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National Spelling Bee 2021 to return in virtual format

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National Spelling Bee 2021 to return in virtual format

The Scripps National Spelling Bee will return this year in a mostly virtual format, with the in-person competition limited to a dozen finalists who will gather on an ESPN campus at Walt Disney World in Florida, Scripps announced Monday.

Last year’s bee was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the first time since World War II it had been called off. Organizers said they did not believe a large gathering at the bee’s longtime venue — a convention center outside Washington — would be possible this year for the competition’s usual date around Memorial Day.

Instead of compressing the entire competition into a week — spellers routinely refer to Bee Week as a highlight of their young lives — the bee will be stretched over several weeks. The preliminary rounds will be held in mid-June, the semifinals on June 27 and the ESPN-televised finals on July 8.

“We gave up on the idea of Bee Week early on because we knew we couldn’t bring hundreds of people to one location safely,” Carolyn Micheli, the bee’s interim executive director, told The Associated Press ahead of the announcement.

“We came up with what I think is a pretty exciting and creative way of structuring the competition across several weeks that will be fun for the kids, build excitement, and I think it’s a great way to cope with a difficult situation,” she added.

The cancellation of last year’s bee was a particularly cruel blow to eighth-graders who missed out on their final chance to compete after years of preparation. Top spellers routinely study obscure words, roots and language patterns for hours a day, sacrificing other activities and social life for a chance to become the national champion. Spellers are no longer eligible after they reach high school.

“A lot of spellers, including me, were really heartbroken when we couldn’t get the chance to actually go to Scripps and experience that entire week, that amazing experience again,” said Harini Logan, a 12-year-old seventh-grader from San Antonio who hopes to contend this year.

Several online bees were held last summer by other organizations to give opportunities to those eighth-graders, but none of those events held the prestige of the ESPN-televised Scripps competition, with its $50,000 top prize, national media exposure and nearly 100 years of history.

“I have never really stopped or slowed down,” Harini said of her bee preparation. “I have tried to keep my pace of work and study as consistent as I can keep it throughout these uncertain times.”

Scripps surveyed spellers and their families about what they’d like to see in the 2021 bee, and the overwhelming majority said they just wanted assurances that the competition would be held in some form, said Corrie Loeffler, the bee’s editorial director.

The bee will be limited to about 200 spellers — a 64% reduction from the 2019 event, which had 562 participants, and about half the number that had been planned for 2020. A wild-card program introduced in 2018 as an opportunity to bring in more spellers from highly competitive regions has been discontinued, meaning most spellers will have to use the traditional qualification route of winning regional bees.

Spellers who live in areas that lack sponsored regional bees can compete and earn a spot at nationals through online qualifying bees organized by Cincinnati-based Scripps.

Another change: There will be no written spelling and vocabulary test to narrow the field to 50 or so semifinalists. Virtual format notwithstanding, the bee will return to its roots as a purely oral spelling competition. That means Scripps will have to use more challenging words in the early rounds.

In the 2019 bee, the words used in the final rounds became a major issue. Scripps had to use the most difficult words on its list just to identify a group of prime-time finalists, and the bee ended in an eight-way tie because organizers didn’t want the competition to be decided by physical endurance as it dragged late into the night. That result drew criticism from those who said Scripps relies too heavily on words that entertain the TV audience but don’t present meaningful challenges to the spellers.

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Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters turns down big bucks for Facebook ad

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Pink Floyd's Roger Waters turns down big bucks for Facebook ad

Roger Waters has revealed that Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg offered him big bucks to use Pink Floyd’s classic 1979 anthem “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” in an Instagram ad.

However, the co-founding member of the iconic rock band turned the “little p–k” down flat — with a cantankerously foulmouthed touch.

“It arrived this morning, with an offer for a huge, huge amount of money,” the 77-year-old bassist and composer said at a recent pro-Julian Assange event, Rolling Stone reported. “And the answer is, ‘F–k you. No f–in’ way.’”

He continued: “I only mention that because this is an insidious movement of them to take over absolutely everything. I will not be a party to this bull—t, Zuckerberg.”

This isn’t the first time the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer faced the prospect of his jams being used for promotional purposes.

‘Here he is, one of the most powerful idiots in the world.’

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg

However, way back in the mid-’70s, Waters didn’t balk at providing the theme song for Dole bananas as well as an ad for the French soft drink Gini, according to Far Out Magazine. Why? It helped make rising concert ticket prices cheaper for their fans. Still, the experience reportedly resulted in the band refusing to allow their music to be used going forward in any advertisements that weren’t for a “good cause.”

