Twitter to Reduce Visibility of Russian State Media Content 

Twitter announced Monday that it will start labeling and making it harder for users to see tweets about the invasion of Ukraine that contain information from Russian state media outlets like RT and Sputnik.

“For years we’ve provided more context about state-affiliated media while not accepting ad $ or amplifying accounts,” Twitter said in a tweet. “With many looking for credible info due to the conflict in Ukraine, we’re now adding labels on Tweets linking to state media & reducing the content’s visibility.”


Twitter said it had seen over 45,000 tweets a day from people sharing links to Russian state media, much more than coming from state-sponsored accounts.

Twitter began to de-amplify Russian state media accounts in 2020 and had earlier banned Russian state media from advertising.

The announcement Monday will impact individuals sharing links from those entities.

The move is the latest spat between U.S. social media companies and Russia.

Twitter has been slowed down in Russia several times, most recently on Saturday, and last week, Russia said it would limit Russians’ access to some features of Facebook, saying the company was involved in censorship.

Google and Facebook have also banned Russian state media from monetizing their accounts.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters.

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Rare Copy of First Novel by African American Woman Donated

A rare version of a book considered the first novel published in the U.S. by a Black woman has returned to her home state of New Hampshire. 

An original first edition of Harriet Wilson’s “Our Nig; or Sketches From the Life of a Free Black” was recently donated to Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, WMUR-TV reports.  

The book was hand-delivered to the organization by a retired librarian in California who found the novel in a family safe, according to the station.  

The organization plans to display the book at its headquarters in Portsmouth after it undergoes some minor restoration.  

JerriAnne Boggis, the organization’s executive director, said the largely autobiographical work, which Wilson wrote while living in Boston in 1859, represents an act of courage. 

The novel tells the story of Frado, a Black girl who is abused and overworked as the indentured servant to a New England family. 

“She sold them door to door, and all during that time when the Fugitive Slave Act was in place,” Boggis told WMUR-TV. “So, she’s knocking at people’s doors and not even sure if she would be captured and taken into slavery.” 

Wilson was born in Milford, New Hampshire in 1825 and a statue in the town’s Bicentennial Park honors her. She died in 1900 in a Massachusetts hospital. 

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New Orleanians Hail Resumption of Mardi Gras Celebrations

Ebbing COVID-19 cases help propel the Crescent City back to life after last year’s cancellation of Fat Tuesday festivities

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Glitz Returns on Screen Actors Guild Awards Red Carpet

The 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards will kick off with a “Hamilton” reunion, feature a lifetime achievement award for Helen Mirren and, maybe, supply a preview of the upcoming Academy Awards.

The SAG Awards, taking place at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, begin at 8 p.m. EST Sunday and air on both TNT and TBS. (The show will also be available to stream Monday on HBO Max.) After the January Golden Globes were a non-event, the Screen Actors Guild Awards are Hollywood’s first major, televised, in-person award show — complete with a red carpet and teary-eyed speeches — this year.

While the Academy Awards aren’t mandating vaccination for presenters (just attendees), it’s required for the SAG Awards, which are voted on by the Hollywood actors’ guild SAG-AFTRA. One actor in the cast of the Paramount series “Yellowstone,” Forrie J. Smith, has said he wouldn’t attend because he isn’t vaccinated. 

The evening’s first awards, announced before the show began, honored a pair of blockbusters on both the big and small screens. Netflix’s “Squid Game” and the James Bond film “No Time to Die” each won for best stunt ensembles.  

“Hamilton” trio Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs were set to open the ceremony. Kate Winslet is presenting the actors’ lifetime achievement award to Mirren, a five-time SAG Award winner.  

A starry group of nominees  — including Will Smith, Lady Gaga, Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman and Ben Affleck — will make sure the SAG Award don’t lack for glamour.  

Five films are nominated for the SAG Awards’ top honor, best ensemble: Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” Sian Heder’s coming-of-age drama “CODA,” Adam McKay’s apocalypse comedy “Don’t Look Up,” Ridley Scott’s high-camp “House of Gucci” and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s family tennis drama “King Richard.”  

The leading Oscar nominee, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” failed to land a best ensemble nominations but three of its actors — Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee — are up for individual awards.  

Winning best ensemble doesn’t automatically make a movie the Oscar favorite, but actors hold the largest sway because they constitute the largest percentage of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Last year, the actors chose Aaron Sorkin’s 1960s courtroom drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” while best picture at the Oscars went to “Nomadland.” The year before, SAG’s pick of “Parasite” presaged the Oscar winner.  

In the television categories, Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” comes in with a leading five nominations, closely trailed by HBO’s “Succession,” Apple’s “The Morning Show” and “Squid Game” — all of which are up for four awards.

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With Cinemas Closed, Ghana’s Hand-Painted Movie Posters Find Homes Abroad 

With a flick of his brush, Ghanaian painter Daniel Anum Jasper armed actor Paul Newman with a pair of revolvers. Unfinished paintings of a bell-bottomed John Travolta and nunchuck-spinning Bruce Lee adorned the walls of his crammed Accra studio.

Jasper, a veteran movie poster designer, was finishing up one of the 1969 classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” commissioned by a foreign collector who had reached out over Instagram.

From the late 1970s to the 1990s, Ghana developed a tradition of advertising films with vibrant hand-painted posters. Local cinemas were flourishing in the West African country, and artists competed over who could entice the largest audience with their often gory, imaginative and eye-popping displays.

