- Kazakhstan’s vicious circle of strongmen
- COVID school chaos around the world
- The truth behind why we lie to ourselves
- … and much more!
What do you remember from the news this week?
1. What extreme measure did the Canadian province of Quebec take to encourage people to get vaccinated?
2. What caused a massive power outage in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, leaving 700,000 in the dark for hours?
3. Norwegian soldiers were asked to return what piece of clothing at the end of their military service, so that future recruits can reuse them?
4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? ❤️ 🐖 🏥 👨 👍
[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]
Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: rules & power in pandemic times
It was the phrase of the week down on Fleet Street, the historic HQ of the London press corps: “Bring your own booze” — BYOB — the instructions secretly sent around for the garden party held at 10 Downing Street in blatant violation of the first coronavirus lockdown, back in May 2020.The revelations of the event (the second such scandal to emerge in the past two months) has left British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely holding on to his job after his admission to Parliament this week that he was there … and he was, well, quite sorry.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the former British empire, Australians are following how their public representatives will resolve the latest twist in pandemic policy that has captured the sporting world’s attention. Back and forth, like a tennis match. By the end of the week, Australia had reversed a Monday court decision, and canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa that would have allowed him to defend his Australian Open title. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the visa was revoked on the grounds that the presence of the unvaccinated Serbian star risks fueling anti-vax sentiment on home soil.
This is high-stakes political gamesmanship indeed. The unprecedented health crisis, and associated restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, requires our elected leaders to react to ever-changing information and a chain of lose-lose public policy choices. COVID continues to make the hard job of being a public representative that much harder. The best, we can agree, are doing the best they can. The worst, well … are the worst.
The British public has rightly taken offense to the idea that the very people charged with making and enforcing COVID rules, were also busy breaking them. In the Djokovic saga, skeptics of vaccination mandates — in Australia, Serbia and beyond — will have new ammunition if the world’s top tennis player is kicked out of both tournament and country.
The good news is that in our eternally flawed democracies, the public eventually (though not always!) finds out what goes wrong, and ultimately has the final say of who’s in charge. The same can’t be said everywhere, including the country that has been cited for having the most successful methods for controlling the virus and limiting death tolls. That is, of course, China … where it all began.
Yet the authoritarian regime's “Zero COVID policy” comes with deeper questions that largely mirror the downside of authoritarianism in general: ruthless enforcement, quelled dissent and the sometimes blind following of the masses. It’s hard to imagine that Xi Jinping has had any “BYOB parties” in the past two years. But if he did, you can be sure we’d never know.
— Jeff Israely
• Makar Sankranti 2022: The Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti is celebrated on January 14 and 15 in almost all parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. The festival marks the end of winter, the beginning of a new harvest season, and has ancient religious significance.
• Parthenon fragment returns to Greece: A marble fragment from the Parthenon temple has been returned to Athens from a museum in Sicily. Authorities hope the move will rekindle efforts to force the British Museum to send back ancient sculptures from Greece's most renowned ancient landmark.
• 400 years of Molière: France honors its seminal playwright on the 400th anniversary of his birth. His influence, comparable to that of Shakespeare in the anglophone world, is such that French is often referred to as the "language of Molière."
• Vinyl surpassed CDs sales for the first time in 30 years: For the first time since 1991, annual sales of vinyl records surpassed those of CDs in the U.S, according to MRC Data and Billboard, with an estimated 41.72 million vinyl records sold in 2021 (up 51.4% from 27.55 million in 2020). This means that vinyl is now the leading format for all album purchases in the U.S.
• Kendrick Lamar teams up with South Park creators: Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and his former longtime manager Dave Free are working with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to produce a live-action comedy for Paramount Pictures.
The decisions to close schools have been some of the toughest choices made during the pandemic, with students suffering both academically and socially from online learning or no education at all. It’s universally acknowledged that children most succeed with in-person classes, but the question still remains whether the health risk to students and those around them is worth it.
The Omicron wave has only caused this debate to heighten, with teacher strikes in France, rising drop-out rates in Argentina and shortages of staff in South Africa. But there are signs of hope: Uganda has finally reopened schools, ending the world’s longest shutdown, and some American parents have decided to offer more personalized education with homeschooling.
Read the full story: COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World
The real transition of power in Kazakhstan was supposed to have taken place in 2019. Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power.
However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor. For Russian daily
Kommersant, Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov ponder why strongmen are able to keep power in Kazakhstan — but can't ensure its peaceful transfer.
