Newly named Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has emerged from behind the scenes to take over one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile and politically volatile jobs.
But his prior lack of name recognition, coupled with a solid technical background, appears to be what some big company backers were looking for to lead Twitter out of its current morass.
A 37-year-old immigrant from India, Agrawal comes from outside the ranks of celebrity CEOs, which include the man he’s replacing, Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or SpaceX and Tesla’s Elon Musk. Those brand-name company founders and leaders have often been in the news — and on Twitter — for exploits beyond the day-to-day running of their companies.
Having served as Twitter’s chief technology officer for the past four years, Agrawal’s appointment was seen by Wall Street as a choice of someone who will focus on ushering Twitter into what’s widely seen as the internet’s next era — the metaverse.
Agrawal is a “‘safe’ pick who should be looked upon as favorably by investors,” wrote CFRA Research analyst Angelo Zino, who noted that Twitter shareholder Elliott Management Corp. had pressured Dorsey to step down.
Elliott released a statement Monday saying Agrawal and new board chairman Bret Taylor were the “right leaders for Twitter at this pivotal moment for the company.” Taylor is president and chief operating officer of the business software company Salesforce.
Agrawal joins a growing cadre of Indian American CEOs of large tech companies, including Sundar Pichai of Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and IBM’s Arvind Krishna.
He joined San Francisco-based Twitter in 2011, when it had just 1,000 employees, and has been its chief technical officer since 2017. At the end of last year, the company had a workforce of 5,500.
Agrawal previously worked at Microsoft, Yahoo and AT&T in research roles. At Twitter, he’s worked on machine learning, revenue and consumer engineering and helping with audience growth. He studied at Stanford and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.
While Twitter has high-profile users like politicians and celebrities and is a favorite of journalists, its user base lags far behind old rivals like Facebook and YouTube and newer ones like TikTok. It has just over 200 million daily active users, a common industry metric.
As CEO, Agrawal will have to step beyond the technical details and deal with the social and political issues Twitter and social media are struggling with. Those include misinformation, abuse and effects on mental health.
Agrawal got a fast introduction to life as CEO of a high-profile company that’s one of the central platforms for political speech online. Conservatives quickly unearthed a tweet he sent in 2010 that read “If they are not gonna make a distinction between muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists.”
As some Twitter users pointed out, the 11-year-old tweet was quoting a segment on “The Daily Show,” which was referencing the firing of Juan Williams, who made a comment about being nervous about Muslims on an airplane.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a message for comment on the tweet.
A jury was seated Monday to hear the case against Jussie Smollett, who says he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago that authorities say was a hoax concocted and staged by the former “Empire” actor.
Two brothers, who worked with Smollett on the TV show, say he paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers on a frigid night in January 2019. The men now stand at the center of the case that prosecutors will lay before jurors this week.
Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse in Chicago on Monday with his mother and other family members, is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and has been charged with felony disorderly conduct. The Class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is convicted, he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.
Twelve jurors plus three alternate jurors were sworn in and were expected to begin hearing opening arguments late Monday in a trial Judge James Linn said he expects to take about one week. During jury selection, Linn asked potential jurors if they have been the victim of a hate crime, if they have watched “Empire” or “TMZ,” a program and website about celebrities, or if they belong to any civil rights or pro-police organizations. Cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom, and the proceedings are not being livestreamed, unlike in other recent high-profile trials.
Whether Smollett, who is Black and gay, will testify remains an open question. But the siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, will take the witness stand where they are expected to repeat what they have told police officers and prosecutors: They carried out the attack at Smollett’s behest.
Jurors also may see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing a red hat, ski masks and gloves from a beauty supply shop hours earlier.
Smollett’s attorneys have not spelled out how they will confront that evidence, and the lead attorney, Nenye Uche, declined to comment ahead of this week’s proceedings. But there are clues as to how they might do so during the trial.
Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from an area resident who says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night.
She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”
Her comments could back up Smollett’s contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements — widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black — that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers.
Given there is so much evidence, including the brothers’ own statements that they participated in the attack, it is unlikely that Smollett’s attorneys will try to prove they did not take part. That could perhaps lead the defense to contend that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack at the hands of the brothers, perhaps with the help of others, who now are only implicating the actor so they won’t be charged, too.
The $3,500 check could be key, although Smollett says he wrote it to pay one of the brothers to work as his personal trainer.
“I would assume the defense is going to zero in on that,” said Joe Lopez, a prominent defense attorney not involved with the case.
What they will almost certainly do is attack the brothers’ credibility, reminding jurors that they are not facing the same criminal charges as Smollett, despite admitting they took part in the staged attack.
“Everything Smollett is responsible for, they are responsible for,” said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago-Kent College of Law and is not involved in the case.