Jasper was a pioneer of the tradition and has been painting movie posters on repurposed flour sacks for the last 30 years. But the market for his work, which once had people clamoring for theater seats, has changed.

“People are no longer interested in going out to watch a movie when it can be watched from the comfort of their phones,” Jasper said.

“But there is a growing interest in owning these hand-painted posters internationally,” he added. “Now they hang them in private rooms or show them in exhibitions.”

With the rise of the internet, Ghana’s independent cinemas fell into obscurity. But Jasper’s work has gained appeal abroad, including in the United States, where the posters are valued as unique representations of a specific period in African art.

Western action flicks were mainstays of the tradition, as were Bollywood films and Chinese pictures. Many of the posters include paranormal elements and gratuitous violence even if the films had none, and physical features are wildly exaggerated.

Joseph Oduro-Frimpong, a professor in pop culture anthropology at Ghana’s Ashesi University, has several of Jasper’s paintings. He has collected the posters for years and has been known to buy up a closing video store’s entire supply.

He plans to display his posters at the Centre for African Popular Culture opening at the university later this year, and said he hopes people appreciate their historical significance.

“Of course there is an esthetic value to the posters, how crazy it is and all of that, but we use them to have a conversation with students,” he said.

“We tell them not to think about what they’re seeing now… [but] to think of these art forms as symbols of history that can tell their own stories.”

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Frankfurt Tells Putin to ‘Stop’ Amid Drama in Bundesliga

After telling Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stop” on Saturday, Eintracht Frankfurt proceeded to frustrate Bayern Munich in their Bundesliga game until substitute Leroy Sané scored late for the league leaders.

Frankfurt prominently displayed the message “STOP IT, PUTIN!” all around its stadium before kickoff, just one of several pointed messages across the league against Russia’s ongoing invasion of its neighbor.

Sané’s 71st-minute goal was enough for a 1-0 win that stretched Bayern’s lead to nine points before second-place Borussia Dortmund visits Augsburg on Sunday.

Bayern controlled the match but found it difficult to break through against a well-organized Frankfurt team that also had good opportunities through Filip Kostic and Evan Ndicka.

Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann sent Sané on in the 67th, four minutes before Joshua Kimmich combined with Jamal Musiala and played a through ball for Sané to finally beat Kevin Trapp in the Frankfurt goal.

Trapp had done well to frustrate Bayern’s top goal-scorer Robert Lewandowski, who captained the team in place of the injured Manuel Neuer and wore a blue and yellow captain’s armband in support of Ukraine.

“We condemn the attack on Ukraine and on the lives and homes of innocent people,” the German soccer league said as it suggested clubs observe a minute’s silence before their games. “War is unacceptable in any form and incompatible with our values of sport.”

In Fürth, visiting Cologne and the home team lined up behind a banner in blue and yellow – the colors of the Ukrainian flag – with “STOP WAR” written in English and another message against war in German.

One fan at Union Berlin’s stadium held a sign showing a dove with the word “peace,” another at Leverkusen’s game painted blood on her face, and it seemed fans in all stadiums held Ukrainian flags or made some personal symbol against the war.

Earlier, second-division Schalke played its first game in 15 years without Russian energy giant Gazprom as main sponsor on the team jerseys. The Gelsenkirchen-based club had a 1-1 draw at Karlsruher SC.

Wolfsburg goalkeeper Koen Casteels produced a brilliant save in injury time to preserve his team’s 2-2 draw at Borussia Mönchengladbach. Gladbach also had a goal ruled out in injury time after VAR picked up on a foul before what would have been Matthias Ginter’s late winner.

The home team got off to a terrible start with Jonas Wind scoring in the sixth minute and Sebastiaan Bornauw making it 2-0 in the 33rd for Wolfsburg.

Marcus Thuram pulled one back before the break and was again involved when Wolfsburg defender Maxence Lacroix was sent off in the 70th for preventing the French forward’s clear goal chance with his hand.

Alassane Plea crossed for Breel Embolo to equalize in the 82nd and Casteels prevented worse for Wolfsburg.

Union Berlin bounced back from three games without a win or a goal since experienced forward Max Kruse left for Wolfsburg – with a 3-1 win at home over Mainz.

But the home fans’ patience was tested by a lengthy VAR check before Genki Haraguchi’s opener was allowed in the seventh minute. Sheraldo Becker scored a brilliant curling effort inside the right post in the 56th, then set up Taiwo Awoniyi to seal it in the 75th after Mainz had Dominik Kohr sent off on the hour-mark with his second yellow card in as many minutes. Delano Burgzorg scored a late consolation for the visitors.

City rival Hertha Berlin lost 3-0 at Freiburg to continue its dismal start to the year.

Bayer Leverkusen defeated Arminia Bielefeld 3-0 to consolidate third place, and last-place Fürth fought back to draw with Cologne 1-1.

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YouTube Blocks RT, Other Russian Channels From Earning Ad Dollars

YouTube on Saturday barred Russian state-owned media outlet RT and other Russian channels from receiving money for advertisements that run with their videos, similar to a move by Facebook, after the invasion of Ukraine.

Citing “extraordinary circumstances,” YouTube said in a statement that it was “pausing a number of channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube, including several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions.” Ad placement is largely controlled by YouTube.

Videos from the affected channels also will come up less often in recommendations, YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said. He added that RT and several other channels would no longer be accessible in Ukraine due to “a government request.”

Ukraine Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted earlier on Saturday that he contacted YouTube “to block the propagandist Russian channels such as Russia 24, TASS, RIA Novosti.”

