Your Monday Briefing – The New York Times

Facing global anger over their initial mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese authorities are trying to rewrite the narrative of the pandemic by pushing false theories that the virus originated outside China.

Details: Chinese officials have said that packaged food from overseas may have initially ushered in the virus. Scientists have released a paper positing that the pandemic could have started in India. The state news media has published stories misrepresenting foreign experts as having said the coronavirus came from elsewhere.

Context: This push comes as the World Health Organization begins an inquiry into how the virus jumped from animals to humans. Chinese scientists have been designated to lead key parts of the investigation.

Analysis: The campaign seems to reflect anxiety within the ruling Communist Party about the pandemic’s continuing damage to China’s international reputation. Western officials have criticized Beijing for trying to conceal the outbreak when it first erupted.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

A new report commissioned by the U.S. State Department cites radio-frequency energy, which includes microwaves, as the most probable cause for a wave of mysterious afflictions that sickened scores of American spies and diplomats in Cuba, China, Russia and other countries starting in 2016.

Findings: Though couched in careful, scientific language, the report implied that the victims’ ailments were the result of malicious, targeted attacks. The report also contains a stark warning about the possibility of future episodes, and the U.S. government’s ability to detect them, or to mount a response.

The illness: Victims experienced dizziness, fatigue, headaches and loss of hearing, memory and balance. Some U.S. government employees who fell ill were forced into permanent retirement.

What’s next: Several victims have accused Trump administration officials of downplaying the issue in an attempt to avoid disrupting international ties. They now ask how President-elect Joe Biden will respond, especially given the new findings.

China has had a poor environmental record, prioritizing its breakneck economic transformation over the past four decades. Now, there are signs the country has begun to consider the consequences.

A 17-year-old climate activist, Ou Hongyi, has been waging a lonely campaign in her hometown in southern China to raise awareness about the perils of a warming planet. She has been ignored, ridiculed and ostracized. School officials and the police have harassed her.

Still, Xi Jinping recently committed to making the sort of bold steps activists like Ms. Ou have been calling for, pledging that at China’s emissions would peak by 2030 and that the country would reach “carbon neutrality” by 2060.

Quotable: “Everyone should realize that the climate crisis is already the biggest existential crisis facing mankind,” Ms. Ou said.

Related: Farmers in India are burning their fields to protest antipollution laws, as part of increasingly nationwide pushback against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to overhaul the way many of the country’s 146 million farms do business.

India’s leading documentarian, Anand Patwardhan, has spent decades tracking the country’s unraveling from its pluralist post-Partition ideals to a Hindu hegemony. But his films remain unseen in large parts of the country because of their inconvenient themes.

The Times Magazine takes an in-depth look at his life and work.

Australia’s “bush courts”: A judicial official in the Northern Territory is leading a push to change the operations of courts in remote communities, in which lawyers and judges fly in, sometimes handling dozens of criminal cases in a single day. Critics point to the system’s roots in colonialism and say it abuses the rights of Indigenous Australians.

Hayabusa2: Japan’s space agency ended up embarking on a scavenger hunt in the Australian outback, after a capsule from a robotic probe carrying bits of an asteroid landed in a barren region near Woomera, South Australia.

Suhaila Siddiq: Afghanistan’s first female lieutenant general died in Kabul on Friday from complications of the coronavirus. She was also a renowned surgeon and unknowingly became a feminist role model in a largely patriarchal society.

Snapshot: Above, a woman in Huay Pu Keng, a village in Thailand, selling souvenirs. The entire economy of some such villages depends on selling trinkets related to the neck rings that women from the Kayan ethnic group traditionally wear. But the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the situation, as few tourists now visit the country.

What we’re reading: This profile of Eric Feigl-Ding, a controversial Shanghai-born scientist whom Undark magazine calls “Covid’s Cassandra.” The piece gives a gripping look at the gravity and complexity of voicing scientific theories on Twitter.

Were there any fisticuffs?

A.O. SCOTT One of my first lists had Will Ferrell, and I got a one-word response from Manohla: “No.”

MANOHLA DARGIS It wasn’t quite “Over my dead body,” but I was emphatic that it wasn’t going to happen.

SCOTT The hardest one for me to give up was this Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov — he stayed in there until the very end, but there just wasn’t room.

DARGIS I had a few square-jawed men like Viggo Mortensen, but I just had the feeling I was going to have to let them go. Maybe we should have done 50, but I don’t know that anyone wanted to read 25,000 words from us.

Anyone you didn’t debate?

DARGIS Denzel Washington was always No. 1 on both of our lists. We didn’t want it to seem like there was a quid pro quo.

SCOTT Keanu Reeves has been a controversial pick, but he was on the list from the beginning. Then we decided we were going to make a statement by putting him up there on the list [at No. 4]. The John Wick movies aren’t masterpieces of cinema, but the way Reeves embodies this slightly ridiculous action hero in those movies is just beautiful to watch.

DARGIS And Rob Morgan. He just makes us happy every time he shows up in a movie.

What do you hope people take away from the list?

SCOTT Just because you haven’t seen a film doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of inclusion. We didn’t just want this to be famous movie stars. There are lots of wonderful character actors who are consistently outstanding in smaller roles.

DARGIS Some people have said, ‘I don’t recognize any of these people” or “These are all foreign people.” Well, they aren’t foreign in their country! Expand your horizons and get beyond Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.”

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

— Dani

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is on President Trump’s potential pre-emptive pardons.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Food on a skewer (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The Times is opening an official bureau in Spain.

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