Thursday, 29 Oct 2020

Your Wednesday Briefing

Amy Coney Barrett, coronavirus, Nagorno-Karabakh: Here’s what you need to know.

By Natasha Frost

Good morning.

We’re covering European attempts to control a virus surge, a second day of confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and a Japanese man’s solitary tour of Machu Picchu.

Europe scrambles to head off more major lockdowns

As coronavirus case numbers surge across the continent, European countries have looked to targeted closures and travel restrictions to avoid the large-scale lockdowns that crippled economies in the spring. European Union members will now use a color-coded system to denote the scale of outbreaks: green at the low end of risk, orange in the middle and red at the high end.

But the measures are not mandatory, and individual E.U. states said they wanted to reserve the right to take unilateral action, including stepping up restrictions or changing the risk category for regions based on their own assessments.

The developments came amid a flood of tightened policies and pointed warnings from national leaders, including a four-week partial lockdown in the Netherlands and the closing of schools in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Italy announced on Tuesday that it would prohibit parties and recommended that indoor gatherings be limited to six people.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has brushed aside advice from an influential group of scientists to lock down the economy for a brief period to try to halt a surge in new cases.

Here are the latest updates and maps.

In other developments:

Johnson & Johnson has paused the large late-stage clinical trial of its coronavirus vaccine because of an “unexplained illness” in one of the volunteers, the company said. Separately, Eli Lilly paused an antibody trial over a “potential safety concern.”

Cristiano Ronaldo, one of soccer’s biggest stars, has tested positive for the virus.

The U.S. Supreme Court battle heats up

On the second day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Judge Amy Coney Barrett refused to commit to recusing herself from any legal disputes arising from the Nov. 3 election, as she faced questioning from the deeply divided Senate Judiciary Committee.

Judge Barrett insisted that she could be trusted to act as a just arbiter on any matter before the court, saying she would not “allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people.” Follow our live briefing.

Here are some of the day’s notable moments:

Judge Barrett dismissed Democrats’ portrayal of her as a right-wing activist chosen to undermine certain issues: “Judges cannot just wake up one day and say, ‘I have an agenda — I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion,’ and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world.”

Invoking her predecessors, she refused to say how she would rule in potential cases on abortion, the election and same-sex marriage. Quoting the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she said, “No hints, no forecasts, no previews.”

Though she pushed back on characterizations of her as a “female Scalia,” referring to her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the two share a point of view: Judge Barrett is a strict textualist who, she said, interprets the “Constitution as a law.”

War in a Caucasus region where coexistence is ‘impossible’

For most of the existence of the Soviet Union, Armenians and Azerbaijanis lived side by side in relative peace. But in the late 1980s, conflict over the disputed mountain territory called Nagorno-Karabakh exploded into riots, expulsions and a yearslong war, leaving festering wounds.

In the last two weeks, those unhealed scars have erupted into a modern-day conflagration of trench warfare, drone strikes and artillery bombardments, killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians. A cease-fire brokered in Moscow over the weekend has failed to hold, and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan has threatened further escalation.

In both Azerbaijan and Armenia, views of the other as the enemy have hardened, as a generation has come of age with no memory of friendly coexistence.

Quotable: “To live together is, put simply, impossible,” said Shahen Babayants, the village head of Shgharjik, in Armenia.

The latest: The conflict has the potential to spiral into a bigger crisis with sprawling consequences. It is already drawing in Turkey, Azerbaijan’s ally and a NATO member; Russia, which has a defense treaty with Armenia; and Iran, which lies just to the south.

If you have some time, this is worth it

She hunts viral rumors about real viruses

Heidi Larson, above, is arguably the world’s foremost rumor manager. The founder of the Vaccine Confidence Project in London, she has spent two decades in war-torn, poor and unstable countries around the globe, as well as in rich and developed ones, striving to understand what makes people hesitant to take vaccines.

In this profile, our reporter delves into Dr. Larson’s obsession with the origin and evolution of rumors — and how to engage with skeptical members of the community. “We don’t have a misinformation problem,” she says. “We have a trust problem.”