RT did not immediately respond to a request for comment. YouTube did not name the other channels it had restricted.

For years, lawmakers and some users have called on YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, to take greater action against channels with ties to the Russian government out of concern that they spread misinformation and should not profit from that.

Russia received an estimated $7 million to $32 million over the two-year period ended December 2018 from ads across 26 YouTube channels it backed, digital researcher Omelas told Reuters at the time.

YouTube previously has said that it does not treat state-funded media channels that comply with its rules any differently than other channels when it comes to sharing ad revenue.

Meta Platforms Inc, owner of Facebook, on Friday barred Russian state media from running ads or generating revenue from ads on its services anywhere in the world.

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FIFA Suspends Zimbabwe, Kenya for Government Interference

The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) has suspended Zimbabwe’s and Kenya’s memberships over government interference in the countries’ football associations.

Zimbabwe authorities say they were acting against corruption, incompetence and sexual abuse. Zimbabwe’s football association denies the allegations, which FIFA says should be investigated without the government’s interference.

FIFA President Giovanni Infantino announced the suspensions at a press conference broadcast February 24 on the football governing body’s website.

“We had to suspend two of our members associations, Kenya and Zimbabwe, both for government interference in the activities of the football associations of these (countries). Associations are suspended from all football activities with immediate effect. They know what needs to be done for them to be readmitted or for the suspension to be lifted,” he said.

FIFA suspended the two countries’ associations after their governments pushed aside the associations’ leaders.

Kenya in November replaced the Football Kenya Federation with a caretaker committee while Zimbabwe’s Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) took control of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA).

FIFA has maintained that the allegations should be investigated internally rather than by governments taking over.

On Friday, Zimbabwe’s SRC chairperson Gerald Mlotshwa hit back at FIFA.

“It appears FIFA does not recognize the laws of Zimbabwe insofar as they relate to corruption and sexual harassment,” he said. “Its demands for reinstatement constitute an interference with statutory obligations of SRC as well as the judicial processes of the country.”

Officials in Zimbabwe suspended ZIFA in November on allegations of corruption, incompetence and sexual harassment.

Authorities accused ZIFA officials of diverting funds from FIFA and the government for personal use and of seeking sexual favors from female players and employees.

ZIFA’s suspended board deny all the allegations and in December called for a probe of the Sports and Recreation Commission, saying it was conducting a “witch hunt” under the guise of cleansing football.

A ZIFA lawyer declined to comment on FIFA’s suspension, saying they were still digesting the statements by the football governing body and the sports commission.

Zimbabwe sports journalist Hope Chizuzu said ZIFA’s suspended board was urging FIFA to suspend Zimbabwe.

“Now that that request has been granted, it is interesting to see what will become of the same because what this simply means is the suspended executive committee cannot operate,” Chizuzu said.

Zimbabwe sports commission’s Mlotshwa said the football association’s board will remain disbanded, and the SRC will continue to run it, despite FIFA’s suspension.

“We have a well-considered road map in Zimbabwe for the reform of football administration in Zimbabwe,” Mlotshwa said. “In the meantime, domestic football will continue as normal throughout the country with the support of the SRC. ZIFA executive committee and its general secretary will remain suspended. Football in country will be reformed for the benefit of all stakeholders, with or without the assistance of FIFA.”

While suspended, Kenya and Zimbabwe will not receive any funding from FIFA, and their football teams will not be allowed to play in any matches organized by FIFA or the Confederation of African Football.

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Inside a Special Black History Month Rite at ‘The Lion King’

During February, a special ritual takes place backstage at The Lion King musical on Broadway.

On show days, the four young actors who play the lion cubs Simba and Nala seek out fellow actor Bonita J. Hamilton in the moments before the curtain goes up at the Minskoff Theatre.

The youngsters have learned their lines and choreography, of course, but during Black History Month, they also tell Hamilton what they’ve learned about a Black historical figure. It might include a birthdate, the figure’s biggest achievements and some facts about their lives.

“February is my favorite month because the children — the cubs — get to teach me about Black history,” said Hamilton, who plays the hyena leader Shenzi onstage and offstage looks after the cubs with warmth and respect. “Every day in the month of February, they bring me a Black history fact.”

Hamilton has led the voluntary ritual for 17 years and the children seem to enjoy the challenge. “Telling Miss Bonita my fact is just really fun to do,” said Sydney Elise Russell, 10, who plays young Nala.

This month, the kids have honored Aretha Franklin, Shirley Chisholm, Whitney Houston, Billie Holiday, Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Michael Jordan, George Washington Carver, Angela Davis, Ethel Waters, Maya Angelou, Muhammad Ali, Dorothy Height and Mabel Fairbanks, among others.

“They’re learning, I’m learning. Because I say, ‘You’re teaching me something,'” said Hamilton, a graduate of Alabama State University and Brandeis University. “You’ve got to know whose shoulders you’re standing on.”

Last Friday night, Vince Ermita, 12, who plays Simba for four performances a week, sought out Hamilton to recite what he’d lately learned online about music icon Louis Armstrong.

“Louis Armstrong was born on Aug. 4, 1901, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was a jazz trumpeter and vocalist, and one of the most iconic people he performed with was Ella Fitzgerald,” Vince said, without notes.

“His improvisation changed the landscape of jazz, and some of his most famous songs were What a Wonderful World, West End Blues and Hello, Dolly! And he passed away on July 6, 1971.”

Vince had clearly nailed the assignment, and Hamilton beamed. But she had a follow-up question: What was Armstrong’s nickname?

