Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
Turkey has been hit by the worst snowfall in decades: paralyzing traffic but making for extra evocative images in Istanbul, like this one of Taksim Mosque.
In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Troops On Ukraine Alert, BoJo’s New Party Scandal, NFT Beatles

👋 Salve*

Welcome to Tuesday, where NATO and U.S. troops are on alert amid Ukraine tensions, there’s a new Boris Johnson party scandal and Beatles memorabilia will be sold as NFTs. Worldcrunch’s teleworking Carl-Johan Karlsson also takes a tour of countries mulling a bonafide legal right to work from home.



China-Russia alliance, how the West failed to see it coming

A resurgent, ambitious Russia is taking the West by surprise, just when the United States was pivoting and bracing itself to face down China, writes international affairs specialist Carlos Pérez Llana in Argentine daily Clarín.

After the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the biggest disruption of the Cold War was when communist China's ruler, Mao Zedong, received U.S. President Richard Nixon in Beijing. The diplomatic event was a bold, calculated gamble by the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to divide the communist block, and paved the way for the Soviet Union's geopolitical depreciation. It also helped the United States mitigate its recent defeat in and withdrawal from Vietnam.

Has another, similar geo-strategic disruption just happened? Everything suggests there is an objective alliance between Russian President Vladimir Putin and China's leader, Xi Jinping. And this may push the United States into a trap to which it has itself helped set, with a string of mistakes that began all the way back with the Clinton administration in the 1990s.

Both the Republicans and Democrats have had mistaken assumptions. They thought Russia could not rebuild itself, and China would participate in a 'Sino-American' epoch of unstoppable progress toward free-market capitalism and democracy.

From President Barack Obama and onward, U.S. foreign policy pivoted toward containing China, and giving priority to Asia. Europe and Russia were seen as regional powers, absent from the global, strategic chessboard. Washington came to see NATO as an aging alliance and Russia, a power in decline. Policymakers overlooked the fact that Russia and China have a similar foreign-policy culture based on premises laid out by the historical leader of communist rule, Vladimir Lenin. Dissuade your enemies from acting, he propounded, divide them, take them to the brink of conflict, and from the weak democracies, extract concessions.

The broad idea is to win without fighting. The war must be won before it is engaged, and today this means murky methods, hybrid and cyber warfare. Evidently these are all feasible, in the absence of an international system to regulate crises.

The Sino-Russia alliance is also aided by differing timelines. China is taking its time as it pressures Taiwan. Putin however is moved by more a sense of urgency, as Russia's economic and demographic decline cannot be hidden.

There is a deadline to the age of fossil fuels, and Putin has yet to assure the country's energy transition. In China, the Communist Party rules while Russia is governed with a mix of authoritarianism and crony capitalism. While Xi entertains a more cogent goal, of unifying China and Taiwan, the dream of reconstituting the Soviet sphere is highly problematic.

At the 2007 Munich Security Conference, Putin announced an action plan to which his audience paid little attention: rebuild the geopolitics of the Cold War. The plan has been unfolding in the invasions of Georgia and the Ukraine (2008 and 2014), and in Russia's recent mediation in fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Putin sees his political stability as tied to the project for a "Greater Russia." This is epitomized in his ambition to redefine the post-Cold War order, and includes the "Finlandization" of certain states, which are once more to become satellites beholden to Russia.

Putin wants NATO to return to its 1997 limits. That means 11 European states and NATO members abandoning the alliance and entering a gray zone, with Russian troops on their borders. The United States must also commit itself not to expand NATO nor station troops in those lands, including Ukraine but also Baltic and eastern European states. It is a throwback to the world of the Soviet heyday, which preceded its last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

To attain this goal, Russia must break the Atlantic alliance and sideline Europe as an international actor, which is why it has sought to negotiate directly with Washington, as it did in the Cold War. U.S. President Joe Biden cannot accept this ultimatum. Without assuring their security, the U.S. would be left without their European allies.

Likewise, its policy of containing China in Asia would fall apart. Without NATO, lesser alliances like QUAD (United States, India, Japan and Australia) or AUKUS become useless, and would pave the way for Chinese supremacy in Asia. This makes the Sino-Russian alliance an insurmountable element of the global equation.

What are the scenarios before Europe? Washington cannot accept the Russian ultimatum, but only discuss certain, minor aspects like arms supplies to Ukraine. America's short-term options are also limited to imposing sanctions on Russia and urgently working to free Europe from its gas dependency on Russia — a German legacy. In the absence of European strategic sovereignty, the United States is unready for military involvement in Ukraine.

A possible way out here is through Turkmenistan. It too wants to depend less on Russia and China, which it could do with a pipeline to export its gas to Europe through the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Turkey. The three states have observed events in Kazakhstan with unease, and Turkey is the one country that can dispute Russia's regional, military and economic predominance.

For the Biden administration, economic pressures and a threatened return of Trumpist conservatism have forced it to choose its priority with realism. It has decided that only Taiwan must be defended, and the real threat is in Beijing, not Moscow.

Carlos Pérez Llana / Clarín


• U.S. puts 8,500 troops on alert amid Ukraine crisis: The U.S. Department of Defense said some 8,500 American troops have been put on “heightened alert,” awaiting orders to deploy to Eastern Europe should Russia invade Ukraine. NATO also announced it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing the area with more ships and fighter jets. In a bid to defuse tensions, Russian and Ukraine officials are set to meet Wednesday in Paris for talks with German and French counterparts.

