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!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


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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]

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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]

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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]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

China Less-Than-Zero-COVID, Saudi Raids In Yemen, Space Diamond

👋 Привет!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where China further clamps down its COVID controls, Saudi Arabia launches air raids on the Yemeni capital and Indonesia gets a new capital. Meanwhile Les Echos’ Théophile Simon finally sees brighter days at hand in Iraq, during an extensive tour of the reconstruction efforts around the country.

[*Privet - Russian]

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In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

China On High COVID Alert, Tonga Eruption Aftermath, Anne Frank’s Traitor

👋 Halo!*

Welcome to Monday, where China is on high COVID alert as Lunar New Year celebrations kick off, Tonga reels from a massive underwater eruption, and a veteran FBI agent may have found out who betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis. Meanwhile, Russian daily Kommersant recounts how Kazakhstan has passed from one strongman to another.

[*Sundanese - Indonesia]

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In The News

Le Weekend ➡️ Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: Rules & Power In Pandemic Times

January 15-16

  • Kazakhstan’s vicious circle of strongmen
  • COVID school chaos around the world
  • The truth behind why we lie to ourselves
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

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]

⬇️  STARTER

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


🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• 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.

📚😷 COVID SCHOOL CHAOS AROUND THE WORLD


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

🇰🇿  KAZAKHSTAN’S VICIOUS CIRCLE OF STRONGMEN


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

🐟 DENMARK, A SMALL FISH IN THE SALMON INDUSTRY’S BIG POND


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

💡  BRIGHT IDEA

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.

#️⃣ TRENDING


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.

🤦‍♀️🛴🤦‍♂️ FACEPALM OF THE WEEK


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.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

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.

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• 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:

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In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Vaccine Mandate Denied, Djoko In Limbo, 97-Year-Old Piano Prodigy

👋 Nyob zoo!*

Welcome to Friday, where the U.S. Supreme Court says no to Biden’s vaccine mandate, Australia cancels Djokovic’s visa (again) and a child piano prodigy releases an album … at 97. Persian-language media Kayhan-London also takes a look at Russia's growing influence at the highest levels of Iran's military.

[*Hmong Daw - Laos]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

BoJo Under Pressure, Landmark Syria Trial, Gruyère Row

👋 Ahoj!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Boris Johnson faces rising calls to resign, an ex Syrian colonel is convicted in a landmark torture trial, and the U.S. finds loopholes in the Gruyère cheese label. We also mark 10 years since the Costa Concordia disaster off the coast of Tuscany.

[*Czech]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Unvaccinated Tax, N. Korea Hypersonic Missile, RIP Rat Hero

👋 Lasso fyafulla!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Quebec will tax the unvaccinated, North Korea says it tested hypersonic missile, and we salute you Magawa, Cambodia’s landmine-sniffing “hero rat.” La Stampa also visits the outskirts of Rome to see how the coronavirus pandemic has amplified longstanding social divides and inequalities in the Italian capital.

[*Tamang - Nepal]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

U.S.-Russia Stalemate, Asymptomatic Omicron, Pig Heart Breakthrough

👋 Bozhoo!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where the U.S breaks a new COVID record, “no progress” in tense talks between Russian and American officials over Ukraine and a medical breakthrough crosses the animal kingdom. Meanwhile, we look at why more and more countries around the world are loosening laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

[*Ojibwe - Canada]

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In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Djokovic Win, Kazakhstan Toll, Gates Of Hell

👋 Moni!*

Welcome to Monday, where unvaccinated Novak Djokovic wins court battle allowing him to stay in Australia to play in upcoming Australian Open, the death toll in Kazakhstan continues to rise and a natural attraction could get literally extinguished in Turkmenistan. We also look at how the surge in Omicron cases is threatening live events around the world. Again...

[*Chewa - Malawi and Zambia]

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In The News

Introducing *Le Weekend*, The New Worldcrunch Newsletter

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

🎲 But first, a news quiz!

What do you remember from the news this week?

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

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

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

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

[Answers below]

⬇️  STARTER

The why, what and when of our new Weekend Newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jeff Israely, Worldcrunch editor

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

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

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

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

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

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

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

🇰🇿  THE ROOTS OF KAZAKHSTAN’S TURMOIL


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

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

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

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

😷❌  COVID TRIES TO CANCEL EVERYTHING AGAIN


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

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

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

🇿🇦  PARLIAMENT FIRE KINDLES QUESTIONS FOR SOUTH AFRICA


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

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

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

💡  BRIGHT IDEA

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

#️⃣ TRENDING


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

⚽😊 SMILE OF THE WEEK


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

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

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

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

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

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

👉   OTHERWISE ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News quiz answers:

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

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Kazakhstan Order, India COVID Spike, Multilingual Dogs

👋 Saluton!*

Welcome to Friday, where order has been restored in Kazakhstan, with a very heavy hand and help from Russia, North Korea bows out of the Beijing Olympics because of COVID and a new study shows dogs have multilingual skills. Meanwhile, Negar Jokar writes in Persian-language media Kayhan-London about the ways that Iran hounds refugees who have fled to Turkey.

*Keep your eye out 😉 tomorrow for the first edition of our Weekend newsletter, which will be a variation (not variant!) on what we deliver with Worldcrunch Today every Monday through Friday. We’ll let you discover demain the special name we’ve given our new weekly edition!

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Deadly Kazakh Protests, Australia v. Djokovic, Judge Kisses Cop Killer

👋 Hallo!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Kazakhstan police kill dozens of protesters, Australia revokes No-Vax Djokovic’s visa and an Argentine judge gets caught on camera kissing an inmate. We also look at the measures countries around the world are implementing to force the hands of unvaccinated citizens to get the jabs.

[*Flemish]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Rio Carnival Canceled, No Vax Djokovic, Macron & La Merde

👋 Muraho!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where the Omicron variant keeps breaking daily infection records around the world, violent protests lead Kazakhstan to declare state of emergency, and France’s Macron is in la merde for his vulgar warning to unvaccinated people. Meanwhile, we look at Denmark’s plans to rent prison cells abroad, and what this could mean for the future of imprisonment and law enforcement around the world.

[*Kinyarwanda - Rwanda]

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