Russian mercenary outfit seeks HS recruits, winter weather on both coasts: 5 Things podcast

On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast: Russian mercenary outfit seeking recruits in high schools

The Russian Wagner Group is seeking recruits in high schools after losing access to prisons. Plus, the Biden administration approves the Willow oil project, USA TODAY Health Reporter Karen Weintraub explains the possible link between face blindness and long COVID, USA TODAY Editor Brett Molina looks at how meetings are changing, and winter weather hits both coasts.

Podcasts: True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning. I’m Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things you need to know Tuesday, the 14th of March 2023. Today, how a Russian mercenary group is turning to high schools. Plus the Biden administration approves a controversial oil project in Alaska, and face blindness maybe a symptom of long COVID.

The Russian mercenary outfit called the Wagner Group appears to be turning to recruit in high schools for the country’s war in Ukraine. The group had been recruiting from Russian prisons, but Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to have lost access to the prisons amid tensions with Russia’s military leadership. Prigozhin is close enough to have been called Russian president Vladimir Putin’s chef, but his relentless criticism of the country’s military has earned him enemies in its ministry of defense. According to the British defense ministry, Wagner recruiters are now giving career talks and distributing questionnaires in Moscow high schools. That’s an extremely dangerous career path since about half the convicts Wagner has deployed in Ukraine have been killed.

The Biden administration yesterday approved the controversial Willow Oil Project. The move clears the way for one of the largest new oil and gas developments on federal land in Alaska in 20 years. The $8 billion project planned by energy giant ConocoPhillips marks a shift in the Biden administration’s handling of major fossil fuel projects. He’s previously approved few without congressional or court intervention.

Climate activists blasted the decision. Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, called Biden’s action appalling and said people and wildlife will suffer. Sonia Ahkivgak from the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, a group of indigenous environmental justice activists, said Biden’s White House is all talk and not action when it comes to climate. Biden proposed rules over the weekend to block some 13 million acres in the state from oil projects going forward. Officials in Alaska widely support the Willow Project, which would bring an estimated 1000 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs.

Long COVID has some weird symptoms, and prosopagnosia, or face blindness, might be one of them. I spoke with USA TODAY Health Reporter Karen Weintraub to learn more. Karen, welcome back to 5 Things.

Karen Weintraub:

Thanks so much for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

First off, long COVID seems to have a lot of mystery, still around it. Can you just define it for our listeners?

Karen Weintraub:

Yeah, it does have a very fuzzy definition, but basically anybody who has symptoms for three months or longer after an infection with COVID. And it could be things that lingered from the original infection or it could be new things that cropped up two, three months after an infection. And those most common symptoms people complain about, fatigue, devastating fatigue, like can’t get out of bed to take a shower kind of fatigue, brain fog, can’t remember phone numbers or names. And some people have trouble with exercise. People who used to run marathons now can’t walk to the corner without getting winded, things like that.

Taylor Wilson:

All right, I’m going to try my best to pronounce this, prosopagnosia. How might this condition be connected to long COVID?

Karen Weintraub:

So we don’t really know, but there have been several examples of people who have developed face blindness, prosopagnosia, after long COVID. These researchers did a case study at Dartmouth College and did an in-depth study of a woman who complained of long COVID and also that she, after her infection with COVID, couldn’t recognize her father. She said it was like her father’s voice coming out of a stranger’s face, and that’s pretty freaky for someone to have. It’s a pretty awful side effect. And they haven’t done a lot of other studies or detailed studies of other people, but they did ask about 50 other people with long COVID, and many of them said they had similar experiences so that their brain fog included things like not recognizing people who had formally been familiar to them.

Face blindness is a brain glitch where you just struggle to recognize faces. Interestingly, it generally appears in early adulthood that you don’t notice, or maybe as a kid you’re around the same people all day long so you don’t notice that you’re not good at recognizing people. A lot of times people don’t realize they have it until their early twenties or so. One woman told me she didn’t realize she had it till she was watching Game of Thrones with her husband and she couldn’t tell all the bearded men apart and he could, and she was amazed that he could.

Taylor Wilson:

Karen, what are some of the causes, in general, of face blindness? Or do we just not know enough at this point?