“Satchmo?” he answered.

“All right!” Hamilton exclaimed, giving him a hand slap.

The other young actors also offered their facts. Alayna Martus, 12, picked gymnast Dominique Dawes — nicknamed Awesome Dawesome — and Sydney picked writer and poet Phillis Wheatley Peters, whose most famous poem is On Being Brought from Africa to America.

Hamilton also had a question when Sydney was done: “Do you know the name of Peters’ first published book?” Sydney did not but promised to return with the answer.

“Circle back, good job. Good job, guys. Thank you. I learned something today,” said Hamilton.

The backstage February ceremonies have had a lasting impact on generations of actors who have cycled in and out of the show, under Hamilton’s charismatic leadership. This year, several former child alumni of The Lion King — led by Caleb McLaughlin of the Netflix series Stranger Things — got together to make a video for Hamilton — each submitting their Black History figures for February.

Hamilton, from Montgomery, Alabama, the home of the civil rights movement which her family aided, started the tradition after coming to The Lion King and asking her then-young co-stars about the meaning of February.

“One day, just so casually, I said, ‘It’s Black History Month, guys. Let’s talk about it. What do you know about Black History Month?’ And they said, ‘Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,'” she recalls, shaking her head. “There’s so much more to our history.”

Hamilton mixed it up a bit this year, kicking off the month by picking the names of several Black heroes from South Africa and putting them into a cup for the cubs to pick: Chris Hani, Steve Biko, Mamphela Ramphele and Tsietsi Mashinini, among them. The Lion King is set in South Africa, after all.

“They make me very proud. It’s like a game. It’s not anything that’s homework. Learning can be fun,” she said.

It’s a fitting ritual for a show in which Africa is celebrated and there are six Indigenous languages sung and spoken: Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana and Congolese.

“The Lion King is steeped in ritual tradition, tribal things. Even the fabrics that we wear in the show have tribal markings, the mask, the makeup — all of it is tribal,” said Hamilton.

The ceremony clearly honors a legacy of greatness — updated, naturally, as the inclusion of gymnast Simone Biles can attest — but also teaches the children to respect how they got here.

“They have to know that there was a time when we weren’t allowed to perform on stage or, if we were, we couldn’t walk into the front door of the theater,” said Hamilton.

“It is a privilege to be able to share your gifts on the world’s largest stage. And that’s what I try to instill in them because we weren’t always able to do it.”

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US Announces Steps to Bolster Critical Mineral Supply Chain US China Materials

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday actions taken by the federal government and private industry that it says will bolster the supply chain of rare earths and other critical minerals used in technologies from household appliances and electronics to defense systems. They say these steps will reduce the nation’s dependence on China, a major producer of these elements. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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American Women Players Settle Suit Against US Soccer for $24M

U.S. women soccer players reached a landmark agreement with the sport’s American governing body to end a six-year legal battle over equal pay, a deal in which they are promised $24 million plus bonuses that match those of the men.

The U.S. Soccer Federation and the women announced a deal Tuesday that will have players split $22 million, about one-third of what they had sought in damages. The USSF also agreed to establish a fund with $2 million to benefit the players in their post-soccer careers and charitable efforts aimed at growing the sport for women.

The USSF committed to providing an equal rate of pay for the women’s and men’s national teams — including World Cup bonuses — subject to collective bargaining agreements with the unions that separately represent the women and men.

“For our generation, knowing that we’re going to leave the game in an exponentially better place than when we found it is everything,” 36-year-old midfielder Megan Rapinoe said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “That’s what it’s all about because, to be honest, there is no justice in all of this if we don’t make sure it never happens again.”

The settlement was a victory for the players, who sparked fans to chant “Equal Pay!” when they won their second straight title in France in 2019. And it was a success for USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former player who became head of the federation in March 2020.

Cone replaced Carlos Cordeiro, who quit after the federation made a legal filing that claimed women had less physical ability and responsibility than male counterparts.

“This is just one step towards rebuilding the relationship with the women’s team. I think this is a great accomplishment and I’m excited about the future and working together with them,” Cone said. “Now we can shift the focus to other things, most importantly, growing the game at all levels and increasing opportunities for girls and women.”

U.S. women have won four World Cups since the program’s start in 1985, while the men haven’t reached a semifinal since 1930.

Five American stars led by Morgan and Rapinoe began the challenge with a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April 2016. Women sued three years later, seeking damages under the federal Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The sides settled the working conditions portion in December 2020, dealing with issues such as charter flights, accommodations and playing surfaces. They were scheduled to argue on March 7 before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to reinstate the equal pay portion thrown out by a U.S. District Court.

“The settlement announced today is an important step in righting the many wrongs of the past,” the union for the women’s team said in a statement.

While a labor contract remains to be reached and ratified to replace the deal that expires March 31, the settlement was an enormous step.

“It’s so gratifying to feel like we can start to mend a relationship with U.S. Soccer that has been severed for so many years because of the discrimination that we faced,” said Morgan, a 32-year-old forward. “To finally get to this moment feels like we can almost sigh a breath of relief.”

Players were able to put off the legal distractions to continue on-field success.

“The additional hours and stress and outside pressures and discriminations we face, I mean sometimes you think why the hell was I born a female?” Morgan posed. “And then sometimes you think how incredible is it to be able to fight for something that you actually believe in and stand alongside these women. … There was something more than stepping on the field and wanting to be a starter or wanting to score goals or wanting to win or wanting to have the glory.”

