What Is the Coronavirus?: Answers to Common Questions About the Mysterious New Virus Spreading Across China

Above, The Guardian's health editor, Sarah Boseley, answers basic questions you might have about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.

What are the symptoms? Where have cases been confirmed so far? How is the virus transmitted? What are the available treatments? Should I be panicking? and more...

For more information, visit the CDC website.

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Jim Lehrer’s 16 Rules for Practicing Journalism with Integrity

In 1988, stalwart PBS news anchor, writer, and longtime presidential debate moderator Jim Lehrer was accused of being too soft on the candidates. He snapped back, “If somebody wants to be entertained, they ought to go to the circus.” The folksy quote sums up the Texan journalist's philosophy succinctly. The news was a serious business. But Lehrer, who passed away last Thursday, witnessed the distinction between political journalism and the circus collapse, with the spread of cable infotainment, and corporate domination of the Internet and radio.

Kottke remarks that Lehrer seemed “like one of the last of a breed of journalist who took seriously the integrity of informing the American public about important events.” He continually refused offers from the major networks, hosting PBS’s MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour with cohost Robert MacNeil until 1995, then his own in-depth news hour until his retirement in 2011. “I have an old-fashioned view that news is not a commodity,” he said. “News is information that’s required in a democratic society... That sounds corny, but I don’t care whether it sounds corny or not. It’s the truth.”




To meet such high standards required a rigorous set of journalistic… well, standards—such as Lehrer was happy to list, below, in a 1997 report from the Aspen Institute.

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.*
  2. Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
  3. Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
  4. Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.*
  5. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.*
  6. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.*
  7. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.*
  8. Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
  9. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.*
  10. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.*
  11. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.*
  12. Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  13. Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  14. Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers.
  15. My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice.
  16. I am not in the entertainment business.*

In a 2006 Harvard commencement address (at the top), Lehrer reduced the list to only the nine rules marked by asterisks above by Kottke, who goes on to explain in short why these guidelines are so routinely cast aside—“this shit takes time! And time is money.” It’s easier to patch together stories in rapid-fire order when you don’t cite or check sources or do investigative reporting, and face no serious consequences for it.

Lehrer’s adherence to professional ethics may have been unique in any era, but his attention to detail and obsession with accessing multiple points of view came from an older media. He “saw himself as ‘a print/word person at heart’ and his program as a kind of newspaper for television,” writes Robert McFadden in his New York Times obituary. He was also “an oasis of civility in a news media that thrived on excited headlines, gotcha questions and noisy confrontations.”

Lehrer understood that civility is meaningless in the absence of truth, or of kindness and humility. His longtime cohost’s list of journalistic guidelines also appears in the Aspen Institute report. “The values which Jim Lehrer and I observed,” MacNeil writes, "he continues to observe.” Journalism is a serious business—“behave with civility”—but “remember that journalists are no more important to society than people in other professions. Avoid macho posturing and arrogant display.”

Read more about Lehrer’s list of guidelines at Kottke.

Related Content:

Journalism Under Siege: A Free Course from Stanford Explores the Imperiled Freedom of the Press

Journalistic Ethics: A Free Online Course from UCLA 

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

China’s 8,000 Terracotta Warriors: An Animated & Interactive Introduction to a Great Archaeological Discovery

Unless you're a Chinese history buff, the name of Qin Shi Huang may not immediately ring a bell. But perhaps his accomplishments will sound familiar. "He conquered the warring states that surrounded him, creating the first unified Chinese empire" — making him the very first emperor of China — "and enacted a number of measures to centralize his administration and bolster infrastructure," writes Smithsonian.com's Brigit Katz. "In addition to standardizing weights, measures and the written language, the young ruler constructed a series of fortifications that later became the basis for the Great Wall."

Second only to the Great Wall as an ancient Chinese artifact of note is Emperor Qin's army: not the living army he maintained to defend and expand his empire, fearsome though it must have been, but the even more impressive one made out of terracotta.




"In 1974, farmers digging a well near their small village stumbled upon one of the most important finds in archaeological history," says the TED-Ed lesson written by Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen above: "a vast underground chamber surrounding the emperor's tomb, and containing more than 8,000 life-size clay soldiers, ready for battle," all commissioned by Qin, who after ascending to the throne at age thirteen "began the construction of a massive underground necropolis filled with monuments, artifacts, and an army to accompany him into the next world and continue his rule."

