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French Author Ernaux Wins Literature Nobel

French author Annie Ernaux has won this year’s Nobel Prize for literature.

The Nobel committee said Thursday that Ernaux was chosen for “the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.”

Her works include “La Place” (A Man’s Place), about her relationship with her father and “Les annees” (The Years), about French society from World War II to the present day.

The honor includes a $900,000 cash award.

The prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry were awarded earlier this week.  The Nobel Peace Prize is due to be announced Friday and the prize for economics on Monday.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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Steinbeck’s Letter to Son on Love Goes on Sale

A tender and touching letter that author John Steinbeck penned to his teenage son, offering fatherly advice after the young man confided that he was in love for the first time, is going up for auction.

Boston-based RR Auction says the handwritten draft of a letter to his eldest son, Thomas — then 14 — shows the Of Mice and Men author’s empathy: He refused to dismiss it as puppy love.

“While this letter offers an intimate, private glimpse into Steinbeck’s family life, it also expresses his ideas about love with profundity and eloquence,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of the auction house.

In the two-page letter, dated Nov. 10, 1958, the Nobel Literature Prize laureate told his son: “If you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.”

Steinbeck, who won a Pulitzer for The Grapes of Wrath in 1940 and the Nobel in 1962 for a body of acclaimed work, showed he was no stranger to matters of the heart.

“The object of love is the best, and most beautiful. Try to live up to it,” he wrote. “If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

“Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also,” he said. “It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

“If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away,” the California-born novelist wrote, signing his letter simply: “Love, Father.”

John Steinbeck died in 1968, and Thomas Steinbeck died in 2016.

The text of the letter has been published for worldwide audiences, including in 1989’s Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, by Penguin Books.

Legal wrangling over his estate has dragged on for decades. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a decision awarding Steinbeck’s stepdaughter $5 million in a family dispute over abandoned plans for movies of some of Steinbeck’s best-known works.

Thomas Steinbeck, a writer in his own right, fiercely defended his father’s work, adapting several of his father’s books for movies and launching legal efforts to protect the copyrights of his father and others.

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Oscar Winners Chop Off Their Hair for Protesters in Iran

Oscar-winning actors Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche, as well as other French stars of screen and music, filmed themselves chopping off locks of their hair in a video posted Wednesday in support of protesters in Iran.

“For freedom,” Binoche said as she hacked a large handful of hair off the top of her head with a pair of scissors, before brandishing it in front of the camera.

The video, hashtagged HairForFreedom, comes with Iran engulfed by anti-government protests. They were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

The video of Cotillard, Binoche and dozens of other women cutting off locks of their hair was released on an Instagram account, “soutienfemmesiran” — which translates as “support women in Iran.”

“These women, these men are asking for our support. Their courage and their dignity obliges us,” said a post with the video.

“We have decided to respond to the appeal made to us by cutting — us too — some of these locks.”

Some of the other women who took part included actors Charlotte Rampling and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was also filmed cutting off a lock of hair from the head of her mother, singer Jane Birkin.

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A Musk Retweet: Tesla CEO Says He’ll Pay $44 Billion to Buy Twitter

The tumultuous saga of Elon Musk’s on-again, off-again purchase of Twitter took a turn toward a conclusion Tuesday after the mercurial Tesla CEO proposed to buy the company at the originally agreed-on price of $44 billion. 

Musk made the proposal in a letter to Twitter that the company disclosed in a filing Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It came less than two weeks before a trial between the two parties was scheduled to start in Delaware. 

In a statement, Twitter said it intends to close the transaction at $54.20 per share after receiving the letter from Musk. 

Trading in Twitter’s stock, which had been halted for much of the day pending release of the news, resumed late Tuesday and soared 22% to close at $52. 

Musk’s proposal is the latest twist in a high-profile saga involving the world’s richest man and one of the most influential social media platforms. Much of the drama has played out on Twitter itself, with Musk — who has more than 100 million followers — lamenting that the company was failing to live up to its potential as a platform for free speech. 

A letter from Musk’s lawyer dated Monday and disclosed by Twitter in a securities filing said Musk would close the merger signed in April, provided that the Delaware Chancery Court “enter an immediate stay” of Twitter’s lawsuit against him and adjourn the trial scheduled to start October 17. 

By completing the deal, Musk essentially gave Twitter what it was seeking from the court — “specific performance” of the contract with Musk, meaning he would have to go through with the purchase at the original price. The contract Musk signed also has a $1 billion breakup fee. 

