About: This is illuminating news, from my perspective, on how we lived this week, in this Earth…and in other Planets as well – beyond Earth.
God Bless America
The United States of America (USA) went through the motions of impeaching its most recent ex-President, as second time, but could not muster the courage to vote him guilty of instigating the 6th January 2021 Insurrection at Capitol Hill – a huge blot on America’s democracy – visible from the Red Planet. Punishing him would have set a great example and cleared the cobwebs on an ambiguous law, which loopholes helped him survive.
A two-thirds majority vote was required to convict the not-so-great ex-President and with a 50-50 tie between the Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate, the final vote count stood at 57 (convict)- 43 (acquit), which was far from the required punishment threshold. Seven Republicans showed ‘great’ guts in agreeing with the Democrats that the ex-President was guilty.
He was acquitted by the Senate and lives to get elected another ‘great’ day.
What Next? More of ‘great’ golf, until the next Elections?
Bill Gates, now a Window to Climate Change
Microsoft Founder Bill Gates is turning out to be a damn good Astrologer, opening doors, windows, and many vistas: predicting infectious disease Epidemics and Climate Change, to mention a few. Nostradamus must be pleased, from up above.
Bill Gates has written a new book, ‘How to Avoid Climate Disaster. The Solutions We Have and The Breakthroughs We Need’. It’s a guide to tackling global warming. I haven’t read it as yet, but here are some insights I plucked out from various reviews.
He says, ‘solving climate change would be the most amazing thing humanity has ever done. By comparison, ending the pandemic is very, very easy’.
Fifty-one billion, is how many tonnes of greenhouse gases the world typically adds to the atmosphere each year. Zero, is what we need to get to.
Renewable sources like wind and solar can help decarbonise electricity, but that’s less than 30% of total emissions. We are also going to have to decarbonise the other 70% of the world economy – steel, cement, transport systems, fertiliser production, and much, much more. We simply don’t have ways of doing that at the moment for many of these sectors.
Consuming less stuff – fewer flights, local food, less electricity and gas – won’t solve the problem.
He argues political action is more important, demanding Governments across the World do the right thing, and using our voices as consumers, insisting the same of Companies.
‘If you buy an electric car, a hamburger made of a meat substitute, an electric heat pump for your home you are helping increase the production of these products and therefore helping drive prices down’.
There’s no doubt that the next best thing to destroying the human race – other than an epidemic – is the effects of climate change. It’s the Elephant in the Room that many haven’t noticed and those who did are trumpeting for immediate action. If we can find a Vaccine for a nano-virus, I’m sure we can herd Elephants out of the room, back into the lush green forests. I agree with Bill Gates, it’s hard to push an Elephant.
Sleepless in Texas – Shivering and Freezing too
Did Bill Gates predict this one?
Texas State in the USA is known for its sprawling deserts and intense heat waves, but, right now it is hiding under a thin layer of ice. Unbelievable?
Texas is in the grip of unprecedented freezing temperatures as a brutally cold, historic winter storm ravaged it, bringing snow, sleet, and freezing rain in its wake. Temperatures touched down to (- )39 Degree Centigrade in many cities.
The frigid cold, crippled giant wind turbines (an important source of electricity in the State), froze and paralysed vital equipment at gas wells, the natural gas system, and in the nuclear industry. Pipes froze and burst across the State.
The primary sources of energy in Texas – natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind and solar – have been affected by the cold and ice causing blackouts and ruinous power outages. The Power Supply Grid was overwhelmed and several parts were left without power, for basic chores.
Homes in Texas are not normally insulated for cold water, resulting in indoor temperatures quickly dropping to freezing point after heating systems failed.
Texas is the only state of the USA with an independent power grid, meaning it depends entirely on its own electricity supply means. In hindsight, it was a lurking disaster waiting to happen, and they should have had a means for connecting with the Grid of another State – at least for emergency power. How can you afford to ‘live off the Grid’ for so long a period?