Finally, Smollett’s career could take center stage. Prosecutors could make the same point that then-Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson made when he announced Smollett’s arrest in 2019: Smollett thought the attack would win him more fame and a pay raise.
But Lopez said the defense attorneys might ask the jury the same question he asked himself.
“How would that help him with anything?” he asked. “He’s already a star.”
Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down as the company’s leader.
In a news release, Twitter said Dorsey would be replaced by Parag Agrawal, who has been the company’s chief technology officer since 2017. The move is effective immediately.
“I’ve decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders. My trust in Parag as Twitter’s CEO is deep. His work over the past 10 years has been transformational. I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart, and soul. It’s his time to lead,” Dorsey said in a statement.
Dorsey made his resignation official in a tweet Monday and attached a letter with an explanation of why he was leaving.
“not sure anyone has heard but, I resigned from Twitter,” he wrote.
On Sunday, Dorsey tweeted “I love twitter.”
Dorsey, 45, founded the microblogging platform in 2006 and was CEO until 2008 when he was pushed aside only to return to the top spot in 2015.
Last year, Elliott Management, a major stakeholder in the company, wanted Dorsey to choose between being CEO of Twitter or CEO of Square, a digital payment company he founded.
Twitter’s stock rose on the news, but trading of the shares was suspended.
Some information in this report came from Reuters.
With an expanded definition to reflect the times, Merriam-Webster has declared an omnipresent truth as its 2021 word of the year: vaccine.
“This was a word that was extremely high in our data every single day in 2021,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s announcement.
“It really represents two different stories. One is the science story, which is this remarkable speed with which the vaccines were developed. But there’s also the debates regarding policy, politics and political affiliation. It’s one word that carries these two huge stories,” he said.
The selection follows “vax” as word of the year from the folks who publish the Oxford English Dictionary. And it comes after Merriam-Webster chose “pandemic” as tops in lookups last year on its online site.
“The pandemic was the gun going off and now we have the aftereffects,” Sokolowski said.
At Merriam-Webster, lookups for “vaccine” increased 601% over 2020, when the first U.S. shot was administered in New York in December after quick development, and months of speculation and discussion over efficacy. The world’s first jab occurred earlier that month in the UK.
Compared to 2019, when there was little urgency or chatter about vaccines, Merriam-Webster logged an increase of 1,048% in lookups this year. Debates over inequitable distribution, vaccine mandates and boosters kept interest high, Sokolowski said. So did vaccine hesitancy and friction over vaccine passports.
The word “vaccine” wasn’t birthed in a day, or due to a single pandemic. The first known use stretches back to 1882 but references pop up earlier related to fluid from cowpox pustules used in inoculations, Sokolowski said. It was borrowed from the New Latin “vaccina,” which goes back to Latin’s feminine “vaccinus,” meaning “of or from a cow.”
The Latin for cow is “vacca,” a word that might be akin to the Sanskrit “vasa,” according to Merriam-Webster.
Inoculation, on the other hand, dates to 1714, in one sense referring to the act of injecting an “inoculum.”
Earlier this year, Merriam-Webster added to its online entry for “vaccine” to cover all the talk of mRNA vaccines, or messenger vaccines such as those for COVID-19 developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
While other dictionary companies choose words of the year by committee, Merriam-Webster bases its selection on lookup data, paying close attention to spikes and, more recently, year-over-year increases in searches after weeding out evergreens. The company has been declaring a word of the year since 2008. Among its runners-up in the word biography of 2021:
INSURRECTION: Interest was driven by the deadly Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol. Arrests continue, as do congressional hearings over the attack by supporters of President Donald Trump. Some of Trump’s allies have resisted subpoenas, including Steve Bannon. Searches for the word increased by 61,000% over 2020, Sokolowksi said.
INFRASTRUCTURE: President Joe Biden was able to deliver what Trump often spoke of but never achieved: A bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law. When Biden proposed help with broadband access, eldercare and preschool, conversation changed from not only roads and bridges but “figurative infrastructure,” Sokolowski said.
“Many people asked, what is infrastructure if it’s not made out of steel or concrete? Infrastructure, in Latin, means underneath the structure,” he said.
PERSEVERANCE: It’s the name of NASA’s latest Mars rover. It landed Feb. 18, 2021. “Perseverance is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet, with a name that embodies NASA’s passion, and our nation’s capability, to take on and overcome challenges,” the space agency said.
The name was thought up by Alexander Mather, a 14-year-old seventh-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. He participated in an essay contest organized by NASA. He was one of 28,000 K-12 students to submit entries.
NOMAD: The word had its moment with the 2020 release of the film “Nomadland.” It went on to win three Oscars in April 2021, including best picture, director (Chloé Zhao) and actress (Frances McDormand). Zhao became the first woman of color to win best director.