• Birthday celebration for Boris Johnson sparks new row: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure to resign following revelations of a surprise birthday party organized for him in June 2020 in Downing Street, when social gatherings indoors were banned. The Metropolitan Police have launched an investigation into the several “potential breaches of COVID-19 regulations” at No. 10 over the past two years.

• COVID update: South Korea’s daily count of new infections topped 8,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic, as the Omicron variant spreads. Meanwhile, at least 23 new COVID-19 cases have been detected on an Australian naval vessel en route to coronavirus-free Tonga to deliver humanitarian aid following the recent volcanic eruption and tsunami.

• At least 8 killed in stampede at Africa Cup of Nations: At least eight people were killed and 50 injured in a stampede outside an Africa Cup of Nations soccer game in Cameroon, as thousands of fans were trying to access the Paul Biya stadium in the capital Yaounde.

• Australian Open reverses Peng Shuai t-shirt ban: Organizers of the Australian Open have reversed a ban on “Where is Peng Shuai” t-shirts in support of the Chinese tennis player who had accused a senior Beijing official of sexual assault.

• Heaviest snowfall in decades paralyzes Turkey: Istanbul is facing its worst snowfall in years, paralyzing traffic and forcing Europe’s busiest airport to shut down after the roof on one of the cargo terminals collapsed under the snow.

NFTicket To Ride: Items including John Lennon’s black cape in the film Help! and handwritten notes for the Beatles’ song Hey Jude will be sold as NFTs on Feb. 7 by Lennon’s oldest son Julian, who will keep the physical objects from his personal collection. Part of the proceeds from the sale will go to Julian Lennon’s White Feather Foundation.


Russian daily Kommersant devotes its front page to what it calls a “pre-war” situation looming between Ukraine and Russia as both the U.S. and NATO allies put troops on standby in case the crisis deteriorates further. The Kremlin pointed to the new deployments as evidence of NATO aggressive posturing and blamed the organization for the rise in tensions.


"There is no room for any positive opportunity for Lebanon in light of Iranian influence, international disarray, national division, sectarianism, and the collapse of the state."

— Lebanon's leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri announced in an emotional televised address his decision to “suspend any role in power, politics and parliament” and that he would not run in the upcoming parliamentary election. The announcement is shaking Lebanon’s political landscape, as the country faces a deep financial crisis. The son of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005, Saad al-Hariri served himself as prime minister from 2009 to 2011 and 2016 to 2020.


Will there be a legal right to telework?

Silicon Valley firms are leading the way in corporate policy, while European countries like Germany are beginning to draw up laws to create a bonafide legal right to work from home.

⚖️ Two years into the pandemic, working from home appears bound to be a feature of our current existence that will be with us once COVID-19 is gone. But even as companies experiment with different policies, others are pushing to see it translated into law — in other words, to make working from home a right. The leading edge of the debate is undoubtedly in Europe, with a handful of countries considering changes to, or even already having altered, their labor laws in the wake of the first pandemic lockdowns.

💻 In Luxembourg, after a petition to recognize the right to telework was introduced in April 2020, the chamber of deputies published a new petition last month to make two days of remote work a week mandatory; In Poland, where eight in 10 employees indicate hybrid work as their ideal choice, a new bill regarding remote work was introduced last May; while in Spain, a new law was passed in September 2020 to regulate home working. But no country has yet gone as far as Germany, where Federal Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil recently announced plans to make the home office a legally protected part of German work culture.

❓ Of course, the always-connected internet reality also raises questions about the rights of workers in their off-hours, with Portugal passing a law last year that made it a crime to disturb employees when they’re not on the clock. Still, on both fronts, the most crucial question might be whether countries can manage to regulate digital working rights without an overly bureaucratic postiche and runaway corporate costs.

➡️


$14 million

Australia's government has acquired copyright of the Aboriginal flag in a deal worth around 20 million Australian dollars ($14 million) so it can be freely used, ending a longstanding commercial dispute over the design. The red, black and yellow flag was created by Indigenous artist Harold Thomas in 1971, and has been recognized as an official flag of the country since 1995.


Turkey has been hit by the worst snowfall in decades: paralyzing traffic but making for extra evocative images in Istanbul, like this one of Taksim Mosque.— Photo: Hakan Akgun/SOPA Images/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

We’re trying to find out how to turn a yellow submarine into an NFT. Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!

Photo of a man working on his laptop while sat on a couch, with a power plug and a cup of tea in the foreground.
Carl-Johan Karlsson

​Will There Be A Legal Right To Telework?

Silicon Valley firms are leading the way in corporate policy, while European countries like Germany are beginning to draw up laws to create a bonafide legal right to work from home.

Employers and governments around the world have been oscillating between full remote requirements to everyone-back-to-the-office to forever-flex schedules. Now, two years into the pandemic, working from home appears bound to be a feature of our current existence that will be with us — in some form — once COVID-19 is gone.

But even as companies experiment with different policies, others are pushing to see it translated into law — in other words, to make working from home a right.

Watch Video Show less
First Ukraine Evacuations, Taliban In Oslo, Navratilova v. Australian Open
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

First Ukraine Evacuations, Taliban In Oslo, Navratilova v. Australian Open

👋 Салом!*

Welcome to Monday, where the U.S. and UK have started advising their nationals to leave Ukraine, the Taliban are in Oslo for first talks with the West since returning to power and Martina Navratilova is outraged at Australian Open organizers for a certain T-shirt ban. Meanwhile, Les Echos’ Yann Rousseau spoke with Masahiro Hara, the creator of the ubiquitous QR code.

