Start your day here: Lunar New Year in the Asian diaspora

Published February 1, 2022 at 8:16 AM EST
Lion And Dragon Dance celebrates the Lunar New Year in Las Vegas in 2021.
Ethan Miller
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Getty Images
Dancers and musicians perform a lion and dragon dance during a Lunar New Year ceremony at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas in 2021.

Good morning,

Here are the top stories we're following today:

Year of the Tiger: Today is the beginning of the Lunar New Year, one of the most important festivals in many Asian countries and the Asian diaspora. Here's a look at how families celebrate.

Shots for the littlest ones: A COVID vaccine may be available much earlier than anticipated for kids 5 and younger. Pfizer-BioNTech is expected to seek emergency use authorization for a regimen designed for kids ages 6 months to 5 years, according to a person familiar with the plan.

Ukraine update: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is facing mounting pressure to step down at home, is headed to Ukraine today. Here are the latest developments in the situation.

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, the crisis in Ukraine could lead to an energy crisis in all of Europe.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Rachel Treisman, Carol Ritchie, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)

Weather

2 monster lightning strikes have set new records for distance and duration

Posted February 1, 2022 at 12:10 PM EST
A lightning bolt strikes near the Uruguayan Yacht Club during a thunderstorm in Montevideo early on November 16, 2021. The World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday said it had certified two record-breaking megaflashes of lightning.
MARIANA SUAREZ/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
A lightning bolt strikes near the Uruguayan Yacht Club during a thunderstorm in Montevideo in November 2021. The year before, the Americas saw two record-breaking megaflashes of lightning.

A pair of megaflashes of lightning over North and South America have set new records for flash distance and duration, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Both flashes occurred in 2020. Parts of the southern U.S. saw the longest lightning flash by distance on April 29. The flash covered a horizontal distance of about 477 miles — roughly equivalent to the distance between New York City and Columbus, Ohio, according to an announcement by the WMO on Tuesday.

In June 2020, South America experienced a lightning flash of record-breaking duration. The flash lasted about 17 seconds and developed through a thunderstorm over Uruguay and northern Argentina, the WMO said.

Prior to these records, a megaflash in Brazil held the record for the longest flash by distance, at about 441 miles. A 16.73-second megaflash in Argentina, recorded in March 2019, held the record for the longest duration.

"These are extraordinary records from single lightning flash events," said professor Randall Cerveny, rapporteur of weather and climate extremes for WMO. "It is likely that even greater extremes still exist, and that we will be able to observe them as lightning detection technology improves."

Researchers used space-based technology to measure the duration and distance of the megaflashes. Previous technology relied on ground-based lightning mapping networks, which scientists say are limited.

With the space-based technology, researchers are able to obtain "excellent measurements" of the many facets of lightning, said lead author Michael J. Peterson.

"Now that we have a robust record of these monster flashes, we can begin to understand how they occur and appreciate the disproportionate impact that they have," Peterson said.

Animal kingdom

After fostering an egg together, this pair of male penguins are now first-time dads

Posted February 1, 2022 at 12:02 PM EST

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y., has at times used foster parents to incubate penguin eggs — but those couples have always been made up of one male and one female.

Last year, after testing their fostering capabilities, zoo staff decided to entrust one of those eggs to two males: Elmer and Lima. The pair welcomed a healthy chick on Jan. 1, making them first-time dads and the zoo's first same-sex foster parents to successfully hatch an egg.

“Elmer and Lima’s success at fostering is one more story that our zoo can share to help people of all ages and backgrounds relate to animals,” said zoo director Ted Fox.

Elmer and Lima hatched at the zoo in 2016 and 2019, respectively, and formed a pair bond for the current breeding season, the zoo said in a release. They are both Humboldt penguins, which hail from South America and are classified as "vulnerable" because of climate change and habitat loss.

As part of the Species Survival Plan for Humboldt penguins, the zoo has its own sizable penguin colony and has hatched more than 55 chicks over nearly two decades.