The AP’s film writer Jake Coyle called the indie success “a plain-spoken meditation on solitude, grief and grit. He wrote that it “struck a chord in a pandemic-ravaged year. It made for an unlikely Oscar champ: A film about people who gravitate to the margins took center stage.”
Other words in Merriam-Webster’s Top 10: Cicada (we had an invasion), guardian (the Cleveland Indians became the Cleveland Guardians), meta (the lofty new name of Facebook’s parent company), cisgender (a gender identity that corresponds to one’s sex assigned at birth), woke (charged with politics and political correctness) and murraya (a tropical tree and the word that won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee for 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde).
Virgil Abloh, fashion’s highest profile Black designer and the creative mind behind Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections, died on Sunday of cancer, Vuitton’s owner LVMH said.
The French luxury goods giant said Abloh, 41, had been battling cancer privately for years.
“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” LVMH’s billionaire boss Bernard Arnault said in a statement.
Abloh, a U.S. national who also worked as a DJ and visual artist, had been men’s artistic director for Vuitton, the world’s biggest luxury brand, since March 2018.
His arrival at LVMH marked the marriage between streetwear and high-end fashion, mixing sneakers and camouflage pants with tailored suits and evening gowns. His influences included graffiti art, hip hop and skateboard culture.
The style was embraced by the group as it sought to breathe new life into some labels and attract younger customers.
In July this year, LVMH expanded his role, giving him a mandate to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond fashion.
LVMH also bought a 60% stake in Abloh’s Off-White label, which it folded into the spirits-to-jewelry conglomerate.
“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” a message posted to his Instagram said. “He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”
Abloh drew on messages of inclusivity and gender-fluidity to expand the Louis Vuitton label’s popularity, weaving themes of racial identity into his fashion shows with poetry performances and art installations.
With an eye to reaching Asian consumers grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the designer sent his collections of colorful suits and utilitarian-flavored outerwear off to Shanghai last summer, when many labels canceled fashion shows.
“Virgil Abloh was the essence of modern creativity,” said an Instagram post by Alexandre Arnault, one of Bernard Arnault’s sons and executive vice president for product and communications at U.S. jeweler Tiffany, which LVMH bought this year.
Australia’s government said Sunday it will introduce legislation to unmask online trolls and hold social media giants like Facebook and Twitter responsible for identifying them.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative coalition government faces an election in the first half of 2022, said the law would protect Australians from online abuse and harassment.
“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others can just anonymously go around and harm people and hurt people, harass them and bully them and sledge them,” Morrison told reporters.
“That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world.”
Attorney General Michaelia Cash said the legislation, reportedly to be introduced to parliament by early 2022, is needed to clarify that the social media platforms, and not the users, were responsible for defamatory comments by other people.
Confusion had been sown by a High Court ruling in September that found Australian media, as users managing their own pages on a social network, could be held liable for defamatory third-party comments posted on their pages, Cash said.
Under the planned Australian legislation, the social media companies themselves would be responsible for such defamatory content, not the users, she said.
It would also aim to stop people making defamatory comments without being identified, she said.
“You should not be able to use the cloak of online anonymity to spread your vile, defamatory comments,” the attorney general said.
The legislation would demand that social media platforms have a nominated entity based in Australia, she said.
The platforms could defend themselves from being sued as the publisher of defamatory comment only if they complied with the new legislation’s demands to have a complaints system in place that could provide the details of the person making the comment, if necessary, Cash said.
People would also be able to apply to the High Court for an “information disclosure order” demanding a social media service provide details “to unmask the troll,” the attorney general said.
In some cases, she said, the “troll” may be asked to take down the comment, which could end the matter if the other side is satisfied.
Australia’s opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he would support a safer online environment for everyone.
But he said the government had failed to propose action to stop the spread of misinformation on social media and accused some of the government’s own members of spreading misinformation about COVID and vaccinations.
A documentary about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong won a high-profile award Saturday in Taiwan at the Golden Horse Awards, the Chinese-speaking world’s version of the Oscars.
Kiwi Chow’s “Revolution of Our Times” was named best documentary, prompting a long round of applause and shouts of support for Hong Kong from audience members at the glitzy event in Taipei.
Chow, who sent a pre-recorded message from Hong Kong expressing thanks for the award, dedicated the film to Hong Kong’s people, saying he hoped it would bring them some comfort.
“I cried a lot when I produced this film; several times I comforted myself with this film, to express my anger, hatred, to face my fear and trauma,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Native Hongkonger Chow’s film follows several protesters and documents clashes with police during the 2019 demonstrations, and he has previously told Reuters he hoped the documentary would help the pro-democracy movement live on.
It was shown at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in a surprise addition to the lineup. China introduced a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong over a year ago to crack down on what it deems subversion, secessionism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Since then, cinemas, universities and art galleries have canceled screenings or exhibitions of protest-related works. The protesters have won broad support and sympathy in democratically-ruled Taiwan.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, in 2019 blocked the country’s movie industry from participating in the Golden Horse Awards, which were founded in 1962 and take place annually in Taiwan.