[*Salom - Uzbek]


This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here


• Foreign officials leave Ukraine: The U.S. State Department has told diplomats’ families to leave Ukraine and the UK has withdrawn some embassy staff from Kyiv, as Russia continues to build up its military presence on the border. Kyiv says the decision to remove personnel is “premature” and an example of “excessive caution.”

• Taliban talks with Western officials in Oslo: In their first visit to Europe since returning to power in Afghanistan last August, Taliban officials are meeting with European and North American envoys to discuss the country’s humanitarian crisis. The three-day talks are expected to cover human rights and the humanitarian crisis, as poverty and hunger deepen around the country.

• COVID update: Beijing announces six new positive cases among personnel for the upcoming Winter Olympic games. Russia continues to break its record for daily new COVID-19 infections, reporting 63,205 cases. Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern canceled her upcoming wedding due to new restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

• Burkina Faso coup, president detained: Roch Kaboré, the president of Burkina Faso, has been apprehended by mutinying soldiers. In the West African country, some members of the military have been asking for more resources to combat Islamist militants and for certain military chiefs to lose their jobs.

• UK court rules Julian Assange can appeal extradition: In a win for Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder can appeal a decision that he be extradited to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act. Assange has claimed American prison conditions would be too harsh on his mental health.

• Designer Thierry Mugler dies: French couturier, perfumer and designer Thierry Mugler, behind daring looks for the likes of Beyoncé, David Bowie or Kim Kardashian, has died at age 73, of natural causes.

Stowaway survives 11-hour flight in plane wheel: An unidentified man was found alive in a cargo plane nose wheel after flying from Johannesburg to Amsterdam. The man, who is only identified as being between 16-35 years old, had a very low body temperature after the 6,000-mile trip.


“They came from all over Europe,” titles Belgium’s daily De Standaard, reporting on anti-vaccine protests which gathered an estimated 50,000 demonstrators in Brussels. Clashes erupted as police used water cannons and tear gas on stone-throwing protesters.


13.7 billion years

That’s how far back the James Webb telescope, the successor to NASA’s Hubble telescope, will be able to look. When it reaches its final destination today, some one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away from Earth, the $10 billion telescope developed jointly by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency will be able to scan light that goes back to the beginning of our Universe.


Masahiro Hara takes aim: The QR code inventor builds post-pandemic applications

Conceived in the early 1990s, the QR code has found a second life during the pandemic. French daily Les Echos’ reporter Yann Rousseau met its creator, Masahiro Hara, who’s one of the many continuing to innovate his most famous invention, which has changed everything from medicine to how we dine.

🈺 At the end of 1993, Masahiro Hara, a 64-year-old engineer working for the Denso Wave company, presented the "Quick Response Code" solution to his management. There was little reaction; it was too revolutionary. He then turned to his customers. Several manufacturers were ready to try it out. They quickly understood the advantages of the new system, which can encapsulate up to 7,089 characters in its most detailed version. A key advantage for Japanese companies was that the new code accepted not only the letters of the alphabet, numbers and dozens of symbols, but also the various Japanese characters.

📱 The general public in Japan slowly converted in the mid-2000s with the release of the first cell phones equipped with dedicated QR code readers. Abroad, it was the arrival of smartphones that allowed the use of the small black and white stickers to be more widely spread. They first blossomed in magazines, on advertising posters and on local authority billboards, mainly to lead to a website or a platform offering discount coupons. QR codes later became part of everyday life in several Asian countries.

✋ In our pandemic times, the QR code is seen as an ideal solution to limit contact and touching. As in the West, physical airplane, museum and movie tickets as well as marketing flyers and business cards are gradually vanishing. The presentation of a QR code is now enough to access the website of one's company or a personal email account. In the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, the restaurant "Kichiri" quickly did away with paper menus, suspected of transmitting the coronavirus, in favor of digital versions.

➡️


That’s just pathetic.

— Retired tennis legend Martina Navratilova criticized on Twitter Australian Open organizers’ decision to ban T-shirts saying “Where is Peng Shuai?,” in support of the Chinese player who had disappeared from the public eyes after accusing a Chinese top official of sexual misconduct. Tennis Australia, the organizing body behind the tournament, justified the ban by saying they were concerned with Peng Shuai’s safety.

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

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Le Weekend ➡️ Would There Be Less Conflict With Women Leaders?
In The News

Le Weekend ➡️ Would There Be Less Conflict With Women Leaders?

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!


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]


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


• 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.


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


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


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


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.


“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.


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.


Dottoré! is a weekly column on 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."


• 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

1. Asked during a White House press conference about sanctions against Russia, should it decide to invade, Biden said said a "minor incursion" might not set off the same international response as a full-fledged invasion — sparking outcry in Kyiv and forcing U.S. officials to clarify the U.S. president’s statement.

2. Adelaide is left baffled by a spate of googly eyes that have been popping up everywhere in the southern Australian city..

3. While Meat Loaf (born Mavin Lee Aday) started his rock career with his 1977 album Bat Out of Hell (one of the best-selling records in history), he had previously starred as “Eddie” in the 1975 cult classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

4. 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠 Embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied knowing that a “bring your own booze” party at 10 Downing Street in May 2020 was in breach of COVID-19 rules, arguing that “nobody told [him]“ that it wasn't a work event.

