Egypt Restricts Rescue Flights, Rumsfeld Responds, Kangaroo Gas

EGYPT RESTRICTS UK RESCUE FLIGHTS

Egyptian authorities are restricting flights sent to rescue British tourists, who were stranded at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport after Saturday's crash of a Russian plane, the BBC reports. Some 20 flights were planned to take British tourists back home today, but it appears that only about eight will depart. According to The Guardian, people on board those flights are only being allowed to take hand luggage and are being asked to leave the rest in Egypt, after British investigators said they believed the Russian aircraft was brought down by a bomb placed in the hold just before it departed from Sharm el-Sheikh.

  • U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday that there is "a possibility that there was a bomb on board," echoing comments from British Prime Minister David Cameron that a terrorist bomb is the most likely explanation for the crash that killed all 224 people on board. Meanwhile, Russian and Egypt leaders are still being cautious in their comments, saying it's too early to draw conclusions.

  • The sometimes confusing and conflicting reports about last Saturday's plane crash could be explained by geopolitics, Bloomberg contributor Leonid Bershidsky writes: "No party is credible, because their self-interest is plain to see."

  • Both ordinary Russians and Kremlin officials are outraged about two cartoons published in the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo. "In our country we have a very loud word for this — blasphemy," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. "This has nothing to do with democracy, self-expression, nothing to do with anything — this is an abomination."

CHEMICAL WEAPONS EVIDENCE IN SYRIA

There is evidence that anti-Assad groups fighting in Syria have used chemical weapons against one another, according to a report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Reuters reports. The attack is believed to have taken place in August in the town of Marea, north of Aleppo, an area that ISIS controlled at the time. The report doesn't specify which group is responsible for the use of sulfur mustard, although ISIS has faced such accusations from Kurdish fighters in the past.

VERBATIM

"Bush 41 is getting up in years," former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in response to comments the senior George Bush made in his soon-to-be-published biography, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey Of George Herbert Walker Bush. In the book, he describes Rumsfeld as "an arrogant fellow" who served his son badly during his leadership. "I don't like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything," he says in the book. He also had harsh words for Dick Cheney, his son's vice president, whom he described as "very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with." Read more from The New York Times.

GERMANY TO SPEED THE ASYLUM PROCESS

The three parties in Germany's coalition government agreed yesterday on plans to speed up the asylum process and to build three to five reception centers where refugees will be required to wait until a decision has been made on their applications, Der Spiegel reports. But opposition parties said the move wouldn't guarantee a fair procedure, and questioned the feasibility of processing requests in a matter of weeks when it can take up to a year in other countries, according to Deutsche Welle.

  • Germany is expecting between 800,000 and one million refugees this year alone, despite growing worries about the influx and the potential lack of accommodations and resources. Official Interior Ministry figures published yesterday say that as many as 758,000 migrants have been registered so far this year.

  • Sweden, another primary destination for migrants, announced yesterday that it could no longer guarantee accommodation for new arrivals.

ON THIS DAY


Ready your clicking finger because we've got Tchaikovsky, Aussie royalty and Emma Stone in today's shot of history.

IRAN BANS AMERICAN PRODUCTS

In a bid to boost the purchase of domestic products ahead of economic sanctions being lifted, Iran has decided to "stop entry of American consumer goods and to prohibit products that symbolize the presence of the United States in the country," AFP reports.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

DID EXXONMOBIL LIE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?

The state of New York is investigating ExxonMobil to determine whether the oil and gas giant lied to the public and its investors about the risks and financial costs of climate change, The Washington Post reports. Investigators believe that public statements the company made may have contradicted its own scientific research into climate change and how it would affect the company. "We unequivocally reject the allegations that ExxonMobil has suppressed climate change research," the group's vice president for public affairs said.

THE SUN KILLED LIFE ON MARS

NASA scientists believe that both a much hotter sun billions of years ago and solar storms could explain why an Earth-like Mars lost 99% of its atmosphere and water.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

In our dreams, it's a world of joyful sharing. In reality, Internet commenters often offer little more than cheap shots and manipulation. As Nic Ulmi writes for Le Temps, researcher Joseph Reagle explores the history and degeneration of online invective in a new book. "In October 2000, two Silicon Valley engineers, James Hong and Jim Young, launched a website called ‘Hot or Not.' The idea was to get Internet users to post pictures of themselves so other users could judge their attractiveness on a scale from 1 to 10. The pair didn't really invent anything," Ulmi writes. "The websites RateMyFace and AmIHot had both launched shortly before, with the very same idea. But Hong and Young hit the jackpot on the click market: A week after their website launched, it was getting two million visits per day. But the commenting culture has been facing a fundamental crisis for the last few years. In 2012, New York software developer Dave Winer, often cited as the first to have made comments possible on a blog, deactivated the function on his own website, though has recently looked for a new way to bring them back."

Read the full article, The Dark, Decaying Underbelly Of Online Commenting.


SNAPSHOT

Photo: Agencia Estado/Xinhua/ZUMA

A dam burst yesterday at an iron ore mine near Mariana, Brazil, causing mudslides that killed at least 15 people. Forty-five people are still missing in the disaster, whose cause is still unknown.

TOOTING THEIR RESEARCH

"Aussie biologist Adam Munn gets very excited when he recounts the months he and his colleagues spent capturing kangaroo farts."

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


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