It explained that several breeding pairs have a history of accidentally breaking their fertilized eggs (that's what happened to Elmer, who is named after the glue used to repair the damaged egg from which he later emerged). To try to increase the eggs' odds, zoo staff have at times replaced one couple's egg with a "dummy egg" and transferred the original to another couple to incubate.

That's where Elmer and Lima come in. The two paired up in the fall of 2021, building a nest and defending their territory. The penguin team decided to test their fostering skills — which not all penguins have.

“Some pairs, when given a dummy egg, will sit on the nest but leave the egg to the side and not incubate it correctly, or they’ll fight for who is going to sit on it when,” Fox said. “That’s how we evaluate who will be good foster parents — and Elmer and Lima were exemplary in every aspect of egg care.”

The team determined on Dec. 23 that an egg laid by another couple — female Poquita and her mate Vente — had a viable embryo inside and gave it to Elmer and Lima for incubation.

It hatched on Jan. 1 and weighed 8 ounces at its first health check five days later. Fox said the male penguins took turns incubating the egg before it hatched, and have been warming and feeding the chick since.

“It continues to be brooded and cared for by both Elmer and Lima, who are doing a great job," he added. "And once they have experience doing this and continue to do it well, they will be considered to foster future eggs.”

The zoo is celebrating Elmer and Lima as its first successful same-sex foster parents. But while their journey is relatively rare, it's certainly not the first of its kind in the U.S. or even the world.

Other same-sex penguin pairs who have fostered chicks at zoos in recent years include Electra and Viola, female gentoo penguins in Spain; Skipper and Ping, male king penguins in Berlin; and Eduardo and Rio, male Magellanic penguins in San Francisco.

Some older high-profile, same-sex penguin relationships have ended in heartbreak, as NPR has reported. Others are still going strong.

They include Sphen and Magic, who fostered two chicks together and recently celebrated their third anniversary to much fanfare.

The SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium describes them as a "same sex penguin power couple" who became a symbol of Australia's gay rights movement when they got together in 2018. (They've outlasted such celebrity relationships as Elon Musk/Grimes and Camila Cabello/Shawn Mendes, the aquarium notes).

Here's hoping Elmer and Lima can follow in their webbed footsteps.

Chart-topper

Let's talk about 'We Don't Talk About Bruno'

Posted February 1, 2022 at 11:12 AM EST

Have you watched Encanto yet? Even if the answer is no, you've probably heard of it — or, more likely, heard some of the catchy songs from it.

The animated Disney musical debuted in late December and tells the story of the magical (and dysfunctional) Madrigal family, who live in a mystical house in the mountains of Colombia. It features colorful visuals and lavish musical numbers from the powerful mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda. And it's brought us some of 2022's earliest earworms.

Specifically, "We Don't Talk About Bruno." The song comes in under just four minutes, features an ensemble cast and is getting more popular by the day.

It reached the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on Monday, five weeks after it debuted at No. 50. It's only the second song from a Disney animated film to reach those heights, following Aladdin's "A Whole New World" in 1993.

It's also the first Hot 100 No. 1 for Walt Disney Records, whose other chart-topping songs include High School Musical's "Breaking Free" and Frozen's "Let It Go." The song picked up steam over time, with its growing popularity even surprising its creator.

"I'm surprised it's 'Bruno,'" Miranda told People last month. "I feel like this is my 'Send in the Clowns,' which was the late Stephen Sondheim's biggest hit and probably the most random of an incredible career and life making music. But I'll take it!"

Plus, according to a recent tweet from Miranda, the song's titular character almost went by a different name.

But Encanto's other musical numbers are nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the entire soundtrack just spent its third week at the top of the Billboard 200 albums chart.

Glen Weldon, co-host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, spoke to Weekend All Things Considered on Sunday about what could be behind Bruno's particular success.

He said it's not only "insanely catchy," but also happens to regale a very relatable phenomenon: family gossip.