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*Photo: Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA

​Vladimir Putin at the military parade in Russia
Anna Akage

Greater Russia? Four Scenarios For Putin’s Expansionist Ambitions

A mind map of the Russian leader’s possible plans to increase his influence, and expand his territory.

Vladimir Putin has always had his eye on the neighborhood.

In Georgia, the border with Russia has effectively been controlled by Moscow’s FSB security services since 2008. Washington this week accused Russian agents of recruiting pro-Kremlin Ukrainian operatives to take over the government in Kyiv and cooperate with a Russian occupying force. Meanwhile, all of Belarus has been on a short leash for two decades.

“What does Putin want?” and "What will he risk to get it?" are the twin questions all world capitals are asking. The answers, as unknowable as it might be, are compromised of a mix of personal psychology, national myth-making and current realpolitik, but all variations on themes from Russia's complicated history.

Here are four scenarios for how Putin can fulfill his ambition for a Russia greater (larger and stronger) than it is today:

1. Creeping Occupation

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia in 1991, two more lines appeared on the map separating unrecognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, 20% of the territory of Georgia. The establishment of this border is still quietly controlled by the Russian FSB to this day.

This border is moving deeper into Georgia, taking more and more territory without a single shot being fired. A correspondent from Georgia told the Ukrainian newspaper Livy Bereg that the concept of “creeping occupation” emerged in Georgia after the end of the war in 2008. Both Georgian and Russian troops were to withdraw from the nearby territories — and the latter, predictably, broke the agreement. Since 2008, the FSB managed to occupy additional 1,500 square kilometers.

New grey zones are being created around them

Over the past 18 months, Georgian human rights activists have also discovered gray zones, places on the unoccupied territory of Georgia where local people and police do not go because of threats from the FSB. The authorities of unrecognized South Ossetia made publicly available a video from a meeting of the "delimitation commission" on the additional occupation of 2,000 square kilometers of Georgia, including natural areas, villages and strategic routes. New grey zones are being created around them.

Just like the "governments" of the Donbas republics in contested southeastern Ukraine, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are backed by the Kremlin. Gas, electricity, weapons are supplied to these territories, and even pensions and salaries for the local population come from the pockets of Russian taxpayers.

Soldiers of the 46th Separate Task Force Battalion Donbas-Ukraina surveying the territory.

Markiian Lyseiko/Ukrinform/ZUMA

2. Puppet Neighbors

The direct financial injections approved by Putin to support pro-Russian forces in Ukraine and Georgia still pale in comparison to what the Kremlin spends in Belarus, where only Putin's financial support keeps Alexander Lukashenko in power. In 2021, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published data on how much money Moscow has spent on aid to friendly regimes and political megaprojects abroad over the past 20 years. The estimate is notable: $609 billion.

The most ambitiously romantic scenario for Putin's future relations with Georgia and Ukraine is the establishment of puppet regimes there, similar to Belarus. Had it not occurred to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2013 to violently disperse an innocent student demonstration, this plan might already have worked well in Ukraine. However, Yanukovich was overthrown, fled to Russia, and with pro-Western leaders installed in Kyiv, Putin was forced to occupy Crimea and move troops into Donbas.

The well-known Russian political blogger Maxim Katz believes that thanks to his aggressive policy Putin has destroyed the existing "Russian world" and friendly relations between Ukrainians and Russians; so even such a mild scenario will be met extremely negatively in Ukraine and Georgia. No politician, even in Belarus, can count on bonafide popular support if he states his pro-Russian sympathies.

3. USSR Revisited

In 2007, at the end of his second presidential term, Putin made a speech at the Munich Conference, where he was actually quite transparent with his geopolitical plans. He called Russia and the U.S. the only superpowers, the struggle between which is equal to the struggle of civilizations.

Vladimir Putin harbors dreams of bringing back the Soviet-era

In his foreign policy, he is clearly in line with the Brezhnev doctrine, of limited sovereignty, according to which the USSR could interfere in the internal affairs of Central and Eastern European countries that were part of the Communist bloc in order to ensure the stability of its political course. More recently, Putin said that he perceived the collapse of the USSR as a tragedy, as the disintegration of historical Russia.

There is no need for speculation or conjecture: yes, Vladimir Putin harbors dreams of bringing back the Soviet-era global standing to the Kremlin. Yet the Russian President is also a realist and is well aware that such a scenario is virtually impossible — not because a lack of political will to do so, but because it is not economically viable.

Brezhnev at a Party congress in East Berlin in 1967

Bundesarchiv via Wikipedia

Tsarist Imperial Glory

After the release of Alexei Navalny's acclaimed investigative film Palace for Putin that revealed the wealth and corruption at the heart of the regime, the tsarist ambitions of the Russian president could no longer be doubted. No amount of propaganda could conceal the appetite for some kind of restoration of the Russian empire. In these ideas, Putin actually had admitted to in his famous article "On the historical unity of the Russians and Ukrainians," arguing that the single people who founded the ancient state of Kievan Rus' cannot be divided by present life nonsense. Others have compared his ambitions directly to Peter the Great, the mythic tsar who ruled for 42 years beginning in the late 17th century.

