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Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times

Nearly a decade into its civil war, Syria is in extreme distress. This month, the Syrian pound reached an all-time low against the dollar on the black market, decimating the value of salaries and jacking up the cost of imports.

Food prices have more than doubled in the past year, and 60 percent of the Syrian population are at risk of going hungry. Power shortages are constant, with some areas getting only a few hours of electricity a day. Most Syrians now devote their days to finding fuel to cook and to warm their homes, and some women are selling their hair to feed their families.

Cold comfort: At a private meeting, President Bashar al-Assad was asked about the country’s economic crisis, which now poses a significant threat to his regime. He had no concrete solutions, but he did float the idea that television channels should cancel their cooking shows so as not to taunt Syrians with images of unattainable food.

A variant first discovered in California in December is more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus, two new studies showed.

The findings fuel concerns that emerging mutants could blunt the sharp decline in new cases in the state and perhaps elsewhere.

Some experts said the new variant was concerning but unlikely to create as much a burden as the variant that originated in Britain, where it swiftly became the dominant form of the virus and overloaded hospitals there.

Researchers have been looking more closely at the new variant, known as B.1.427/B.1.429, to pinpoint its origin and track its spread. It has shown up in 45 states to date as well as in several other countries, including Australia, Denmark, Mexico and Taiwan, but it has taken off only in California.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Coronavirus restrictions have led to Champions League matches and World Cup qualifiers being played at neutral sites away from each team’s home soil. This summer’s European Championship could be the next to move.

  • The pandemic’s psychological toll has been accompanied by a worrisome increase in suicides among women in Japan. Last year, 6,976 women died by suicide in the country, nearly 15 percent more than the rate in 2019.

  • Scotland will emerge from its lockdown in three-week stages over the next few months, beginning with reopening schools. Most businesses and activities will be allowed to resume after April 26.

  • Drug companies need monkeys to develop Covid-19 vaccines. But a global shortage, resulting from the unexpected demand caused by the pandemic, has been exacerbated by a recent ban on the sale of wildlife from China, the leading supplier of the lab animals.


A new opposition party is flourishing in Russia, despite President Vladimir Putin making it clear that he doesn’t tolerate dissent.

Called New People, the party seems designed to appeal to the followers of the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who is awaiting transportation to a penal colony. But the reasons behind the party’s success, Russian analysts say, are to undermine Mr. Navalny, whose own party has been banned, to distract from his movement and to divide the liberal opposition — all while providing a veneer of multiparty politics in a country where there is little meaningful electoral choice.

Official line: “For two decades we lived in a situation of a false choice: either freedom or order,” its platform proclaims. The government, it says, “should stop seeing enemies and traitors in those who have other points of view.”

Response: “They are trying to feed us the line these New People will now be the real competition for United Russia,” Lyubov Sobol, a Navalny ally, said on YouTube in an analysis of the governing pro-Putin party after the new party’s appearance last year.

A new working paper found that women presenting their research at economics seminars received 12 percent more questions, often aggressive ones, than their male colleagues did. The paper, which is expected to be published next week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is the latest addition to a mounting body of evidence of gender discrimination in economics. Above, a conference in San Diego last year.

Our reporter looked at how gender and racial gaps in economics are wider, and have narrowed less over time, than in many other fields. “Half of women are saying they don’t even want to present in a seminar,” one economist said. “We’re losing a lot of ideas that way.”

Tiger Woods: The star golfer was injured in a serious car crash and had to be extracted from his vehicle, the authorities said. Mr. Woods’s agent said he sustained “multiple leg injuries” and was undergoing surgery.

Beijing: China is planning to impose restrictions on Hong Kong’s electoral system to root out candidates whom the Communist Party deems disloyal, a move that could block democracy advocates in the city from running for any elected office.

Oil spill: A large oil spill from an unknown source has devastated sea life in the Mediterranean and spewed tons of tar across more than 100 miles of coastline from Israel to southern Lebanon.

U.S. Capitol riot: During a Senate hearing, top security officials who were at the Capitol during the attack by a pro-Trump mob pointed to intelligence failures that led to the catastrophe on Jan. 6. Police officials are also testifying. Here’s the latest.

Snapshot: Above, the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Our travel desk looked at how epidemics have given rise to landmarks of all sorts: monuments, places of worship, hospitals, fortifications, cemeteries and feats of civil engineering. How will Covid-19 be memorialized?

Lives lived: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and publisher who nurtured the Beat movement from his famed San Francisco bookstore, City Lights, has died at 101.

What we’re reading: This New Yorker article exploring one of the great mysteries of the pandemic: why some countries are worse off than others.

Cook: This comforting chicken curry has a gingery, garlic-flecked tomato sauce. Serve with yogurt and basmati rice or naan.

Read: “Klara and the Sun,” Kazuo Ishiguro’s eighth novel, is one of the most anticipated titles of the year. Read our review.

Snooze: Many people have struggled to sleep during the pandemic. Here’s what to know about improving your shut-eye.

There’s plenty more in our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

Don’t disregard VHS tapes as obsolete: Today, a robust marketplace exists, both virtually and in real life, for this ephemera, despite post-2006 advancements in technology.

On Instagram, users sell videos like the 2003 Jerry Bruckheimer film “Kangaroo Jack,” a comedy involving a beauty salon owner — played by Jerry O’Connell — and a kangaroo. Asking price? $190. (Though steep, it’s a far cry from the $1,400 price tag of the first VCR, the JVC HR-3300, from the late 1970s.)

Driving the passionate collection of this form of media is the belief that VHS offers something that other types of media cannot.

Streaming may be near-instantaneous, but it has its limitations, said Matthew Booth, 47, the owner of Videodrome in Atlanta, which sells VHS tapes in addition to its Blu-ray and DVD rental business.

New releases are prohibitively expensive, content is “fractured” between subscription services and movies operate in cycles, often disappearing before people have the chance to watch them, he said. In that sense, VHS tapes offer something the current market cannot: a vast library of moving images that are unavailable anywhere else.

Technology often works like this, the tech reporter Nick Bilton writes: “While the new thing gets people excited, the old thing often doesn’t go away. And if it does, it takes a very long time to meet its demise.” Vinyl records and film cameras are two other examples — though the once-futuristic car phone is yet to experience any kind of renaissance.

But even VHS, with its comforting physicality, won’t be around forever. “The medium degrades quickly, and many tapes may not live to see the 2040s,” Whet Moser writes in Quartz. “That means a lot of content lost, especially the homemade and local stuff.” Organizations like the XFR Collective are trying to digitize what they can — before it’s too late.


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Natasha


Thank you
Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at briefing@politicsay.com.

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is a look at what went wrong in New York’s nursing homes.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Like diamonds and double-black diamond ski runs (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Our Washington bureau has announced its new White House team.

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