4.12.2024

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Good morning. It's Friday, April 12, and we're covering the death of a divisive football star, a sweeping fraud scheme in Vietnam, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

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Need To Know
 

OJ Simpson Dies

Former NFL star OJ Simpson died Wednesday at the age of 76 after a battle with prostate cancer, his family announced. Off the field, Simpson was charged with and acquitted of the double murder of his ex-wife and her friend.

 

He was arrested in 1994—following one of the most famous police chases in US history—for allegedly killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The subsequent trial, dubbed "the trial of the century," ended in his acquittal but sparked debates on race, domestic abuse, celebrity privilege, and more. He was later found liable for their deaths in a civil trial and separately spent nine years in prison for unrelated armed robbery and kidnapping charges.

 

A Heisman Trophy winner, Simpson was the first NFL running back to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season in 1973 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. He switched to acting and went on to appear in multiple films, including three “Naked Gun” movies.

 

See New York Times original coverage of the trial here.

 

Fraud Death Sentence

Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced to death yesterday for siphoning $12.5B from Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank. It is the largest fraud case in Vietnam’s history and comes amid a government-led crackdown on corruption.

 

Lan is the 68-year-old chairwoman of Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group, a real estate firm tied to high-end properties (see list). From 2011 to 2022, Lan used shell companies and proxies to gain control of over 90% of SCB. She then secured loan approvals to ghost companies, tapping SCB for cash and stealing the equivalent of over 3% of Vietnam’s gross domestic product. Her loans accounted for 93% of SCB’s total lending. Lan and co-conspirators were also convicted of bribing officials $5.2M to overlook violations.

 

The trial comes as Vietnam’s Communist Party engages in “blazing furnace,” a campaign to crack down on corruption amid its effort to attract foreign investment. Vietnam allows for the death penalty for violent and white-collar crimes and is believed to trail China and Iran as the world’s third-biggest executioner.

 

Gun Background Check Expansion

The Department of Justice expanded the definition of who counts as a firearms dealer and must conduct background checks in the US yesterday as part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The legislation was passed in the aftermath of the 2022 Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

 

The country's 80,000 licensed dealers must conduct background checks on buyers to determine if they are prohibited from gun possession for past crimes and more (see restrictions). Previously, dealers were defined as those who earned their primary income from sales, while the new rule includes anyone who sells guns primarily to earn a profit, which will include an estimated 20,000 sellers dealing online, at gun shows, or privately. Gun rights groups are expected to challenge the law. 

 

Researchers say there's moderate evidence background checks reduce gun homicide rates. Out of 40 million such checks in 2021, roughly 150,000 were denied. Nearly 68,000 illegally trafficked firearms were sold via unlicensed dealers between 2017 and 2021. 

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> The 2023-24 NBA regular season wraps up this weekend; see latest standings and playoff picture (More) | US federal investigators accuse MLB star Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter of stealing $16M from Ohtani (More)

> Taro Akebono, American-born sumo wrestling icon, dies at 54 (More) | DJ Mister Cee, longtime radio host and hip-hop pioneer, dies at 57 (More)

> The 2024 Cannes Film Festival (May 14-25) lineup announced, headlined by films from Francis Ford Coppola and Paul Schrader; see full festival lineup (More)

 

Science & Technology

In partnership with Qualia Mind

> AI startup Humane releases its widely anticipated Ai Pin, a wearable badge that doubles as an AI-powered smart device (More) | Study suggests some peer reviewers of academic papers may be using chatbots to provide feedback (More)

> Scientists pinpoint how cells untangle overwound strands of DNA, avoiding potential errors in copying and reading its genetic information; applications include treatments for bacterial infections and new anticancer drugs (More)

> Google's DeepMind unveils robots capable of playing soccer after being trained on the rules via a type of machine learning known as deep reinforcement learning (More, w/video)

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Business & Markets

> US stock markets close mixed (S&P 500 +0.7%, Dow -0.0%, Nasdaq +1.7%); Nasdaq closes at record high as technology shares climb, rebounding from earlier concerns over inflation (More) | Apple shares rise 4% in best day since May 2023 (More

> Investment bank Morgan Stanley's shares close down more than 5% on report that multiple federal regulators are investigating its wealth management unit (More

> Sam Bankman-Fried, former cryptocurrency mogul, appeals fraud conviction for crimes connected to the collapse of his now-defunct trading platform FTX (More) | See previous write-up (More)

 

Politics & World Affairs

> Russian airstrikes destroy major power plant in Kyiv, Ukraine, and damage power infrastructures in Lviv and Odesa (More) | Ukrainian parliament passes military mobilization law; measures include tightening registration rules and introducing penalties for evading service (More) | Alexei Navalny's posthumous memoir to be published in October (More)

> Sen. Bob Menendez's (D-NJ) bribery trial to be separated from his wife's, federal judge rules; Menendez's trial over obstruction, bribery charges to begin May 6, while his wife's trial tentatively pushed to July (More)

> Harvard reinstates standardized test scores for candidates seeking admission to the school, following other Ivy Leagues in rolling back pandemic-era policy (More) | See previous write-up (More)

 

In-Depth

> Life Below the Sea

MIT Reader | James Powell. The discovery that deep-sea life feeds off ocean vents led to discoveries of million-year-old microbes living thousands of meters below the ocean floor—and what that means for extraterrestrial life. (Read)

 

> A Nationwide Mental Health Experiment

Politico | Daniel Payne. Persistent declines in youth mental health have sparked a patchwork of initiatives to stem the tide around the US, from lawsuits against social media companies to calls for communal transformation. (Read)

> Sinking the General Belgrano

LRB Podcast | Andrew O'Hagan. (Podcast) A sailor's diary reveals details from the Falklands War's most violent day, when the UK's HMS Conqueror torpedoed Argentina's General Belgrano cruiser in 1982, killing over 300 people. (Listen)

 

> Narwhal Anatomy

Real Science | Lorraine Boissoneault. The unknown purpose of the toothed whale's singular, myth-inspiring tusk is just one of the deep-diving creature's fascinating biological quirks. (Watch)

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Etcetera
 

Stunning new frescos discovered in Pompeii.

 

AI-generated "Dune"-inspired song from new platform Udio. (w/audio)

 

"HELP" message leads to remote island rescue.

 

Italy angles to attract digital nomads.

 

Sorority sisters save a drowning mother and her kids.

 

Thieves amass a Lego stash worth $300K

 

Explaining the viral food-grade glycine meme.

 

Does mewing sculpt your jawline?

 

Clickbait: The push from gaming to gardening.

 

Historybook: American Red Cross founder Clara Barton dies (1912); Franklin D. Roosevelt dies (1945); David Letterman born (1947); Yuri Gagarin becomes first person in space (1961); Boxing great Joe Louis dies (1981). 

"Enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's freedom."

- Franklin D. Roosevelt

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