By appealing to such ancient models, Putin can justify his actions today. Yet even war with Ukraine would not be enough to unite the former Soviet republics into a new empire state. In a recent interview, however, Putin, as usual, again speculated about the distant past and lamented that the collapse of the Russian empire, like the USSR, was due to the interference of other countries: "Who did it? Those who served other, alien interests, unrelated to the interests of the Russian and other peoples of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation."

Fomenting fears and animosity toward enemies beyond one’s borders can itself become the fuel for both national identity and statecraft. The question for the future of Russia and its neighbors, of course, is who decides what are the borders.

U.S.-Russia Geneva Talks, RIP Meat Loaf, Solo Flight Record
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

U.S.-Russia Geneva Talks, RIP Meat Loaf, Solo Flight Record

👋 你好*

Welcome to Friday, where U.S. and Russian top officials are meeting today in Geneva as tensions mount over Ukraine, rock and Rocky Horror fans mourn Meat Loaf and a 19-year-old flies solo around the world. Meanwhile, from Bogota-based daily El Espectador, we see how an old text reveals new insights to late Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ambiguous history as a “wandering Sandinista.”

[*Nĭ hăo - Mandarin]


This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here


• U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are meeting today in Switzerland amidst growing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Despite denying a planned attack, Russia has gathered some 100,000 on the Ukrainian border, as Blinken has insisted that U.S. and European allies are unified in leveling severe sanctions against Moscow in event of an invasion.

• U.S. charges Belarusian officials with air piracy: Four officials from Belarus face prosecution by the U.S. Justice Department because of the forced landing of a Ryanair jet last year carrying opposition figure Roman Protasevich. The plane, which was flying from Athens to Vilnius, was diverted to Minsk after a fake bomb threat, a scheme allegedly concoted by the Belarusian officials. Protasevich, a journalist, was arrested along with his girlfriend and remains under house arrest.

• COVID update: The fear of an outbreak in Tonga (which has only reported one case during the whole pandemic) is disrupting aid to the Pacific Island nation in the aftermath of a volcano eruption and tsunami. In Germany, an increasing number of anti-vaxxers are joining in protests against the country’s potential plan to make the vaccine mandatory. Meanwhile, Austria becomes the first country in Europe to pass a vaccine mandate for adults.

• Eleven Iraqi soldiers killed by ISIS: The Islamic State group targeted the soldiers in an overnight attack at their base in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala.

• Road accident sparks deadly explosion in Ghana: A truck full of explosives collided with a motorcycle in a western Ghanaian town, killing 17, injuring dozens and damaging hundreds of buildings.

• Singer Meat Loaf dies: U.S. musician and actor Marvin Lee Aday (known as Meat Loaf) has died at age 74. His 1977 debut rock album Bat Out of Hell is one of the best-selling records in history; he also starred as Eddie in the 1975 cult classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Canadian restaurant shut down for accepting dog photos instead of vaccination cards: The Granary Kitchen in Red Deer, Alberta, was forced to temporarily close its dining room after local health services were alerted that the restaurant was skirting pandemic guidelines by accepting dog photos in lieu of vaccine passes. Hopefully, this won’t affect their policy on doggy bags.


“President wanted,” titles Italian weekly news magazine Internazionale ahead of Italy’s presidential elections on Jan. 24. “How the role of the head of state has changed in Italy and who could be next,” the magazine writes, featuring a female figure on its cover, as some hope the country gets its first woman head of state.


New revelations of García Marquez's ties to Cuba and Nicaragua

Like other intellectuals of his time, the celebrated Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez admired Cuba's Fidel Castro, but also, as one text reveals, the Sandinista rebels who have stifled Nicaraguan democracy in past years, writes Mauricio Rubio in Bogota-based daily El Espectador.

🇳🇮 Daniel Ortega was again sworn in earlier this month as president of Nicaragua. Ortega has outdone Anastasio Somoza, the despot he helped topple in his youth, with a record 26 years in power. After Cuba's Fidel Castro, he is the tropical tyrant most frequently cheered by Colombia's leftist intellectuals, and praised as his people's emancipator from “yankee oppression.” When the Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez died, first lady Murillo published a text he had dedicated to her husband in 1982, in which García Márquez proclaimed himself to be a “wandering Sandinista.”

📄 The regime's website recalls that in 1978, García Márquez wrote Asalto al Palacio (Assault on the Palace), a chronicle "of one of the most decisive events of the struggle against the dictatorship" of Somoza. The text is based on accounts given by participants in the attack on the Nicaraguan parliament that year. The operation was decisive in toppling Somoza the following year. García Márquez's idealized description of the incident is unnerving.

🇨🇺 While not surprising, it is annoying that García Márquez kept quiet about the international dimension of the attack and the Cuban regime's definitive influence, if not support, of the operation. As a nickname, Wandering Sandinista is in fact better suited to Renán Montero, the Cuban colonel and longstanding collaborator of the Sandinistas. Montero, who was born in Cuba in the 1930s and established ties with the Sandinistas from the 1960s, had accompanied Ernesto "Che" Guevara to start a revolution in Bolivia, acting as his go-between with Cuba.

➡️


32,361 miles

Teenage aviator Zara Rutherford spent 155 days flying around the world, completing a journey of more than 32,000 miles (52,080 kilometers) that took her through 31 countries and across five continents. After 71 takeoffs and landings she touched down at Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport in Flanders just after 1 pm local time Thursday, becoming the youngest woman to fly around the globe solo. After landing, the 19-year old aviator wrapped herself in British and Belgian flags and told reporters: "It's just really crazy, I haven't quite processed it."


