Friday, March 24, 2023

Lebanon Hits a New Milestone

On March 2, the Lebanese lira (or pound) eroded even further into becoming a failed currency, if there is such a thing. From an official exchange rate of 3,900 pounds per US dollar for importers and manufacturers of essential food items, the “cost of scarce dollars hit 10,000 Lebanese pounds on Tuesday, said three currency dealers on the informal market, a main source of cash since banks stopped dispensing dollars,” Reuters reports. A note from a Lebanese on WhatsApp best sums it up: “We are dying, 10,000:1, people are crying in the streets.” Lebanese television carried stories about the pain caused by another decline in the currency’s value — about people who can no longer afford to buy food and those who are just trying to get together enough money to leave the country.

The NBA Is Conflicted Over National Symbols

Thanks to a pandemic, the first full season of professional basketball in the US opened in arenas empty of spectators. For the players and staff present, the ritual of playing the national anthem before every game began to appear even more artificial and hyperreal than usual. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, saw this as an opportunity to remove the anthem from the program, as a gesture of tolerance and solidarity. Cuban commented: “The hope is that those who feel passionate about the anthem being played will be just as passionate in listening to those who do not feel it represents them.”

The Nation-State vs. The Climate

For the past year, many commentators have assumed that once the COVID-19 pandemic fades away, the world’s governments will understand that another global task awaits them: addressing the consequences of climate change. COVID-19 has already upset those calculations, at least in terms of timing. Even when things appeared to be improving during the summer of 2020, none of the governments, even the ones that seemed most successful in controlling the pandemic, showed an interest in thinking about future challenges. Instead, they focused on how the consumer economy might get back to its “normal” pattern of continuous growth and how the accumulated debt provoked by the crisis could be accounted for.

Cults Have Conquered Wall Street

Some followers of technology news may remember the year 2018 when the media occasionally featured embarrassing headlines about Elon Musk, a small-time billionaire at that point of his history, weighing in at around a paltry $20 billion. Musk managed to get himself into trouble on more than one occasion in high-profile cases that smelled of serious scandal. 

Is Wall Street a Wave or a Particle?

There have been enough commentaries in the past week on the great GameStop affair to fill several editions of Encylopaedia Britannica and possibly Wikipedia as well. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary particularly appreciates an article penned by Alex Hern, the UK technology editor for The Guardian, for its accuracy of description. In one short paragraph, he provided a pithy account of the cultural context that produced the event. 

Super Bowl Fans Tackle Poetry

On January 20, a star was born in Washington, DC, during the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States — a 78-year-old white man taking over from a 74-year-old sore loser. Before the swearing-in, an unknown 22-year-old black female strode up to the podium. She embodied the Democratic Party’s commitment to identity politics. With her expressive voice, she recited a rap-influenced poem celebrating the new dawn that would emerge after the nation’s weathering of hurricane Donald. (“Dawn” and “weathered” followed by “belly of the beast” and the metaphor of wading a sea were among the stale images that appeared in the early lines of the poem).

What’s Behind Chile’s Vaccination Success?

The deadly impact of COVID-19 has been felt in every corner of the globe. On February 22, the United States reached a tragic landmark of 500,000 deaths. Across the Atlantic, nine of the top 10 nations in deaths per million are in Europe, with tiny enclaves of Gibraltar and San Marino topping the tables. The list of countries that have dealt with the pandemic relatively well is much shorter. Almost a year ago, I wrote about how leaders in Brazil and Mexico were slow in taking tougher action to prevent the spread of the virus. I falsely predicted that Latin America is unlikely to witness the death rates seen in Europe. Unfortunately, the effects of the pandemic were equally devastating in the region, if not worse.

Beware! Populism Might be Bad for Your Health

Dresden is one of Germany’s great cities, known worldwide for its meticulously rebuilt historic center, destroyed in one night at the end of World War II. Pre-Christmas shoppers have probably come across a Dresdner Christmas stollen, a bread full of nuts and candied fruit, coated in powdered sugar. Music lovers might have visited the city’s Semperoper and art lovers its famous Zwinger, one of Germany’s most important Baroque buildings. Not for nothing, Dresden was once known as the Florence of the North. Nowadays, it is unfortunately better known for its radical right-wing populist subculture, which some time ago fueled the demonstrations against the “Islamization” of Germany and the rest of Europe.

What Has Amazon Been Withholding?

Everyone knows that Amazon is a successful, profitable, world-conquering and, therefore, obscenely rich company. It has made Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world. He keeps getting richer by the day. With his fortune, Bezos doesn’t need to be as careful with his cash, in contrast with normal human beings, who know how important is to save up for a rainy day. That may help to explain why Bezos has just stepped away from his post as CEO. Still, the culture Bezos created at Amazon during his reign insists on being extremely careful with its money. We now learn that this is true even when it’s cash that belongs to other people.

The New Generation of Arab Photographers

Discerning eyes have known for quite a while that the Arab world is more than it appears in conventional photography. The old visual language of minarets and souks, of unassuming eyes set deep in dark faces, of conceptual or actual “unveilings” and of non-consensual or ambivalent colonial portraiture is one of yesterday.