The $22 million will be split into individual amounts proposed by the players, subject to the District Court’s approval.

Cone said the federation’s method of equalizing World Cup bonuses is yet to be determined. The federation has until now based bonuses on payments from FIFA, which earmarked $400 million for the 2018 men’s tournament, including $38 million to champion France, and $30 million for the 2019 women’s tournament, including $4 million to the champion U.S.

American men have been playing under the terms of a CBA that expired in December 2018.

Rapinoe was critical of both Cordeiro and his predecessor, Sunil Gulati, who headed the USSF from 2006-18. Cordeiro is seeking to regain the job from Cone when the USSF National Council meets on March 5 to vote on a four-year term.

“The thing that Cindy did was acknowledge the wrongdoing and apologize for the wrongdoing,” Rapinoe said. “It was well within Sunil’s ability to not discriminate and to pay us fairly and equally. It was well within Carlos’ ability to do that, and they made choices not to. … I think Cindy has shown a lot of strength in that, and I think the other two, frankly, just showed a ton of weakness and showed really their true colors in allowing this to happen for so long.”

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Chile Museum to Return Easter Island ‘Head’

Chile’s National Museum of Natural History said Monday it will return to Easter Island an enormous stone statue taken from the Rapa Nui people and brought to the mainland 150 years ago. 

The monolith is one of hundreds, called Moai, carved by the Rapa Nui in honor of their ancestors and sometimes referred to as the Easter Island heads. 

The statues are today the island’s greatest tourist attraction, sculpted from basalt more than 1,000 years ago. 

The one being returned, dubbed Moai Tau, is a 715-kilogram (1,500-pound) giant brought by the Chilean navy some 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) across the Pacific in 1870. 

Eight years later, it was moved to the natural history museum to be displayed. 

The Rapa Nui, for whom the Moai represent the spirits of their ancestors, have been asking for the statue’s return for years — as well as other cultural treasures taken from their island. 

“For the Rapa Nui, their ancestors, funerary objects and ceremonial materials may be as alive as members of their communities themselves,” said a museum statement. 

The return of the monolith “is profoundly significant as a gesture towards our Indigenous peoples,” said museum curator Cristian Becker. 

With delays due to the coronavirus epidemic, the statue will finally depart from the port of Valparaiso next Monday on a trip of about five days to Easter Island, said the museum, “after a complex technical and diagnostic process” to guarantee its structural integrity. 

A traditional ceremony was held at the museum Monday to send the statue safely on its way. 

“It is essential that the Moai return to my homeland. For them (the community) and for me, this day is very much awaited,” said Veronica Tuqui, a Rapa Nui representative. 

Back on Easter Island, the Moai will be exhibited at the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum. 

The Rapa Nui community has also asked the British Museum in London to return another Moai, dubbed Hoa Hakananai’a, that was taken in 1868 from Orongo, a ceremonial village on Easter Island. 

The Rapa Nui in 2017 gained self-administration over their ancestral lands on Easter Island, a special territory of Chile. 


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Kamau Bell Addresses Bill Cosby’s Complex Legacy in ‘We Need to Talk About Cosby’

Kamau Bell’s four-part documentary “We Need to Talk About Cosby” addresses the rise and fall of African American comedian Bill Cosby from revered ‘America’s Dad’ to an alleged sexual predator. Bell, a comedian himself and a show host, told VOA’s Penelope Poulou that countless people, especially African Americans, were shocked when Cosby, who promoted family values and education, was accused by dozens of women of sexually assaulting them.

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Huge Opal Sells for Nearly $144,000 at Alaska Auction

A gemstone, billed as one of the largest gem-quality opals in existence, was sold for $143,750 at auction in Alaska on Sunday. 

The opal, dubbed the “Americus Australis,” weighs more than 11,800 carats, according to the auction house Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals. It also has a long history.

Most recently, it was kept in a linen closet in a home in Big Lake, north of Anchorage, by Fred von Brandt, who mines for gold in Alaska and whose family has deep roots in the gem and rock business. 

The opal is larger than a brick and is broken into two pieces, which von Brandt said was a practice used decades ago to prove gem quality.

Von Brandt said the stone has been in his family since the late 1950s, when his grandfather bought it from an Australian opal dealer named John Altmann.  

Von Brandt said the opal for decades was in the care of his father, Guy von Brandt, who decided it had been “locked up long enough, that it’s time to put it back out in the world and see what interest it can generate.”

“He entrusted me to figure out which direction we wanted to go to part with the stone,” von Brandt told The Associated Press.  

The family, with roots in California, exhibited the stone at gem shows for years, until the early 1980s, he said. His father then branched out into furniture and displayed it at his shop. Guy von Brandt eventually moved to Oregon and kept the stone “kind of tucked away” for many years, von Brandt said.

Von Brandt said he brought it with him to Alaska over a year ago as he weighed the best approach to a possible sale. He said he went with Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals because he thought it would get more attention from the newer company than a larger auction house.  

Nick Cline, a partner and appraisal specialist with Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals, said the family has documentation surrounding the provenance of the opal. As part of his research, he contacted Fiona Altmann, granddaughter of John Altmann and general manager of Altmann + Cherny in Sydney, Australia.

Altmann said her grandfather, in his business dealings, made regular trips to Europe and the U.S.  

Altmann said when Cline emailed her, she was skeptical; the name of the stone, in particular, threw her. But she said she started digging and discovered “something with my grandfather’s handwriting with the picture of the opal with the word ‘Americus Australis.'”