The barber of Amsterdam? Dutch culture sector's hair-razing COVID protest

It’s an unusual sight even in these unusual times: in the Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's prestigious concert hall, a man sits on stage getting his hair cut. Behind him, an orchestra plays Charles Ives' Symphony no. 2. In front of him, dozens of people are watching — both the orchestra, and to see when it's their turn for the next haircut.

For one day it was possible: getting your hair cut in a theater or attending your morning Pilates class in a museum. This was project “Theater Hairdresser”, an initiative set up to protest the Netherlands' continued nationwide lockdown in the arts sector, even after restrictions on other businesses were reduced.

The nation of 17 million entered a strict lockdown on Dec. 19 to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, fearing the increase in cases would overwhelm its relatively small intensive care capacity.

Last week, the government relaxed some of its measures and permitted non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms to open again. But the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte decided to keep cinemas, museums, theaters and other arts and entertainment venues closed.

The decision was met with great disdain since museums and theaters have repeatedly bore the brunt of the Dutch COVID policies. This sector was the final one to open during the last two lockdowns, leading to financial hardship amongst museum workers, artists, producers, and technicians, according to RTL nieuws.

“Theater Hairdresser” is the sector’s response. It’s a playful protest, initiated by cabaret artist Diederik Ebbinge. Approximately 70 theaters and 100 museums participated in the protest, reported the NRC.

After Security Council discussions on Tuesday night, mayors announced that they would be enforcing the COVID-19 measures. This led to tension everywhere as to whether and when the police might intervene. In the end, many municipalities only received a warning. But in other places – such as Nijmegen, Utrecht and Rotterdam – actions were prevented or stopped.

Yet, it seemed some authority figures and police felt for the arts and were reluctant to act. "You could feel from everything that the warnings were half-hearted," said Ebbinge, reports NOS.

Theater De Kleine Komedie in Amsterdam staged its light-heartedly defiant opening, NRC reported. Jochem Myjer, a well-known Dutch comedian standing in front of the doors disguised as a security guard, winked and said: “That’s possible, because we are a hair salon. If it were a theater, it would never be allowed of course.”


We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations.

— Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky pushed back on Twitter on U.S. president Joe Biden’s comment that a “minor incursion” by Russia in Ukraine might not prompt as swift a reaction from NATO as a full-scale invasion. After the comment sparked an outcry in Kyiv, U.S. officials clarified that any crossing of the border would be met with an equally strong and unified response from Western powers.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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a man getting his hair cut while a symphonic band is playing in Amsterdam's concert hall

The Barber Of Amsterdam? Dutch Culture Sector's Hair-Razing COVID Protest

Theaters, museums and cinemas welcomed "essential services" on their stage floors to make a point about the industry's struggles during the latest COVID lockdown.

It’s an unusual sight even in these unusual times: in the Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's prestigious concert hall, a man sits on stage getting his hair cut. Behind him, an orchestra plays Charles Ives' Symphony no. 2. In front of him, dozens of people are watching — both the orchestra, and to see when it's their turn for the next haircut.

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Photo of ​Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking with government members in November 2021
Anna Akage

​What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

In the year since the arrest of Vladimir Putin's last opponent a new Cold War has begun. In the absence of internal enemies, Russia's increasingly powerful yet isolated ruler must turn to external targets.


One year ago this week, on Jan. 17, 2021, Vladimir Putin effectively disposed of his last viable domestic opponent when Alexei Navalny was detained at the Sheremetyevo airport north of Moscow.

Putin had long struggled with how to handle the firebrand anti-corruption lawyer and politician — and finally decided to eliminate him. Months before, in fact, Navalny was poisoned with the deadly biological weapon Novichok but miraculously survived. The surveillance and attempted murder were carried out by Russia’s FSB state security operatives, one of whom confessed to Navalny himself in a phone conversation.

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Photo of a bucket
Mariateresa Fichele

Bucket Of Tears

They're coming out of my ears ...

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.

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Biden Prediction, Austria’s Vaccine Lottery, Googly Eyes Down Under
In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

Biden Prediction, Austria’s Vaccine Lottery, Googly Eyes Down Under

👋 Grüss Gott!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Ukraine lashed out at Biden’s prediction about Russian intentions, Austria is betting on a new incentive for the unvaccinated, and the Australian city of Adelaide is baffled by a mysterious spate of googly eyes. We also look at Russia’s latest efforts to dismantle the REvil hacking group, at Washington’s request, and what this means in the context of U.S.-Russia tensions over Ukraine.

[*Swabian - Germany]


This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here


Biden’s ambiguous comment on Western response over Russia: U.S. President Joe Biden said he thinks Russia will “move in” on Ukraine during a news conference, warning Russian President Vladimir Putin would pay a “serious and dear price” for invading, while acknowledging there would be a lower cost for a “minor incursion.” The comment sparked outcry in Kyiv, where officials have been meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken as Russian troops amass on Ukraine’s border. This Thursday marks one year since Joe Biden was inaugurated as president of the United States.

COVID update: The UK will gradually lift COVID-19 measures including mandatory face masks in public places and coronavirus passports for large events, as infections level off in most parts of the country. Meanwhile, Austria’s government announced the launch of a national lottery to encourage unvaccinated citizens to get the jab, as the country is set on passing a bill introducing a national vaccine mandate.