Read the full story: Kazakhstan, When One Strongman Replaces Another
Things are getting fishy over Nordic fishing regulations, as the Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. In Danish newspaper Politiken, marine biologist Johan Wedel Nielsen explained why Demark’s policy has given Norway a de facto monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry. This is particularly significant as changing diet habits are increasing demand for the nutritious pink fish, and Norway has taken advantage, accounting for about half of the world’s salmon production.
Nielsen argues that environmental concerns aren’t warranted, as fish have an inherently small impact on the environment. Denmark has the potential to establish 150 salmonid (a family of fish including salmon and trout) farms in the Baltic Sea, producing some 500,000 tons of trout per year with a value of 2.7 billion euros and employing tens of thousands. But the Danish government has so far given no indication of allowing any addition to Denmark’s 19 existing farms.
Read the full story: Norwegian Salmon v. Danish Trout: Lessons On Ecology And Economics
French start-up Airxôm has unveiled its unique respiratory device at Las Vegas’ CES tech event. Their plastic and silicon face mask is the first capable of destroying particles of all sizes and has inbuilt decontamination properties, hence protecting against pollution, bacteria and viruses including COVID-19. Oh and, as a bonus, it also prevents your glasses from fogging.
Boris Johnson memes flooded social networks this week, mocking the UK’s prime minister's excuse for attending what was quite obviously a party at the height of the pandemic: “I believed implicitly that this was a work event.” The quote was shared alongside a toe-curlingly bad 2013 video of BoJo dancing to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” which resurfaced on Instagram, while Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair puts its own spin on the lame explanation.
A Belgian national was intercepted by the French police while riding his e-scooter on a highway in eastern France. The confused trottinette user said it was his first time riding in France, and that he’d failed to select the “no toll roads” option on his GPS.
Climate, COVID, Costa Concordia: why humans are wired for denial
This past week marked 10 years since the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Tuscany. Writing in Italian daily La Stampa, Guido Maria Brera sees connections between the way passengers and crew reacted in the minutes and hours after the ship ran aground to other calamities we face that may seem to be moving more slowly:
In 2012, the same year the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off of Giglio Island, David Quammen published his book Spillover, which predicted that somewhere in Asia a virus would be attacking the human respiratory tract on its way to becoming a global pandemic. And so it was. This terrible shipwreck, which the world watched in slow-motion exactly ten years ago on January 13, 2012, now appears to us — just like the COVID-19 pandemic, like the trailer of a horror film we are now all living for real.
Millions dead, ten of millions sick, and the psychological collapse of entire generations, the youngest and most defenseless. In the meantime, climate change is spiraling out of control: sea levels are rising, land is drying out, ice caps are melting, not to mention hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts, famines, wars, migration.
The correlation between climate change and the pandemic has been demonstrated countless times by scientists. Soaring temperatures, intensive livestock farming, deforestation and the devastation of the natural animal kingdoms have led to zoonosis: Species-hopping, in which a bacterium or virus escapes from its host and spreads to another, creating a chain reaction with devastating results.
Finding the correlation between the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the current situation is more a subtle exercise: by looking at the decisions we made to respond to the disaster — or rather, how we failed to take action.
"The Concordia has become a maze of choices in the dark, deciding whether to open a door or not, whether to move or stay put, can be the difference between life and death,” Pablo Trincia said recently in his podcast “Il Dito di Dio.” (The Finger of God). A cruise ship with more than 4,000 people, including passengers, crew and ship personnel, is a microcosm in itself: it contains everything. And indeed, in these very long and slow moments, when time seems suspended, a tragedy was in the making.
There were reported many notable demonstrations of solidarity, as strangers helped each other. There were also those who fled as quickly as possible, seeking their personal safety at the expense of others. There were those who, between the ship crashing into the rocks and the dropping of the first lifeboats, seemed not to care.
If it is true that there are lessons to learn even from the worst tragedies, then we must make sure that the terrible wreckage of this small world can help us understand and identify the rocks we are heading towards today: the climate crisis and the pandemic. Time is the discriminating factor, as always. Director Adam McKay explains it well in his movie Don't Look Up, showing us how people react as they face slow-motioned tragedies.
In this scenario, the slowness of the film is the central narrative choice: there is initially plenty of time before the comet would hit the earth, ineluctably ending human life, and there remains plenty of time to live and love and enjoy.
Hence, we also have time to expect that the asteroid is still far away, to imagine that it will deviate from its course. We even have time to forget that the impact is inevitable, and to continue to live as if nothing is happening.
This is the most common reaction to pandemics and environmental disasters. Turn your head away, pretend you don't see, don't look up.
Denial is the work of politicians incapable of questioning the only development model they know, of the billionaires who built bunkers to survive in New Zealand, (where it seems that the crisis will have less impact), of the Silicon Valley gurus have already bought coolers to preserve their bodies for eternity by cryogenics.
