- Putin’s playbook, from Syria to Ukraine
- What the West got wrong about Russia
- AI on the battlefield
- … and much more.
What do you remember from the news this week?
1. In his speech to the Bundestag, which two episodes from German history did Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky evoke?
2. What natural phenomenon turned the skies red and orange across Europe this week?
3. Which country is topping the large-scale, data survey-based World Happiness Report for the fifth year in a row?
4. What did an “unlucky” American football fan buy for $518,628 this week?
[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]
The Line Between State Propaganda And Fake News
The story of Marina Ovsyannikova is remarkable for multiple reasons. When the TV journalist burst onto Russia’s most popular (state-run) nightly news broadcast with an anti-war sign, the world saw what one French commentator this week called: “an example of political courage, par excellence.”
In the face of new harsh laws with long prison sentences — or far worse — for anyone defying Vladimir Putin’s official line on the invasion of Ukraine, the 43-year-old Channel One veteran used her privilege to follow her conscience.
A video Ovsyannikova made earlier to explain her action offered a closer look at both her conscience, and courage: "What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime … and the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin." That’s courage. She continued: "Unfortunately, for the past few years, I have been working on Channel One and doing Kremlin propaganda, and now I am very ashamed of it." That’s conscience.
The story took a notable twist when the harsh punishment that all expected did not follow, with Ovsyannikova merely facing a fine of 30,000 rubles — less than $300. Anna Akage explored the method behind such Putin “head fakes” as he pushes Russia toward totalitarianism.
Ovsyannikova’s story, naturally, also has lessons for those of us who still live in democracies. She spoke about the fact that her own mother, like millions of others, watched so much Russian state media that she couldn’t even talk to her about the war. It sounds familiar to many of us.
In Russia, it’s state propaganda and censorship. In the West, we call it other things: fake news, disinformation, information bubbles. The line that divides the two is drawn with the other tools of democracy: free elections, rule of law, pluralism. But it’s just a line.
— Jeff Israely
• Russian star ballerina quits: Olga Smirnova, star ballerina of Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, where she danced for 11 years, has quit the Russian company over the invasion of Ukraine. The dancer said she opposes the war: ”with all the fibers of my soul.” Smirnova was immediately offered a prima ballerina position at the Dutch National Ballet.
• Morozov collection: The Russian ambassador in France has shown concern over the return of its $1.5 billion Morozov art collection collection, which includes 200 masterpieces by Van Gogh and Picasso, among others. It is currently on display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
• African wins Pritzker Prize: Francis Kéré, a Burkinabe architect and social activist won the Pritzker Prize, often referred to as the highest honor in the field. Kéré said he is hoping to change the paradigm, as ”everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury, and everyone deserves comfort. We are interlinked and concerns in climate, democracy and scarcity are concerns for us all.”
• Virtual Hong Kong: Check these 11 recommendations for virtual museums and exhibitions in Hong Kong. As the country enters its fifth wave of COVID-19, newly-imposed measures include the closure of most galleries and museums.
• RIP William Hurt: U.S. actor William Hurt died at his home in Portland, Oregon, at age 71, reportedly from complications of prostate cancer. Hurt won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in the 1985 movie Kiss of the Spider Woman. He will also be remembered for his roles in movies like Body Heat and Broadcast News.
“The scenes are strikingly similar: At the local hospital, aware that they could be the next target, medical workers pile injured children and women into the corridors. The beds by the windows would be deadly in the event of an attack.”
Writing for Spanish daily La Razon, Ofer Laszewicki points out that Putin’s horrific tactics, and their heart-wrenching consequences, are not new: The Russian army was already able to put its attack playbook to use while fighting alongside the troops of dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria, back in 2015. If the comparison holds, the next step could involve the use of chemical weapons.
Read the full story: Syria, The Laboratory For Putin's Brutality In Ukraine
The world did not believe that Russia, which had gained access to Western goods, finance, services and technology, could start a major war in Europe. The civilized world did not understand that expansion, and not capital, was most important in Russia’s eyes.
This makes Ukrainian President Zelensky's comment, that Russia's invasion has nullified both European and global security, all the more worrying. As the West remains floundering, speechless and afraid of the Russian ruler, in Kyiv-based news media Livy Bereg, Oleksandr Demchenko writes that it is time to act — now.
Read the full story: How The West Got Russia So Wrong — And Keeps Getting It Wrong
In November 2020, the UN changed its stance on psychedelics — still considering them dangerous narcotics, but admitting that they have a therapeutic interest. In French daily Les Echos, Stefano Lupieri dives deep into the scientific community’s renewed interest in alternative approaches to care: from self-induced trance to the use of psychedelics.
The goal? Getting to a new mapping of consciousness and reap the oft-sneered-at healing benefits of trance.