North Korea hints at restart of nuclear, missile tests: North Korea is considering resuming nuclear and long-range weapons tests as it prepares for “confrontation” with Washington, state news agency KCNA reported.

Pakistani woman sentenced to death for WhatsApp “blasphemy”: A Pakistani court has sentenced a 26-year-old Muslim woman to death for sharing images on WhatsApp considered to be insulting to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and one his wives. Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws include a mandatory death penalty for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

First relief flights land in Tonga: The first foreign aid planes have arrived in Tonga, with much needed humanitarian supplies, five days after the South Pacific nation was devastated by a volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami. A state of emergency has been declared and international communications have been restored.

France mourns death of actor Gaspard Ulliel: French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who gained international attention for his performances in Hannibal Rising and Saint Laurent, was killed in a skiing accident at the age of 37.

Adelaide’s googly eyes bandit: Oversized googly eyes have been mysteriously appearing for days across the Australian southern city of Adelaide, on the faces of various mascots and of a colonial monument.


Peruvian daily El Comercio reports on the oil spill off the coast near Lima, caused by waves linked to Tonga’s eruption and tsunami. Authorities sealed three beaches near the capital and are demanding compensation to Spanish oil giant Repsol, which operates the refinery that leaked 6,000 barrels of oil, for what could be the worst ecological disaster to hit the country in recent history.



A new study revealed that a monster iceberg, also known as A68, was dumping more than 152 billion tons of freshwater in the ocean, every single day at the height of its melting. The A68 “megaberg” (when an entire mass of a glacier breaks off to form a gigantic iceberg) detached from Antarctica in 2017 and began an epic three-and-a-half year 4000-kilometer journey across the Southern Ocean. The ice mass received attention by Christmas 2020 as it approached the warmer climes of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia, and by early 2021 what was once the world’s biggest iceberg had vanished.


REvil bust: Is Russian cybercrime crackdown just a decoy from Ukraine?

This past weekend’s unprecedented operation to dismantle the cybercriminal REvil network in Russia was carried out on a request and information from Washington. Occurring just as the two countries face off over the Russian threat to invade Ukraine raises more questions than it answers.

🇷🇺 🇺🇸 Russian security forces raided 25 addresses in St. Petersburg, Moscow and several other regions south of the capital in an operation to dismantle the notorious REvil group, accused of some of the worst cyberattacks in recent years to hit targets in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West. Russian online media Interfax revealed that this was initiated from a request and information coming directly from Washington. What does it mean that this development came just on the heels of the breakdown in talks between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin?

💻 Talks in prior months between Biden and Putin have previously touched on the topic of cyber security, with the former accusing his Russian counterpart of doing little to address the problem within his own borders. He called on Putin to take all necessary measures to stem these issues following the attack last July, otherwise, the U.S. would be prepared to shoulder the responsibility itself. So was this operation on REvil a sign that Moscow is ready to crack down on cybercriminals inside Russia? Or is its acting now linked to the showdown over NATO and the Ukraine border?

⚠️ The hope among Western law enforcement officials is that the move is ultimately not linked to the current geopolitical standoff. Yet there is the risk that the operation is ultimately a decoy in the larger battle brewing with the West. The timing, following the failed Biden-Putin negotiations, seems aimed at reminding Washington that such potential cooperation would cease if the United States and its allies impose new harsher sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

➡️


There is now a demonstrable effort to make peace.

— The United Nations chief, Antonio Guterres expressed hope Wednesday there could be an opening to resolve the 14 months of conflict in northern Ethiopia, between government and Tigrayan forces. Though he offered no details, Guterres’ statement came after a call with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the African Union’s chief envoy to the Horn of Africa.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

Look out for those googly eyes, and let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!

Black and white photo showing someone looking by the widow
Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness and suicide attempts among adolescent females.

Catherine Zorn had struggled through her youth with mental health until discovering a passion for dance that helped suicidal thoughts and panic attacks largely disappear. “Then the pandemic ripped away her lifeline. In March 2020, her dance school shut down.” So begins an article by Rose Wong and Kailyn Rhone for the Tampa Bay Times, about how COVID-19 has brought a rise in teen suicide attempts, particularly among girls, in Florida, and elsewhere in the United States.

It is a situation mirrored in other countries around the world, two years since the pandemic sparked lockdowns and school closures, taking away the normal means of socialization for millions of young people at a formative age of their development. And evidence points to a disproportionate impact on teenage girls.

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Photo of a man standing in the rubble of a building damaged by a Saudi-led airstrike in the capital of Sanaa, Yemen
In The News
Jane Herbelin, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Tokyo State Of Emergency, Betancourt For President, World’s Oldest Man Dies

👋 નમસ્તે!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Tokyo gets a new COVID state of emergency, Ingrid Betancourt is running for Colombia’s presidency, and the oldest man in the world dies at age 112. Meanwhile Die Welt shows us how Germany's legendary clubbing scene looks in pandemic times.

[*Namaste - Gujarati, India]


• COVID update: As the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the globe, the U.S. government said it will make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public from next week. Japan announced it would place Tokyo and 12 other areas under a COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency, with the capital reporting 7,377 new infections. Meanwhile Germany joined countries like France, the U.K and Italy in recording more than 100,000 new cases in a single day.

• Blinken arrives in Ukraine amid Russia invasion fears: The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv to reaffirm U.S. support for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, before heading to Berlin on Thursday and Geneva on Friday, in a whistle-stop diplomatic effort to defuse escalating tensions amid mounting fears that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent.

