as six — although those younger than 12 will not be vaccinated for a while.
• El Salvador first country to make Bitcoin legal currency: From today, businesses in El Salvador will be obliged where possible to accept the controversial blockchain-backed currency as payment as the country has just become the first to make Bitcoin a legal tender. Millions of people are expected to download the government's new digital wallet app which gives away $30 (€25) in Bitcoin to every citizen.
• Australian talking duck calls you a "bloody fool": According to a new study, Australian musk ducks can imitate human speech as first touted by the recording of a duck named Ripper saying "you bloody fool" that went viral. Ripper was four years old at the time of the recordings, which researchers say he picked up from his previous caretakers, and made his vocalizations during aggressive mating displays.
French daily Le Figaro pays tribute to iconic actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, the "Ace of Aces" (a reference to his 1982 hit movie) who died yesterday in Paris at age 88. After his breakout role in Jean-Luc Godart's high-brow New Wave staple "Breathless," Belmondo went on to become one of France's most famous actors, with roles in popular comedies and action films through the 1970s and 80s.
AI, translation and the holy grail of "natural language"
In the crucial area of translation, services such as Google Translate, which has expanded its offer to 104 languages, or the German competitor DeepL now make it possible to translate entire paragraphs in a coherent and fluid manner. The dream of a machine translating live conversations is now within reach, writes French daily Le Monde.
📲 The barriers between text and image are disappearing. With the augmented reality application Google Lens, students can scan a page from a textbook or a handwritten sentence with their smartphone and translate it or get additional information online. It's all because software has learned to recognize subjects in images. Tomorrow, we could launch a search with a photo, Google believes. The American company OpenAI is exploring the creation of images from a text description. Its DALL-E prototype offers disturbing representations of invented objects: an alarm clock in the shape of a peach, a pig lamp…
👀 These innovations help make digital technology more accessible to the disabled and illiterate. With the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria), Facebook is studying the simplification of forms, with pictograms and synonyms. In January, the company presented an automatic image description tool for the blind and visually impaired. Google has a voice recognition project for people with speech difficulties, called "Euphonia."
🤖 The prospects are promising, but also dizzying because these technologies will be used in headphones, in homes, in cars. The concerns have been gathered in an article co-authored by Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, two researchers in ethics whose dismissal by Google has caused controversy. The main concern is about the "biases" — racist, sexist, homophobic — that these softwares can reproduce, or even amplify, after training on masses of texts from the internet.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Report: U.S. arms abandoned in Afghanistan moved to Iran
Weaponry belonging to the Afghan army is moving into Iran, though it is not clear if it is smuggled, or moved in a deal between the Taliban and Iran's regime, Kayhan London reports.
With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, much of the U.S.-supplied military hardware formerly used by the country's armed forces have fallen into their hands. This terrorist group that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, and gave refuge to other terrorists, especially al-Qaeda, now has its hands on advanced military weaponry and know-how.
It has also become clear that neighboring Iran was keen and ready to get its own hands on this material, either to use directly or to copy the weapon design.
And this has happened amid reports that armaments including tanks and armored vehicles have been moved into Iran. Sources say Iranian dealers are particularly looking for arms and missiles the Americans abandoned in suspect circumstances, without destroying them.
It is not clear whether the Taliban or fugitive members of the armed forces are handing over the weaponry to the Islamic Republic of Iran, or if this is the work of middlemen exploiting the disorderly state of the country.
War booty is not the only thing moving into Iran though. Thousands of Afghan citizens have left their homes and towns, fleeing toward neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan.
These include the elderly and pregnant women, who are risking their lives on a desperate flight, though it seems they prefer this to living under the Taliban. Meanwhile, Western states are preparing for a new wave of refugees from Afghanistan, knowing that regional instability will push them toward Europe and beyond, even if they first pass through Pakistan, Iran or Turkey.
This is increasingly of concern to them as the refugee crisis may last a while, in spite of the contradictory positions of different Western countries, particularly those in the European Union.
The first Asian superhero film by Marvel, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, broke the record for a Labor Day weekend opening and did better at the North American box office than predicted, collecting $71.4 million. With a predominantly East Asian cast, inspired by Chinese folklore, and several martial arts action sequences, the film is the latest sign that Hollywood is starting to listen to calls for more Asian representation on screen.
The people of Brazil have struggled for decades to secure democracy from military rule. Bolsonaro must not be permitted to rob them of it now.
— More than 150 left-leaning ministers, party leaders and former prime ministers wrote an open letter warning of a possible "coup" by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Ahead of Tuesday's Independence Day demonstrations and next year's national elections, Bolsonaro called his supporters to protest against the country's Supreme Court and Congress. The open letter (signed by the likes of former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and former UK Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn) declares that the rallies amount to a replay of the U.S. Capitol attack on January 6.
✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet