OUEST-FRANCE
With roots in the western city of Rennes, Ouest-France is known for producing both local and French national daily news. This Berliner format newspaper is the most read francophone newspaper in the world, maintaining its 2.5 million readers through the digital news boom. Founded in 1944, it currently runs 47 different editions.
Weird
Bertrand Hauger

Pink Floyd Singer Wins Legal Feud Over French Train Station Jingle

C / G / A flat / E flat … Any French traveler hearing these instantly-recognizable four notes would know to listen up and pay attention, as the official jingle for the country's SNCF railway company typically precedes announcements of trains leaving or arriving, platform changes, and all too often ... delays.

But back in 2013, when David Gilmour — the legendary singer and guitarist of Pink Floyd fame — heard the audio alert in the train station of the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence, he wanted to take it home. As local daily Ouest France recalls, the British songwriter promptly got his phone out to record the tune; later on, he tracked down the jingle's composer, French sound designer Michaël Boumendil, to discuss the sampling of the jingle in a future song.

At the time, Boumendil told French radio station RTL of his surprise at receiving a phone call from Gilmour, who introduced himself by saying, "I'm a guitarist, from the band Pink Floyd..."

Arrangements were made, a contract was signed: The Frenchman would be listed as co-author of the song and get a 12.5% cut of revenue generated. Meanwhile, the SNCF also gave its thumbs up — and in 2015 Gilmour released his fourth solo album, Rattle That Lock, whose title song incorporated the catchy SNCF riff.

But then, the story began to turn sour. Shortly before the song hit the airwaves, Boumendil gave several interviews, boasting about the prestigious collaboration. This, according to the musician"s team, was a breach of a confidentiality clause, as the song had not yet come out — so much so that they decided to exclude the sound designer from the promotion campaign of the album.

Things escalated quickly, Boumendil sued Gilmour on plagiarism grounds, a claim that was rejected by a Paris court in 2019. Boumnedil appealed, again to no avail — and the legal battle ran its full course last week, as French economics and business magazine Capital reports, with the Paris Court of Appeal condemning the Frenchman to pay 10,000 euros in legal fees. And since it's not all about the Money, Gilmour was also granted the right to keep using the four-note jingle.

Society
Clémence Guimier

French Church Installs COVID-Compliant, Automatic Holy Water Dispenser

The pandemic has radically changed the way we manage hygiene in public spaces. Some new things are added, like hand sanitizer distributors at the entrance of shops; some are taken away, like holy water from the decorative font of your local church. But what if the former concept were applied to the latter?


In Rennes, in western France, Notre-Dame-en-Saint-Melaine Church invested in some sacred innovation: a holy water automatic distributor. According to French newspaper Ouest-France, the device works just like any disinfectant distributor, with a religious twist: when a believer puts their hand under the machine, a sensor detects it and delivers a few drops of holy water.


The cupola-like device is forged with modern, minimalistic elements: a curved hand symbol, the words eau bénite explaining its nature, and an inscription: "In the name of the Father, and the Holy Spirit."


A local priest, Father Nicolas Guillou, explains that the 1,200-euro metal font container has a 10,000 drops capacity for each refill. "And the water that doesn't fall into people's hands is collected in a small tank," to prevent any waste of the holy liquid.


While the device helps you clean your soul, regular washing of your hands with soap is still recommended against COVID-19.

Society
Clémence Guimier

In Skinny Japan, New Company Offers Plus-Sized People 'For Rent'

It's an economic dictum that virtually anything that is rare is bound to create a valuable market: diamonds, limited edition clothing and, in Japan, obese people.

In a country where the obesity rate is among the world's lowest — only 3.6% of the population is fat, compared to 27% in Australia — a Japanese company now offers the opportunity to rent one of these scarce specimens.

In need of plus-sized people for an advertisement, an overweight model for the promotion of a diet or —according to the company's own words — of someone chubbier than you to make you feel better? If you live in Tokyo, Osaka or Aichi, this is now possible: For 2,000 yen ($18), the Debucari company lets you rent a person certified to weigh over 100 kilograms, as reported by Ouest France.