Beijing’s move followed uproar in 2018 in China and among Chinese stars at the awards ceremony after Taiwanese director Fu Yue made comments in support of Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.
Most Americans don’t have oysters on their Thanksgiving table, but, for a time, the mollusks were a key ingredient on the White House holiday menu.
“Oyster stuffing and various oyster elements were always included, especially in the later 19th century. Oysters were very popular,” says Lina Mann, a historian with the White House Historical Association. “I think that the location of Washington, D.C., near the Chesapeake Bay, which was a huge oyster hub, made it more of a regional sort of thing, but that has died out over the years.”
In addition to oysters, White House Thanksgiving meals have included other regional foods such as rockfish from the Potomac River, turtles from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and cranberries from Massachusetts.
Because the holiday is often a more private affair, the White House Thanksgiving menu is not set. Presidential families often spend the day away from the White House, either out of town at their own private homes or at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan spent Thanksgiving at his California ranch. The menu included turkey, cranberries, cornbread dressing, salad, mashed potatoes, monkey bread, string beans with almonds, and pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends at Camp David, where they ate turkey; dressing with bread stuffing; giblet gravy; mashed potatoes; sweet potatoes; green beans; cranberry mold; a relish tray of pickles, celery, tomatoes, green onions, green and black olives, and carrots; fruit salad; cranberry salad; and pecan and pumpkin pies.
In 2007, also at Camp David, President George W. Bush and family feasted on a meal that included turkey, jellied cranberry molds, whipped sweet potato soufflé and pumpkin mousse trifle.
No matter where the commander in chief spends the holiday, turkey is usually on the menu and has been since the 1870s.
“You have a man named Horace Vose, who is the quote, “poultry king of Rhode Island,” and he starts sending, in 1873, all of these turkeys to the White House,” Mann says. “He does that for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and he does it for 40 years until he dies in 1913. So, there is this kind of precedent of the public sending presidents various birds to their table.”
But people haven’t always sent poultry. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge received an unusual offering from a supporter in Mississippi.
“They were sent a raccoon that was supposed to be served on his Thanksgiving table,” Mann says. “But the Coolidge family decided they didn’t want to eat the raccoon. So instead, they ended up making her a family pet. They named her Rebecca and then eventually Coolidge, for Christmas that year, got her a collar that said, ‘White House Raccoon’ on it.”
What presidents eat for Thanksgiving can also depend on what is going on in the country. In 1917, during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson remained in Washington and focused on having a more economical Thanksgiving.
“So, they’re eating cream of oyster soup with turkey trimmings and vegetables, pumpkin pie for the very simple menu,” Mann says. “First Lady Edith Wilson wanted to abide by various food conservation programs that were spearheaded at the time.”
There were also more austere Thanksgivings during the Great Depression and World War II. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family dined on “clam cocktail, clear soup, roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and cranberry sauce, Spanish corn, small sausages and beans, sweet potato cones, grapefruit salad, pumpkin pie and cheese, coffee, and ice cream.”
This year, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are spending Thanksgiving on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, a family tradition since 1975. The first lady recently shared Thanksgiving recipes, including her grandmother’s savory stuffing featuring stale Italian bread, with the Food Network.
“Food is love — and gathering together this year for Thanksgiving is healing for our hearts,” Jill Biden said. “The family recipes passed down through the generations, the fun traditions that continue, and the meaningful blessings shared, all keep me filled with gratitude.”
China was behind one of the biggest hacks of all time, quietly stealing email and data from organizations, according to the U.S. and other nations’ governments. Experts say China-orchestrated attacks on strategic targets have increased in recent years. Michelle Quinn reports.
Producer: Michelle Quinn. Camera: Michael Burke.
“NFT” is 2021’s “Word of the Year,” Collins Dictionary announced Wednesday.
NFT is an abbreviation for non-fungible token, which according to the dictionary is “a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or a collectible.”
Perhaps the most well-known example of an NFT is “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” a collection of digital art made by graphic designer Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple. In March, an NFT for the piece sold for $69.3 million.
Because of the blockchain technology, Beeple will continue to earn money each time his art changes hands. He gets 10 percent of the price after every sale.
Another American artist, Anne Spalter, sells some work as NFTs. At first, she did not think NFTs were a good idea, but then changed her mind. She said the technology has made people who might never go to an art gallery in person interested in art. She did, however, say she remained “mystified” by how high the prices have gone for some pieces.
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sold an NFT for his first tweet for $2.9 million.
“Whether the NFT will have a lasting influence is yet to be determined, but its sudden presence in conversations around the world makes it very clearly our Word of the Year,” the dictionary said.
