License To Gill
January 5, 2022
The Good News
- Kane Tanaka, the world’s oldest living person, turns 119 (CNN)
- Preet Chandi becomes first woman of color to complete solo South Pole expedition (NPR)
“The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded.” – Ban Ki-Moon
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein
An Explosive Statement
China seems ready to use military force against Taiwan at any moment, Russia is slowly making a push to invade Ukraine, and Iran has threatened retribution for the killing of General Qassem Soleimani. The world feels like a tinderbox right now, but on Monday, five of the world’s most powerful countries – China, Russia, the U.S., the U.K., and France – released a joint statement pledging to work to reduce the risk of nuclear war. The superpowers agreed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The statement represents an unexpected but welcome commitment to preventing any future conflicts from reaching a catastrophic scale.
The five are nuclear weapons states recognized by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and also the five permanent members of the U.N. security council, known as the P5 or the N5. The joint statement came after several months of tense debate regarding the exact wording of the agreement. Namely, France worried that the statement would undermine the effect its weapons have as a defensive measure, and the U.K. seemed to have similar concerns. In compromise, a line in the statement says that “nuclear weapons – for as long as they continue to exist – should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war.”
Every five years, a review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty takes place, and the statement’s release was meant to coincide with that conference. Unfortunately, the unexpected surge in Covid-19 infections from the Omicron variant led to the conference being postponed when the countries could not agree upon holding it virtually. The 1968 treaty was initially an agreement between countries without nuclear weapons, who promised not to get any, and countries with nuclear weapons, who promised to disarm them.
Disarmament has moved slowly, and the weaponized states have made moves recently to modernize their stockpile. The four other states with nuclear weapons – India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea – show no interest in disarmament either. Meanwhile, the collapse of the 2015 agreement with Iran and the inability to get it going again have made the risk of nuclear proliferation even higher. While the joint statement represents a slightly-shocking ability for the countries to work together and agree, those who advocate for arms controls say it doesn’t go far enough, and should also contain demands for disarmament. (Guardian)
- On the second anniversary of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani by the United States, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi announced that Tehran would take revenge if former President Donald Trump was not put on trial for the killing. Soleimani was the commander of the Quds Force and was killed in Iraq in a drone strike on January 3rd, 2020. Many countries held events to honor his legacy.
- “If Trump and (former secretary of state Mike) Pompeo are not tried in a fair court for the criminal act of assassinating General Soleimani, Muslims will take our martyr’s revenge,” President Raisi said in a speech on Monday. “The aggressor, murderer, and main culprit – the then president of the United States – must be tried and judged under the (Islamic) law of retribution, and God’s ruling must be carried out against him.” Iran has urged the United Nations Security Council to hold the United States and Israel accountable for the killing. (Reuters)
Hanging On By A Threat
- Despite dozens of death threats, lawmakers from France’s ruling party announced on Monday that they would not back down from initiating legislation that will require people to show proof of vaccination to go out to restaurants, cinemas, and take trains. The proposal has angered anti-vaccination activists, and violent threats and vandalism have ensued in recent days.
- “We will not yield,” said Yael Braun-Pivet, of the ruling La Republique en Marche (LREM) party. “It’s our democracy that is at stake.” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has said police will strengthen protections for lawmakers after several politicians notified authorities of vandalism and death threats.
- Last week, the garage of a lawmaker was set on fire, and many lawmakers have reported aggressive Twitter posts aimed at them. Despite having more vaccine skeptics than most neighboring countries, France boasts one of the European Union’s highest Covid-19 vaccination rates, with nearly 90% of their population 12 and older having been vaccinated. (Reuters)
Additional World News
- Media watchdog says 45 journalists killed in 2021 (Al Jazeera)
- Vietnam urges China to urgently reopen border gates as trade stalls (Reuters)
- India’s New Delhi imposes weekend curfew as COVID cases jump (Al Jazeera)
- COVID outbreak ends cruise for thousands on German ship in Lisbon (Reuters)
- EU flag removed from Arc de Triomphe after causing stir (Reuters)
- France to cut COVID isolation time for fully vaccinated people (Al Jazeera)
- Seoul: North Korea defector likely made rare border crossing back (NPR)
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Something To Write Holmes About
- The jury for the federal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, remains deadlocked on three of the 11 counts of fraud that Holmes has been charged with. The jury has deliberated her case for seven days as she faces the possibility of jail time, fines, and restitution to defrauded investors.