On the Costa Concordia, refusal to look the disaster in the eye wasn’t just the work of those who were supposed to give the alert and manage the evacuation: we are all in the same boat when it comes to denial. When a disaster happens in slow motion, it feels as though there is still too much time to bother rushing for solutions now.
We tend to think about the time we have left, about the costs and benefits to our tiny lives, without even realizing that never has the need for salvation been more collective.
Ten years ago, as today, we convinced ourselves that we are absolved of responsibility precisely because we know that everyone shares the same responsibility.
• Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set next week as the ultimatum for a confirmation that NATO will neither expand nor deploy forces to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations.
• Next Sunday will mark two years since the World Health Organization declared during an emergency meeting that COVID-19 was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
• On Tuesday, a 3,400-foot-wide asteroid will make a safe flyby of Earth, whooshing by our planet at the equivalent of five Earth-Moon distances (still pretty close from a cosmic point of view).
• Monday is Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day, so you still have a few more hours to decide whether that gym membership really was a good idea.
News quiz answers:
1. Quebec announced plans to charge a health tax to unvaccinated residents, who represent 12.8% of the Canadian province but make up nearly half of hospital cases.
2. A heat wave scorched Argentina's capital Buenos Aires on Tuesday, bringing temperatures to 41.5 °C (106.7 °F) and causing a lengthy power outage.
3. Norway has ordered members of its military to return underwear, bras and socks after the end of their military service amid a shortage of supplies that the army partly blamed on the pandemic.
4. ❤️ 🐖 🏥 👨 👍 A 57-year-old American man became the first person to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig, a potentially major breakthrough that scientists hope could help alleviate shortages of donor organs.
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*Photo: Frank Molter/dpa/ZUMA
Feeling overworked but not yet burned out? Often the problem is “burn-on,” an under-researched phenomenon whose sufferers desperately struggle to keep up and meet their own expectations — with dangerous consequences for their health.
At first glance, Mr L seems to be a successful man with a well-rounded life: middle management, happily married, father of two. If you ask him how he is, he responds with a smile and a “Fine thanks”. But everything is not fine. When he was admitted to the psychosomatic clinic Kloster Diessen, Mr L described his emotional life as hollow and empty.
Although outwardly he is still putting on a good face, he has been privately struggling for some time. Everything that used to bring him joy and fun has become simply another chore. He can hardly remember what it feels like to enjoy his life.
For psychotherapist Professor Bert te Wildt, who heads the psychosomatic clinic in Ammersee in Bavaria, Germany, the symptoms of Patient L. make him a prime example of a new and so far under-researched syndrome, that he calls “burn-on”. Working with psychologist Timo Schiele, he has published his findings about the phenomenon in a book, Burn-On.
The syndrome is closely related to the better-known burn-out and bore-out — exhaustion due to being over- or underworked. The common factor: they are all closely linked to the type and quantity of work a person does, whether paid (career) or unpaid (volunteering or childcare).
What is burn-on?
Burn-out is the result of sustained periods of stress at work. Being overworked reduces productivity. The affected individual tries to combat this by working even harder, which raises stress levels further and reduces productivity even more. It’s a vicious circle that can have serious physical consequences, making the individual more likely to suffer from high blood pressure or even have a heart attack.
Burn-out can eventually lead to serious exhaustion-related depression. Dr te Wildt says it means feeling like “nothing works any more”. The patient feels paralyzed, has no energy left. According to a report on lost working hours, the number of working days lost to burn-out in Germany tripled between 2011 and 2022.
On the other side of the coin, bore-out is not caused by being overworked, but by having too little work or finding work unchallenging: those who are affected find their jobs meaningless and highly boring. That can also lead to exhaustion-related depression.
Burn-on is still such a new phenomenon that there are no studies or even figures about it
So, how is burn-on different? Schiele, the lead psychologist at the Kloster Dießen Psychosomatic Clinic, uses the image of a hamster wheel to explain how it works: whereas those suffering from burn-out or bore-out have already given up running and are lying helplessly next to the wheel, burn-on patients are still driving the wheel round, desperately struggling to keep up and meet their own expectations.
“Our patients love their jobs and want to stay in them at all costs,” says te Wildt. If they do complain, it is usually of physical issues: high blood pressure, headaches, stomach issues, tinnitus or extreme muscle tension – all symptoms related to being in a physical state of high tension.
Working despite severe symptoms
Of course, not every headache or backache is a sign of being overworked. It’s not easy to determine how often these complaints point to cases of burn-on. Firstly, because research into this condition is still in its infancy. Secondly, because people suffering from burn-on generally don’t call in sick, preferring to struggle on and come into work despite their symptoms.