In 2020, the word of the year was “lockdown,” but pandemic-related words like “double vaxxed” and “hybrid working” were still among the finalists for this year. “Crypto,” short for cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, and “cheugy,” meaning clunky or outdated, were among this year’s finalists.
For the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary, the 140-year-old Arts and Industries Building that has been closed for renovation since 2004 is reopening temporarily with an exhibition called Futures. The exhibition explores what our future may look like. Karina Bafradzhian visited the museum in Washington and has this story. Camera: Sergey Sokolov
Apple says it is suing Israeli NSO Group, maker of the controversial Pegasus spyware.
Apple will be the second company to sue NSO after Facebook, now Meta, sued over similar concerns that Pegasus was targeting WhatsApp users. Meta owns WhatsApp. The case is still working its way through the courts.
Apple says the spyware specifically targeted its users. It also wants to prevent NSO from using any Apple product or service, which would be a massive blow to the company that sells governments the ability to hack iPhones and Android phones in order to gain full access.
Apple says it has created a software patch to protect devices from Pegasus.
The Cupertino, California-based company says it is seeking undisclosed damages it says it incurred because of NSO. It says it would donate any award money to organizations that investigate and expose spyware.
One such company, Citizen Lab, was central in uncovering how Pegasus worked.
“This is Apple saying: If you do this, if you weaponize our software against innocent users, researchers, dissidents, activists or journalists, Apple will give you no quarter,” Ivan Krstic, head of Apple security engineering and architecture, said in an interview Monday with the New York Times.
Earlier this month, the U.S. put NSO along with three other software companies on a blacklist that places severe restrictions on their ability to do business in the U.S.
It said the companies “developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments” and that the spyware was used “to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics and embassy workers.”
NSO did not immediately comment on the lawsuit, but has previously said it takes precautions to prevent the abuse of its products.
The pressure against NSO appears to be working, as many news outlets reported the company was at risk of defaulting on its loans.
Some information in this report comes from Reuters.
Jon Batiste might be the Grammys biggest surprise: The multi-genre performer and recent Oscar winner made such an impression on voters that he scored the most nominations with 11 on Tuesday.
Batiste earned an album of the year nod for “We Are” along with record of the year with “Freedom,” a feel-good ode to the city of New Orleans. His nominations span several genres including R&B, jazz, American roots music, classical and music video.
Justin Bieber, Doja Cat and H.E.R. each came away with the second-most nominations with eight by the time the Recording Academy was done announcing its nominees for its Jan. 31 show. Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo both had seven nods.
Along with Batiste’s surprise domination, another shock was The Weeknd nabbing three nominations after the pop star claimed he would not allow his label to submit his music. Earlier this year, he angrily slammed the Grammys, calling them “corrupt” after he received zero nominations despite 2020’s biggest single, “Blinding Lights.”
Even though The Weeknd said he would boycott future Grammys, he still became a nominee for his work on album of the year projects, including Doja Cat’s deluxe edition “Planet Her” and Kanye West’s “Donda.” His third nomination was for his appearance on West’s single “Hurricane,” which also features Lil Baby.
“What I like is the fact that no one is thinking about what happened before, what was the controversy, what was the noise, or where was this artist making music last year,” said Harvey Mason jr., the Recording Academy’s CEO. He said voters focused on the “excellence of music” while considering nominees like Batiste and Kacey Musgraves, whose work also crosses over into different categories.
“The voters are truly evaluating music and not getting caught up in the reputations of any other outside noise or any history of artists,” he continued. “With that in mind, I think they’re voting for things that they are acknowledging as excellence.”
Mason said he was pleased with the new peer-driven voting system after seeing the list of nominees. He instituted the 10-3 initiative — which allows the academy’s more than 11,000 members to vote for up to 10 categories in three genres. All voters can vote for the top four awards.
The new system replaced the anonymous nominations review committee — a group that determined the contenders for key awards. Some claimed committee members favored projects based on personal relationships and promoted projects they favored and worked on.
Harvey knows the new voting system might not be perfect at first, but he believes the initiative will produce fair results in the long run.
“I know we didn’t get every single one perfect,” Harvey said. “I know there will be some people that feel left out or that we missed a nomination here or there. That makes me sad because I don’t want anybody to have that feeling. But I do feel like we’re heading in the right direction. I’m pleased with the way our voters did the work.”
For the first time, the academy expanded the number of nominees in the general field categories from eight to 10. The change impacts categories such as record, album, song of the year and best new artist.
Harvey said the academy increased slots in the general field categories after seeing an uptick voting participation over the past year along with the acceptance of new membership invitations and a high number of more than 21,730 entries submitted for Grammy consideration.
