Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden announces a huge COVID relief package, North Korea boasts "the world's most powerful weapon" and Wikipedia turns 20. Les Echos also explains how the pandemic response is quietly helping us prepare for the next big bad thing.


When I was a kid — 12,13 — my dad had a shrink friend who used to come around our house. His usual business on these visits was to review the degenerating state of the world for us, and list the ways it all made his profession difficult.

"Wanna catch a glimpse of the future?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Just visit the waiting room of a psychologist!" Then he raised a finger: "I'll tell you, they're no neurotics left, just narcissists!"

I remember that night because the word narcissist entered my vocabulary directly from the mouth of a professional in the field. And inside my still-growing cortex, a terrifying image of what that might mean for a person, the world, as well as for Dr. Jansson's blood pressure.

The term accompanied me through 2016, as Donald Trump lied and boasted and driveled his way to the pole position in the GOP primary, and on to the White House. What eventually was even more terrifying about the election of a narcissist was the subsequent consensus in the psychological community that Trump appealed most of all to fellow narcissists.

So ... as with Donald, as with us, the people. We the people, who almost twice elected a high-end bingo caller as leader of the Free World. There's solid data coming from my priest dad — Gunnar — that narcissism's rise to the status of a folk illness dates back decades.

Yes, it predates that virtual litter box for the worst that humans can verbally discharge. Twitter and other social media no doubt play their part, but at the time of the dinner conversation at my house, Zuckerberg had yet to invent his algorithm and people were still playing Snake II on Nokias.

Dr. Jansson's theory, Gunnar recalled on the phone the other day, was rather that our self-absorbed tendencies were the result of the widespread distrust in any kind of overarching idea. We contemporary humans prefer to cherry-pick our ideas — often fragmented, incoherent and simplified — that best validate some feeling of self-worth.

That's what Gunnar saw last week on his television set in southern Sweden as a mob of narcissists launched their assault on the U.S. Capitol. They are not believers in any ideology, per se, but rather a fleeting series of (conspiracy) theories: that Trump leads a covert battle against a blood-sucking child-trafficking conglomerate featuring Hillary Clinton and Tom Hanks; that the 2020 election was stolen through Hugo Chavez-designed voting machines hacked by Venezuelan children; that who knows what next ...

... well, you get it. The farcical madness that played out in Washington suggests something deeper than just political polarization, or the disillusionment of under-educated white voters, or social media going haywire. The lesson of these last four years that (let us hope) culminated last week is that our collective sanity, like democracy, requires constant support from professionals in the field.

— Carl-Johan Karlsson


• COVID-19 latest: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces a $1.9 trillion relief package which includes $1,400 per person, additional unemployment benefits, food stamps, and rental assistance. As cases hit 30 million across Europe, France announces a 6 pm curfew, and the UK bans all flights from South America.

• Capitol riot aftermath: The Pentagon launches investigation into White Nationalism extremists in the military noting that "numerous people" have been identified as military veterans or active-duty service members. Meanwhile, the Army agrees to bring 21,000 National Guard members to D.C. and the city's mayor asks people not to come to the inauguration.

• North Korea flexes military: Kim Jong-un boasts Pyongyang's submarine launched missile as "world's most powerful weapon," and calls the U.S. his "principal enemy."

• Algerian roadside bomb: Five civilians have been killed and three wounded in a homemade bomb in eastern Algeria.

• Earthquake in Indonesia: A 6.2-magnitude quake has shaken the island of Sulawesi, killing at least 34.

• Dakar rally news: France's Pierre Cherpin has died from a head injury he sustained during a motorsport crash. Fellow countryman Stéphane Peterhansel has won the rally for the 14th time, a new record.

• Tintin painting breaks record: The original cover for Tintin's The Blue Lotus volume from 1936 was bought by a private collector for a record €3.2 million at a Paris auction. It breaks the 2014 record for the most expensive comic book art sale of €2.65 million.

"Without oxygen, Manaus sees deaths from asphyxiation in hospitals," titles daily O Globo as hospitals in the Brazilian city reach breaking point with reports of severe oxygen shortages and desperate staff. Brazil records more than 205,000 deaths, the world's second highest tally.


Before it even began, the pandemic was already on the radar of big risks — and yet we were unprepared. Will it be the same for cyber security and environmental threats? asks Jean-Marc Vittori in French daily Les Echos.

If this health crisis is causing so much suffering, it's because we refused to seriously prepare for it. The time has therefore come to think about the next global catastrophes — the less predictable ones. "If you want peace, prepare for war" goes the old Latin adage. Luckily a major conflict among allied nations, seen in the last century, doesn't seem as likely today.

The major perils — the ones that could create worldwide catastrophes — are of a different nature. Except for infectious diseases and weapons of mass destruction, they all fit into two categories: digital and natural. And what happened with the pandemic can help us prepare for both.

The digital world has two dangers: system malfunctions and cyber attacks. Google's worldwide shutdown on December 14th after a problem with its identification system gave a glimpse of what this kind of massive outage could look like, and the consequences weren't just a missing search bar. The lesson here is clear: resilience requires diversification. It's similar to the old maxim, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."

The other genre of catastrophic events is environmental: extreme weather, water shortages, natural disasters… "Climate: the next threat?" proclaimed the Toulouse School of Economics in their latest review. "In the long term, no challenge is greater or more urgently requires evidence-based action than climate change," declared Christian Gollier, the school's director.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com here.


"COVID-19 pandemic" was Wikipedia's most-read page in 2020 with more than 83 million visits, followed by Donald Trump and "Deaths in 2020." The collaborative internet encyclopedia is celebrating its 20th birthday today and has now become the seventh-most popular website in the world.

It is the State that is charged with safeguarding the welfare of its most vulnerable citizens, and it is the State that must bear primary responsibility.

Irish President Michael D Higgins responds to a government report this week that found an "appalling level of infant mortality" and abuse of women and children at the Catholic Church-run homes that cared for mothers and children.


See more from World Affairs here