“I with 100% certainty know that their provenance information is 100% accurate” because it lines up with information she has, she said.

The auction house said the stone was discovered in the same field in Australia as the opal known as the “Olympic Australis,” which weighs 17,000 carats and is on permanent display in Altmann’s shop. The Olympic had been among the stones that John Altmann and partner Rudi Cherny acquired in 1956, according to Altmann’s company.  

The auction company sought a minimum bid of $125,000 during Sunday’s auction. Cline said it was a “calculated risk,” with the company going with what it sees as a conservative approach in hopes of garnering the most attention.

“We were honored to conduct the auction of this unique, one-of-a-kind specimen,” Cline said after the auction.  

The sale included a smaller piece of the opal that von Brandt said his father cut off to be worn or displayed.

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Africa’s Biggest International Contemporary Art Fair Opens Doors

Africa’s biggest international contemporary art fair has opened its doors to the public for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. The Investec Cape Town Art Fair went online last year, but this year has nearly 100 artists exhibiting works in-person from 20 countries.

“It’s absolutely a joy to be back to almost real life,” said Laura Vincenti, director of the art fair. “I mean, we have had two years that have been very tough, but the art community have been very supportive. And this city and South Africa needed an event to reconnect people, so we are very grateful to everyone.”

This is the ninth year the fair is being held, but was hosted online last year due to COVID-19.

“It’s been a long journey since the beginning, but now the fair is on an international calendar. We got a lot of exhibitors from overseas. Like many, more than a thousand collectors coming just for this week to Cape Town,” Vincenti said.

Franco-Benin ceramicist King Houndekinkou, speaking from Benin, said he was extremely grateful to have his work shown at the fair, which is held in the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

“Wow, well it’s a blessing to be still here, first of all, and to still be having a career and still be showing and to have people wanting to still show the work after this time that we had where everyone was in lockdown — so yeah, it’s great! I’m happy!” he said.

Nigerian art lover Usen Obot flew in especially to see the show.

“I would say it’s like getting back to life because, for me as an artist and a gallery owner, seeing images is OK, but seeing the real thing is the real deal,” Obot said.

Fundraiser Tanya Townsend was there to make connections for a children’s home that runs an art program.

“It’s absolutely amazing. You just realize how starved you’ve been over the last two years. And just to see the buzz here. I didn’t know what to expect and it’s so vast,” Townsend said. “And you know we South Africans just love foreigners and coming to our beautiful city on this gorgeous sunny day. It’s just so thrilling. It’s fantastic.”

Vincetti said the fair is a hybrid event this year, so there is still an online component.

“Of course, with the difficulties of traveling and also the fear for many people especially from Europe and America to travel to South Africa, they have a chance to go online and see the fair online,” she said. “So what we are showing on our digital platform is exactly what you’d find at the fair. The same galleries, the same works. You can purchase or you can browse and see what’s going on.”

The fair ends Feb. 20, 2022.

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Young Asian American Figure Skaters See Themselves in US Olympians

Jumping, spinning and landing back on the ice, the young figure skaters at the Fairfax Ice Arena in a Washington, D.C., suburb have big dreams.

“My future goal is to reach the Olympics,” said Sherry Naree Wester. The 8-year-old’s mother is from Thailand, and her father is a white American.

“And I want a scholarship for college,” said Jada Wong, 9. Her mom immigrated from Hong Kong, and her dad was born in a Chinese immigrant family in the United States.

The girls love the sheer beauty of figure skating, the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing challenging movements, and the fact that so many members of the 2022 U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team are also Asian American.

“My favorite is Karen Chen. I like her combination spin of the layback and haircutter to Biellmann. And for her jump, I really like her triple lutz,” said Wester, rattling off the technical names of moves that make arena audiences gasp, then applaud.

Inspiration is making representation a reality among Asian Americans in figure skating.

Nathan Chen, the first Asian American to win gold in men’s figure skating, said that Michelle Kwan inspired him as a child. A five-time World Champion (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003) and a nine-time U.S. champion, (1996, 1998–2005), Kwan earned a silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Games and a bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

“For me, growing up in Salt Lake City and having a face like Michelle Kwan was really inspirational,” said Chen at a victory press conference in Beijing.

“And I know that having athletes that look like you certainly gives you the hope that you can do the same, and Michelle Kwan certainly was that for me.”

For the past two winter Olympics, the USA figure skating team has been dominated by Asian American athletes.

This year, four out of six figure skaters on the U.S. team are Asian American: Karen Chen, Nathan Chen, Alysa Liu and Vincent Zhou. Madison Chock, another Asian American, represents America in ice dancing. At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, seven of the 14 U.S. figure skaters were Asian American.

Their presence has been decades in the making. Thirty-some years ago, Asian Americans were nearly nonexistent on the ice rink.

Tiffany Chin was the first Asian American to win the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1985.

Figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi was the first Asian American woman to win a gold medal in Winter Olympic competition when she finished first in women’s singles at the 1992 winter games in Albertville, France. She also won two World Figure Skating Championships (1991 and 1992).

Susan Brownell, an anthropology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who studies Chinese sports, and a former track and field athlete herself, told VOA Mandarin in an email that European American parents often prefer for their children to engage in physically harsher sports, for example football and baseball for boys, and soccer for girls. But Asian American parents don’t value the aggressiveness and competitiveness of these sports.

“They are more concerned about their children facing injury, and they appreciate the aesthetic nature of figure skating. So they are more likely to encourage their children to take up figure skating,” Brownell said.