Eric Talley, a law professor at Columbia University, said he’s not surprised by Musk’s turnaround, especially ahead of a scheduled deposition of Musk by Twitter attorneys starting Thursday that was “not going to be pleasant.” 

“On the legal merits, his case didn’t look that strong,” Talley said. “It kind of seemed like a pretty simple buyer’s remorse case.” 

If Musk were to lose the trial, the judge could not only force him to close the deal but also impose interest payments that would have increased its cost, Talley said. 

What did surprise Talley is that Musk doesn’t appear to be trying to renegotiate the deal. Even a modest price reduction might have given Musk a “moral victory” and the ability to say he got something out of the protracted dispute, Talley said. 

Neither Twitter nor attorneys for Musk responded to requests for comment Tuesday. 

Musk has been trying to back out of the deal for several months after signing on to buy the San Francisco company in April. Shareholders have already approved the sale, and legal experts say Musk faced a huge challenge to defend against Twitter’s lawsuit, which was filed in July. 

Musk claimed that Twitter undercounted the number of fake accounts on its platform, and Twitter sued when Musk announced the deal was off. 

Musk’s argument largely rested on the allegation that Twitter misrepresented how it measures the magnitude of “spam bot” accounts that are useless to advertisers. Most legal experts believe he faced an uphill battle to convince Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick, the court’s head judge, that something changed since the April merger agreement that justifies terminating the deal. 

Legal experts said Musk may have anticipated that he would lose. Things haven’t been going well for him in court recently, with the judge ruling more frequently in Twitter’s favor on evidentiary matters, said Ann Lipton, an associate law professor at Tulane University. The judge denied several of Musk’s discovery requests, Lipton said. 

It’s also possible that Musk’s co-investors in the deal were starting to get nervous about how the case was proceeding, she said. 

Musk’s main argument for terminating the deal – that Twitter was misrepresenting how it measured its “spam bot” problem – also didn’t appear to be going well as Twitter had been working to pick apart Musk’s attempts to get third-party data scientists to bolster his concerns. 

Mysteriously, neither Musk nor Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal have written anything about the deal on Twitter. 

If the deal does go through, Musk may be stuck with a company he damaged with repeated statements denouncing fake accounts, Susannah Streeter, senior markets analyst for Hargreaves Lansdown in the United Kingdom, wrote in an investor note. 

“This is an important metric considered to be key for future revenue streams via paid advertising or for subscriptions on the site, and his relentless scrutiny of Twitter’s figures over the last few months is likely to prompt questions from potential advertising partners,” she wrote. 

 

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Google Discontinues Translate Service in Mainland China

Google has ended its Google Translate service in mainland China, citing “low usage” of one of its flagship products by mainland China users.

The move surprised users, who said they first noticed not being able to access the function over the weekend.

“The Google Translate mobile app was also discontinued a year ago in 2021,” a Google spokesperson told VOA on Monday in response to a request for further details on the company’s decision.

The translation service had been available to mainland Chinese users since 2017.

While The Associated Press reported Monday that “it is not clear how many users were using Google Translate in China,” the South China Morning Post cited an international data tracking company’s figure of 53.5 million visits to the platform in the month of August alone.

AP noted that “the translation feature built into the Google Chrome browser also no longer functions for users in China.”

Wei Jingsheng, a leading Chinese dissident living in exile in the United States, told VOA in a phone interview Monday that in his view, Google has been trying to put on a “balancing act” — maintaining its reputation and credibility as a global internet giant operating around the world while finding a space to operate in the highly restrictive environment in China.

“It is safe to anticipate that the company is constantly under pressure from the Chinese government to meet its demands,” Wei told VOA.

“We don’t know what exactly lay behind Google’s decision to pull its translation service from China. Fifty-three-point-five million is not a small number,” he said, referring to the figured quoted by South China Morning Post.

Difficult foothold

Google said its mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But as various media have reported, the California-based internet giant’s path to spreading its wings in mainland China over the past two decades has not been smooth.

The company pulled its search engine from the Chinese market in 2010 after the company became unwilling to abide by China’s censorship rules, AP reported on Monday.

Chinese platforms must “strictly” abide by Chinese authorities’ censorship rules and “censor keywords and topics the authorities deem politically sensitive,” AP said.

AP added that China later moved to block other Google services such as Gmail and Google Maps and noted that Google was not alone in being blocked or otherwise restricted. Chinese users are also not allowed to have Facebook accounts.

