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Virus Origins, San Jose, ‘Friends’: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. President Biden ordered U.S. intelligence to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.

In a statement, Biden called for a broad government report that incorporated findings from American labs and other agencies on whether the virus was accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab. He gave them 90 days to report back.

The request came as the World Health Organization faced criticism over an earlier report dismissing the possibility that the virus had accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, in 2019, a theory that was largely drowned out last year by scientists’ accounts of its likely path from an animal host to humans in a natural setting. Some scientists have in recent months expressed a new openness to the idea of a lab accident.

Separately, scientists have found that immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly longer, and improves over time when enhanced by vaccines. The studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots.

2. A transit worker opened fire and killed eight people at a rail yard in San Jose, Calif. The gunman, whose home burned on Wednesday morning, is also dead.

The attack occurred as dispatchers and maintenance workers at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority were preparing for the start of the day’s service. Buildings were evacuated as bomb squad teams scoured the area for explosives. Here’s what we know so far.

There have been 232 mass shootings so far in 2021.

The site of the shooting is eight miles away from the suspect’s home, which caught fire. The mayor of San Jose described a “strange connection” between the fire in the house and the attack at the rail yard.


3. The trauma of the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas is ever-present.

During fighting this month between Israel and Hamas, at least 66 children under the age of 18 were killed in Gaza and two in Israel, according to initial reports. These are the children who died, including four cousins pictured above: Yazan al-Masri, 2, Marwan al-Masri, 6, Rahaf al-Masri, 10, and Ibrahim al-Masri, 11.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday in an attempt to revive America’s role as a mediator in the conflict. Blinken said the U.S. would reopen a consulate in Jerusalem that had been shut by the Trump administration, and pledged $112 million in aid to the West Bank and Gaza.


4. Amazon is buying MGM for $8.45 billion as it seeks to bolster its Prime membership offering.

The sale of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which had been shopped around for months, went for about 40 percent more than other prospective buyers, including Apple and Comcast, thought MGM was worth.

Although its library is diminished, MGM does come with one Hollywood crown jewel: James Bond. There is one catch — Amazon will own only 50 percent of Bond, the rest of which is controlled by the Broccoli family.


5. Big Oil was knocked down a peg after shareholders of Exxon Mobil elected at least two climate activists to its board — a stunning defeat for the company’s management.

The success of the campaign, led by a tiny hedge fund against the nation’s largest oil company, could force the energy industry to confront climate change and embolden Wall Street investment firms that are prioritizing the issue. One expert called it a “landmark moment.”

Across the Atlantic, a Dutch court ruled that Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, must accelerate its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change. The ruling is likely only to apply in the Netherlands, and it is unclear how it would be enforced.

6. A Times investigation found that Bill Gates showed a reluctance to act on workplace misconduct complaints against the manager of his fortune, Michael Larson.

At least six people, including four employees at Gates’s money-management firm, Cascade Investment, complained to Gates about Larson. Among the complaints: Larson openly judged female employees on their attractiveness, showed colleagues nude photos of women, and on several occasions made sexually inappropriate comments. He also made a racist remark to a Black employee and bullied others.

Cascade made payments to at least seven people who witnessed or knew about Larson’s behavior; in exchange, they agreed to never speak about their time at the firm.

7. Aleksandr Lukashenko, the brutal leader of Belarus, may be Russia’s closest ally. He is also an enormous headache for President Vladimir Putin.

Lukashenko’s decision to force down a European passenger jet to arrest a dissident journalist opened a new chapter in the region’s most convoluted relationship. As a summit meeting with President Biden looms in June, Putin faces a choice over how much political capital to expend to continue supporting Lukashenko.

Russia is testing how far it can control online speech by pressuring Google, Twitter and Facebook to fall in line with internet crackdown orders or risk restrictions inside the country. Russia’s internet regulator recently demanded the companies remove online content that it deemed illegal or restore pro-Kremlin material that had been blocked.


8. The Louvre will have a female president for the first time in the museum’s 228-year history.

Laurence des Cars, who oversaw the development of Louvre Abu Dhabi, said the past four years as president of the Musée d’Orsay, also in Paris, “gave me this confidence, this crazy idea that I could be the next president of the Louvre.”

The Louvre reopened on May 19 after months of being closed, just as tourists begin to trickle back into Europe. A lot has changed since the last time you packed that passport, including shifting flight schedules, varying hotel flexibility and new tech. Here’s what to know if you’re planning a trip to Europe this summer.


10. And finally, the one where they get back together.

Seventeen years ago, the cast of “Friends” left their hangout at Central Perk for the last time. Or so we thought. Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Joey and Chandler — or rather, the actors who played them — are returning to the couch tomorrow for “Friends: The Reunion,” arriving on HBO Max.

The cast and creators are adamant about never making a where-are-they-now revival episode. (“I don’t want anybody’s happy ending unraveled,” says Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe.) Instead, they recreate the experience with set pieces; a celebrity-packed tribute; a collection of behind-the-scenes clips; and a re-creation of classic scenes.

The result is a “sweet, shaggy” reunion special, our TV critic writes, that’s best when it “shows us what drew us to them, and them to each other.”

Hope there’s someone there for you tonight.


Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

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