Karen Weintraub:

So there are six parts of each side of the brain that are involved with recognizing faces. And so we think face blindness comes from some kind of problem in one or more of those areas. It may be that, if you’re really bad at recognizing faces, you have damage to multiple areas and if you’re only a little bad it’s just, say, one area. It can have two causes. You can be born with it or you can have some kind of brain trauma that causes it. With long COVID, potentially what could happen is if the COVID is affecting your brain, which we think is for people who have brain fog, then maybe it’s affecting some or all of those parts of the brain.

Taylor Wilson:

Karen, is there any treatment or cure for this?

Karen Weintraub:

Not really other than practice. So it’s not that people with prosopagnosia can’t ever recognize a face, but it takes a lot more time, a lot more repetition, than it does with a typical person. So repeating the face again and again can make a difference, but it’s awkward and hard, and can cause a lot of social anxiety and social issues for people. People who don’t recognize people they feel like they should recognize, and then other people who feel wounded that, “I’m not important enough for you to recognize me,” when really it’s not intentional at all. It’s just something they can’t control.

Taylor Wilson:

Karen Weintraub, great info as always. Really appreciate it.

Karen Weintraub:

Thanks so much.

Taylor Wilson:

Meetings are changing. 5 Things Sunday host, James Brown, caught up with USA TODAY echo and Money Editor Brett Molina to discuss.

James Brown:

Brett, welcome back to 5 Things.

Brett Molina:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

James Brown:

Could this meeting have been an email? That’s something I’ve certainly considered. Apparently I’m not alone.

Brett Molina:

I’m obviously part of this group and I think a lot of people who work anywhere have had this problem. My colleague, Jessica Gwynn, wrote about this on money.usatoday.com. We’re in a ton of meetings and I think employees have reached a point where they’re just done in meetings. Of course, we needed meetings at the height of the COVID pandemic because we weren’t in offices and we were all remote and we were relying on different tools like Teams, and Slack, and what have you, to communicate and stay in touch. Case in point, Microsoft discovered that the number of meetings attended by the average Teams user, which is their version of Slack, more than doubled from February 2020 to February 2022. They also found out that the amount of time spent in those meetings more than tripled.

James Brown:

That sounds like meeting bloat.

Brett Molina:

Yes. That’s one way to put it.

James Brown:

How are these companies making meetings better?

Brett Molina:

I think there’s a couple of different things. Leslie Perlow, who is a leadership professor that my colleague talked to at Harvard Business School, offered some tips on how to run meetings well so that they’re not time wasters. A couple of the tips are, you know, making sure you have a purpose for every meeting before you schedule it. Ask yourself, “Could this be an email or a Slack message instead of an actual meeting?” Keeping the meetings short and focused so there’s not a lot of distraction, there’s not a lot of extra time being spent on other things. Just keep it really tight and focused. Also limit the number of people who are going to the meeting so only the people who have to be there are there. And, again, it’s about just really making them tighter and more efficient.

James Brown:

Is a meeting-free day what does it sound like?

Brett Molina:

I mean, kind of. Yeah, I mean some companies have tinkered with this a little bit. I think Shopify’s one of the biggest examples. They have about 10,000 employees. According to our story, they deleted 12,000 events from employees’ calendars, and the company said that they estimated the decision would free up over 300,000 hours, this year alone, of time, which is really significant. I speak firsthand. I think a lot of people can relate to this. When you get stuck in back-to-back meetings or back-to-back-to-back meetings, that’s draining. That’s exhausting, and you just can’t get a break. So I think those moments where you can just be away from meetings and be more productive, I think that’s what all of us really want, right?

James Brown:

Yes, definitely. Brett, thanks for joining me.

Brett Molina:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

Both coasts are bracing for some hairy weather today that includes yet another atmospheric river storm in California through tomorrow. The state has already been a hit with months of downpours and flooding. The Bay Area is expected to see heavy rains today and tomorrow, and parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains could get a foot of snow according to the National Weather Service. FEMA resources have been mobilized to snowy areas across the state. Meanwhile, in the Northeast, a winter storm warning is in effect for parts of nine states as residents brace for a Nor’easter. Up to 20 inches of snow was forecast in parts of New York and Massachusetts.

Thanks for listening to 5 Things. You can find us every day of the week right here, wherever you get your podcasts. I’m back tomorrow with more of 5 Things from USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden approves Willow project, winter weather on both coasts: 5 Things podcast

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