Behind the new one-of-a-kind service, Mr Bliss, an entrepreneur who came up with the idea after struggling himself to find plus-size models for his own fashion brand, Qzilla. And as specified on its website, Debucari's offer is all about "body positivity".

Unlike other countries who see obesity as a result of bad eating habits, Japan links plus-size people to the sacred discipline of 相撲 "Sumō," the famous centuries-old wrestling sport. Sumos wrestlers, who weigh as much as 150 kilograms, are revered by the Japanese public, almost to the point of being considered half-gods.

However odd — or even offensive — it might sound to "rent" any kind of person, this type of service is rather common in Japan, with many companies already offering a wide range of offers. From hiring a friend, a girlfriend or even a middle-aged man to keep you company for a day, there are plenty of people to choose from ... in all shapes and sizes.

Weird

Chinese Cameraman Films (And Wins) 100-meter Race

No one expected that it would be the cameraman who crossed the finish line first...

A key to filming sports is being in position to capture the action. One cameraman in northern China showed how to get, and stay, ahead of the race — literally outrunning the sprinters he was filming.


For a 100-meter race at the University of Datong in Shanxi, another student, Hao Xiaoyang, was chosen to film the runners. When the start whistle blew, Hao took off running as well (with just a bit of a head start), hoping to get as close as possible to the athletes … before crossing the finish line in front of all the other runners.



The video of Hao's speedy filming went viral on Chinese social networks, with many users congratulating him as the winner.


Interviewed by Reuters, the student cameraman said he simply "wanted to capture the most beautiful images possible." And yes, Hao will be graduating with a degree in physical education.

Society
Emma Flacard

Virtual Pétanque: COVID Forces French National Pastime To Go Online

There's croissants and cheese, bérets and Brigitte Bardot — and then there's pétanque.

On the list of the Frenchest things, this national pastime ranks pretty high, conjuring up scenes of convivial apéros where old and young gather together, a boule in one hand and a glass of pastis or rosé in the other.

What shock it must have been then to pétanque players upon learning that this highly communal sport — akin to Italy's bocce or Britain's lawn bowling — was to be moved online because of the pandemic ... With large gatherings still banned in France, local daily Ouest France reports that a number of pétanque pros have decided to give the game a COVID-compliant virtual twist by competing through a Facebook group, starting on May 8.

While pétanque fans are already used to watching the sports on television, with channel L'Equipe TV regularly broadcasting competitions, this time players will also be interacting from a safe distance. Launched by world-renowned pétanque stars Philippe Quintais and Jean-Luc Robert, the Club Maboule initiative aims to keep the spirit and rules of the game: Players score points by throwing their heavy metal boules as close as possible to the smaller, target boule — a.k.a. the cochonnet.

But this virtual version will see pairs of players compete by filming their throws, with referees then checking and comparing the footage behind their screens. The online competition is open to all — pétanque beginners will just have to make sure they don't place their computers too close ...

Weird

A Burglar Breaks Into A House In France … And Falls Asleep

Sleeping on the job is a known occupational risk for overnight security guards, long-haul truck drivers and deeply bored bean counters. But for someone robbing a home? Yes, in the western French city of Saumur, police say they've arrested an alleged burglar who was found sleeping in the home he had broken into, reports the Ouest France daily.

This is not to say that thieves don't risk getting tired from the effort required. Police say that the man had to climb over a wall surrounding the house and crawl inside through an open window before pocketing some gadgets ... and then zzzzz. The suspect is believed to have snoozed for a few hours before being woken up by police officers around 7 a.m.

Authorities say worried neighbors signaled the alarm in the middle of the night after hearing noises. Snoring?

Weird
Jeff Israely

You Touched It, You Bought It: Street Card Scam For COVID Times

Like the rest of us, street hustlers are adjusting to pandemic conditions. In Laval, a small city in western France, a young man who might have otherwise been taking passersby for a ride with Three-Card Monte or Find The Lady tricks, concocted a COVID-inspired scam for easy money.