Qin's ceramic soldiers, 200 more of which have been discovered over the past decade, have stood ready in battle formation for well over 2000 years now. Stored in the same area's underground chambers are 130 chariots with 520 horses, 150 cavalry horses, and a variety of musicians, acrobats, workers, government officials, and exotic animals — all made of terracotta, all life-size, and each with its own painstakingly crafted uniqueness. They populate what we now call a necropolis, an elaborately designed "city of the dead" built around a mausoleum. You can get a 360-degree view of a section of Qin's necropolis above, as well as a deeper look into its historical background from the BBC documentary New Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors, the BBC documentary above, and this episode of PBS' Secrets of the Dead.

Why direct so much material and labor to such a seemingly obscure project? Qin, who also showed a great interest in searching far-flung lands for life-prolonging elixirs, must have considered building a well-populated necropolis a reasonable bet to secure for himself a place in eternity. Nor was such an endeavor without precedent, and in fact Qin's version represented a civilizing step forward for the necropolis. "Ruthless as he was," write Campisi and Chen, he at least "chose to have servants and soldiers built for this purpose, rather than having living ones sacrificed to accompany him, as had been practiced in Egypt, West Africa, Anatolia, parts of North America," and even previous Chinese dynasties. "You can't take it with you," we often hear today regarding the amassment of wealth in one's lifetime — but maybe, as Qin must have thought, you can take them.

Related Content:

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How Ancient Greek Statues Really Looked: Research Reveals Their Bold, Bright Colors and Patterns

Roman Statues Weren’t White; They Were Once Painted in Vivid, Bright Colors

What Ancient Chinese Philosophy Can Teach Us About Living the Good Life Today: Lessons from Harvard’s Popular Professor, Michael Puett

3D Scans of 7,500 Famous Sculptures, Statues & Artworks: Download & 3D Print Rodin’s Thinker, Michelangelo’s David & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Iconic Songs Played by Musicians Around the World: “Stand by Me,” “Redemption Song,” “Ripple” & More

We here at Open Culture love to see how well known and well loved songs pop up all over the globe in new and interesting forms. These covers could be played on very un-rock instruments, or on ones we’ve never heard of. We’ve seen schoolkids sing songs that their grandparents loved, and we’ve heard senior citizens singing death metal. Music unites us in troubling times, and we need more of it.

The above video from Playing for Change imagines a world where people from all four corners of the earth play and sing a song together, and makes it real through the power of technology and interconnectivity.




It started in 2005 when Mark Johnson heard street musician Roger Ridley singing Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” in Santa Monica. Struck by Ridley’s emotive voice, he returned with recording equipment and began a process of bringing the world to join in. Johnson recorded Grandpa Elliott in New Orleans sharing a verse, Washboard Chaz providing washboard rhythm, then Clarence Bekker in Amsterdam taking a verse, the Twin Eagle Drum Group providing a Native American rhythm, and so on. By the end of the video, Johnson had racked up frequent flier miles and stitched together a cohesive track.

Years later, the Playing for Change non-profit has accumulated an impressive back catalog of cover songs and has helped fund 15 music programs worldwide.

One takeaway is this: the world agrees on Bob Marley. Whether he’s being political or spiritual, everybody seems to get it. Here’s “War” featuring Bono. Also see "Redemption Song" here:

Other stars have done guest spots to bring awareness to the project. Bunny Wailer, Manu Chao and Bushman singing “Soul Rebel”:

Most recently, they recorded “The Weight” with Robbie Robertson and Ringo Starr:

And we always enjoy this version of the Dead's "Ripple."

The videos are heartwarming, but the music stands by itself without the globetrotting. For those who need a good vibe injection to start 2020, start here.

Related Content:

Music Is Truly a Universal Language: New Research Shows That Music Worldwide Has Important Commonalities

BBC Launches World Music Archive

Behold the MusicMap: The Ultimate Interactive Genealogy of Music Created Between 1870 and 2016

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

How Humans Domesticated Cats (Twice)

Depending on how you feel about cats, the feline situation on the island of Cyprus is either the stuff of a delightful children’s story or a horror film to be avoided at all cost.

Despite being surrounded on all sides by water, the cat population—an estimated 1.5 million—currently outnumbers human residents. The overwhelming majority are feral, though as we learn in the above episode of PBS’ EONS, they, too, can be considered domesticated. Like the other 600,000,000-some living members of Felis Catus on planet Earth—which is to say the type of beast we associate with litterboxes, laser pointers, and Tender Vittles—they are descended from a single subspecies of African wildcat, Felis Silvestris Lybica.

