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Jeff Israely

See more by Jeff Israely

Photo of a medical worker covered in green protective gear looking at a computer screen

In Praise Of Science: The Pandemic Story That Must Be Told

Two years on, even if they’ve still not given us the definitive answers to COVID-19, scientists are our best hope. But they can’t do it alone.


PARIS — Ours, they say, is the age of the storyteller, the reign of the carnival barker and stand-up comic … and the venture capitalist, of course. Still, the current hour clearly belongs to the scientist.

We know now that we should have handed the keys over to science much sooner, heeding its well-documented warnings on climate change – and the looming risk of a global contagion. The non-stop flood of information requires that we have the means to retain what matters, especially when the bad news of the hour can literally be spread by all.

Yes, even in this dark hour of new variants and vaccine doubts, to paraphrase a Louisiana carnival barker: It’s the science, stupid.

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You Touched It, You Bought It: Street Card Scam For COVID Times

You Touched It, You Bought It: Street Card Scam For COVID Times

Like the rest of us, street hustlers are adjusting to pandemic conditions. In Laval, a small city in western France, a young man who might have otherwise been taking passersby for a ride with Three-Card Monte or Find The Lady tricks, concocted a COVID-inspired scam for easy money.

TheOuest France daily reports that the suspect would ride around on his bicycle approaching people to sell them generic cards with random images of cute animals and the like. When the potential buyer tried to say "No thanks' and hand back the cards, the man said he couldn't take them because of the risk the cards were now infected by the coronavirus — and demanded payment.

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Disinfecting an Indonesian underpass last March

Radio 2020: A Year For The Ages, Time Turned On Its Head

Worldcrunch's editor reflects on how we lived through - and covered - a year that we might have known was coming.


PARIS — I've always been a radio guy: for its ease of access and stripped-down delivery of the news, for the direct connection of the human voice and the serendipity that comes when programming lineups intersect with your own day's schedule.

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Members of far-right Proud Boys have warned of violence if Trump loses the election
eyes on the U.S.

Ivory Coast On The Potomac? Democracy At Risk In U.S. Election


PARIS — It was the kind of headline that risks fading into your news feed as if it were barely news: "Ivory Coast: As Presidential Election Approaches, International Criminal Court Worries About Violence," Jeune Afrique magazine announced last week.

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Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23

Trump And COVID: Will It Be Like Boris Johnson Or Bolsonaro?

Ahead of the Nov. 3 election, this is an October Surprise that has four full weeks to play out.

The "first rough draft of history…" That's what they used to call the news back when most of us got it delivered in daily newspapers and our once-a-night evening broadcast. Now that everything that happens comes flooding at us, all the time, with more and more angles and voices and fewer and fewer agreed upon standards … well, that first draft has gotten much rougher.

The news of President Trump testing positive for COVID-19 pinged across the planet soon after midnight Washington time, just as we were waking up Friday morning here in Europe — and we all (inside and outside the news business) are expected to instantly start making sense of this apparently monumental breaking news story.

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Trump stands in for Blaine in his 2012 Drowned Alive stunt in New York

David Blaine And Donald Trump, Trading Places


PARIS — I do my best not to get pulled into the rabbit hole of U.S. election coverage. It's hard to imagine, at this point, how any poll or tweet or scandal could possibly affect the outcome. Can our global news site really find a new angle to help explain Donald Trump? Can anyone? Still, as an American citizen living abroad, I do feel the obligation a few times a day — often late at night — to peek on my phone to see if something truly unpleasant has happened to our president.

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Bob Dylan mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota

How Does It Sound? Bob Dylan, Between Headlines And Posterity

PARISGrandioso, say the Italians. Kolossalt for the Swedes. The Berkeley student newspaper called it monumental, while a Buenos Aires daily was stamping it patrimonio de la humanidad.