The Ouest France daily reports that the suspect would ride around on his bicycle approaching people to sell them generic cards with random images of cute animals and the like. When the potential buyer tried to say "No thanks' and hand back the cards, the man said he couldn't take them because of the risk the cards were now infected by the coronavirus — and demanded payment.

The French national police unit based in nearby Mayenne apprehended the suspect Friday. If found guilty, he could face up to six months in prison and 3,750-euro fine. Can't hand that back either.

food / travel

Dining With Distance: Restaurant Innovation Adapts To COVID-19

For many, getting back to "normal life" means going out to eat. But people also want to be safe, which is why eateries — from Amsterdam to Australia — are experimenting with distancing innovations that might soon become the new normal in the field of gastronomy. So how will dining out look like in the post-pandemic world? Here are few glimpses:

• In Saxony-Anhalt, Robin Pietsch, the German state's only starred chef, is thinking about setting up small "greenhouses' in an open space at Wernigerode Castle, the German daily Die Welt reports. Each glass cubicle would accommodate two guests and protect them from other diners, and yet still allow them to appreciate the surrounding scenery.

• Pietsch says he was inspired by the "separated greenhouses' that a vegan restaurant in Amsterdam set up on the waterfront and tested earlier this month. The restaurant should reopen for the public in the beginning of June with other Dutch restaurants and terraces hosting up to 30 guests, reported NH Nieuws.

• Unlike its European neighbors, Sweden never enforced a lockdown, and bars, restaurants and cafés continue to serve seated customers, albeit with certain precautions in place. Many establishments decided, for example, to rope off every other table to make social distancing easier. But that's nothing compared to the approach taken by a new restaurant called Bord för En (Table for One), which opened two weeks ago serves just one customer per day, seated at a table in the middle of... a field! Not only that, but food is served in a basket attached to a rope. Offering seasonal and locally farmed food and drinks, the restaurant's owners also have a novel approach when it comes to the bill: It's up to the guests to decide how much they're willing to pay. "We're all facing difficult times," the restaurateurs​ told the Insider.

• The proprietor of a seafood pub in Ocean City, in the U.S. state of Maryland, have also found a creative way to keep business afloat while maintaining social distancing. Customers at Fish Tales, which is reopening its dine-in services, will once again be allowed to mix, mingle and much, but with one condition: They have to wear giant inflatable inner tubes on wheels. These "bumper tables' are six feet wide, and according to UJ City News, the owner intends to fit 40 to 60 of them inside her restaurant.

Photo: Fish Tales

• A café in northeast Germany came up with a similar idea, only instead of inner tubes, customers use swimming pool floats (water noodles) to maintain social distancing. The 1.5-meter-long noodles are attached to hats that customers at Rothe in Schwerin, as the café is known, don while dining, Euronews reports.

• In Spain and Italy, some restaurants plan to reopen with plexiglass screens separating tables or even individual diners. One restaurant in the town of Leganés has already installed the prototype screens to test the design, reports The Local. As part of a pilot test, it has also set up thermal cameras that detect the temperature of diners.

• In New South Wales, Australia, in the meantime, restaurants are back in operation, but with strict limits on the number of diners allowed. Eateries can serve no more than 10 people at a time. Concerned that some clients might find the relative emptiness a bit off putting, the owner of one Sydney restaurant came up with a crafty solution: Why not fill the empty chairs with cardboard cutouts? And because the faux customers can't, of course, talk, the proprietor also outfitted his establishment with recorded background noise that simulates the chatter of clients, 7 News reports.

•A restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand had a similar idea, but instead of cardboard customers, decided to go with stuffed panda dolls. Different strokes, as they say, for different folks.

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Geopolitics

The Latest: Olympics At Risk, Sanctions On Russia, Magic Mushrooms

Welcome to Thursday, where Japan says the Olympics could still be cancelled, the U.S. is set to impose sanctions on Russia and there's a wild new treatment for depression. We also have a piece from Cairo-based online magazine Mada Masr about how the particular way the #MeToo awakening on sexual violence is playing out in Egypt.