While there’s no single narrative explaining how cats came to dominate Cyprus, the story of their global domestication is not an uncommon one:

An ancient efficiency expert realized that herding cats was a much better use of time than hunting them, and the idea quickly spread to neighboring communities.




Kidding. There’s no such thing as herding cats (though there is a Chicago-based cat circus, whose founder motivates her skateboard-riding, barrel-rolling, high-wire-walking stars with positive reinforcement...)

Instead, cats took a commensal path to domestication, lured by their bellies and celebrated curiosity.

Ol’ Felis (Felix!) Silvestris (Sufferin’ Succotash!Lybica couldn’t help noticing how human settlements boasted generous supplies of food, including large numbers of tasty mice and other rodents attracted by the grain stores.

Her inadvertent human hosts grew to value her pest control capabilities, and cultivated the relationship… or at the very least, refrained from devouring every cat that wandered into camp.

Eventually, things got to the point where one 5600-year-old specimen from northwestern China was revealed to have died with more millet than mouse meat in its system—a pet in both name and popular sentiment.

Chow chow chow.

Interestingly, while today’s house cats' gene pool leads back to that one sub-species of wild mackerel-tabby, it’s impossible to isolate domestication to a single time and place.

Both archeological evidence and genome analysis support the idea that cats were domesticated both 10,000 years ago in Southwest Asia... and then again in Egypt 6500 years later.

At some point, a human and cat traveled together to Cyprus and the rest is history, an Internet sensation and an if you can’t beat em, join em tourist attraction.

Such high end island hotels as Pissouri’s Columbia Beach Resort and TUI Sensatori Resort Atlantica Aphrodite Hills in Paphos have started catering to the ever-swelling numbers of uninvited, four-legged locals with a robust regimen of healthcare, shelter, and food, served in feline-specific tavernas.

An island charity known as Cat P.A.W.S. (Protecting Animals Without Shelter) appeals to visitors for donations to defray the cost of neutering the massive feral population.

Sometimes they even manage to send a furry Cyprus native off to a new home with a foreign holidaymaker.

Related Content:

An Animated History of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Predator to Sofa Sidekick

Medieval Cats Behaving Badly: Kitties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Century Manuscripts

A New Photo Book Documents the Wonderful Homemade Cat Ladders of Switzerland

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Monty Python’s Terry Jones (RIP) Was a Comedian, But Also a Medieval Historian: Get to Know His Other Side

Monty Python’s surreal, slapstick parodies of history, religion, medicine, philosophy, and law depended on a competent grasp of these subjects, and most of the troupe’s members, four of whom met at Oxford and Cambridge, went on to demonstrate their scholarly acumen outside of comedy, with books, guest lectures, professorships, and serious television shows.

Michael Palin even became president of the Royal Geographical Society for a few years. And Palin’s onetime Oxford pal and early writing partner Terry Jones—who passed away at 77 on January 21 after a long struggle with degenerative aphasia—didn’t do so badly for himself either, becoming a respected scholar of Medieval history and an authoritative popular writer on dozens of other subjects.




Indeed, as the Pythons did throughout their academic and comedic careers, Jones combined his interests as often as he could, either bringing historical knowledge to absurdist comedy or bringing humor to the study of history. Jones wrote and directed the pseudo-historical spoofs Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian, and in 2004 he won an Emmy for his television program Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, an entertaining, informative series that incorporates sketch comedy-style reenactments and Terry Gilliam-like animations.

In the program, Jones debunks popular ideas about several stock medieval European characters familiar to us all, while he visits historical sites and sits down to chat with experts. These characters include The Peasant, The Damsel, The Minstrel, The Monk, and The Knights. The series became a popular book in 2007, itself a culmination of decades of work. Jones first book, Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary came out in 1980. There, notes Matthew Rozsa at Salon:

[Jones] argued that the concept of Geoffrey Chaucer’s knight as the epitome of Christian chivalry ignored an uglier truth: That the Knight was a mercenary who worked for authoritarians that brutally oppressed ordinary people (an argument not dissimilar to the scene in which a peasant argues for democracy in The Holy Grail).

In 2003, Jones collaborated with several historians on Who Murdered Chaucer? A speculative study of the period in which many of the figures he later surveyed in his show and book emerged as distinctive types. As in his work with Monty Python, he didn’t only apply his contrarianism to medieval history. He also called the Renaissance “overrated” and “conservative,” and in his 2006 BBC One series Terry Jones’ Barbarians, he described the period we think of as the fall of Rome in positive terms, calling the city’s so-called “Sack” in 410 an invention of propaganda.