“We thought the timing was right,” he said. “We saw an opportunity to do what the academy does — which is to highlight music, highlight the industry and highlight excellence in a bigger way. With the change in our voting structure, we don’t have the nomination review committee. This gives our voters an opportunity to have their voice heard, but also gives them a chance to have a bigger pool to draw from when it comes time to that one winner that takes home the Grammy.”
Other album of the year nominees include: Bieber’s “Justice (Triple Chucks Deluxe),” Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever,” West’s “Donda,” Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga’s “Love for Sale,” Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour,” Taylor Swift’s “evermore” and Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO.”
Batiste, the bandleader of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” picked up a bid in the best score soundtrack for visual media category for his work on Pixar’s “Soul,” which won him an Oscar for best score earlier this year. Coming into Tuesday, he had three Grammy nominations but no wins yet.
Batiste will compete for record of the year against a bevy of candidates including Bennett & Gaga’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” ABBA’s “I Still Have Faith in You,” Bieber’s “Peaches” featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon, Brandi Carlile’s “Right on Time,” Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” with SZA, Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name),” Rodrigo’s “drivers license,” Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” and “Leave The Door Open” by Silk Sonic — the super duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak.
Jay-Z, who was nominated for three Grammys on Tuesday, now has the most nominations of all time with 83. The 23-time Grammy-winning rapper moved past Quincy Jones, who has been nominated 80 times.
Amid growing speculation on the whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, China’s Foreign Ministry warned against politicizing and speculating about the star’s wellbeing.
“This is not a diplomatic matter,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing on Tuesday.
“I believe everyone will have seen she has recently attended some public activities and also held a video call with IOC President (Thomas) Bach. I hope certain people will cease malicious hyping, let alone politicization,” Zhao added.
On Monday the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) said it is still concerned about Peng despite her appearance and the International Olympic Committee call.
“It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don’t alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” a WTA spokeswoman said in an e-mail. “This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”
Peng had not been seen since earlier this month after she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese vice premier, of forcing her to have sex several years ago. Her absence from public sight had prompted international demands for Chinese officials to account for her safety.
On Sunday, the three-time Olympian and former Wimbledon champion appeared standing beside a tennis court, waving and signing oversized commemorative tennis balls for children.
Later, she had a 30-minute call with Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, who said she thanked the IOC for its concern about her.
“She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time,” the IOC said in a statement.
“That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much,” the IOC said.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch was critical of the IOC, accusing it of collaborating with Beijing and undermining the IOC’s “expressed commitment to human rights, including the rights and safety of athletes.”
“The IOC has vaulted itself from silence about Beijing’s abysmal human rights record to active collaboration with Chinese authorities in undermining freedom of speech and disregarding alleged sexual assault,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch in a statement. “The IOC appears to prize its relationship with a major human rights violator over the rights and safety of Olympic athletes.”
The China Open posted a note on the Weibo social media network about Peng’s appearance at the youth tournament but made no mention of her disappearance or accusation that she was assaulted.
The women’s professional tennis tour had threatened to pull events out of China unless Peng’s safety was assured.
Dave Haggerty, the International Tennis Federation president and International Olympic Committee member, said in a statement Sunday, “Our primary concern is Peng Shuai’s safety and her well-being. The videos of her this weekend appear to be a positive step, but we will continue to seek direct engagement and confirmation from Peng Shuai herself that she is safe and well.”
Peng’s disappearance and accusation against the former Chinese official is occurring as Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympics starting on February 4 amid international condemnation of China’s human rights record.
Current and former players like Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Billie Jean King, took to social media to call for proof Peng was safe.
The world’s top male player, Novak Djokovic, called the situation “horrific” and questioned whether tennis tournaments should be held in China until it was resolved.
Some information in this report came from Reuters and the Associated Press.
The shutdown of internet access via mobile phone networks that began Saturday dragged on for a fourth day Tuesday. The government said in a statement the shutdown is in the interest of national defense and public security and will last until around 10 p.m. tonight.
VOA talked to some Burkinabes on the streets of Ouagadougou to ask how the shutdown was affecting them and what they thought of the government’s decision.
Alexi Sawadogo, a physician, spoke outside a bank on one of the city’s busy boulevards. He said he was there to check his account balance as the shutdown meant he could no longer do so online.
“It disconnects us from our friends who are outside the country, with whom we communicate regularly,” he says. He notes that he understands that it is because of the French convoy that was blockaded in the north, but says insecurity is not a valid reason and that the government needs to review its strategy.
The shutdown has come in the wake of protests in recent days that have blocked a French military supply convoy that is attempting to travel from Ivory Coast to Niger. Protesters say they want an end to French military intervention in the regional war against Islamist militants.
There have also been protests against the government’s handling of security, after a terrorist group believed to be associated with al-Qai da killed more than 50 military police in an assault on a base in northern Burkina Faso on November 14th.