India, for eg., has a National Electricity Grid – One Nation, One Grid – and power can flow from the top of the Country to the bottom and across, from the left to the right, in a seamless manner, delivering power to Consumers, anywhere in the country. India achieved this electrifying feat in the year 2014.
What caused the freeze? The US National Weather Service says that this is due to an ‘Arctic Outbreak’ that originated just above the US-Canada Border bringing winter storm and plummeting temperatures. Cold air outbreaks such as these are normally kept contained with the Arctic Zone, by a series of low-pressure systems. However, this one moved through Canada and spilled out in to the US. And it has touched down far South into Texas. Amazing reach!
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) – Starting to Trade
The WTO is the only global international organisation dealing with rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensue that trade flows smoothly, predictably, and freely as possible. It has 164 nations as its members.
This week, WTO finally got its trading biases right – after years of trading with males in the lead it has made the shift to females. On Monday, it appointed Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first female and first African head of the WTO. This is a first in the 73 years of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and WTO.
Okonjo-Iweala will take up her job on 1st March 2021 and her term, which is renewable, will run up to 31st August, 2025.
One of the selectors said of her, ‘She was not chosen because she is female or because she is from Africa, but because she stood out as the candidate with the best qualifications, experience and qualities for the daunting task’. That’s well said. I just do not like making everything a male-female issue and would trade it for expertise and quality.
The Geneva-based WTO has been leaderless since Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo stepped down last August, a year ahead of schedule. The WTO appoints its leaders through a consensus-finding process, but former US President Donald Trump’s administration stood alone in blocking the consensus around Okonjo-Iweala.
Okonjo-Iweala takes over a beleaguered WTO when it is facing a slew of challenges that have hobbled it in recent years, including how to best manage the increased friction between economic superpowers the USA and China. Critics of the WTO said it has failed to intervene over some of China’s most egregious economic offenses, which in turn has let the USA name its economic adversary a currency manipulator and impose or threaten billions of dollars in tariffs on goods from China.
Okonjo-Iweala is seen as a trailblazer in her homeland. She was twice Nigeria’s finance minister and its first female foreign minister in a two-month stint. A development economist by training with degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, Okonjo-Iweala has also had a 25-year career as a development economist at the World Bank, eventually becoming its number two. She has portrayed herself as a champion against Nigeria’s rampant corruption-revealing that her own mother was even kidnapped over her attempts to tackle the scourge. Okonjo-Iweala is married to Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon. They have four children, including author Uzodinma Iweala who wrote, ‘Beasts of No Nation’ (adapted as an award winning film) and ‘Speak No Evil’.
I’m sure the WTO can build strong trade bridges and Okonjo-Iweala has already warned about Vaccine Nationalism, during the current pandemic, ‘a phenomenon where rich countries are vaccinating their populations and poor countries have to wait’.
Toolkits: Vocabulary Building
There is a new word ploughing around Town and it goes by the name of Toolkit.
A Tookit is a collection of documents that contain basic information on an issue, adaptable resources, and campaigning tips, such as tweet suggestions, hashtags, who to tag on social media, how to sign online petitions, etc., so that one can spread the word easily (on a issue) and build-up a momentum of social-media opinion, which could ultimately ignite physical action in terms of sloganeering or for & against rallies – peaceful or otherwise.
Most of us in India learnt about it when overseas Celebrities and Activists began tweeting in support of the Farmer Protests protesting the Farm Reforms – laws enacted by India’s elected Government following due process of walking it through Parliament. Obviously the ‘hand of Toolkit’ was visible in their actions. This lead to inland celebrities fighting back with their own tweets against outside interference. Meanwhile, someone who edited one of these Toolkits, said to have been first prepared by anti-India Forces, was caught and the Police are using all the tools in their kit to find out what’s happening. And now you have a full-blown social media tool war and attempts to unravel a ‘plot against the nation’.
