Two travel stories arrived in my mailbox overnight. First, China has landed a probe on Mars, becoming the third country in history to do so:
The touchdown makes China the second country in history to deposit a rover on the surface of Mars. After months in orbit around the red planet, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft released the Zhurong rover for a landing in Utopia Planitia, a vast plain that may once have been covered by an ancient Martian ocean. The 529-pound rover survived a perilous descent to the surface, including atmospheric entry, slowing from supersonic speeds with a parachute, and finally using retrorockets to safely alight on the ground.
China will openly share the data from Tianwen-1 and Zhurong the same way it has shared data from its lunar exploration missions, Long says, benefiting planetary scientists around the world.
The mission will also set the stage for China’s next planned voyage to Mars—an audacious sample-return attempt scheduled to launch around 2028. Beyond Mars, the country has plans to launch a Jupiter probe, including a possible landing on the moon Callisto, to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid, and to send a pair of Voyager-like spacecraft toward the edges of the solar system.
Closer to home, after suspending service last year because of the pandemic, Greyhound Canada announced this week that it has decided to completely end all Canadian services:
The bus company says all of its remaining routes will cease operations as of midnight Thursday.
The iconic bus carrier pulled out of Western Canada in 2018.
It then put its remaining routes in Ontario and Quebec on pause when COVID-19 hit in 2020, but now it is pulling out of domestic Canadian service permanently.
The federal [New Democratic Party] also laid blame on the government. "The loss of all remaining Greyhound bus routes leaves many communities without affordable, safe passenger transportation," Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach said in a release. "And it disproportionately affects the most marginalized residents, including Indigenous people and seniors."
Rural areas will suffer the most, as since Greyhound's suspension last year left many without any long-distance transportation services.
The CDC has changed its guidance on Covid-19. People who are fully vaccinated (that's me, 2 weeks as of today!) no longer need to wear masks in most places:
The advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes as welcome news to Americans who have tired of restrictions and marks a watershed moment in the pandemic. Masks ignited controversy in communities across the United States, symbolizing a bitter partisan divide over approaches to the pandemic and a badge of political affiliation.
Permission to stop using them now offers an incentive to the many millions who are still holding out on vaccination. As of Wednesday, about 154 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about one-third of the nation, some 117.6 million people, have been fully vaccinated.
In deference to local authorities, the C.D.C. said vaccinated Americans must continue to abide by existing state, local, or tribal laws and regulations, and follow local rules for businesses and workplaces. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or the second dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine series.
In related news, The Economist analyzed health records and now believes that between 7.1 and 12.7 million people have died from Covid-19, more than three times the official count. In some places, like Romania and Iran, "excess deaths are more than double the number officially put down to covid-19. In Egypt they are 13 times as big. In America the difference is 7.1%."
With France and the UK sending naval vessels to the Isle of Jersey last week, it's only fitting that Belgium got into the historical reenactment game:
Apparently frustrated by a 200-year-old stone border marker, a Belgian farmer dug it out and moved it about seven feet into French territory, local officials told French news media, thus slightly enlarging his own land as well as the entire country of Belgium.
The stone markers, each believed to weigh between 300 and 600 pounds, were laid when the 390-mile border between France and what is now Belgium was established under the 1820 Treaty of Kortrijk.
It is unclear whether the farmer knew the significance of the stone, which has 1819 carved into its face.
The farmer could face criminal charges if he does not return the Franco-Belgian border to the correct location.
I also found it fascinating that France has clubs who walk the Belgian border looking for exactly these kinds of things. I wonder how many other borders in the world have changed slightly due to adverse possession by people who don't know they're invading the other country?
We have gloomy, misty weather today, keeping us mostly inside. Cassie has let me know how bored she is, so in the next few minutes we'll brave the spitting fog and see if anyone else has made it to the dog park.
All right, off to the damp dog park.
Happy 51st Earth Day! In honor of that, today's first story has nothing to do with Earth:
Finally, it looks like I'll have some really cool news to share about my own software in just a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!
Via Josh Marshall, Pfizer has halted vaccine shipments to Israel because political chaos there has made the company worry about getting paid:
Pfizer has halted shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Israel in outrage over the country failing to transfer payment for the last 2.5 million doses it supplied to the country, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Senior officials at Pfizer have said they are concerned that the government-in-transition will not pay up and the company does not want to be taken advantage of. They said that they do not understand how such a situation can occur in an organized country.
