Biden-Xi Call, Denmark Lifts COVID Restrictions, Ig Nobel Prizes

Thousands of people have begun to return to their homes in Daraa, Syria, after the army entered the formerly rebel-held areas.

Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua/ZUMA
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Jambo!*

Welcome to Friday, where Biden and Xi Jinping hold their first call in seven months, Denmark becomes the first EU country to lift all COVID restrictions and an unexpected romance is making news in Spain. Die Welt reporter Daniel-Dylan Böhmer also meets with key Taliban officials in Kabul to give a glimpse of Afghanistan's (possible) future.

[*Swahili]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Joe Biden and Xi Jinping phone call: As tensions remain high between their two countries, the American and Chinese leaders had a strategic discussion on coordinating their efforts on climate change, the pandemic and other international issues. During the 90-minute call, cyber security was also a central issue, as the U.S. has accused China of massive ransomware attacks.

• COVID update: As many as 100 million Americans — close to two-thirds of the country's workforce — could now face vaccine mandates under new Biden administration requirements for federal employees, healthcare workers and large companies. Elsewhere, Denmark is the first EU country to lift all pandemic-related restrictions and Cuba has begun vaccinating children as young as two years old.

• Russia and Belarus open war games: NATO countries have raised the alarm about the week-long "Zapad-2021" exercise, which will involve hundreds of thousands of army personnel, tanks, aircrafts and ships to show off Russia's growing military might. With service members from Armenia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia also taking part, some are concerned of an accident that could launch an international crisis.

• Vietnam and Taiwan brace for twin tropical storms: The Asian nations are preparing for torrential rain, flooding and mudslides. Taiwan has issued a sea warning for Super Typhoon Chanthu, which will likely pass over the island tomorrow. Tropical storm Conson in the South China Sea will probably hit Vietnam on Sunday, impacting upwards of 800,000 people in the country's northern provinces.

• Latest Afghanistan evacuation effort: An international commercial flight carrying about 100 foreign nations has left Kabul Airport, the first large departure since all U.S. forces pulled out a week ago. Meanwhile, female demonstrators and journalists have been beaten and arrested by the Taliban, who have made protests illegal without government approval.

• Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline completed: The project, which will double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany, was constructed by Russian energy behemoth Gazprom. The 1,200-kilometer pipeline has been subject of international controversy for bypassing an existing route in the Ukraine and for its environmental impact.

• The Spanish bishop & Satanic erotic novelist: Spain's youngest bishop resigned after falling in love with a woman who writes Satanic-tinged erotic fiction.

A MESSAGE FROM INTERNATIONS

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

TIME magazine, 20 Years Ago

By the time United Airlines Flight 175 sliced into the second tower, news reporters and editors around the world knew they were facing the most monumental story of their lifetime. The Sept. 11 attacks forever changed the world, and put the powers of modern journalism, from real-time video coverage to deep news analysis (on deadline), to the test like never before. With events unfolding on that Tuesday morning in New York and Washington, newspapers around the world could go to print that evening with special editions for Sept. 12 that offered the proverbial "first draft of history" on their respective front pages.

To mark 20 years since the history-shifting attack, we've put together a worldwide collection of newspaper front pages and magazine covers from the day and days after.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

An exclusive glimpse into the Taliban's inner circle

Reporter Daniel-Dylan Böhmer of Die Welt gained access to key Taliban officials in Kabul, and visited the heavily armed security forces at the airport, to get a sense of what Afghanistan's future may hold.

🤝 No one knows what will become of Afghanistan. The radical Islamist Taliban have driven out the most powerful nations in the world and for the second time in three decades they have the opportunity to establish a new state. But what kind of state will that be? The Ministry for Peace declared its aim is reconciliation within Afghan society. At its head, Ahmadullah Ahmadzai, 38, insists that the call for reconciliation is sincere. There is no other way to solve the country's problems: unemployment, supply issues, lack of money.

🌐 Even staunchly secular Afghan experts recognize in the Taliban's current leadership a younger generation that is more modern in its thinking and behavior, a generation that wants to give the movement a new image. Perhaps the most important representative of this generation is Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. He says the most important thing for Afghanistan now is reconciliation and wellbeing, and that the government wants to boost the economy and create more jobs. To achieve this it will need help from the international community, including Germany.

⚠️ Mujahid knows that the international community will make respecting human rights a condition of any aid. That is why many onlookers suspect the Taliban is merely pretending to have changed its ways. Experts say that alongside the more moderate members, there are still of course hardliners in the movement, whose influence is particularly strong on young, less educated fighters in the provinces.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

37%

According to researchers from the University of Utah researchers behind the study, a bearded face can absorb 37% more energy than a clean-shaved one. For their hairy find (which explored whether beards served an evolutionary purpose to fare better in a fistfight), the scientists were awarded the 2021 Ig Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1991, science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research have held the annual competition to award amusing — yet real — research discoveries. This year's winners include an economist who found a high correlation between obesity rates and national corruption and a group that determined that the best way to transport a tranquilized rhinoceros is upside-down.

📣 VERBATIM

I can say: Yes, we should all be feminists.
— In a public discussion, Angela Merkel declared herself a "feminist" and defined her position on feminism after she had refused to give a clear answer on that topic a few years ago at a women's summit and had said she didn't want "labels." "I was a bit shyer when I said it. But it's more thought-out now," said the German chancellor. Merkel added that she wanted to leave office with a clear conscience after more than 15 years in power, knowing she had done what she could to improve her country's situation. Germans will vote on September 26 to elect a new parliament which will choose Merkel's successor.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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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


Keep reading... Show less
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