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Photo of a woman reading on her smartphone along the banks of the Seine in Paris

Perfect for Saturdays along the Seine (or anywhere else!)

  • The roots of Kazakhstan's turmoil — and why it's going to last.
  • COVID tries to cancel everything ... again.
  • France's Emmanuel Macron steps in it.
  • … and much more!

🎲 But first, a news quiz!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Who is the namesake of the space telescope that has successfully deployed its impressive sunshield this week?

2. What did CCTV catch an Argentinian judge doing with a convicted cop-killer?

3. Why is a multimillion-dollar footbridge being replaced in Venice?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? ❌ 💉 🎾 🛬 🦘 🛂

[Answers below]

⬇️  STARTER

The why, what and when of our new Weekend Newsletter

The seed for this inaugural edition of Le Weekend was planted when our Worldcrunch team faced two questions that news organizations have been asking themselves since the Internet came into our lives: What? and When?

The essence of journalism’s “What” — on our best days — has not been changed by technology: We explain things clearly and hold power to account, get our facts right and tell great stories. But the ways those stories are produced, and consumed, have indeed been revolutionized by the all-the-info-all-the-time potential of the Internet and smartphones.

Since 2013, our daily newsletter, Worldcrunch Today, has arrived in inboxes Monday through Friday at the same hour, providing a rapid digest of the latest news and sampling of some of our uniquely international features and analysis. We keep it scrollably concise, so you can get informed and occasionally enlightened, and then move on to whatever’s next.

Last summer, in the midst of the redesign of Worldcrunch.com, we asked ourselves if we could produce something specifically designed to be consumed on the weekend.

We’ve spent the past couple of months reflecting on just how similar (or different) it should be from our weekday edition: how it should look, the story mix, the length and tone … and name. The “When,” arriving on the weekend, might allow for an extra dose of arts and culture and, well, fun. We also hope readers might have more time to click through to our website to read some of our most recent global feature stories and news explainers.

The first week of the year provided plenty to keep us busy, and fill Le Weekend’s maiden edition. We have included coverage of the violent crackdown in Kazakhstan, what the pandemic means for Brazil’s annual Carnival celebrations, and a closer look at the alleged arson attack on the historic South African parliament building. We’ve also collected some notable cultural stories around the world, flagged an innovative new light bulb that monitors your vitals and covered actress Emma Watson slipping into the eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an Instagram post.

Earlier in my career, after having worked at daily newspapers and a news wire, I spent a decade as a foreign correspondent for a notable American weekly print magazine — an experience that inevitably informs the edition you’re reading now on your phone or computer. It is an updated response to the demand for breadth, brevity and synthesis that helps us discern what happened in the world during the past week, with an eye on what it might mean heading into the next.

A note about that name: Le Weekend. Our French colleagues and neighbors are rightfully proud of their language (see the piece below about President Macron’s questionable contribution this week!). Our bilingual content director Bertrand Hauger — who has shepherded through the realization of this launch — begrudgingly accepts that the anglicized version of fin de semaine is now common parlance in France. And so our whole team here in Paris wishes you bon weekend … and also, for this first week of the new year, bonne année & bonne santé!

— Jeff Israely, Worldcrunch editor

Sign up here to receive our free daily Newsletter to your inbox (now six days/week!)

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Bosnian artists honor Michael Schumacher with giant mural: A group of Bosnian artists paid tribute to Michael Schumacher by painting a gigantic mural on the side of a building in Sarajevo, which was rebuilt partially thanks to donations from the famous ex-Formula 1 driver who turned 53 this week, more than eight years after a skiing accident left him in a coma.

• Celebrating the Year of the Tiger with collectibles: Collectible red envelopes, which are exchanged in Asia to bring good luck at the start of the New Year, with unique designs are available in 35 museums in Singapore.

• Rembrandt goes digital: The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum has digitized Rembrandt van Rijn’s iconic painting The Night Watchinto a 717-gigapixel photograph so that art lovers and scientists alike can examine all the painting’s details, as the museum is closed due to COVID-19 measures.