Media outlets including TechCrunch — which was the first to report Google’s shutdown of the translation platform — noted that Google’s decision came two weeks before the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, scheduled to begin on October 16.

“The Chinese government has previously blocked Google services around major political events and politically sensitive anniversaries like that of the Tiananmen Square massacre,” the online publication of high-tech news said.

Google did not respond to VOA’s question about any potential connection between the translation service being discontinued and the Communist Party Congress.

Although China boasts the world’s largest internet market, when it comes to political topics, Chinese authorities are known to impose strict limitations as to what information Chinese citizens can access or have the freedom to discuss.

Official versions of political events like the upcoming Communist Party Congress are routinely disseminated from national media down to provincial, city, county, township and village levels through a vast network of state media.

Wei explained that Chinese citizens often turn to foreign sources to get a fuller picture of what goes on behind the scenes at the Congress and other news about their own country, due to a lack of trust in official media.

“They can just copy and paste foreign-language text” and get it translated into their native language with Google Translate, he said.

“People often feel that there’s better privacy protection when they use Google and other foreign companies’ products,” Wei added, since Chinese domestic companies are uniformly obligated to comply with government requests for user information.

State institutions taking notice

Although Google Maps and now Google Translate are not accessible to ordinary Chinese users, Chinese state institutions, including state media, have been paying attention to Google’s capacity.

On April 18, two months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, People’s Daily Online, one of China’s leading state media, posted on Weibo — a Twitter- and Instagram-like social platform — a China Central Television report that Google Maps provided satellite imaging of “all of Russia’s military and strategic assets with the highest definition.”

That post received 123,000 “likes,” and was reposted more than 5,200 times. A commentator under the name of “boyfriend of the nation” wrote, “Look everyone, this is what we will encounter later on.”

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Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter and US country Music Queen, Dies 

Loretta Lynn, the Kentucky coal miner’s daughter whose frank songs about life and love as a woman in Appalachia pulled her out of poverty and made her a pillar of country music, has died. She was 90.

In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Lynn’s family said she died Tuesday at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.

Lynn already had four children before launching her career in the early 1960s, and her songs reflected her pride in her rural Kentucky background.

As a songwriter, she crafted a persona of a defiantly tough woman, a contrast to the stereotypical image of most female country singers. The Country Music Hall of Famer wrote fearlessly about sex and love, cheating husbands, divorce and birth control and sometimes got in trouble with radio programmers for material from which even rock performers once shied away.

Her biggest hits came in the 1960s and ’70s, including “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “The Pill,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” “Rated X” and “You’re Looking at Country.” She was known for appearing in floor-length, wide gowns with elaborate embroidery or rhinestones, many created by her longtime personal assistant and designer Tim Cobb.

Her honesty and unique place in country music was rewarded. She was the first woman ever named entertainer of the year at the genre’s two major awards shows, first by the Country Music Association in 1972 and then by the Academy of Country Music three years later.

“It was what I wanted to hear and what I knew other women wanted to hear, too,” Lynn told the AP in 2016. “I didn’t write for the men; I wrote for us women. And the men loved it, too.”

In 1969, she released her autobiographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which helped her reach her widest audience yet.

“We were poor but we had love/That’s the one thing Daddy made sure of/He shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar,” she sang.

“Coal Miner’s Daughter,” also the title of her 1976 book, was made into a 1980 movie of the same name. Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of Lynn won her an Academy Award and the film was also nominated for best picture.

Long after her commercial peak, Lynn won two Grammys in 2005 for her album “Van Lear Rose,” which featured 13 songs she wrote, including “Portland, Oregon” about a drunken one-night stand. “Van Lear Rose” was a collaboration with rocker Jack White, who produced the album and played the guitar parts.

Born Loretta Webb, the second of eight children, she claimed her birthplace was Butcher Holler, near the coal mining company town of Van Lear in the mountains of east Kentucky. There really wasn’t a Butcher Holler, however. She later told a reporter that she made up the name for the purposes of the song based on the names of the families that lived there.

Her daddy played the banjo, her mama played the guitar and she grew up on the songs of the Carter Family.

“I was singing when I was born, I think,” she told the AP in 2016. “Daddy used to come out on the porch where I would be singing and rocking the babies to sleep. He’d say, ‘Loretta, shut that big mouth. People all over this holler can hear you.’ And I said, ‘Daddy, what difference does it make? They are all my cousins.'”