"Every family has that thing that we all agree not to gossip about until you get one of your aunts alone away from the rest of the family, and then it all comes spilling out," he said. "People recognize that. I mean, the song starts with, 'We don't talk about Bruno, no, no, no,' and then immediately, very first verse, you get, 'But it was my wedding day' ... That is doing a lot of very familiar work."

Weldon also credits TikTok with the song's meteoric rise on the charts. Billboard factors the social media app into its charts, he said, and "this song has all the usual stuff that TikTok creators love," from lip-syncing to dance moves to specific characters.

It's not Weldon's favorite song from the movie, however — or the only one steadily climbing the charts. That's this one.

International Dispatch
From South Africa

South Africa scraps many COVID restrictions, citing high levels of population immunity

Posted February 1, 2022 at 10:50 AM EST
Thousands of New Year's day revellers and holidaymakers gather on the North Beach during New Year festivities in Durban, South Africa on Jan. 1 after the government removed a COVID-19 midnight to 4am curfew.
Rajesh Jantilal
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AFP via Getty Images
Thousands of New Year's Day revelers gather on the beach in Durban, South Africa, on Jan. 1 after the government removed a COVID-19 midnight-to-4 a.m. restrictions.

South Africa has taken a huge step toward getting back to normal. Overnight, the government announced sweeping changes to many of the leftover COVID-19 regulations. From now on, anyone without symptoms can continue to live life as normal. Anyone who comes into contact with a COVID-positive person and has no symptoms can also continue as normal. No testing. No isolation.

And if you do have symptoms, the isolation has been cut down to seven days from 10. And beginning Tuesday, schools will open as they did before the pandemic: They will no longer operate on an A/B schedule, and there is no longer a social distancing requirement. All kids will show up to school at the same time.

The only noticeable vestige of COVID-19 regulations here in South Africa are masks, which are still required in public spaces and on public transport.

In a statement, the government said it was taking these steps because the proportion of people with immunity to COVID-19 has “risen substantially, exceeding 60-80% in several sero-surveys.” That means up to 80% of South Africans are either vaccinated or have recovered from a COVID-19 infection, so their blood samples show COVID-19 antibodies.

These are all concrete signs that perhaps South Africa has become the largest and most important African country to reach what NPR's Nurith Aizenman called COVID’s holy grail: “the endemic stage of the pandemic, in which the coronavirus becomes a more predictable seasonal bug like the flu or common cold.”

Ukraine

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. talks about the testy Security Council exchange with Russia

Posted February 1, 2022 at 10:35 AM EST
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Ukraine's Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslysya speak to the media following a Security Council meeting on Monday.
Spencer Platt
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Getty Images
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya speak to the media following a Security Council meeting on Monday.

Diplomacy over Ukraine turned into a public confrontation at the U.N. Security Council on Monday — after Moscow lost an attempt to block the meeting from happening in the first place.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the U.S. of "whipping up tensions and rhetoric" about the situation in Ukraine, where Russia has amassed an estimated 127,000 troops on its side of the border. Nebenzia said Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine.

"You are almost calling for this, you want it to happen. You're waiting for it to happen as if you want to make your words become a reality," Nebenzia said.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield shot back, pointing at Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s border. "The situation we are facing in Europe is urgent and dangerous," Thomas-Greenfield said. "Russia's actions strike at the very heart of the U.N. charter."

Thomas-Greenfield reflected on the tense exchanges Tuesday on Morning Edition. Here are excerpts of that conversation, edited in parts for clarity and length.

On Russians feeling that U.S. warnings are “hysterical and fear-mongering”

We expected to hear that kind of response from the Russians. They did not want to stand before the world and explain what they are doing on the border with Ukraine, and we called the meeting for just that purpose, and to pursue, continue to pursue, a diplomatic response, given the stakes that we see for Ukraine and for Europe and for the rest of the world. And I think what was important is that the Russians heard almost every member of the Security Council tell them that they agree with us that the path of diplomacy is better than the path of war.