• COVID surge in Japan, Olympics still at risk: The pandemic's fourth wave is hitting Japan hard, prompting a senior leader to say that cancelling the Summer Olympics "remains an option." The World Health Organisation warns that Cambodia might be on the verge of "a national tragedy," as it experiences its worst COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

• Hong Kong's first "National Security Education Day": The government celebrations are aimed at promoting the controversial law imposed by Beijing last year that punishes anything the Chinese government considers as subversion, secession, "terrorism" or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

• U.S. to impose sanctions on Russia over cyber attacks: Washington is expected to announce sanctions against Russia over cyber attacks and alleged interference in the 2020 presidential elections.

• Officer who killed Daunte Wright charged: U.S. ex-officer Kim Potter who fatally shot a black motorist near Minneapolis — where George Floyd was killed last year by a police officer — has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

• Bernie Madoff dies in prison: The infamous architect of the most expensive Ponzi scheme in financial history, Bernie Madoff, died yesterday at the age of 82, while serving a 150-year prison term.

• Two-year anniversary Notre-Dame blaze, cathedral to reopen in 2024: Two years to the day after Notre Dame's devastating fire, the director of its restoration mission has announced that the iconic site is very likely to reopen for worshippers in 2024.

• Magic mushrooms help cure depression: The psychedelic drug found in magic mushroom is said to be as efficient at reducing depression symptoms as any conventional treatment, an early-stage study reports.

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Geopolitics

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Why We Never Talked About The Hong Kong Flu

The 1968 pandemic was the first spread by mass air travel on its way to a toll of 1 million dead. Yet somehow it has been largely ignored by history, even if its lessons raise many questions for the COVID-19 world.

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: WHY DON'T WE EVER TALK ABOUT THE HONG KONG FLU

The most cited historical comparison for COVID-19 dates back just over a century ago: the Spanish flu. The 1918 pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people worldwide, is mostly viewed today to as a testament to our improved ability to fight the spread of disease and limit loss of life. Yet there is a more recent, and strangely overlooked, example that may be much more worthy of our reflection, with points of comparison that say much about where we are today.

The Hong Kong flu emerged on the Asian island nation in July 1968, and within two weeks had already infected some 500,000 people. Fueled by what was then a recent boom in air traffic, the virus spread swiftly throughout Southeast Asia, and on to the United States through soldiers returning from Vietnam. By the spring of 1970 it had extended worldwide, and killed one million people.


Unlike both the current coronavirus spread and the Spanish flu, the Hong Kong flu didn't seem to attract the attention it deserved. Just a few examples we dug up: In Sweden, this front page of daily newspaper Epressen read "Stockholmers Have To Learn To Walk," referring to infrequent tram traffic due to hospitalized conductors; in France, reporters from weekly Paris Match weren't sent to visit the city's overcrowded hospitals, but a movie set where actress Marina Vlady was found laying in bed — "she doesn't have the Hong Kong flu," quipped the magazine, " she's just shooting a movie;" The Minnesota Star-Tribune recently noted that the only reference to the Hong Kong flu in the local press was an Associated Press report on Dec. 27, 1968: "Deaths attributed to the Hong Kong flu more than doubled across the nation in the third week of December. ... Official figures for the week showed roughly 500 more ‘pneumonia-influenced" deaths recorded in 122 cities." The story ran on page 24.


The global response to today's crisis couldn't stand in starker contrast, and the questions abound: How can we understand the nature of an elusive new virus? What must be done to mitigate its spread and lethality? What will it mean for the future? Indeed, the other great point of contrast with the Hong Kong flu, where no major quarantines were implemented, are the decisions being taken today in countries around the world to do everything possible to limit loss of life, including bringing the entire economy to a halt. That naturally leads to the very complicated question: How do we measure saving every human life against the longer term effects of a possible once-in-a-generation economic meltdown?

For now, it seems most of the world has agreed to prioritize the former at all cost. But as lockdowns are extended around the world and resources dwindle, we should expect that question to grow louder.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: Global death toll nears 100,000. The state of New York registers some 162,000 cases, outpacing any single country, while New York City is now using mass burial sites on Hart Island. In Spain, the number of deaths is down to 607 in the past 24 hours, the lowest in 17 days.