Here’s what else is happening

Climate change: Roughly a quarter of the Pantanal wetland in Brazil, one of the most biodiverse and breathtaking places on Earth, has burned this year in wildfires worsened by climate change. Our climate reporters mapped the devastation from this year’s unprecedented fires.

Global outlook: The International Monetary Fund said the world economy was beginning to recover from its worst downturn since the Great Depression. But a painful process could lie ahead, the I.M.F.’s chief economist cautioned: “The ascent out of this calamity is likely to be long, uneven, and highly uncertain.”

IPhone 12: Apple has released four new iPhone designs equipped with 5G speeds, more robust touch screens and smooth, flat edges. Our tech columnist can help you decide if you need an upgrade.

Machu Picchu: After a seven-month wait, Jesse Katayama, a Japanese tourist, got special permission from the authorities in Peru to visit the sprawling Inca citadel high in the Andes Mountains — alone, except for a few guides — and complete the journey of a lifetime.

Snapshot: Above, protesters in Lagos, Nigeria, on Tuesday demanded the end of a police squad known for brutalizing young people. The country’s president vowed to dismantle the unit known as SARS, for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, but many doubt his word.

Lives Lived: Margaret Nolan, a stage and screen actress whose gold-painted body was used as a canvas to project the opening credits of the James Bond film “Goldfinger,” and who played the character Dink in the movie, died at age 76 last week in London.

What we’re reading: This Mother Jones article by a reporter who made nearly 2,000 phone calls to people listed in Jeffrey Epstein’s little black book. It’s a phenomenal feat of reporting and a gripping psychological portrait.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: These snickerdoodles taste of sweet butter and cinnamon and have a secret ingredient: cream of tartar.

Listen: When it comes to horror, no C.G.I. monstrosity is quite as terrifying as what your mind can conjure up. We’ve collected four of the spookiest — and most enjoyable — podcasts for your listening scintillation.

Go: Take a virtual tour of the small islands in Britain’s waters and meet the caretakers who spend their lives there in quiet solitude.

More discoveries await in our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

A theater critic’s exit

After 27 years and more than 2,500 reviews, Ben Brantley, The Times’s co-chief theater critic, is leaving his post. His departure comes during one of the strangest times that he could imagine for theater. Ben spoke to our colleague Jesse Green about his tenure.

How quickly were you introduced to — and how long did it take you to make your peace with — the blowback that often results from writing honestly about a show?

I expected the blowback, and it came pretty quickly. Interestingly, in my case, the attacks almost always came from white men, including Alec Baldwin (“Orphans” — he said I was “not a good writer”) and Josh Brolin (“True West” — he just said he hated me in highly charged language though we later made up by email).

How do you add up the pluses and minuses you’ve observed while writing more than 2,500 reviews during 27 years in the hot seat?

The roster of shows in the season interrupted by the pandemic showed a breadth of diversity and aspiration in form and content that I found incredibly heartening. I have often complained about the Las Vegas-ization of Broadway during my tenure, but in recent years I’ve seen new signs of life there. When theater comes back, it’s inevitably going to be limping, of course.

Even if you aren’t writing reviews, will you still see as many shows as always?

I’ll go as much as I can afford to.

And you won’t miss the perks and paraphernalia of the job? If I enter a theater without a notebook, I feel naked. Let alone the seats! Can you even sit in one that’s not J-101?

There’s a part of me that’s looking forward to attending as a civilian, even one who inhabits the peanut gallery. But once a critic, always a critic. There’ll always be a phantom notebook in my lap.

That’s it for this briefing. Have a great day.

— Natasha

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

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the politics of pandemic relief in the U.S.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: “Largest Greek island” (five letters) You can find all our puzzles here.
• The word “landscrapers” first appeared in The Times on Tuesday, according to the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.
• The Times won the Edward R. Murrow Award for Continuing Coverage from the Radio Television Digital News Association, honoring work from “The Daily” that dug into China’s crackdown on Uighur Muslims.

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