At the Assange event last week, Waters read a heated letter stating his position on social media monopolies and manipulation. (Warning: The clip below features strong language.)

“We feel that the core sentiment of this song is still so prevalent and so necessary today, which speaks to how timeless the work is,” Rogers said, Insider reported.

He also claimed Zuck’s company wanted to “make Facebook and Instagram more powerful than it already is … so that it can continue to censor all of us in this room and prevent this story about Julian Assange getting out into the general public so the general public can go, ‘What? No. No More.’”

The rock icon also took aim at Zuckerberg’s original creation: His now rarely mentioned predecessor website, FaceMash, which let users vote on the attractiveness of female Harvard classmates.

“How did this little p—k who started out as ‘she’s pretty, we’ll give her a four out of five, she’s ugly, we’ll give her a four out of five,’ how did we give him any power?” Waters spewed. “And yet here he is, one of the most powerful idiots in the world.”

Facebook has not responded to requests for comment.

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Apple releases highly-anticipated, secret Beats earbuds

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Apple releases highly-anticipated, secret Beats earbuds

After years of anticipation and weeks of rumors, Apple has finally released the Beats Studio Buds. 

The existence of the secret headphones — which Apple sleuths have been excitedly expecting since 2014 — was at last confirmed on Monday when they also became available to order. The sleek new ear gear costs $149.99 on Apple.com and comes in the classic Beats colors of black, white and red. They will begin to ship on June 24. 

“Studio Buds is our tiniest, most subtle form factor to date, yet keeps Beats’ promise of delivering an immersive sound experience in a beautiful design,” said Beats and Apple Music vice president Oliver Schusser in a press release. “In building a product this small, every minute detail was considered, analyzed and selected to optimize for sound quality, comfort and durability.” 

The Buds feature one-touch pairing, have up to eight hours of battery life and two listening modes, active noise canceling mode and Transparency mode, the latter for “when you need to hear the world around you,” according to the press release. 

To experience the full capacity of the technology, Beats head of acoustics Todd Parker recommends listening to Saweetie’s “Best Friend,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” and Daft Punk’s “Doin’ It Right.” 

Ahead of Monday’s announcement, various celebrities were spotted sporting the previously unreleased gear, including LeBron James and soccer star Alex Morgan. Apple obsessives have also found evidence of the headphones’ development in Federal Communications Commission’s reports and internal reference numbers over the years. 

“The Beats Studio Buds might be the most leaked earbuds in the history of earbuds that have leaked,” postulated one industry website on Friday. “They’re a thing, but they aren’t. They will be, but they aren’t yet. Except they are because people keep having their photos taken while they’re wearing them. But they aren’t a thing yet.”

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Kevin Hart slams cancel culture cops: ‘Shut the f–k up!

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Kevin Hart slams cancel culture cops: 'Shut the f--k up!

‘Nobody’s perfect’ seems to be the rallying cry of those opposed to cancel culture — including Kevin Hart.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, the comedian and actor attacked the internet trend, saying, “Shut the f–k up!”

Cancel culture — the viral phenomenon of “cancelling” people, brands, companies, and shows because of problematic ideologies either from the past or present — has changed comedy, according to Hart, 41. Things that used to be funny or accepted are now cancellable, and the possibility of old stand-up bits and tweets resurfacing could “bite you in the ass.”

The only way to grow, he said, is to mess up and learn from it.

“If you allow it to have an effect on you, it will. Personally? That’s not how I operate,” Hart told the UK outlet. “I understand people are human. Everyone can change.”

Hart, having been cancelled a number of times in recent years, also reflected on stepping down from hosting the Oscars in 2019 after receiving backlash on the internet over homophobic tweets and old jokes.

He posted a lengthy apology on his Instagram after the debacle, reemphasizing the need for personal growth that comes from learning from mistakes.

Hart isn’t the first celebrity to mock cancel culture, though. Last month, Chris Rock blamed the trend for creating “boring” entertainment because people are playing it too “safe.” Both comedians echoed similar sentiments about cancel culture transforming the comedy sector.

While the cancel culture trend gained traction the last few years — most notably with Ellen DeGeneres and J.K. Rowling in 2020 — this year, even Dr. Seuss was subject to cancel culture. In March, the books’ publisher announced they were pulling the licensing to six titles due to offensive depictions of black and Asian characters.

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