- Holmes currently faces two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud in the trial, but it is unclear which charges the jury is currently caught up on. The jury was read the “Allen charge,” a set of instructions telling the jury to essentially hurry up and reach a verdict on the case “without violating [their] individual judgment and conscience.”
- Theranos claimed that its devices could show users comprehensive diagnostic results with just a single finger prick, raising hundreds of millions of dollars from venture capital groups before a 2015 Wall Street Journal story revealed that the devices were inaccurate. From there, the company began to crumble before closing down in 2018. (NBC)
Whatever Floats Your Vote
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday that the Senate is planning to vote on easing filibuster rules. The move comes as Republicans have blocked a Democratic election and voting rights package with the filibuster as Democrats struggle to gather the 60 votes needed to advance it.
- In order to pass the voting bill, Democrats have debated potential changes to Senate voting rules in order to change the 60 vote threshold needed to push the bill through. Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose the move, citing that Republicans may take advantage of any voting rule if the Senate flips in their favor this midterm season.
- Despite their opposition to changes to the filibuster, both Manchin and Sinema support the voting legislation the changes are meant to push through. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah argued that ending the filibuster would turn the Senate into a “Lord of the Flies” situation where the majority rules without regard to the minority. (AP)
Additional USA News
- Odds of Gerrymandering Grow in New York as Redistricting Panel Falters (NYT, $)
- Liz Cheney says Trump unfit for office, cites Jan. 6 probe testimony (USA Today)
- Kathy Hochul Will Propose Term Limits for New York Governors (NYT, $)
- Eldest Trump children won’t comply with subpoenas from New York attorney general (ABC)
- DeSantis calls for states to be allowed to buy monoclonal antibody treatments (The Hill)
- Judge blocks Navy vaccine policy for legal challengers citing religious objections (CNN)
- US and Russia face deep differences ahead of Geneva talks (LAT, $)
License To Gill
- A study conducted by Shachar Givon and colleagues at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, published in Behavioral Brain Research, sought to determine if goldfish have strong enough navigational skills that they can work in unfamiliar environments. To determine the answer to this question, the scientists taught goldfish to drive.
- The vehicle in question is a fish tank on wheels, but there isn’t a wheel or controls that the fish has to learn to use – which is good, since fins can make shifting gears complicated, to say the least. Instead, the vehicle uses a downward-facing camera that tracks a fish’s position within the tank, and then moves the tank in that direction. It has a safety feature to prevent the tank from running into any walls, which seems like something cars should have as well.
- Six fish participated for 30 minutes three times a week. The fish were rewarded if they were able to navigate to a pink target. Interestingly, the fish got better at navigating to the target and were able to do it faster at the end of their driving lessons, indicating some sort of proficiency. Scientists even gave them different starting points and decoy targets, but the fish stayed on task. (Ars Technica)
- Scientists Settled a Century-Old Family Drama Using DNA From Postcards (Wired)
- “Digitally unwrapping” Amenhotep I’s mummy shows pharaoh died around age 35 (Ars Technica)
- Twins born on different days, months and years — but only 15 minutes apart (USA Today) Djokovic Granted Covid-19 Vaccine Exemption to Play in Australian Open (NYT, $)
- Earth makes its closest annual approach to the sun (NBC)
- Mars looks like a delicious dessert in stunning spacecraft image (CNET)
- John Deere’s Self-Driving Tractor Stirs Debate on AI in Farming (Wired)