“Over the last decade, the numbers of Asian Americans – some Japanese, but mostly Chinese – at the grassroots level (have) increased rapidly, and this has been feeding more and more Asian Americans into the development pipeline. All indications are that these numbers will continue to increase rapidly,” she added.

Heidi Grappendorf, an associate professor of sport management at Western Carolina University, suggested that Asian Americans may see figure skating as a way into competitive sports.

“Figure skating provides a more welcoming and accepting atmosphere and culture without potential stereotypes than, for example, American football or even basketball,” she said in an email to VOA Mandarin. Grappendorf added, “Stating that Asians are good at figure skating because of their body type is ridiculous and racist.”

For every skater aiming high, the sport can punish a family budget. Brownell, who figure skates recreationally, told VOA Mandarin that costs for ambitious athletes add up with rink practice, coaching, clothing and equipment, club dues, competition entry fees and travel expenses quickly soaring to thousands of dollars annually.

Only a handful of top figure skaters have sponsorships, she added, and those competing internationally and nationally can apply for stipends from U.S. Figure Skating, the sport’s national governing body. The organization provides a total of $750,000 annually, with stipends ranging from a few thousand dollars to as much as $40,000, according to Brownell’s estimate.

And while Grappendorf suggested that because “Asian Americans’ access to resources and income may be greater,” costs are less likely to thwart aspirations, Brownell said that at her skating club, many working-class parents supported their children in the sport by holding down multiple jobs.

Wendy Zhai-Brown, whose 8-year-old daughter, Bethany Brown, takes pride in landing her jumps and finishing her spins correctly, said “Skating is indeed expensive, but it’s not like Asians can afford it easily. We need to consider and balance different aspects of life.”

She added, “I think, in general, Asians … consider education as investment. Education is not just about what you learn from the textbooks in the classroom. Sports are a long-term investment in children’s physical and mental well-being.”

And any family with a figure skater in mix makes a significant time commitment to encourage their athletes, said Zhai-Brown, who left a job in commercial insurance to become a real estate agent so she could have a flexible schedule to meet her daughter’s training timetable.

“I get up at 5:45 a.m. every day, prepare her breakfast and pack her lunch,” said Zhai-Brown of her daily routine in suburban Virginia. “I wake Bethany up at 6:15, get to the ice rink at 7:20, and then she will do two practice sessions from 7:30 to 8:50. Then we basically run to the car and I’ll drive her to school. Usually we will get there at 9:15, and 9:20 is the latest arrival time.”

“So, it’s a war every morning,”

Some kids, such as Sherry Naree Wester, return to the Fairfax Ice Arena to practice after school. They train every morning and afternoon, six days a week.

That practice, practice, and more practice attitude is the biggest determinant of success in figure skating, said Adriana DeSanctis, a coach at the Fairfax rink.

“The kids that are really succeeding are the kids that are on the ice all the time regardless of their race or ethnicity.”



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US, Allies Warn Possible Russian Cyberattacks Could Reverberate Globally 

The United States and its Western allies are bracing for the possibility that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would have a ripple effect in cyberspace, even if Western entities are not initially the intended target.

“I am absolutely concerned,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco told the virtual Munich Cyber Security Conference on Thursday when asked about the chances of catastrophic spillover from a cyberattack on Ukraine.

“It’s not hypothetical,” Monaco said, pointing to the June 2017 “NotPetya” virus, engineered by Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU.

The virus initially targeted a Ukrainian accounting website but went on to hobble companies around the world, including Danish shipping giant Maersk and U.S.-based FedEx.

“Companies of any size and of all sizes would be foolish not to be preparing right now,” Monaco said. “They need to be shields-up and really be on the most heightened level of alert.”

Monaco is not the first high-ranking U.S. official to warn that potential Russian actions in cyberspace might reverberate in unexpected ways.

“We’ve seen this play before,” U.S. National Cyber Director Chris Inglis warned a virtual audience earlier this month. Like Monaco, he alluded to the NotPetya attack: “It got out of its reservoir, so to speak, and it then eviscerated broad swaths of infrastructure across Europe and across the United States.”

U.S. Homeland Security Department officials said that for the moment, there were no specific or credible threats indicating an attack like NotPetya is about to be unleashed against the United States. But they said they were not taking any chances and were closely collaborating with Ukraine and other allies, just in case.

Russia’s record

“We are all hands on deck,” Homeland Security Undersecretary Robert Silvers told the Munich Cyber Security Conference on Thursday.

“It’s no secret that Russia has proven itself willing to use cyber means to achieve its broader geopolitical objectives,” Silvers added, pointing to Russia’s attack on Ukraine’s energy grid in 2015.

Some officials remained concerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin would give the order to target countries beyond Ukraine as part of any military action against Ukraine.

“I don’t think Ukraine is his goal,” said Jaak Tarien, the director of NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Estonia.

“Putin said in 2007 at the Munich Security Conference that he is sick and tired of the existing security architecture and he wants to change that, and he’s still at it,” Tarien told Thursday’s cybersecurity conference. His goal is “to get U.S. allies to fight amongst each other and disrupt our unity. So cyber is a really, really good way to do that.”

U.S. agencies are likewise worried that as tensions escalate, Russia may be tempted to ramp up cyber operations.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the FBI and the National Security Agency issued a joint advisory warning that Kremlin-linked actors might use a variety of techniques to target U.S. defense contractors. 

Not all cyber experts are convinced Russia will resort to cyberattacks to hurt the West, even if the U.S. and its allies make good on promises to hit Moscow with severe economic sanctions.