On Ukrainian complaints that the U.S. warning caused panic and put that country’s economy at risk

Their messaging is different from ours … But the goals are the same.

On public confrontation possibly hurting quiet diplomacy

This meeting at the Security Council, while public, was one more diplomatic effort to give the Russians an opportunity to explain what they are doing on the border with Ukraine. We are continuing to relentlessly engage with them diplomatically. As you may have heard, Secretary [Antony] Blinken is speaking with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov today.

On what the meeting accomplished on Monday

Russia heard from the world that they agreed with us. They tried to stop this meeting. They called for a vote, and they did not win. The council voted to hear from Russia. The council voted to discuss this issue openly and publicly, so it clearly was not a failure.

For us, it was an absolute success, in the sense that we allowed the world to hear what we've been hearing from the Russians and we were able to refute their dissemination and their propaganda campaign.

On U.N. leverage should Russia invade Ukraine

We will continue to work within the Security Council to pursue an approach that will allow us to hold Russia accountable ... But I will say I think clearly, and you've heard it from us before, that our response will be swift and it will be severe and it will be united. And Russia has heard that.

On why the world should follow the U.S. lead given miscalculations in Afghanistan and Iraq

The world can listen to the Ukrainians; the world can listen to the Russians. Russia has 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. There is no equivocation about that. There's no question that their intentions have been nefarious. But at the same time, the world is not just hearing it from us, they're hearing it from others.

On how imminent a Russian invasion of Ukraine may be

I would not say that we are arguing that it's imminent because we're still pursuing a diplomatic solution to give the Russians an off-ramp. Our hope is that this will work and that Putin will understand that war and confrontation is not the path that he wants to follow, but he wants to take a path at diplomacy. We're giving them an opportunity to discuss their security concerns, Europe's security concerns and certainly Ukraine's security concerns. So we'll keep working on that.

On China calling for quiet diplomacy

I think the Chinese approach was not unexpected. They generally will align with Russia in the Security Council in terms of votes. But the message that the Chinese delivered calling for diplomacy was the message that Russia heard from all the members of the council.

Work-life balance

A new Belgian law grants certain workers the 'right to disconnect' after hours

Posted February 1, 2022 at 10:10 AM EST
A woman wearing a face masks looks at her cell phone while on a moving, blurry train.
Kenzo Tribouillard
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AFP via Getty Images
A commuter wearing a protective face mask looks at her mobile phone in a train arriving at the Central Train Station in Brussels in May 2020.

Starting Tuesday, thousands of federal civil servants in Belgium will no longer have to answer calls or emails from their bosses outside of working hours.

That's thanks to a new law granting some 65,000 government workers "the right to disconnect" and, in the process, adding Belgium to the growing list of European countries taking steps toward greater work-life balance.

Petra De Sutter, the Belgian minister for public administration, said in a letter that the right to disconnect will be codified into law as a means to combat "excessive work stress and burn-out" among federal civil servants, according to The Brussels Times.

Under the new rule, federal civil servants cannot be contacted outside typical working hours unless there are "exceptional and unforeseen circumstances requiring action that cannot wait until the next working period."

Trade unions and managers can make clear agreements to define these circumstances, The Times adds, but De Sutter has emphasized that workers' family, rest and holidays must be respected.

The rule also stipulates that workers "should not be disadvantaged by not answering the phone or reading work-related messages outside normal working hours."

It aims to address the increasingly blurry line between work and personal life, especially with so many people working from home during the pandemic and possibly going forward.

In a recent remote work survey by BDO Belgium, 84% of respondents — 40% of whom held managerial positions — said they wanted to work from home for two or more days a week after the pandemic, citing the lack of commute and increase in productivity. But De Sutter is among those who also see a downside.

“The computer stays on, you keep reading the emails you receive on your smartphone," De Sutter said. "To better protect people against this, we now give them the legal right to disconnect."