Ali Dayorgo, a university student, said the shutdown has affected his ability to work and learn the latest news.
He says he doesn’t understand why the shutdown is happening, but he hears the voice of the Burkinabe youth. “I feel the anger of the youth,” he expressed, adding that even if he doesn’t join protests against insecurity, he supports them.
A funeral for some of the victims of the attack is taking place in Ouagadougou today.
Drabo Mahamadou is the national executive secretary of the “Save Burkina Faso Movement,” one of the protest groups that is calling for President Roch Kabore to resign. He said they have called on the population to attend Tuesday’s funeral and to attend a protest on Saturday.
He says, because the government is insensitive to pain, we are calling on the population to come out en masse on the 27th. We want [protesters] to prove that this government is not helping Burkina Faso. It is the government that is causing harm to the Burkinabé people.
A government spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Eloise Bertrand is a research fellow at the University of Portsmouth who focuses on Burkina Faso. She thinks the restrictions on the internet are unwise; pointing out that “this shutdown may well backfire against the government. We can see that civil society groups and stakeholders who were not really involved in protests against the French convoy are annoyed and angered by this internet shutdown.”
Reports suggest the French military convoy is now waiting in the town of Zinaire, about 30 kilometers north of the capital. Protests are also said to be taking place in the town.
With the demonstrations continuing, it remains to be seen if the government will lift the internet shutdown tonight. Further protests are scheduled for Saturday.
The Port-au-Prince international jazz festival, traditionally held in late January, has been postponed indefinitely because of gang violence that has plagued the Haitian capital for months, event organizers said Monday.
“We can’t take the risk, either for the 150 musicians or for our teams or for the public,” Milena Sandler, director of the Haiti Jazz Foundation, which organizes the festival, told AFP.
“We have been thinking for a while now that it would be difficult, even morally, to stage a festive event in this context,” said the head of the festival that brings together musicians from more than a dozen countries every year.
Long confined to the poorer districts of the capital, gangs have in recent months extended their reach and increased the number of kidnappings.
Their sway over the capital regularly prevents secure access to oil terminals, and the resulting fuel shortages have severely disrupted the transport sector and forced hospitals, businesses and schools to drastically reduce their activities.
In this chaotic context, the United States and Canada have recommended that their citizens living in Haiti have an emergency plan to leave the country.
Sandler nevertheless remained hopeful that the “Papjazz” will take place sometime in 2022.
“If the situation in the country does not allow for the usual format of concerts over eight days, we will still have something and it won’t be virtual,” she said.
“If it must be for one day, it will be for one day,” Sandler said, adding that the festival’s Haitian and international partners were considering a program for the end of June.
The only time the festival had been canceled was in 2010, when a massive earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and several towns in Haiti on January 12, killing more than 200,000 people.
A U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics would deal a blow to Seoul’s attempts to resume diplomacy with North Korea, experts said.
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden said that his administration was “considering” a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in February.
Such a boycott would mean the U.S. would not send government officials to the Winter Games although it would allow athletes to compete.
Many human rights groups and some lawmakers in Congress called for a U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, citing Beijing’s human rights abuses.
South Korea has been pushing for a declaration to end the Korean War. That war concluded with the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953, which announced a cease-fire rather than complete peace.
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly in September, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said such a declaration could be a “catalyst” for the resumption of dialogue with North Korea.
Seoul sees an end-of-war declaration as the key to jump-starting nuclear talks with North Korea, which have been stalled since October 2019. It also believes the Beijing Olympics will offer a diplomatic venue where the leaders of the U.S., China, South Korea and North Korea could discuss such a declaration.
“An end-of-war declaration in particular is … almost a last-ditch effort by President Moon. So I would not be surprised if they tried to engage in Olympics diplomacy again,” said Olivia Enos, senior policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
“But I think those efforts will be likely futile,” added Enos.
On Friday, South Korea Minister of Unification Lee In-young said that Seoul and Washington held “very serious, deep consultations regarding the end-of-war declaration,” and that “those discussions are entering a final stage.”
Washington, however, has not publicly endorsed Seoul’s proposal. After talks with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts last week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that the U.S. was “very satisfied with the consultations” with Seoul and Tokyo on the issue, without giving further details.
Washington has been reluctant to accept Seoul’s proposed end-of-war declaration out of concern it could undermine the security of East Asia, according to experts.
Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation, said, “The U.S. is not interested in an end-of-war declaration but is discussing it only since a valuable ally has raised the topic.”
David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said, “The U.S. is also concerned with the political warfare strategy of North Korea, China and Russia. They have already laid the groundwork to blame the U.S. for not reaching an end-of-war declaration.”
VOA’s Korean Service sought comment on an end-of-war declaration from South Korea’s presidential office but did not get a response.
