BBC

The Latest: Olympics Spectators Banned, Haitian Probe, Lobster Pain

A man protests in the streets of Port-au-Prince after the assassination of President Moise
A man protests in the streets of Port-au-Prince after the assassination of President Moise

Welcome to Friday, where Tokyo bans Olympic spectators, at least 28 people are thought to be behind Haiti President assassination and a 14-year-old girl makes Spelling Bee history. Worldcrunch also takes you on a world tour of dying languages that are being rescued by the very tech that puts them at risk.

• Tokyo Olympics will have no spectators: With the Summer Games set to begin in two weeks, the Japanese government has reversed its decision to allow spectators, deciding that there will be no live audience in Tokyo-area stadiums and arenas during the Olympic games due to coronavirus concerns. The city of Tokyo has also been placed under ‘State of Emergency" which will last until August 22.

• Colombians, Americans detained for killing Haitian President: A total of 17 suspects are currently being held in connection with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, including two holding dual American-Haitian citizenship and the remainder are Colombian. Officials allege the attack was carried out by "a highly trained and heavily armed group" and that the team was made up of at least 28 people.

• COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer has sought authorization from the U.S. government to develop a booster shot as highly contagious variants continue to spread and undermine the efficacy of the vaccine toward mild, break-through infection. Meanwhile, Cuba reports a 91.2% effectiveness rate for its Soberana 2 vaccine in last-stage clinical trials.

• Biafra separatist leader allegedly kidnapped: The family of British-Nigerian citizen and separatist leader, Nnamdi Kanu, claims he was kidnapped by the Nigerian state while in Kenya. Kanu is the leader of the organization the Indigenous People of Biafra, and had been in hiding since 2017.

• Swedish Prime Minister reappointed after no-confidence vote: Sweden's parliament voted to reappoint Stefan Löfven as prime minister when the parties responsible for ousting him in a historic no-confidence vote failed to form a coalition. Löfven has the backing of the Social Democratic party and the Greens.

• Police officer suspected of killing Sarah Everard pleads guilty: Wayne Couzens, the police officer who was the main suspect in the killing of Sarah Everard, a 33-year old British woman whose disappearance and subsequent death sparked a nationwide debate about women's safety, has pleaded guilty murder.

• UK considers banning boiling lobsters alive: As part of a proposed animal welfare bill, the United Kingdom may officially recognize crustaceans and mollusks as sentient beings capable of feeling pain, making it illegal to boil lobsters alive. Chefs aren't opposed either, because whether the lobster is boiled alive or killed shortly beforehand, the taste remains just as good.


South African weekly Mail & Guardian reports on the surrender of ex-president Jacob Zuma, who had initially refused to hand himself to the authorities to serve a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court.

Digital technology that's killing languages can save them too

As the world gets more homogenized and closely connected, geographic-specific languages risk vanishing — with one-third of languages having fewer than 1,000 speakers left. But tech can help. Examples from Eastern Europe to Peru highlight the potential of digital tools, as well as the continued significance of more rudimental techniques to pass a language down from one generation to the next:

Google recently released the app Woolaroo, which has the goal of revitalizing some of the most threatened languages through artificial intelligence. Take a photo of an object and Woolaroo will tell you what its name is in 10 languages including Louisiana Creole, Nawat (spoken in El Salvador) and Calabrian Greek. The open source app relies on Google's Cloud image recognition software, Vision API, and provides both the word and an audio pronunciation.

In April, the popular language learning app Duolingo began offering Yiddish, the Jewish language combining German, Hebrew, Aramaic as well as some English and some Slavic languages. While Yiddish is now largely limited to some Orthodox communities, a new generation of Central and Eastern European Jewish descendants are hoping to revive the language. It is now the 40th language on the popular app, which has also expanded its offerings to include other less widely used tongues like Hawaiian and Irish.

Not all language preservation projects are so high tech: Language nesting is proving to be one of the most successful strategies for making sure endangered Indigenous languages are passed down — from New Zealand to Hawaii to Peru. Language nesting involves regularly immersing toddlers (who can absorb languages like a sponge) with elders, who teach through play, songs and conversations. Māori elders innovated one of the first programs of this type in the 1980s, describing it as "like a bird looking after its chicks," hence the name language nesting.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


Murraya

14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde, from New Orleans, Louisiana, correctly spelled the word murraya, which is a type of tropical tree, and became the first Black contestant to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee.


$12.2 million

Leonardo da Vinci's silverpoint study, "Head of a Bear," a tiny sketch measuring just under 3X3 inches (about the size of a standard square Post-it note), sold for $12.2 million — a record price for a Leonardo da Vinci's drawing at auction.


For Africa, the worst is yet to come.

— Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization regional director for Africa, said during a news conference, that the continent has just gone through its "worst pandemic week ever," with numbers expected to get worse. More than 251,000 new cases were reported in the first week of July, a 20% increase from the previous week, while several countries are experiencing vaccine shortages.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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