She said the measure seeks to protect workers' basic rights but shouldn't be an obstacle to flexible working if that's what they want, the BBC reports.

Will similar rules eventually extend to workers outside of the government?

Laurens Teerlinck, spokesperson for Belgium's federal labor minister, told The Times that a similar arrangement is in the pipeline for the private sector, with more information to become available over the course of the month.

Belgium's federal government is also considering a proposal to move to a four-day week of 38 to 40 hours for full-time staff, the Guardian notes. That would mean shorter workweeks and longer workdays.

Other European countries have taken steps toward reducing burnout and restoring work-life balance in recent years, it adds.

Volkswagen banned its German employees from accessing emails after work hours a decade ago, and France enacted a law in 2017 requiring companies with more than 50 employees to designate hours during which workers are not to send or receive emails.

Last year, Portugal passed a law banning bosses from texting employees after they sign off. As NPR reported at the time, employers who violate the law could face financial penalties, like having to pay for the workers' gas or electricity bills.

Just In
Sports

Tom Brady is officially retiring from the NFL

Posted February 1, 2022 at 9:57 AM EST

Tom Brady has made it official: He's retiring from the NFL.

"I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention," Brady wrote on his social media accounts.

His decision brings an end to a 22-year career for the quarterback widely celebrated as the "GOAT," the greatest of all time. A hero to legions of fans across New England, where he spent 20 seasons with the Patriots before signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, Brady's team was always a safe bet to win.

The announcement follows initial reports over the weekend, first from ESPN, that Brady was retiring, followed by congratulatory tweets from Brady's company and the NFL. Brady's agent, however, would not confirm the news, leading to confusion over his plans that continued to swirl until his actual announcement on Tuesday.

Here's more on his legendary career.

Books

Toni Morrison's only short story, 'Recitatif,' is available in book form for the 1st time

Posted February 1, 2022 at 9:12 AM EST
Toni Morrison smiles, wearing red lipstick, a red head covering and a black and white striped jacket over a gray shirt and white necklace, with a bouquet of red roses behind her.
Don Emmert
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AFP via Getty Images
Author Toni Morrison is known for her 11 novels, but her single short story has often been forgotten.

Toni Morrison — the late author and Nobel laureate whose work focused on Black life and culture — published 11 acclaimed novels, several essay collections, about half a dozen children's books and just one short story: Recitatif.

Recitatif was originally published in a 1983 anthology that has since gone out of print and was rarely seen in intervening decades, as the Associated Press has reported. But it's making a comeback, this time in book form.

The republished story is hitting shelves and online stores on Tuesday in what Knopf Doubleday says is the first-ever hardcover edition. The book includes an introduction by writer Zadie Smith, and the audio edition is read by actor Bahni Turpin.

Its title refers to the French word for "recitative," which Merriam-Webster describes as a "rhythmically free vocal style that imitates the natural inflections of speech."

"When you think about the short story, there's always this sort of humming under the surface," said Honorée Jeffers, a poet who teaches at the University of Oklahoma. "And that humming under the surface is race, in America."

The story follows two girls, Twyla and Roberta, who spend several months as roommates in a children's shelter and run into each other on occasion as adults. One is Black and one is white — but Morrison doesn't tell the reader which is which.

Morrison once described the book as “an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial.” She refers to things like hair length, social status and family memories throughout, keeping readers guessing — and thinking.

Jeffers toldMorning Edition that she noticed the story challenged stereotypes she herself held about Black and white people.

She described searching for clues about the characters' races, only to eventually step back and ask herself: "Why did I need to know so badly?" When she stopped focusing on race, she said, she saw the story in a different light.

"You begin to see a domestic story emerge, about how girls grow up on our society, about how women are shuttled into these smaller categories, many times," Jeffers said. "And then it becomes, or at least it became for me, a story about gender."