Read the full story: How Altered Consciousness Is Changing Psychiatry
Meet Ernesto Pérez. In Colombia, this character from the kids’ show Cuentitos Mágicos, based on a threatened species of water-absorbing plant called frailejón (espeletia), has gone viral in recent days. Its catchy song teaches kids — and their parents! — how to save water and take care of the planet. (Check it here, and good luck getting it out of your head).
Ukraine's defense ministry has reportedly begun using Clearview AI's facial recognition technology on the battlefield. The U.S. startup offered Kyiv free access to the powerful software for tasks such as uncovering Russian soldiers, reuniting refugees separated from families and identifying fallen soldiers. Clearview, which last week was fined €20 million by Italy over breaches of EU privacy laws, claims to have built a database of more than 2 billion images from the Russian social media service VKontakte.
Hank Smith, a professor in Brigham Young University, Utah, offered to hold one of his student’s baby so she could take notes. The mother posted the video on her Instagram, hailing the professor’s new tiny teaching assistant.
Is Bollywood Finally Ready To Show Holi's True Colors?
Holi, India’s famous “festival of colors” that took place this week, is much more than just throwing petals and powders. In addition to being a celebration of life, family and fertility, Holi’s songs and dances can also be a vehicle to warn against life’s dangers, or depict intimate moments where the saris are wet and the bodies can touch. As professor emerita of Indian culture and cinema Rachel Dwyer writes in Delhi-based news website The Wire, the Bollywood film industry too is progressively moving away from a sanitized depiction of the festival.
My first Holi in India was not an enjoyable one.
Amritsar. 1990. I’d missed the train to Pakistan — seriously... — so I took a three-wheeler to the border at Wagah. Although the driver was somewhat anxious, the fare was too good for him to turn down.
Ignored by lurking terrorists (were there really any?), we did astonish several jawans soldiers crouched behind their sandbagged posts, but were soon hit, inevitably, by a carrier bag of cold water, the rest of the journey being bumpy, chilly and soggy.
Holi is often called the "festival of colors", but this is only one aspect of its core components. It’s a spring festival celebration that varies across India, even going by different names.
Holi brings together different stories, the key one being of Vishnu protecting his devotee, Prahlad, by burning his murderous aunt, Holika, and, then taking the form of Narasimha, to kill Prahlad’s father, King Hiranyakashipu. But for many, the festival is dominated by the Braj celebrations of the love of Radha and Krishna.
The festival in Braj shows a true carnival in the inversion of the hierarchical order of society — caste, age, gender, social status — in a way which enforces the hierarchy as it is not chaos but a precise order of inversion.
The flinging of mud and dung feature alongside colored powders and water: All representing fertility and spring.
There is also a very aesthetically refined celebration, usually associated with Krishna, in art, poetry, songs and food, notably gujiyas. The more sanitized version is the form of Holi which normally makes it into films, where Holi features in song and dance sequences which are usually public events which extend beyond the family circle.
People throw water or use pichkaris, large syringe-like water pistols, to spray colored water, while also throwing and smearing each other with colored powder (this is based on the poetic trope that dark-skinned Krishna changes color with light-skinned Radha).
The songs allow some license for contact, wet saris, touching bodies and so on, which otherwise was restricted in films as it was in real life.
The Holi songs serve many other functions in film. Sometimes, the focus is the fun: So, in "Are ja re hat natkhat" (from the movie Navrang, 1959), Sandhya dances when an elephant also joins her to provide immense entertainment as the pichkaris spray away. [...]
Read the full story on Worldcrunch.com
• After it was postponed in February because of COVID, Colombia’s Carnaval de Barranquilla, one of the world’s biggest carnivals, will take place from March 26-29.
• American Song Contest begins on NBC: The new reality TV show based on the Eurovision Song Contest and hosted by Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg, will see all 50 U.S. states (plus five territories and Washington, D.C.) compete.
• Asked on The Project NZ about the possibility of a new album, singer Ed Sheeran replied, “I've got something else that's a bit more of a curveball” coming next week.
News quiz answers:
1. A day after addressing the U.S. Congress, Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky spoke by video conference to Germany’s Bundestag, citing both the Berlin Wall and the Holocaust to call on the members of parliament to step up their military support.
2. Dust from the Sahara desert swept across Europe, turning the skies red and orange, due to a phenomenon known as Rayleigh scattering from additional particles in the air.
3. For the fifth year in a row, Finland is ranked the happiest nation in the world as part of the global survey data World Happiness Report. Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania moved up, while Venezuela and Afghanistan have dropped to the bottom of the list.
4. A fan spent more than a half million dollars to purchase the last ball U.S. football icon Tom Brady threw in an NFL game before retiring last season … just hours before the 44-year-old athlete announced he was returning to play another season.
✍️ Newsletter by Worldcrunch
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