“I don’t think that cyber [attacks] from state actors is going to be the first or the preferred mechanism for response,” Dmitri Alperovitch, the co-founder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, told the Munich Cyber Security Conference.

“Russia has enormous leverage in the economic sphere, even outside of cyber, to respond through export control measures, for example, on critical materials like aluminum and uranium and titanium and palladium and many other things that will do a lot to hurt the U.S. economy and the global economy,” he said.

Alperovitch also cautioned that Russia might be willing to let cybercriminals do the work instead, perhaps releasing a number of ransomware actors it has arrested in recent weeks.

“That would send an unmistakable, even unspoken message to the Russian cybercrime ecosystem that it’s open season on Western organizations,” he said.

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Tesla Faces Another US Investigation: Unexpected Braking

U.S. auto safety regulators have launched another investigation of Tesla, this time tied to complaints that its cars can come to a stop for no apparent reason.  

The government says it has 354 complaints from owners during the past nine months about “phantom braking” in Tesla Models 3 and Y. The probe covers an estimated 416,000 vehicles from the 2021 and 2022 model years.  

No crashes or injuries were reported. 

The vehicles are equipped with partially automated driver-assist features, such as adaptive cruise control and “Autopilot,” which allow them to automatically brake and steer within their lanes. 

Documents posted Thursday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say the vehicles can unexpectedly brake at highway speeds.  

“Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, and often repeatedly during a single drive cycle,” the agency said. 

Many owners in the complaints say they feared a rear-end crash on a freeway. 

The probe is another enforcement effort by the agency that include Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” software. Despite their names, neither feature can legally drive the vehicles without people supervising. 

Messages were left Thursday seeking comment from Tesla. 

It’s the fourth formal investigation of the Texas automaker in the past three years, and NHTSA is supervising 15 Tesla recalls since January 2021. In addition, the agency has sent investigators to at least 33 crashes involving Teslas using driver-assist systems since 2016 in which 11 people were killed. 

In one of the complaints, a Tesla owner from Austin, Texas, reported that a Model Y on Autopilot brakes repeatedly for no reason on two-lane roads and freeways. 

“The phantom braking varies from a minor throttle response to decrease speed to full emergency braking that drastically reduces the speed at a rapid pace, resulting in unsafe driving conditions for occupants of my vehicle as well as those who might be following behind me,” the owner wrote in a complaint filed February 2. People who file complaints are not identified in NHTSA’s public database.  

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been fighting with U.S. and California government agencies for years, sparring with NHTSA and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  

Last week, NHTSA made Tesla recall nearly 579,000 vehicles in the U.S. because a “Boombox” function can play sounds over an external speaker and obscure audible warnings for pedestrians of an approaching vehicle. Musk, when asked on Twitter why the company agreed to the recall, responded: “The fun police made us do it (sigh).” 

Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said it’s encouraging to see NHTSA’s enforcement actions “after years of turning the other way,” with Tesla. But he said the company keeps releasing software onto U.S. roads that isn’t tested to make sure it’s safe. 

“A piecemeal investigative approach to each problem that raises its head does not address the larger issue in Tesla’s safety culture — the company’s continued willingness to beta test its technology on the American public while misrepresenting the capabilities of its vehicles,” Brooks wrote in an email Thursday. 

Other recent recalls by Tesla were for “Full Self-Driving” equipped vehicles that were programmed to run stop signs at slow speeds, heating systems that don’t clear windshields quickly enough, seat belt chimes that don’t sound to warn drivers who aren’t buckled up, and to fix a feature that allows movies to play on touch screens while cars are being driven. Those issues were to be fixed with online software updates. 

In August, NHTSA announced a probe of Teslas on Autopilot failing to stop for emergency vehicles parked on roadways. That investigation covers a dozen crashes that killed one person and injured 17 others.  

Thursday’s investigation comes after Tesla recalled nearly 12,000 vehicles in October for a similar phantom braking problem. The company sent out an online software update to fix a glitch with its more sophisticated “Full Self-Driving” software. 

Tesla did a software update in late September that was intended to improve detection of emergency vehicle lights in low-light conditions. 

Selected Tesla drivers have been beta testing the “Full Self-Driving” software on public roads. NHTSA also has asked the company for information about the testing, including a Tesla requirement that testers not disclose information. 


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African Immigrant’s Pizzeria in Italy Named World’s Top 50

Who says you have to be born in Italy to make excellent pizza? Ibrahim Songne, a West African now living in northern Italy, has successfully challenged that assumption. VOA’s Betty Ayoub has the story.

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Google Changes Android Tracking, Data Sharing

Google said Wednesday it plans to limit tracking and data sharing for users of its Android operating system, which is used by over 2.5 billion people around the world.

The change, which won’t take effect for at least two years, comes in response to growing pressure on tech companies to increase privacy by limiting tracking.

Google, which dominates the online advertising market, currently assigns IDs to each Android device and then collects highly valuable data on users that allows advertisers to target them with ads based on their interests and activities.

Google said it would test alternatives to those IDs or get rid of them entirely.

“These solutions will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID,” the company said in a blog post. “We’re also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection.”

“Our goal … is to develop effective and privacy-enhancing advertising solutions, where users know their information is protected, and developers and businesses have the tools to succeed on mobile,” Google added.

Google’s move follows Apple’s announcement last year that it would allow users to decide if they wanted to be tracked or not.

Google made $61 billion in advertising revenue in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to The Washington Post.

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