Geopolitics

The Latest: Brazil's Variant, Japan's Triple Whammy, Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year celebrations start today in China. The year 2021 is the Year of the Ox.
Lunar New Year celebrations start today in China. The year 2021 is the Year of the Ox.

Welcome to Friday, where Brazil's health minister has good and bad news about the local COVID variant, China bans the BBC and another boomer bungles his zoom filters. We also have a closer look at how the pandemic is altering the meaning of freelancing in the world of work around the world.

COVID-19 latest: The Australian state of Victoria orders its third lockdown, even as the Australian Open tennis tournament carries on in Melbourne, without spectators. Players will be cocooned in biosecure bubbles. The U.S. has secured 200 million more vaccine doses. Brazil's health minister says the variant found in the Amazon is three times more contagious.

Myanmar military coup update: Protesters defy the military's plea to "join hands' in the seventh straight day of protests, while the tourism sector and ethnic minorities also join forces in civil disobedience. The U.S. has announced sanctions against military officials including blacklisting the jewel industry and freezing of assets. Amnesty International has released the results from their analysis of social media footage and has found that forces deployed machine guns against peaceful protesters.

Trump's trial: House Democrats wrapped up their case against former President Donald Trump by appealing to the Senate that simple "common sense" is all that's necessary to see that Trump should be convicted of betraying his oath to the Constitution.

China bans BBC News: In an apparent tit-for-tat over coverage of the Uighur concentration camps, China has blocked BBC from broadcasting.

RIP Chick Corea: The beloved Jazz singer with 23 Grammy Awards has died of cancer.

Lunar New Year kicks off: Across China and many parts of Asia are celebrating amidst contact tracing apps, COVID tests, masks, and temperature checks. While some are enjoying treats at markets and others are worshipping in temples, spending habits show that many more have chosen instead to stay home. Soothsayers are predicting the Year of the Ox to be a good and prosperous one.

Congressman floating head: Just days after the Texas attorney appeared as a cat in an important Zoom call, Minnesota GOP Congressman Thomas Earl Emmer appeared as a floating, upside-down head in a Zoom congressional hearing.


Lisbon-based daily Jornal i dedicates a dossier to sex during the pandemic. Psychologists advise to "appeal to imagination," and resort to music and love letters.

Work → In Progress: Freelancing changes afoot

Vaccines are slowly arriving, but many of the shifts COVID has created will be lasting. These reverberations are much deeper than just working from home or increased digitization — society's priorities have evolved. This edition of Work → In Progress explores how these changes in ethos are manifesting in business and labor. In a world rethinking everything from agricultural models to freelance contracts, here are some of the latest trends in the workplace:

AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION Agriculture in India, which accounts for about 58% of the population's livelihood, is in distress. Farmers in the subcontinent have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, a symptom of conditions of extreme poverty. An op-ed in the Delhi-based news outlet The Wire argues that in order to improve the agricultural sector, governmental policies should "have a clear vision of what our future villages should be" and plan accordingly to ensure the stability of local populations. It's an idea that could ensure employment for farmers around the world.

REMOTE VS. 5-DAY WORKWEEK Old habits die hard, and that includes the five-day work week and daily 9-to-5 grind. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, Fast Company argues, it's that standard practice isn't necessarily the best practice. For one thing, worker engagement and performance tends to start strong on Mondays but gradually drop during the week. Also, remote work and digital technologies mean we hardly stop checking our screens at 5 p.m. — and people relinquish hours of unaccounted work in the hope of some downtime in the weekend. What if companies instead allowed employees to get the work done "whenever they can," logging their hours when they'd like — including early mornings, late, nights, weekends?

URBAN ARRIVEDERCI An increasing number of young Italians are leaving cities and offices to rediscover a love for the countryside. The biggest farmer's association in Italy reports a 14% rise in the number of young farmers over the last five year. The group said the rise was partly propelled by the coronavirus crisis. Many of these young farmers came from different professional backgrounds, allegedly looking to reconnect with nature and a more genuine lifestyle.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


Powering through appendicitis for perfect score on Chile's national exam

The two-day, standardized exam that Chilean high school students must take to gain entry into university is grueling enough to make anyone a bit sick to their stomach.

Antonia Schmohol, 18, was no exception, although in her case, the abdominal aches that began bothering her on the eve of the dreaded PTU, as the test is called, turned out to be more than just a case of nerves, the Chilean daily Las Ultimas Notícias reports.

Despite her discomfort, the teenager — who hails from Chiguayante, a small city about 500 km south of Santiago — soldiered through the long, first day of the exam. That night, the pain only worsened, but still, Schmohol's family kept insisting that she was probably just anxious.

Having barely slept, the bleary-eyed young woman returned to the testing center the next day, Jan. 9, doubled over in pain at times, nonetheless completed the final portion of the test, the mathematics section.

Relieved to finally have the PTU behind her, Schmohol felt sure, nevertheless, that she'd missed at least a few of the answers. She also knew at that point that something was seriously wrong in her stomach area, and soon after went to a nearby hospital, where she was diagnosed with appendicitis and operated on right away.

The determined young Chilena has since made a full recovery. But this week — just over a month after her gut-wrenching ordeal — the individual story became national news.

On Wednesday, Schmohol received a call from the Education Ministry informing her that she was one of just 218 students nationwide to earn a perfect score on the PTU's math section. Talk about grace under pressure.

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com

32%

According to statistics from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), some 800,000 house cleaners in Mexico have lost their jobs during the pandemic — that's nearly one-third of all workers in this sector registered in the country in 2019 (2.4 million).

It's been a triple whammy for Japan.

— The widely anticipated resignation Friday of Yoshiro Mori, who had served as chief of the Tokyo Olympics, was the latest piece of bad news for the Japanese hosts of the Summer Games, notes Simon Chadwick, a sport industry expert at Emlyon Business School in France. First, the pandemic prompted the 2020 Games to be postponed, which was followed by last year's resignation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and now Mori's scandal over his use of sexist language. Despite the continued battle against COVID-19 and the search for Mori's successor, the Games are still scheduled to begin July 23.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

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

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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