Autumn M. Womack, a professor of English and African American Studies at Princeton University, told the AP that Recitatif speaks to themes found in Morrison's novels, like the complicated relationship between two women in 1973's Sula and the racial blurring she used in Paradise in the late 1990s.

But she also noted the important differences between the short story and Morrison's longer works.

"One of the main takeaways from [Recitatif] is that you'll begin to think of her as someone who experimented with form," Womack said. "You'll get away from the idea that she was solely a novelist and think of her as someone who was trying all kinds of writing."

Jeffers says republishing also offers another opportunity to examine the way Black writers are critiqued.

"These issues of race constantly come up in ways that they don't come up for white writers," she explains. "White writers are never asked why they wrote about white characters, white writers are never asked to justify the importance of what they're writing. Only writers of color and, in particular, African American writers, are asked to do that."

Because of information from The Associated Press, a previous version of this post said Paradise was published in 1998. It was copyrighted in late 1997, according to the book's copyright page.

Audio for this story was produced by Ziad Buchh and Ben Abrams.

Coronavirus

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for young children could be available soon

Posted February 1, 2022 at 8:46 AM EST
A person in PPE gives a child a COVID test through the window of a car.
Paul Ratje
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AFP via Getty Images
A health care worker administers a COVID-19 test in El Paso, Texas.

Children 5 and younger can't get the COVID-19 vaccine yet, but that could change later this month.

Pfizer-BioNTech is expected to soon file a submission for emergency use to the Food and Drug Administration for a coronavirus vaccine regimen for children aged 6 months to 5 years, NPR confirms.

NPR's Rob Stein joined Morning Edition with the latest from the company and when parents might expect the vaccine for young children.

Stein reports Pfizer's plan for vaccinating kids in this age group suffered a setback last year. "They discovered that two low doses of the vaccine appeared to protect children 6 months to 2 years old, but did not protect those ages 2 to 5. So the companies started testing a third dose on those kids," Stein says.

Submitting for emergency authorization for a vaccine regimen now may help streamline a possible future rollout of a third dose.

"The hope is an FDA authorization would allow children to start receiving the first two doses so the older kids will be ready for the third dose, once the data demonstrates that works."

Many parents are anxiously waiting for the vaccine for young children and are doing what they can to protect kids in the meantime with masks, tests and social distancing.

NPR spoke with pediatricians for their take on how to navigate the omicron wave with young children who aren't eligible for vaccination. Read more here.

International

The leaders of Ukraine and the U.K. meet Tuesday, while the U.S. talks with Russia

Posted February 1, 2022 at 8:22 AM EST
 Boris Johnson, wearing a suit and windswept green tie, waves as he walks up the stairs of an aircraft.
Peter Nicholls
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Pool/AFP via Getty Images
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson boards an aircraft in London on his way to meet with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Tuesday.

Efforts to find a diplomatic solution for the Ukraine crisis are continuing Tuesday, following Monday's heated exchange between the U.S. and Russia at a U.N. Security Council meeting.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to speak on the phone with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. And U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

International correspondent Jackie Northam and London correspondent Frank Langfitt joined Morning Edition to discuss where things stand. Listen toUp First or read on for details.

Johnson goes to Ukraine amid a crisis of his own

Langfitt said Johnson's visit is partly symbolic, as a show of support for Ukraine from a key NATO member. Johnson said Monday night that the U.K. will continue to uphold Ukraine's sovereignty and has urged Russia to step back from mass troop deployments on its border. Russia has said it has no plans to invade.

The U.K. has trained thousands of Ukrainian soldiers since 2015 and says it'll spend millions to fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law there.

Meanwhile, the British government is also targeting Russian oligarchs and wealth within its own borders to put pressure on those who may be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many Russian oligarchs and other wealthy individuals stash their money in expensive residences in London, giving the city the nickname "Londongrad." Langfitt noted that this "gray money" helps drive the luxury real estate market and fund soccer clubs, among other things, so laws are barely enforced.