Jones’ work as a popular historian, political writer, and comedian “is not the full extent of [his] oeuvre,” writes Rozsa, “but it is enough to help us fathom the magnitude of the loss suffered on Tuesday night.” His legacy “was to try to make us more intelligent, more well-educated, more thoughtful. He also strove, of course, to make us have fun.” Python fans know this side of Jones well. Get to know him as a passionate interpreter of history in Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, which you can watch on YouTube here.

For an academic study of Jones' medieval work, see the collection: The Medieval Python The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones.

Related Content:

The History & Legacy of Magna Carta Explained in Animated Videos by Monty Python’s Terry Jones

John Cleese Revisits His 20 Years as an Ivy League Professor in His New Book, Professor at Large: The Cornell Years

Monty Python’s Eric Idle Breaks Down His Most Iconic Characters

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Concise Breakdown of How Time Travel Works in Popular Movies, Books & TV Shows

As least since H.G. Wells' 1895 novel The Time Machine, time travel has been a promising storytelling concept. Alas, it has seldom delivered on that promise: whether their characters jump forward into the future, backward into the past, or both, the past 125 years of time-travel stories have too often suffered from inelegance, inconsistency, and implausibility. Well, of course they're implausible, everyone but Ronald Mallett might say — they're stories about time travel. But fiction only has to work on its own terms, not reality's. The trouble is that the fiction of time travel can all too easily stumble over the potentially infinite convolutions and paradoxes inherent in the subject matter.

In the MinutePhysics video above, Henry Reich sorts out how time-travel stories work (and fail to work) using nothing but markers and paper. For the time-travel enthusiast, the core interest of such fictions isn't so much the spectacle of characters hurtling into the future or past but "the different ways time travel can influence causality, and thus the plot, within the universe of each story." As an example of "100 percent realistic travel" Reich points to Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, in which space travelers at light speed experience only days or months while years pass back on Earth. The same thing happens in Planet of the Apes, whose astronauts return from space thinking they've landed on the wrong planet when they've actually landed in the distant future.




But when we think of time travel per se, we more often think of stories about how actively traveling to the past, say, can change its future — and thus the story's "present." Reich poses two major questions to ask about such stories. The first is "whether or not the time traveler is there when history happens the first time around. Was "the time-traveling version of you always there to begin with?" Or "does the very act of time traveling to the past change what happened and force the universe onto a different trajectory of history from the one you experienced prior to traveling?" The second question is "who has free will when somebody is time traveling" — that is, "whose actions are allowed to move history onto a different trajectory, and whose aren't?"

We can all look into our own pasts for examples of how our favorite time-travel stories have dealt with those questions. Reich cites such well-known time-travelers' tales as A Christmas Carol, Groundhog Day, and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, as well, of course, as Back to the Future, the most popular dramatization of the theoretical changing of historical timelines caused by travel into the past. Rian Johnson's Looper treats that phenomenon more complexly, allowing for more free will and taking into account more of the effects a character in one time period would have on that same character in another. Consulting on that film was Shane Carruth, whose Primer — my own personal favorite time-travel fiction — had already taken time travel "to the extreme, with time travel within time travel within time travel."

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Reich's personal favorite time-travel fiction, exhibits a clarity and consistency uncommon in the genre. J.K. Rowling accomplishes this by following the rule that "while you're experiencing your initial pre-time travel passage through a particular point in history, your time-traveling clone is also already there, doing everything you'll eventually do when you time-travel yourself." This single-time-line version of time travel, in which "you can't change the past because the past already happened," gets around problems that have long bedeviled other time-travel fictions. But it also demonstrates the importance of self-consistency in fiction of all kinds: "In order to care about the characters in a story," Reich says, "we have to believe that actions have consequences." Stories, in other words, must obey their own rules — even, and perhaps especially, stories involving time-traveling child wizards.

Related Content:

What’s the Origin of Time Travel Fiction?: New Video Essay Explains How Time Travel Writing Got Its Start with Charles Darwin & His Literary Peers

Professor Ronald Mallett Wants to Build a Time Machine in this Century … and He’s Not Kidding

Mark Twain Predicts the Internet in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Story, “From The ‘London Times’ in 1904”

What Happened When Stephen Hawking Threw a Cocktail Party for Time Travelers (2009)

Pretty Much Pop #22 Untangles Time-Travel Scenarios in the Terminator Franchise and Other Media

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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