Your Monday Briefing – The New York Times


The coronavirus pandemic is taking a bad turn in parts of Asia. Cases are climbing quickly in Japan and South Korea, which had long managed to avoid the worst. And because Hong Kong is grappling with a spike, a plan for a travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore has been put on hold.

Japan has had its worst-ever jump in new cases, breaking records on four consecutive days, with at least 2,508 new cases on Sunday. Its previous worst spike dropped off after peaking at nearly 2,000 cases in early August.

South Korea has had a smaller increase, with five straight days of more than 300 cases. Last week new restrictions were announced for Seoul and surrounding areas, including limiting the number of people at events like concerts, conferences and festivals to 100.

Dr. Li-Meng Yan, a researcher in Hong Kong, became a right-wing media sensation after appearing in the U.S. on Fox News to make the unsubstantiated claim that the coronavirus was a bioweapon manufactured by China.

How it happened: Two increasingly allied groups that peddle misinformation collaborated on Dr. Yan’s rise. One is a small but active corner of the Chinese diaspora, the other the highly influential far right in the U.S.

The players: Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese billionaire, and Stephen Bannon, a former adviser to Mr. Trump, have been on a mission for years to, as they put it, bring down the Chinese Communist Party. They put Dr. Yan on a plane to the U.S., gave her a place to stay, coached her on media appearances and helped her secure interviews with popular conservative television hosts.


The U.S. decision to lift the parole restrictions on Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel in the 1980s, will free him to move to Israel, where he is viewed as a hero. It is also one of the many gifts from the Trump administration to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

President Trump’s treatment of Mr. Netanyahu has been nothing short of lavish, our Jerusalem bureau chief writes.

Mr. Trump broke sharply with his predecessors’ approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, taking Israel’s side. His Middle East team piled pressure on the Palestinians to get them to consider a lopsided peace proposal, then brokered accords for Israel with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan — deals that shattered Arab solidarity behind the Palestinian cause.

Pollard history: A former Navy intelligence analyst, Jonathan Pollard served 30 years in a U.S. prison for stealing American secrets during the Cold War. His case, which the Justice Department addressed on Friday, had long been a sore point in the relations between the two countries. The U.S. continues to view Mr. Pollard, 66, as a traitor who did huge amounts of damage.

The Kolyma Highway in the Russian Far East once delivered tens of thousands of prisoners to the work camps of Stalin’s gulag. But for many Russians, including former prisoners, the horrors of the gulag are fading.

Our reporter and photographer drove along the highway to the remote settlements that are now shrinking and in ruins. “Everything here is built on bones,” said Andrey Kolyadin, a regional official.

U.S. elections: President Trump’s legal efforts to challenge election results in Pennsylvania were met with defeat and a sharp judicial rebuke on Saturday, and some fellow Republicans began to acknowledge that he had lost both the state and his bid for re-election.

Afghanistan talks: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Qatar with Afghan and Taliban negotiators who are trying to break a deadlock in their stalled peace negotiations. On Saturday, a rocket attack in Kabul killed at least eight people and the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

G20: A closing statement released on Sunday by the Group of 20 summit served as perhaps the Trump presidency’s final reminder of the wide gulf between the U.S. and its allies on handling global threats like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

Pompeii discovery: Excavations at a suburban villa outside the ancient city frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago have recovered the remains of two dwellers, tentatively identified as a wealthy landowner and a younger enslaved person.

Snapshot: Above, kimchi lessons for the Shin Tae-sook family in Goesan. November is kimchi-making season, but in the age of meal kits and on-demand grocery delivery, the tradition is in decline. Some families have started making pilgrimages to the countryside where they can learn how to prepare it on their own.

What we’re watching: The Guardian’s video report on North Korean women working in Chinese factories producing P.P.E. for export worldwide. It’s a chilling look at what may amount to modern slavery.

Cook: The key to mastering a basic French omelet is controlling the heat so the eggs do not brown, and whisking the eggs in the skillet so they set on the exterior but remain fluffy inside.

Read: Our editors from the Book Review have released this year’s list of 100 notable books, spanning every genre, to help you select your bedside reading for the coming months.

Do: A ninth-century Viking adventure, a game about robots and an escape from hell: Here’s what’s new in video games.

Start off your week with a new project. At Home has ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

We created our own A.I. system to understand how easy it is to generate different fake faces. Kashmir Hill, a tech reporter, and Jeremy White, a graphics editor, worked on a gallery of portraits of people who may look real, but aren’t.

There are now businesses that sell fake people. If you just need a couple of fake people — for characters in a video game, or to make your company website appear more diverse — you can get their photos for free on a website. These simulated people are also used by spies to infiltrate the intelligence community, right-wing propagandists who hide behind fake profiles and online harassers who troll their targets with a friendly visage.

You can spot some of the mistakes and patterns we found that our A.I. system repeated when it was conjuring fake faces. Earrings, for example, might look similar but often may not exactly match. Abstract or blurry backgrounds are often giveaways.

“It was pretty interesting to set up our own A.I. system and generate hundreds of faces to see how it’s done. This story explores how good the technology is getting and how you can spot the fakes,” Jeremy wrote.

“The hard thing about covering tech is that it is both amazingly powerful and unexpectedly flawed at the same time,” Kashmir wrote.

Have a look.


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

— Carole (a real person)


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

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the pandemic in a rural area of the U.S.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Concept of universal justice (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Because words with harmful connotations have been baked into tech communication, The Times is re-examining the language we use to describe our technology.





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