The world's popular music critics and other sundry writer types (wink!) have spent the past few weeks trying to size up something that is much more than just a big new album release. Bob Dylan's latest, Rough And Rowdy Ways, comes eight years since his most recent original material, four years after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and ten months shy of his 80th birthday.

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I read the news today, oh boy

From Paris To The World, An End And New Beginning For COVID-19

By now, our regular readers know that Worldcrunch works hard at being of and for and about no one particular place or people or subject matter. Our beat and our audience are written in our name, and we work with journalists and newspapers everywhere to tell the stories (no matter how big or small) that resonate around the world.

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Bastille marketplace, Paris

Face Masks And A Flâneur In Paris

PARIS — There's a price to be paid, in euros and other things, when you choose to live in a city like Paris. But there's a reason people pay: There's only one Louvre, one Opera Garnier and exactly 114 Michelin-star restaurants. And even if you don't have tickets, or the euros, to make it through those doors, there's the Eiffel Tower to catch your eye every week or two from wherever you may be — always reminding you of the first time you saw it.

Yet culture aside, Paris is Paris because of the people. Trite as it may sound, and tourists be damned, both the flâneurs and busy working folk are fueled in some indefinable way by all the fellow humanity we pass on the street each day.

And so it was last Saturday, the first (and gloriously sunny) weekend day after the end of France's two months of a strict lockdown, that I took to the streets with my fellow Paris dwellers. The first steps out of a quarantine into the public space for pleasure, no matter where in the world you may be, are taken gingerly. It is neither liberating nor joyful, but necessary. The endless possibilities of the digital life we've been confined to come with limits that run too deep to even put into words.

Walking through the Montmartre neighborhood, with not a tourist in sight. what stood out about the people (myself included) were our masks: firmly on, firmly off, below or above the nose, hanging off of one ear. Needless to say, Paris is not Paris when the faces of its people are covered.

The scientific and civic questions around the wearing of masks are obviously what's important now. But as French sociologist David Le Breton recently wrote in Le Monde, along with our health and jobs, are other less tangible things at risk:

"Behind masks, we lose our individuality and also the pleasure and consenting practice of looking at others around us. We are entering a phase of ambiguous interaction, where codes are missing and will have to be reinvented. In our contemporary societies, the face is the place of mutual recognition. With its features laid bare, we are recognized, named, judged, and assigned a sex, age and skin color. We are loved, despised or anonymous, drowned in the indifference of the crowd. To get to know someone implies putting forth a face full of meaning and value, and reciprocating with a face that is equally meaningful."

That's a lot, I know. And here's some more from my return to the digital reality of my apartment in the 24 hours after that first trip outside:

First was this video clip of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic holding a quarantine-compliant political rally, surrounded by screens of his supporters who had dialed in by video conference. Shiny faces fully bared, acquiescent, applauding in unison — a veritable pandemic-driven Orwellian nightmare.

But shortly after was a much more pleasant digital connection that popped up in my Twitter feed: photographs of a screen still from a scene in François Truffaut's 1959 Les Quatre Cents Coups ("The 400 Blows') that showed that a pharmacy and dry cleaner still occupy the same corner today. Just three blocks from my place, in the other direction, it's yet another great little Parisian quartier always worth strolling through. It will have to wait for my next trip out, mask and all.

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Detail of Address To The Nation

COVID-19, Address To The Nations: Faces Of A World Under Attack

Charles de Gaulle was the first world leader to truly understand the power of television, using regular presidential broadcasts as a way to circumvent French legislators, labor unions and other levers of democratic influence.

Since then, prime ministers and presidents, benevolent monarchs and ruthless dictators have used the televised "address to the nation" as an essential tool of modern leadership — to comfort or intimidate, confront crises, unveil policies, announce coups, launch wars. While each may have a different script, the broadcasts share a familiar choreography and iconography: from my desk to your living room, I will lead you through this collective moment in our nation's history.