Sidney Poitier, RIP.: The Oscar-winning actor who broke racial barriers in Hollywood and beyond has died at 94. Read about his storied life in this Hollywood Reporter obituary.

• Colombian police recover work of art’s stolen hat: A hat of one of the statues of Medellin’s emblematic “Monumento al silleteros,” which represents the “silleteros” or “saddle-men” who were porters used to carry people and their belongings, was recovered by Colombian authorities two days after it had been stolen.

🇰🇿  THE ROOTS OF KAZAKHSTAN’S TURMOIL


The sudden explosion of violent protests in Kazakhstan, the former Soviet Republic, have left dozens dead as the Russian military has moved in to try to restore order.

It was an extraordinary explosion of violence over what was reported to be economic unrest. Russian newspaper Kommersantreports that the protests were prompted by the decision on Dec. 31 to double the price of liquefied natural gas, which fuels most cars in the country.

Yet in the oil-producing regime, which has been effectively run since its 1991 independence by strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, observers note that much deeper political, and geopolitical, questions are also at play. And even the elimination of Nazarbayev, who was previously untouchable, would not necessarily mark the end of the regime. The people of Kazakhstan are demanding change.

Read the full story: What Is Really Driving Kazakhstan’s Explosion Of Violence?

😷❌  COVID TRIES TO CANCEL EVERYTHING AGAIN


This is the time of year when the entire nation of Brazil starts to focus on Carnival planning. Yet we’ve seen this past week that, like last year, the pandemic is getting in the way. The Omicron variant has forced at least 50 Brazilian municipalities to cancel or reduce their festivities.

The same questions are being faced by organizers of entertainment events and sports competitions around the world who must weigh whether to cancel, postpone or forge ahead in the face of superspreader risks. In the U.S., for example, the Grammy awards have been postponed the same week that the Coachella music festival has fixed dates in April.

Read the full story, Carnival, Coachella, Beijing Games: COVID Threatening Live Events Again

🇿🇦  PARLIAMENT FIRE KINDLES QUESTIONS FOR SOUTH AFRICA


It took South African firefighters nearly three days to extinguish the blaze that began Sunday at the nation’s 150-year-old Parliament building in Cape Town. But the damage will persist as South Africans try to figure out how this happened, adding to the woes of a nation struggling to reinforce its democracy nearly three decades after its first free elections.

Adding to the uncertainty are doubts about the arrest of a 49-year-old unemployed man charged with arson. Zandile Christmas Mafea was arrested at the Parliament complex shortly after the fire was reported. According to prosecutors, Mafe was caught with stolen laptops, documents and crockery, and was charged with arson, theft, possession of explosives and breaking state security laws. But many are asking if Mafea is just the latest victim of a government leadership that is either corrupt, incompetent, or both.

Read the full story, South African Parliament Fire Raises Deeper Questions About Democracy

💡  BRIGHT IDEA

This week at CES Las Vegas, the most influential tech event in the world, lighting company Sangled touted a lightbulb that can monitor your vital signs. Using radar sensors it is capable of taking health readings that include heart rate, temperature and even track sleep. Provided with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functionality, the smart-home gadget may have some potentially useful applications for eldercare, such as for fall detection.

#️⃣ TRENDING


English actress and activist Emma Watson, who has just marked 20 years of the Harry Potter franchise, faced serious social media backlash this week after posting this image on her Instagram account: the sentence “solidarity is a verb” against a background of a demonstration in support of Palestinian rights. The post outraged pro-Israel activists, with many calling Watson anti-Israel, anti-zionist and antisemitic. Among them, Danny Denon, former permanent representative of Israel to the UN tweeted a screenshot of Emma Watson’s Instagram post saying “10 points for Gryffindor for being an antisemite.”

⚽😊 SMILE OF THE WEEK


Four-year-old Delilah was overjoyed when her idol Son Heung-min, a South Korean footballer playing for UK’s Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur F.C., waved back at her.