I’m glad that the younger generation is coming out with guns blazing on issues confronting the World. I’m sure they want to add perspective and get in to the thick of things. But they need to be mighty careful on who they are dealing with. Reminds me of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Going to see grandma with sweets and biscuits is ‘very caring’. Beware of the Wolves, lurking in the bushes – and using toolkits for directions!
By all accounts the Farm Laws are very progressive, passed through an elected Parliament, and made into law. These reforms have been in the air for more than a decade and most of the Political Parties opposing them have sometime earlier supported the reforms now actually made into Law. Any changes should be made only through Parliament. Meanwhile it is best to try them out and I’m sure any shortcomings can be corrected by elected legislators. When it is time to vote, the overseas celebrities are welcome to vote, if the can.
Space: USA’s NASA lands on the Red Planet, Mars
On 18th February 2021, National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Perseverance Rover, weighing about a ton, landed, without incident, on Mars on a spot that has never-before been attempted by NASA – the Jezero Crater.
Perseverance is NASA’s ninth landing on Mars and its fifth Rover. And it had to go through the infamous ‘seven minutes of terror’ to land on Mars. The one-way time it takes for radio signals to travel from Earth to Mars is eleven minutes which means the seven minutes it takes to land on Mars occurs without any help or intervention from the NASA Control Centre, on Earth.
The Spacecraft reached the Martian atmosphere at a speed of 12,000 miles per hour and had to slow down to 1.7 miles per hour, seven minutes later, when the Rover landed. The spacecraft’s heat shield endured a peak heating of about 1300 Degrees Centigrade.
Perseverance has been on nearly a 472 million kilometre journey to get here since leaving Earth about 203 days ago (30th July 2020). It will explore the crater and search for signs of ancient microbial life, and collect samples for future missions over an expected life of two years.
There is a helicopter called ‘Ingenuity’ attached to the belly of the Rover and over a process of ten days the Rover will drop Ingenuity and roll away from it. After Ingenuity ‘finds its bearings’, settles down to the world of Mars and charges its solar panels, it will be ready for its first flight, which is expected to last about 20 seconds. This will be the first ever helicopter flight on another Planet and I’m sure the Wright Brothers must be looking down from Heaven, fingers-crossed.
Going back in time, the first Flyby of Mars happened on 15th July 1965, by NASA’s Mariner-4 and on 14 November 1971, Mariner-9 became the first space probe to orbit another planet. The first successful landing on Mars came on 20th July 1976 when NASA’s Viking-1 touched down in a spot named Chris Plantia – The Plains of Golf.
India’s, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) succeeded in its very first attempt to orbit Mars, with the launch of Mangalyaan, on 5th November 2013. And the space probe has been in orbit since 24th September 2014. Though ISRO planned a six-month life for Mangalyaan, it has exceeded expectations completing more than five years – and is still in a ‘circle of love with Mars’.
Surely, we need lots of perseverance to move ahead in life. While Perseverance used every ounce of it to reach Mars to try unlocking mysteries on the origin of life, those living in Texas, on Earth, will need all the perseverance and the ingenuity, they can muster to stay warm and alive.
Life in Antarctica, 3000 Feet Under
Scientists have found life buried deep under about 3,000 feet of ice in Antarctica, challenging the assumption that nothing could live in such conditions. It was thought that Antarctica’s frigid temperatures made it impossible for living creatures to thrive in these extreme locations, because they are so far from sunlight and any obvious source of food.
The strange living creatures were found attached to a boulder in the Arctic seas under an ice shelf. Experts from the British Antarctic Survey drilled through 2,860 feet of ice before making the discovery.
A collection of stationary animals, sponges and potentially several previously unknown species, were among the discoveries.
One of the Researchers explained, “If they are living somewhere as tough as this, they are probably specially adapted to being there. There is a good chance they might go weeks, months and years without food — you have to be pretty hard to cope with that.”