Some lawmakers are talking about the possibility of travel bans and asset seizures. But when the foreign secretary spoke about such legislation in Parliament the other day, some members outright laughed at the idea.

In addition, Johnson is facing his own crisis at home, surviving another round of calls to resign Monday after the release of a report on parties his government threw when such events were banned because of the pandemic.

The report was thin on details, Langfitt explained, because police are investigating 12 of these gatherings (three of which were reportedly attended by Johnson) and say they don't want their investigation to be prejudiced. The prime minister was defiant in his refusal to step down.

"Honestly, having watched this very closely, I think [Johnson] can hang on for the time being," Langfitt said. "And he said yesterday the country needs to focus on the really big issues, like Ukraine, which is of course ... exactly what he's doing today."

There are concerns that Russia could weaponize its natural gas exports

Even as Blinken is expected to continue diplomatic efforts in his calls Tuesday, Northam said the U.S. and its allies are drawing up a list of possible sanctions that they say could devastate Russia's economy. The concern is that Putin could in turn retaliate by cutting off the flow of gas to Europe.

"Historically Russia has always kept the gas flowing to Western Europe no matter what political or military crisis was going on between the two sides, but it's hard to say whether that'll be the case this time," Northam said.

She noted that Russia supplies about a third of Europe's natural gas, which powers factories and heats homes in the winter. If he were to do it, now would be the prime time, she said, because Russia has a lot of money in reserves and gas and oil prices are high. But Russia is also dependent on the European market, where it sells nearly three-quarters of its gas.

There are other options if Russia cuts off its pipeline, such as an armada carrying liquefied natural gas to Europe from Asia, North Africa and elsewhere. Plus, Northam said, there are just a few winter months left in the year where homes need to be heated — and Putin loses a lot of leverage after that point.

Year of the Tiger 🐯

Lunar New Year celebrations look different in every family. Here's how NPR staffers mark the holiday

Posted February 1, 2022 at 8:16 AM EST
Yellow and pink furry figures stand on a cobblestone street, surrounded by people in gold pants and black hoodies.
Jeff J Mitchell
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Getty Images
Members of the Scottish Chinese community take part in Edinburgh Chinese New Year Festival on Sunday in Scotland.

Happy Lunar New Year! It's one of the most important festivals in many Asian countries, including Vietnam, China, Korea, Mongoliaas well as the Asian diaspora. The holiday prompts what is considered one of the world's largest annual human migrations as hundreds of millions of people travel back to their hometowns to spend the festivities, which last up to two weeks, with family. Certain foods are eaten only at this time of year, and often, traditional costumes are worn. Celebrants gather to see parades and perform various rites and rituals with elders in order to guarantee a lucky year ahead.

Here in the U.S., I've only celebrated each Lunar New Year — or Tet, in Vietnamese — for one day each year, as it's not a federally recognized holiday. Nevertheless, my parents made sure we spent our time wisely. The whole family would take the day off and wear our traditional ao dai to visit my grandparents. We would receive red envelopes, called li xi, filled with "lucky" money, but only after giving well wishes to their our elders. Leading up to the new year, we would clean the house up and down and spend days making banh chung, a sticky rice cake filled with pork belly and mung bean. Tet was a reflective holiday focused on mindfulness and setting ourselves up for another successful year.

It wasn't until my first Lunar New Year alone in college that I came to appreciate how grounding it can be to spend the first day of the year focused on joy and family.

While Lunar New Year festivities have been carried on for hundreds of years in Asia, for members of the Asian diaspora, celebrations have evolved as people invite loved ones from other cultures to join in.

Click here to read how some of us at NPR celebrate.

Join Suzanne and others from her story on Twitter Spaces today at 1 p.m. ET to talk about celebrating the Year of the Tiger.

This essay first appeared in the NPR Daily Newsletter. Subscribe here so you don't miss the next one. You'll get unique NPR stories in your inbox every weekday.