March 01, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Lost in Space

Last year, the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab state to send a probe to Mars. It was called Hope, wrote National Geographic.

The US and China also sent rovers to the Red Planet, taking advantage of the optimum alignment occurring between Mars and Earth – NASA’s Perseverance recently released audio and video of its descent, reported CNN. Meanwhile, China’s Tianwen-1 just arrived in orbit around the fourth planet from the sun, added the Hill. A Chinese rover on the moon also found a strange rock on our satellite, according to the International Business Times.

The uptick in international space activity recently underscores the role that space exploration is playing in geopolitics today.

To regulate that activity, the US and seven other nations recently signed the Artemis Accords, codifying the rules for doing business in outer space. These include measures that create safety zones to prevent conflict as well as rules that ensure countries act transparently regarding space and share their scientific discoveries. There are also provisions allowing private companies to extract lunar resources, the Washington Post reported.

The accords were an outgrowth of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans nuclear weapons in space and forbids claims of sovereignty over the moon and other celestial real estate. Most of the world has accepted those rules.

The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and Italy signed the Accords along with the US. This diverse group is just the tip of the iceberg, however.

Meanwhile, no treaty can eliminate competition.

As science news outlet Phys.org explained, Chinese leaders have “poured billions” into their space program. They want to put a space station crewed with “taikonauts” – the Chinese term for astronauts – in orbit next year. The dream of landing humans on the Moon traces back to Mao Zedong, the late communist Chinese ruler who in 1957 vowed to compete with the Soviet Union after the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite.

China is also cooperating with Russia on preparations for a lunar base, the Russian state-owned news agency Tass reported. Russian officials have also raised the possibility of working with the European Space Agency. In contrast, the US has banned NASA from cooperating with China.

Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, risk analyst Mark Rosenberg and financier Peter Marber warned that America was at risk of falling behind in an important sector at a time when that sector could answer many of the country’s other problems. “It could build entire industries, create new jobs, green the economy – and unite the country behind a common purpose,” they said.

Nearly five centuries ago, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei looked to the heavens and saw Venus and Saturn and dreamed up a universe that among other things revolved around the sun – no small feat of imagination or bravery back then.

But he would have been hard-pressed to imagine how space could be at the center of a new kind of competition between nations or how celestial bodies can make all the difference to those millions of lightyears away.

WANT TO KNOW

UNITED KINGDOM

The Unwanted

Britain’s Supreme Court ruled over the weekend that a British-born woman who left the country in 2015 to join Islamic State cannot return home, a verdict that has divided the country on the issues of human rights and extremism, the Washington Post reported.

The court said that Shamima Begum could not return citing national security reasons. It did rule, however, that the 21-year-old could continue her legal case against the British government’s decision to revoke her citizenship in 2019.

Begum left the United Kingdom when she was 15 to join the terrorist group. Following Islamic State’s loss of control of its caliphate two years ago, she asked the British government to help her return home – the UK instead revoked her citizenship on national security grounds.

Last year, the British Court of Appeals ruled that Begum could return to the UK to fight for her citizenship, prompting the government to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

The recent ruling was condemned by Begum’s lawyers and human rights organizations. They argue that her detention at the al-Roj detention camp in northern Syria reduced her chances of a fair trial.

Begum’s case has split the British public and has raised concerns about other Brits detained in Syrian refugee camps.

Rights and Security International, a research and advocacy group, reported in November that at least 15 women and 26 children from Britain are being held in Syrian camps. The report noted that the British government had a “systematic policy of depriving women in the camps of their citizenship.”

NIGERIA

Madam Koi Koi’s Friends

Gunmen kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria’s northwestern Zamfara state over the weekend, the latest abduction of children in Africa’s most populous country amid a rising Islamist insurgency and swelling banditry, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Authorities have begun a search-and-rescue operation for the young women. No group has claimed responsibility.

Friday’s kidnapping took place a day before another group of gunmen released 42 hostages that were kidnapped from a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger a week earlier.

The recent abduction comes amid an increase in kidnappings for ransom across northern Nigeria.

Hundreds of schools across the northern regions of the country have been closed as the increasing insecurity has turned the practice of kidnapping for ransom into a booming industry for armed groups and criminals.

In December, 344 boys were taken from a school in Katsina state but were released a week later. Three of the abducted boys told the Journal that the kidnappers said a ransom was paid for their release.

The Nigerian government has denied paying a ransom.

The Islamist Boko Haram group has carried out numerous kidnappings over the past decade because it says Western education is “un-Islamic” including the 2014 abduction of almost 300 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. About 100 kidnapped girls remain missing.

Amid a rising insecurity, President Muhammadu Buhari recently said the country was in “a state of emergency,” after previously claiming that Nigeria had technically defeated its insurgencies.

ARGENTINA

Crossing the Line

Thousands protested across Argentina against the government of President Alberto Fernandez over the weekend following revelations that a privileged few in the country were jumping ahead of long lines to receive the coronavirus vaccine, Merco Press reported.

Argentinians expressed outrage after it emerged that some government officials, former leaders’ families and their cronies were receiving the inoculation. Currently, only health workers and vulnerable people have a right to access the vaccine.

The scandal has already led to the resignation of Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia and forced the government to publish a list of 70 individuals that received the vaccine.

The country of 44 million has recorded more than two million confirmed cases and about 52,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Argentina has received more than 1.2 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as well as 904,000 from China’s Sinopharm.

The government said that about one million people have been inoculated, according to Agence France-Presse.

Other leaders in the region have been getting into trouble over the same issue.

In February, two ministers in Peru resigned over allegations that they shared scarce vaccine doses with relatives and allies, the Miami Herald reported.

DISCOVERIES

A Spicy Connection

Proponents of “Darwinian gastronomy” suggest that people in hot countries began using spices to prevent the food from spoiling and lower the risk of infection.

However, while spicy cuisines are commonly found in warmer climates, the use of peppers and curry does not automatically lead to healthier citizens, Cosmos Magazine reported.

In their study, Australian scientists analyzed more than 33,000 recipes from 70 cuisines, which included a total of 93 different spices.

The team then reviewed environmental and socioeconomic data associated with each cuisine to understand the complex relationship between these factors and food.

Their findings showed that the “average number of spices per recipe is more strongly associated with socioeconomic factors than infectious disease,” according to lead author Lindell Bromham.

Brohman explained that people living in areas with very low gross domestic product per capita – meaning poorer areas – tended to use more spices in their food.

She noted that temperature didn’t play a large role in spice usage because nearby and related cultures share the same environment and cuisine.

Researchers concluded that there was a broader association between spice, health and poverty, but understanding this relationship is no easy feat.

“We can show that GDP and life expectancy are better at predicting average number of spices per recipe than measure of infection risk, but we don’t know why,” said Bromham.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 28,605,661 (+0.18%)
  2. India: 11,112,241 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 10,551,259 (+0.32%)
  4. Russia: 4,209,850 (+0.27%)
  5. UK: 4,188,827 (+0.14%)
  6. France: 3,747,263 (+0.00%)**
  7. Spain: 3,188,553 (+0.00%)**
  8. Italy: 2,925,965 (+0.62%)
  9. Turkey: 2,701,588 (+0.31%)
  10. Germany: 2,451,316 (+0.13%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country