Australian Open in the Melbourne Park, Down Under
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic became just the second man in history to reach 300 Grand Slam wins with a fluent win over Canada’s Milos Raonic in the fourth round of the Australian Open. He whipped the big-hitting Raonic, in four sets, in just under three hours. On Thursday he beat Russian Aslan Karatsev to reach the finals.
Up ahead of Djokovic, in Grand Slam wins, is Switzerland’s Roger Federer – I miss him – the only man to previously reach the 300 win mark at Grand Slams, now sitting on a pedestal of 362 wins. Rafael Nadal is third, with 285 wins. And he is out of the Australian Open.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Naomi Osaka beat America’s Serena Williams to set up a Women’s Finals clash with American Jennifer Brady – happening this Saturday.
The Men’s Finals will be on Sunday, 21st February…and Novak Djokovic has never lost an Australian Open Final. Worth a watch!
England’s Cricket Team is touring India at the moment and India got whacked by England in the first test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, losing by 227 runs.
India came back strongly in the second test, also in Chennai, to wallop England by one of the biggest ever wins, beating them by 317 runs, levelling the four match Test Series. India was lying under a heap of a losing streak of Test Series under ‘new Father’ Virat Kohli’s captaincy and this win has put a stop to that. Kiss the baby? Ravichandran Ashwin scored a total of 119 runs and picked up eight wickets turning into a kingpin of India’s win.
The next two Tests are slated to be held at the Sardar Patel Stadium, Ahmedabad, 24the February to 28th February and 4th March to 8th March 2021.
India requires ‘Iron Wins’ in the Sardar Patel Stadium to weld the Test Series into a strong performance and qualify for the World Test Championships.
COVID-19, the Pandemic
New Zealand’s Fight
I have read and clapped my hands with joy on New Zealand’s superb handling of the coronavirus pandemic, going for months without reports of new infections. With a population of about 5 million it recorded just over 2,300 cases of COVID-19 and 25 deaths.
The country closed its borders to people coming-in or going-out, early on in the pandemic, aiming to keep-out the virus. It maintains a tight vigil on the borders to make it a rock-solid buttress against the nano-invader. And it is succeeding.
However, this week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the country’s biggest city, Auckland, to go into lockdown after the discovery of three new local COVID-19 cases. One of the cases was traced to the laundry department of an airline catering facility and with the obvious border connection, New Zealand is looking for holes to seal.
Three is definitely a small number but the country’s action is big and putting a mighty effort with the goal of stamping-out the virus. Keep it up New Zealand! Until the vaccines arrive, in many shots, we have no other option but to keep injecting ourselves with lockdowns?
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is still fishing in the troubled waters of Wuhan, China, to pin-down the source of the pandemic, but China keeps muddying the waters and is not supplying enough bait, leave alone fishing rods.
The speed of vaccination, to overturn the pandemic, is improving, but we need to jab faster. More than 199 million doses have been administered across 87 countries, i.e., roughly 6.50 million doses per day.
Israel is an outlier, with 79 doses given per 100 people. About 47% of the population has received at least one shot and 31.8% are fully vaccinated.
India has administered about 1.07 crore doses till date, at 0.76 doses per 100.
To provide a perspective, at current vaccination rates the prediction is that India will be fully covered by late 2022. And Israel, the USA, the UK, and much of Europe will be fully covered by the end of this year 2021.
India has seen a steady reduction in coronavirus infection cases across the States, but recently the States of Maharashtra and Kerala have seen a rising trend, which is a case of concern. This is not over and let’s stick to the basics of prevention dynamics until the Science and the Experts declare we are safe.
I’m a die-hard fan of Hollywood’s Tom Hanks and this weekend I’ve scheduled myself to watch ‘News of the World’, on Netflix.
I’ll be back with more news of the world…and we have that helicopter waiting to take us on flight, in Mars!