She wrote in her autobiography that she was 13 when she got married to Oliver “Mooney” Lynn, but the AP later discovered state records that showed she was 15. Tommy Lee Jones played Mooney Lynn in the biopic.

Her husband, whom she called “Doo” or “Doolittle,” urged her to sing professionally and helped promote her early career. With his help, she earned a recording contract with Decca Records, later MCA, and performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Lynn wrote her first hit single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” released in 1960.

She also teamed up with singer Conway Twitty to form one of the most popular duos in country music with hits such as “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” and “After the Fire is Gone,” which earned them a Grammy Award. Their duets, and her single records, were always mainstream country and not crossover or pop-tinged.

The Academy of Country Music chose her as the artist of the decade for the 1970s, and she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.

In “Fist City,” Lynn threatens a hair-pulling fistfight if another woman won’t stay away from her man: “I’m here to tell you, gal, to lay off of my man/If you don’t want to go to Fist City.” That strong-willed but traditional country woman reappears in other Lynn songs. In “The Pill,” a song about sex and birth control, Lynn writes about how she’s sick of being trapped at home to take care of babies: “The feelin’ good comes easy now/Since I’ve got the pill,” she sang.

She moved to Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, outside of Nashville, in the 1990s, where she set up a ranch complete with a replica of her childhood home and a museum that is a popular roadside tourist stop. The dresses she was known for wearing are there, too.

Lynn knew that her songs were trailblazing, especially for country music, but she was just writing the truth that so many rural women like her experienced.

“I could see that other women was goin’ through the same thing, ’cause I worked the clubs. I wasn’t the only one that was livin’ that life and I’m not the only one that’s gonna be livin’ today what I’m writin’,” she told The AP in 1995.

Even into her later years, Lynn never seemed to stop writing, scoring a multi-album deal in 2014 with Legacy Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. In 2017, she suffered a stroke that forced her to postpone her shows.

She and her husband were married nearly 50 years before he died in 1996. They had six children: Betty, Jack, Ernest and Clara, and then twins Patsy and Peggy. She had 17 grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.

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Kim Kardashian Settles SEC Crypto Charge, to Pay $1.26 Million

Kim Kardashian has agreed to settle charges of unlawfully touting a crypto security and to pay $1.26 million in penalties, disgorgement and interest, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Monday.

The SEC said in a statement that reality television star and influencer Kardashian failed to disclose that she was paid $250,000 to publish the post about EMAX tokens, the crypto asset security being offered by EthereumMax on her Instagram account.

“This case is a reminder that, when celebrities or influencers endorse investment opportunities, including crypto asset securities, it doesn’t mean that those investment products are right for all investors,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said.

The U.S. regulator also charged Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and a music producer known as “DJ Khaled” in November 2018 for allegedly not disclosing payments they received for promoting investments in initial coin offerings.

Neither Mayweather nor Khaled Mohamed Khaled admitted or denied the SEC’s charges, but agreed to pay a combined $767,500 in fines and penalties.

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US Supreme Court Will Hear Social Media Terrorism Lawsuits

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will hear two cases seeking to hold social media companies financially responsible for terrorist attacks. 

Relatives of people killed in terrorist attacks in France and Turkey had sued Google, Twitter and Facebook. They accused the companies of helping terrorists spread their message and radicalize new recruits. 

The court will hear the cases this term, which began Monday, with a decision expected before the court recesses for the summer, usually in late June. The court did not say when it would hear arguments, but the court has already filled its argument calendar for October and November. 

One of the cases the justices will hear involves Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen studying in Paris. The Cal State Long Beach student was one of 130 people killed in Islamic State group attacks in November 2015. The attackers struck cafes, outside the French national stadium and inside the Bataclan theater. Gonzalez died in an attack at La Belle Equipe bistro. 

Gonzalez’s relatives sued Google, which owns YouTube, saying the platform had helped the Islamic State group by allowing it to post hundreds of videos that helped incite violence and recruit potential supporters. Gonzalez’s relatives said that the company’s computer algorithms recommended those videos to viewers most likely to be interested in them. 

But a judge dismissed the case and a federal appeals court upheld the ruling. Under U.S. law — specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. 

The other case the court agreed to hear involves Jordanian citizen Nawras Alassaf. He died in the 2017 attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul where a gunman affiliated with the Islamic State killed 39 people. 

Alassaf’s relatives sued Twitter, Google and Facebook for aiding terrorism, arguing that the platforms helped the Islamic State grow and did not go far enough in trying to curb terrorist activity on their platforms. A lower court let the case proceed. 

 

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