Army Radio reported that Pfizer called Israel a “banana republic.”
A shipment of 700,000 doses was expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday but was delayed until further notice.
Marshall puts this in wider context:
After a number of delays, a prosecutor began his opening statement today in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was in court today, with the jarring images you would expect from such a moment going out over the news wires.
The issue is the paralysis of the government and the breakdown of the deal Netanyahu used to hold on to power after election number three last spring. Last week, the cabinet was supposed to meet to approve the payment. But the meeting was canceled because of infighting between Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz. The two had agreed to form a power-sharing government in which the two would trade off as Prime Minister, with Netanyahu holding the job until later this year when he would hand the job over to Gantz. (This was last done in Israel in the mid-1980s in a deal between Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres.)
It's a common story: corruption, right-wing governments trying to retain power at any cost, corruption, a popular right-wing leader who really only cares about himself, and corruption.
In case you needed proof that the world didn't suddenly become an Enlightenment paradise on January 20th, I give you:
You will be happy to know, however, that Egypt has passed its 400-meter kidney stone.
The Ever Given continues to plug up the Suez Canal, halting some $10 billion a day in global trade:
Canal authorities said on Saturday that dredgers had managed to dig out the rear of the ship on Friday night, freeing its rudder, and that by Saturday afternoon they had dredged 18 meters down into the canal’s eastern bank, where the ship’s bow was stuck solid. But after a salvage team failed once more to dislodge the four-football-field-long leviathan from the sand bank where it ran aground on Tuesday, blocking all shipping traffic through the canal, global supply chains churned closer to a full-blown crisis.
Easing the bottleneck depends on the salvagers’ ability to clear away the sand, mud and rock where the Ever Given is stuck and to lighten the ship’s load enough to help it float again, all while tugboats try to push and pull it free. Their best chance may arrive on Monday, when a spring tide will raise the canal’s water level by up to about 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.
All the while, they must hope the Ever Given remains intact. With the ship sagging in the middle, its bow and stern both caught in positions for which it was not designed, the hull is vulnerable to stress and cracks...experts said.
I found this sentence particularly amusing: "[T]he Ever Given had succumbed to Murphy’s Law: Everything that could go wrong did, starting with the ship’s size, among the world’s largest."
The ship's size had nothing to do with Murphy's Law. Evergreen made a business decision to float a 400-meter container ship and send it down Suez. And the Suez authorities let it through. Maybe it's not so much Murphy's Law as the Omnibus Explanation: "When you cannot explain a human decision through logic, the actual reason for the decision is stupidity."
Josh Marshall looks at the results of this week's election in Israel and concludes that only one thing has stopped the country yet again from forming a government:
It’s all such a mess there’s a serious discussion of forming a short term government which would simply pass a law barring anyone currently under indictment, as Netanyahu is, from serving as Prime Minister. In other words, a government whose sole act would be to remove Netanyahu from the political scene before yet another election.
This all brings the matter into some focus. Netanyahu has gone from being Israel’s indispensable man (in the eyes of his supporters, who are legion) to the man whose presence makes it impossible for the state to govern itself.
Removing Netanyahu from the scene is like pulling the string out of the necklace. Everything falls apart. And the new far-right nationalist party, which Netanyahu lured into existence to sustain his rule, is probably one that at least some of the center right parties wouldn’t join. But it’s Netanyahu himself that currently makes Israel ungovernable. We hear again and again that Israel is bitterly divided down the middle and can’t be governed. That’s certainly the verdict of the last four elections. But the constellation of different parties at the moment are all basically situated around him. It seems highly unlikely that a post-Netanyahu Israel would elect a government of the left. But there are various right wing or centrist governments one can imagine, with fairly broad coalitions, as long as Netanyahu isn’t in the picture. He’s like the stuck cargo ship which has to be removed before functioning politics in the country can resume.
One can hope. At some point Israel will see the back of him; why not now?
I've spent the last few weeks in my off-hours beavering away at a major software project, which I hope to launch this spring. Meanwhile, I continue to beaver at my paying job, with only one exciting deployment in the last six sprints, so things are good there. I also hope to talk more about that cool software before too long.
Meanwhile, things I need to read keep stacking up:
Finally, check out the World Photography Organisation's 2021 photo contest results.