That is, until one or more of the physical and mental symptoms forces them out of the race. In the statistics, these cases are often recorded as heart attacks, stomach ulcers or depression. According to the homepage for health insurance company Barmer, “burn-on is still such a new phenomenon that there are no studies or even figures about it.”
However, in their daily work at the clinic, Bert te Wildt and Timo Schiele are treating more and more people who are putting on a good show but have already reached the end of their physical and mental resources.
While those suffering from burn-out come to the clinic having already been brought to a standstill by depression, people with burn-on have often worked late into the night the evening before or even smuggle documents into Kloster Dießen so they can secretly carry on working. They see their treatment at the clinic as a way to “get better as quickly as possible so they can then go on working as they did before,” says te Wildt. “Our first task is to make them realize that this can’t be their goal.”
Working from home has dissolved the natural boundaries we place around work
A constant state of stress
It is not always immediately obvious that burn-on patients are suffering from depression, as they often try to hide it, determined to keep up appearances. “Sufferers sit in front of us with a beaming smile and assure us that they’re actually doing very well,” explains te Wildt. “It’s only when we probe a bit more deeply that it becomes clear the opposite is true. That outside of work they are sleepwalking through life. Nothing seems to touch them any more.”
If burn-out is an acute form of exhaustion-related depression, then te Wildt and Schiele contend that “burn-on syndrome is the chronic form.”
According to the experts, burn-on sufferers experience a constant state of stress. It is typical for them to have endless to-do lists. Any activities without a set date – going to the cinema, calling a friend – always get shunted to the bottom of the list. These activities would help them to achieve a healthy work-life balance, but they don’t make time for them. Relaxation means coming home just to carry on working on the sofa with a glass of wine.
They comfort themselves with the illusion that that if they just manage to finish this or that task, they can then relax. Or that work will soon calm down. Sometimes their escape fantasies even become morbid: they dream of falling ill and being admitted to hospital, so they can be relieved of their workload in a socially acceptable way.
The pandemic has made things worse
They find it very difficult to stop and do nothing – although they long to be able to switch off. Unlike burn-out patients, when they are at the clinic, they have the feeling that they’re wasting time by being unproductive. But that is an important part of their treatment.
“We don’t fill their schedules up completely. We deliberately leave periods of free time so the patient learns to deal with these and spend them doing other things,” explains te Wildt. “In the beginning they often find it painful and even threatening to be forced to relax.” Being in the here and now, not achieving anything concrete, doesn’t come easily to them.
The first step to making a change
But why are more and more people struggling on, despite the fact that they are reaching the limits of what they can endure? Bert te Wildt and Timo Schiele say this development is partly “the consequence of a society that is obsessed with functionality and productivity”. Another issue is the fact that burn-out is seen as a badge of honor, showing an employee’s dedication to their job. “In many circles, it’s seen as positive to be constantly on the brink of burning out.”
And for many, the pandemic has made things worse. Working from home has dissolved the natural boundaries we place around work, blurring the distinction between working hours and free time. For those at risk of burn-on, te Wildt says it is “especially dangerous to be able to work anywhere and at any time”. On the other hand, the lockdowns were beneficial to some people suffering from burn-on. Being forced to press pause made them ask questions: How much value do I place on my job? What else in my life is important? How do I treat other people?
Self-awareness is the first step to making a change. Bert te Wildt and Timo Schiele advise people who are showing signs of burn-on to think about their personal values and order them by importance. How important are areas of my life such as my partner and family, career, culture, friendships and hobbies? And how much time do I dedicate to each of these? For many patients it’s a real eye-opener, the experts say, as the exercise highlights areas where their world has fallen out of balance.
Burn-on can be treated
The good news is that “burn-on can be treated,” say te Wildt and Schiele. In their psychosomatic clinic Kloster Dießen, they work with patients to broaden their emotional toolbox and reduce internalized perfectionism and the demands they make on themselves. That isn’t something you can change overnight — it takes time.
Patient L is on the way to making changes in his daily life. A life where he doesn’t take work home with him. Where he makes time to talk to his partner and socialize with friends. And where he doesn’t feel guilty about doing so, but enjoys it.
According to te Wildt, treatment is successful when a patient is able to see the value in things and activities that have nothing to do with being productive. If during their time at the clinic they are able to identify areas of their life that can counterbalance work and ensure it doesn’t take over. Schiele puts it more succinctly: “If the patient has found good reasons not to go back to the way they were before.”
- In Germany, A Deeper Look At Teacher Burnout ›
- HappyBreak: Headset Meditation App To Prevent Work Burnout ›
- Parental Burnout Is Real — And Taking Leave Is Not An Option ›