Some raised concerns that declaring a formal end to the war could undermine the presence of the United Nations Command (UNC) in South Korea, which could lead to calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
Bruce Bennett, an adjunct international/defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, said, “The declaration could provide some sort of a justification for North Korea to push for the termination of the armistice agreement and dissolution of UNC.”
As a U.S.-led multilateral military force, the UNC defends South Korea and upholds the Korean Armistice Agreement.
“We would back our way into dissolving the only internationally recognized legal instrument that has prevented the resumption of hostilities on the peninsula” because there will be calls to rescind U.N. Security Council Resolution 84, which activated UNC, said General Robert Abrams, former commander of United States Forces Korea, during a virtual forum held by The Korea Society last week.
Earlier this month, North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, said, “Immediate measures should be taken to dismantle the UNC in South Korea.”
An end-of-war declaration, however, does not have the legal power to automatically end UNC or the armistice agreement but, nonetheless, could provide a justification for such calls, according to Klingner.
Klingner said that aside from its impact on UNC, precipitously declaring the war’s end could “generate a domino effect advocacy” for other actions that could undermine security in the region, such as removing about 28,000 U.S. troops from South Korea and ending joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
Scott Snyder, director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “The main effect of an end-of-war declaration is that it misrepresents the real situation on the ground.” Snyder added: “The key to achieving an end-of-war declaration is to achieve the conditions of peace necessary to declare that the war is indeed over.”
A Sydney restaurant is using a Chinese-made, multi-lingual hospitality robot to address chronic staff shortages as Australia’s economy begins to recover from COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures.
The robot waiter is programmed to know the layout of the tables and delivers food from the kitchen. It is also multi-lingual, programmed to communicate in English and Mandarin. The so-called BellaBot is built by the Chinese firm PuduTech.
Each machine costs about $17,000. They can be leased for $34 per day for each device, or the equivalent of two hours’ wages for restaurant staff. The devices are in use in other Australian restaurants and imports into Australia appear to be unaffected by recent trade tensions between the two countries.
Liarne Schai, the co-owner of the Matterhorn Restaurant in Sydney, is delighted with her new mechanical staff member.
“Ah, love the robot. Love the robot, she makes my life a lot easier. It is like a tower that has got four trays. It will carry eight of our dinner plates in one go. She is geo-mapped to the floor (customer names, location of tables, etc.) The robot knows where all our tables are,” Schai said.
Australia’s hospitality workforce has traditionally relied on international students. They have, however, been restricted from entering after Australia closed its borders to most foreign nationals in March 2020 in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Labor shortages are affecting not only hospitality in Australia, but a range of industries from construction to information technology.
Liarne Schai says she has tried for months without success to recruit workers.
“It is the biggest issue we have at the moment. We have been running ads for chefs, for waiters, for kitchen hands for six months and we have had zero applicants. We are offering above award wages, we are offering bonuses, we are offering everything you can think of to attract appropriate staff and I am not even getting inappropriate staff, or untrained staff. I am just getting nobody.”
Labor shortages should ease when Australia reopens its borders to foreign nationals, but analysts expect many vacancies will remain unfilled.
Employer groups have demanded that Australia increase its intake of migrant workers.
Australia’s official unemployment rate stands at 5.2%.
But with more than 700,000 Australians without a job, there are calls for the government to boost domestic training programs and wages.
For many musicians, like storytelling superstar Adele, the order of songs on an album is a matter of the keenest concern, affecting how a narrative is presented, how listeners react and ultimately how many albums are sold.
That is a big reason why customers of Spotify saw “play” as the album default option Sunday on the world’s largest audio streaming service, so songs will be heard in the order they appear on an album — though users can still elect the “shuffle” option.
Adele, whose much anticipated new album “30” shot to the top of the charts within hours of its release Friday, is among the artists who have campaigned for the “play” choice, and in announcing its change Spotify specifically mentioned her.
“As Adele mentioned, we are excited to share that we have begun rolling out a new Premium feature that has been long requested by both users and artists to make play the default button on all albums,” a spokesman for the Swedish company said.
“For those users still wishing to shuffle an album, they can go to the Now Playing View and select the shuffle toggle.”
Adele took to Twitter to express her thanks.
“We don’t create albums with so much care and thought into our track listing for no reason,” she said. “Our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended. Thank you Spotify for listening.”
The English singer/songwriter, winner of 15 Grammy Awards and 2016’s Billboard Artist of the Year, is known for songs that combine raw, deeply personal feeling with strong musicality.
On her album “30,” Adele, her voice sometimes breaking, sings about her divorce and the guilt, depression and self-doubt that followed — a story she wanted listeners to hear as she had crafted it.
“There is always a story to be told as you listen to an album,” Andrew McCluskey, a song curator for the music to platform, wrote online. “Even if lyrically it doesn’t make sense, you can create a sonic and emotional journey with correct song placement.”