• Israeli forces evict Palestinians and tear down East Jerusalem home: Israeli forces evicted a Palestinian family of 18 from their home overnight in occupied East Jerusalem, before tearing down the property, prompting criticism from human rights activists and diplomats. The family is now rendered homeless. Israeli authorities justified the move to build a special education school for the residents of the neighborhood.

• Former FARC captive Ingrid Betancourt to run for Colombia presidency: Colombia’s Ingrid Betancourt has announced she will be running for her country's presidency again, 20 years after she was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during a previous campaign.

• Water crisis looms for tsunami-hit Tonga: The Red Cross warned that securing access to safe drinking water was “a critical immediate priority” amid the looming water crisis following the eruption of an undersea volcano in Tonga. Two New Zealand navy vessels carrying water supplies for the Pacific island nation will on Friday. The death toll of the volcanic eruption has risen to three people, two local residents and a British woman.

• Paris presents “manifesto of beauty” to recapture lost charm: Paris city hall unveiled a “beauty manifesto”, containing plans to spruce up the City of Lights after an online campaign spotlighting ugliness and filth put pressure on Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

• World's oldest man dies at 112: The world's oldest man, Saturnino de la Fuente García from León, Spain has died, three weeks before turning 113.


Slovak daily Dennik devotes its front page to the 73,201 deaths Slovakia registered in 2021, a post-War record death toll for the country of 5.4 million. An estimated 20,000 of the deaths are attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.


Germany's legendary clubbing culture crashes museum space

The exhibition “Electro” in Düsseldorf is an unlikely tribute to a joyful and uninhibited club culture, with curators forced to contend with limits of a museum setting ... and another COVID lockdown, reports Boris Pofalla in German daily Die Welt.

🕺❌ It is surely a coincidence that the first comprehensive exhibition charting the 100-year history of electronic music in Germany opened in the same week that night clubs across the country were forced to close. It wasn’t planned that way, but it’s like opening an exhibition about the cultural history of alcohol the day after the introduction of prohibition. Since the start of the pandemic, wild parties have been a rarity, drinking has been done behind closed doors and spontaneity has been consigned to the history books.

🎹 Are we witnessing the end of uninhibited nightlife? How long can clubs survive under such extreme pressure? Was everything better in the past? And what exactly do we mean by “everything?" The exhibition “Electro — from Kraftwerk to Techno” at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf traces the history of a cultural phenomenon that has had a significant impact on our society. It looks back to the 1920s, to the invention of the electronic Croix Sonore, the ethereophone and the theremin and through the 1930s and the invention of the Trautonium, an early version of a synthesizer.

🎶 The curators have installed scaffolding inside the museum’s blocky architecture. Within the square spaces created, 500 exhibits are presented against a black background with low lighting, synthesizers, photographs, record sleeves, illustrations, artworks, videos and interactive installations. And then there is the constant background noise. Star DJ Laurent Garnier has put together multiple playlists that allow visitors to travel through the major techno cities of the world.

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$68.7 billion

Microsoft announced a landmark $68.7 billion deal to buy U.S. gaming giant Activision Blizzard, which will make the tech corporation the third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony. Activision Blizzard, the maker of Candy Crush and Call of Duty, has been hit by a state lawsuit alleging it enabled toxic workplace conditions and sexual harassment against women employees last year.


Italy's high court: Loud toilet flush is violation of human rights

An Italian couple has won a two-decade-long court battle that invoked an international treaty signed after World War II in order to prove the acceptable volume of a toilet flush.

The ordeal started as a typical neighborhood quarrel, yet spanned nearly two decades and eventually made its way up to Italy's Highest Court this week, Rome daily La Repubblica reports.

It all began in 2003, when four brothers built a new toilet in their apartment located in the La Spezia province of northwest Italy. The husband and wife living next door soon complained that the toilet was used frequently during the night, and the flush was so loud it woke them up each time.

The couple took their case to court, demanding a resolution of the noise problem and the payment of damages; but the trial judge rejected their case.

The couple decided to take their case to the appeals court of Genoa, triggering an inspection of the two flats that ultimately found in their favor. Investigators reported that they'd discovered "a significant excess of three decibels over the standards required by legislation." Translation: that flush was too damn loud.

The four brothers were required to change the WC flush location in the flat, and to pay 500 euros per year, beginning from the toilet's installation in 2003.

The four brothers ultimately decided to bring “the flush case” to the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal in Italy.

But finally the high court ruled in favor of the couple, considering the impact the flush had on their quality of life as an infringement of a right "to respect one's own private and family life," constitutionally guaranteed protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Wash your hands. Turn out the lights. After 19 years of battle, the fate of the four brothers was sealed and the war of the flush silenced forever.

➡️ Keep up with all the planet’s police reports and plot twists on


“Nobody told me.”

— During a visit to a hospital in north London, embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied knowing that a “bring your own booze” party at 10 Downing Street, was in breach of COVID-19 rules. “Nobody said this was something that was against the rules, doing something that wasn't a work event, because frankly, I can't imagine why it would have gone ahead, or it would have been allowed to go ahead if it was against the rules." It’s not clear if such pleas of ignorance by the head of government will help Johnson hold onto his job amid growing calls for his resignation over his breaching UK’s lockdown rules.

✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Loud neighbors? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!