  • Online Easter: Christians are invited to stay at home for Good Friday celebrations, as several churches around the world are broadcasting services online on Easter Sunday.

  • Better Boris: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved out of intensive care.

  • European Union agrees on €500 billion rescue package to help its worst-hit member states.

  • North Koreans meet: As other countries around the world suspend all political gatherings, Pyongyang will hold its annual Supreme People's Assembly in person this Friday, with its 687 deputies. COVID-19 is believed to be spreading in the country, though reliable statistics are unavailable.

  • New risk: First case confirmed in war-torn Yemen where virus spread could have "catastrophic" consequences.

  • Shelter in Space: Two Russian cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut arrived safely at the International Space Station, probably the "safest place on Earth".

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Coronavirus
Bertrand Hauger

Who Is Didier Raoult, France's Hydroxychloroquine Guru?

A surprising visit Thursday from French President Emmanuel Macron multiplies the questions around controversial microbiologist advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.

PARIS — The name on everybody's masked lips for the past month in France is getting renewed international attention: Professor Didier Raoult received a special guest yesterday at his medical offices in Marseille, as French President Emmanuel Macron visited the controversial microbiologist advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine, a well-known anti-malaria drug, to treat COVID-19.

No press was allowed to attend the surprise presidential visit, and no comment was made afterwards, but Macron's move was quickly criticized as "fueling the hype" surrounding Raoult. It has also prompted comparisons with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has touted hydroxychloroquine as a "game-changer" cure, despite very mixed opinions in the medical community. So who exactly is the colorful infectious disease specialist, and why should we care about him making the rounds? Here are five things to know about Raoult:

• Doctor strange: With his long white hair, goatee, biker-like skull rings, Didier Raoult looks more like General Custer than your typical epidemiologist, daily Ouest France writes. Born in Senegal, the 68-year-old has specialized in the study of obscure diseases throughout a career mired in controversy. The vast number of scientific publications (3,000+) he has co-authored, the investigative website Mediapart points out, has raised eyebrows from his peers, along with his forceful and very public defense of his treatments. Raoult's anti-establishment attitude is no doubt partly responsible for his strong following on Twitter, Facebook, and the 70,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel that boasts 7 million views total — leading public radio station France Inter to call him a bonafide "star du web."

• "Molécule miracle": Despite scant hard evidence that the drug is effective, more than 469,000 people have already signed a petition to make it more widely available. Still, for many in France, the prospect of prescribing a "miracle drug" without due validation protocol from health authorities brings back memories of the Mediator pharmaceutical scandal, after a pill prescribed to overweight diabetics is believed to have killed more than 2,000 people between 1970s-2000s.

• Trial questions: A key criticism leveled at Raoult is that the hydroxychloroquine treatment for coronavirus has not been properly tested. Science magazine writes that "the popular faith" in hydroxychloroquine is only matched by the weakness of the data. Raoult's own "conclusive" studies have either been conducted with very few patients or without control groups, while several other studies have highlighted significant side effects to the use of the antimalarial drug — including heart dysfunctions. Raoult, Science points out, has responded to those criticisms by complaining about the "dictatorship of the methodologists."

• Weirder science: The doctor is also a self-declared climate change skeptic who once told Le Point magazine that "the Earth has generally stopped warming since 1998."

• Conspiracy theories: The hopes raised by Raoult's constant advertising of his treatment have in turn fueled suspicions concerning the pharmaceutical industry, reports Le Monde. "If such a cure exists, why then is it not extended to the whole country — nay, the whole world?"

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Geopolitics
Emeraude Monnier

From Punjabi To Breton: Five Language Controversies Around The World

More than just a vehicle to communicate, language expresses and helps construct identity. As such, it has the power to inspire and unite people — but language can also be a source of division, or an impediment to peace between groups already in conflict. From squabbles over things like spelling and pronunciation, to minority groups fighting for the survival of their mother tongue — and everything it stands for — language politics can be deeply disruptive. Here are five examples from around the world:

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