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Australian court to decide on Djokovic deportation: World No. 1 men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic is expected to find out Monday whether he can play in the Australian Open after being denied entry to the country over COVID vaccination rules.

• NATO's special meeting with Russia: NATO allied ambassadors and top Russian officials will meet in Brussels on Jan. 12, to prevent an open conflict over Ukraine.

• Africa Cup of Nations 2021: This week signals the start of the 33rd edition of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, which kicks off in Cameroon one year after it was originally scheduled. Despite now taking place in 2022, the tournament will still be billed as "AFCON 2021". Algeria is the reigning champion, having beaten Senegal 1-0 in the 2019 final in Egypt.

• 10 years since the sinking of the Costa Concordia: The cruise ship Costa Concordia sank 10 years ago, on January 13th, 2012, after striking a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea just off the eastern shore of Isola del Giglio. Thirty-three people died and the ship’s captain was convicted of manslaughter.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

The meaning of Macron's special "merde" delivery for the unvaccinated

The French President used a rather vulgar verb to tell us how he feels about those who refuse to get the COVID vaccine. It’s a linguistic and political stink bomb, writes Rozena Crossman:

In the rich and intricate French language, merde has a special place. The not-quite-profane word for "shit" is used across society, in a variety of circumstances with a range of meanings. You might blurt it out in anger or frustration, or offer consolation, or even wish someone "merde" as good luck.

Beginning in the 15th century the prefix em, meaning "bring into," and the suffix er, which creates a verb, were added to expand merde into a most unhygienic term: literally translated as "to cover in excrement." Today, emmerder is a crude and handy slang used to mean "to bore," "to annoy," "to bother."

Needless to say, all forms of merde have been applied to describe how COVID-19 is making francophones feel. In an article this week for the Paris-based daily Les Echos, philosopher Gaspard Koenig invoked a term coined in the 1970s by then French President Georges Pompidou, micro-emmerdements, to criticize some of the current restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

These "micro-hassles," which in the France state has stood out for its paternalistic heavy hand since the first lockdown in 2020, have include plenty of obnoxious, hypocritical protocols that allow customers to take off their masks in restaurants but ban the consumption of food or drink on six-hour-long train rides. To get to the linguistic essence of Koenig’s argument: These rules are rather shitty.

But emmerder made it into headlines around the world this week for another reason: French President Emmanuel Macron used it in an interview with newspaper Le Parisien to describe how he felt about citizens who refuse to get vaccinated — and what he planned to do about it. His precise words were “les non-vaccinés, j’ai très envie de les emmerder,” meaning he really wants to make life unpleasant for the non-vaccinated. That may include banning them outright from all bars, restaurants and trains, or who knows what other micro-emmerdements Macron may have in mind.

France has spent the past 48 hours debating the political intentions of its president (who is up for reelection in May) in using such an aggressive expression — or the actual effect on trying to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Either way, the spirit of the showdown is reminiscent of the famous Monty Python sketch where a French knight tells his adversaries, "I fart in your general direction."

News quiz answers:

1. By successfully unfurling its sunshield, the James Webb Space Telescope has achieved a critical milestone in its quest to catch images of the cosmos’ first stars. Webb headed NASA through much of the 1960s, helping lead the U.S. space agency toward its first moon landing.

2. Argentine judicial authorities opened disciplinary action against the judge to probe alleged “inappropriate conduct'' as a judge was caught on CCTV kissing a convicted cop-killer, after trying to get him a reduced sentence.

3. Designed to be a modern architectural monument, the glass-floored Ponte della Costituzione footbridge in Venice proved too slippery, causing many injuries among selfie-hungry tourists.

4. ❌💉🎾🛬🇦🇺🛂 World No. 1 men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic has had his visa to enter Australia revoked on his arrival in Melbourne and is being held in a hotel room, awaiting decision on his deportation amid a backlash over a vaccine exemption.

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