The Italian photographer Tommaso Bonaventura, shut off from his field work, was watching the COVID-19 drama unfold on his computer and television screens. With people dying each day by the dozens then hundreds in his native country, he joined with others waiting anxiously for the relatively anonymous and inexperienced Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to appear on the screen before the gathered nation.

It was only the beginning: over the next three weeks, at least 70 national leaders have similarly addressed their respective populaces with messages that mix practical information with some semblance of national unity. But the words were not the point.

Bonaventura understood that the very fact of these televised appointments, taken together, could depict an unprecedented moment for the world — a world under attack. He has joined them in a common visual work, freezing the first moment (within 1 second) that each leader appears before his or her nation.

Address To The Nations becomes a singular document of this chapter of human history, appearing to us like a solemn roll call of geopolitical leadership morphing into a cutaway scene from an alien invasion movie.

This is, of course, not a movie. Our enemy is as real as it is invisible, exposing everyone on the planet to the most basic threat to lives and ways of life that we have all long taken for granted. We will instinctively continue to turn to our leaders, even if there's really nothing they can say to change what is happening. Their faces, captured in time, are a sign of how vulnerable we've become.

—Jeff Israely

Address To The Nations © Tommaso Bonaventura / OneShot / Worldcrunch

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The debate over electronic privacy has been escalating in the West

Will You Give Up Your Privacy To Go Outside?

For most of human history, the best way to protect personal privacy was to simply stay at home. Lock yourself in your room, or the proverbial closet, and nobody can find out a thing. In little more than a decade, those walls and doors have vanished as digital technology invites us to take large chunks of our lives online. Without ever leaving home (or while scrolling our smartphones in an empty forest), we are now vulnerable to a world of connected spies, data miners, identity usurpers, trackers and any number of other private and public-sector violators of what we hold to be confidential information.

The debate over electronic privacy has been escalating ever since in the West: from Edward Snowden's accusations against the state, to those aimed at commercial tech giants like Facebook and Amazon, to the rogue producers of deep fakes and other nefarious trolls. Meanwhile, authoritarian governments — exposed momentarily to the power of the internet to drive dissent — have quickly taken the upper hand in using digital technology as a tool for control. Yes, until two months ago, the lines on the privacy question seemed drawn quite clearly.

Leave it to a highly contagious and lethal disease to quickly blur those lines. With countries in the West preparing to ease unprecedented national and regional shutdowns, officials are looking to include a range of required (or at least strongly urged) digital testing and tracking tools to limit new outbreaks of COVID-19. Mobile phone applications that force people to share personal health data and reveal their location and other forms of relinquishing control of their personal information are now considered integral to ensuring that normal life can begin to resume. We're told it worked in South Korea and China, where concerns about data privacy are either less ingrained in the culture, or simply smothered by the authorities.

All of this may be bringing that old trade-off full circle: If you really want to protect your privacy, you must again stay inside. Let's ponder that alongside the even more pressing worry about preserving our very lives if we venture outside.

None of these tensions are easy to resolve, especially with so little truly known about the nature of this virus. What is the immediate risk of being in public places? What is the longer-term price of keeping our economies on hold? When will it all be over?

Meanwhile, longer-lasting moral questions, like privacy, hover just above it all. For now, a sense of tentative pragmatism seems to prevail, as a crisis of this magnitude prompts citizens to put their fate in the hands of the state for lack of any other viable solution. So if the government says so, most people are probably prepared to share some of their personal information to feel safer — we have, after all, gotten used to knowing that our data is being shared and our smartphone maps know where we are. But after two months of quarantine, one thing we're not used to right now: Going outside.

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Wake up, sheeple

Conspiracy Theories Rise And Fall In Era Of Fake News


PARIS — Remember conspiracy theories? There was a time, not so long ago, when we used to worry about how the internet encourages the proliferation of crackpot versions of what "really happened" on 9/11 or circulated "the ultimate proof" that Moon landings were actually staged in a television studio.

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