Your Hiatus Briefing for June 12

Vaccinations on the rise. Israel preps for a new prime minister. NASA heads to Venus.

Happy Saturday! Thanks for being a part of Hiatus. Here’s what’s new since our last briefing…

The United States announced plans to send 500 million vaccine doses abroad over the next year.

Meanwhile, vaccination rates in major American metro areas are nearing “herd immunity” levels, even though rates in rural areas are still lagging. Seattle became the first city to reach 70%+ for all residents 12 and older. Here’s a look at the Denver Metro Area (mostly in darker green, indicating 60%+ vaccination rates) compared to the more rural counties elsewhere in the state.

In Colorado, almost all residents in the Denver Metro (north-central) and mountain tourism towns (west) live in counties with 60%+ vaccination rates. El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, is at 49%.

The rural-urban divide on vaccinations mirrors the state-by-state divide, although the difference between states is smaller than the difference between counties. Here’s a national vaccination map from The Washington Post, which looks pretty similar to the red-blue electoral map:

The upshot here is that, if you live in a major American city and you’re vaccinated, the vast majority of your neighbors are probably vaccinated too, and your community is probably getting close to herd immunity. And since most Americans live in large metro areas, that’s also reflected in our national case rate:

In Canada, the country’s “first doses first” approach has helped it soar past the American first-dose vaccination rates, and lockdowns are slowly being lifted in major cities. Here’s a look at Canadian vaccination rates vs. the U.S.:

However, worldwide Covid deaths in 2021 have now exceeded deaths in 2020, even as North America and Europe have distributed millions of vaccine doses and slowly transitioned back to normal life. The 2021 surge is driven by extreme spread in India and South America. Here’s a look at India and several South American countries compared to the U.S.:

And here’s another look, this time at the absolute numbers rather than the per-capita numbers. Because India’s population is quadruple that of the U.S., its high case rate translates to a much higher number of absolute cases:

Israel’s parliament is likely to choose a new prime minister in the coming days, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in office. The most likely successor is Naftali Bennet, who has formed a coalition of eight parties to control 61 of the 120 seats in parliament.

The Keystone XL oil pipeline project has been canceled by its developer after years of struggling to obtain local and federal permits in the face of intense protests. The pipeline would have carried oil from Alberta through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to other pipelines in the midwest.

The federal government revoked permission to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, reversing a Trump-era policy that opened the area for drilling. The order is likely to be challenged in court, but it puts a pause on arctic drilling for now.

A major meatpacking company, JBS, was hit by a ransomware cyberattack similar to the one that shut down the country’s largest oil pipeline on the east coast. JBS says it paid $11 million to the hackers to regain control of its computer systems.

I’ve got a big, detailed post about ransomware, Bitcoin, the FBI’s claims about ‘seizing’ Bitcoin from hackers, and much more, coming later this month. Make sure you’ve subscribed so you don’t miss that members-only post.

It’s the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, when the Chinese military opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators. The most neutral statement on the death toll (from Wikipedia) is that “estimates of the death toll vary from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more wounded.”

In Hong Kong, where recent pro-democracy protests prompted a crackdown on free expression, residents are prohibited from recognizing the anniversary with a vigil for the second year in a row.

Microsoft, in what is says was a mistake, temporarily returned no results on its Bing search engine for queries around the world related to the “tank man,” the iconic photo from the 1989 massacre. Microsoft does censor such content within China as a condition of being allowed to operate Bing in the country.

Nigeria is attempting to ban Twitter after the company blocked a tweet from the country’s president that threatened people who want to secede from the country. The government says it will punish anyone who uses Twitter within Nigeria.

In Las Vegas, the local government has changed its rules to ban “useless” grass — for example, grass on street medians or areas that no one actually uses — in order to save water amid historic drought in the western United States.

NASA is headed to Venus, with two missions scheduled for 2028-2030. Here’s how NASA describes its next foray to Earth’s closest neighbor:

NASA has selected two new missions to Venus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. Part of NASA’s Discovery Program, the missions aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world when it has so many other characteristics similar to ours – and may have been the first habitable world in the solar system, complete with an ocean and Earth-like climate.

From NASA: “Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. NASA's JPL is designing mission concepts to survive the planet's extreme temperatures and atmospheric pressure. This image is a composite of data from NASA's Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter.”

Until next time, enjoy your Hiatus.

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