Your Hiatus Briefing for May 28

One year since George Floyd's death. Biden investigates the 'lab leak' theory. Stargazers enjoy a blood moon.

Thanks for being a part of Hiatus. Here’s what’s new in the world since last week.

It’s been one year since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer on a Minneapolis street. President Joe Biden welcomed Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, and other family members to the White House this week. Activists held rallies in cities throughout the country to mark the anniversary.

Flowers and tributes placed in front of the Cup Foods in Minneapolis in June 2020 near where George Floyd was killed. Photo by Vasanth Rajkumar via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s been 100 years since a race massacre and arson in Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed the Greenwood district of the city, which had been dubbed “America’s Black Wall Street.” For a deeper look, I recommend the New York Times’ interactive feature, What the Tulsa Race Massacre Destroyed.

Newspaper headlines and subtitles (The Boston Daily Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, June 2, 1921) describing Tulsa (Oklahoma) race riots and massacre of the preceding days.

President Biden acknowledged the possibility that coronavirus originated in a virology lab in Wuhan, China, and requested a report from U.S. intelligence agencies on the virus’s origin. Here’s an excerpt from his statement:

“In March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident. I received that report earlier this month, and asked for additional follow-up. As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question.” Biden statement via

The “lab leak” theory, as it’s been nicknamed, was treated as a baseless conspiracy theory by many scientists, journalists and politicians over the past year, but it’s been a source of renewed (and mainstream) interest since a group of scientists published a letter suggesting it was plausible that the virus escaped from the lab (which is one of the few in the world that does highly sensitive research on coronaviruses) rather than having been transmitted in nature from an animal to a human. Right now, there’s no direct evidence that a “lab leak” took place, and China has not provided any direct evidence of when or where natural transmission might have first happened.

(There’s a lot to unpack with this issue, so I’ll be writing a more detailed article on the media coverage and political rhetoric around the “lab leak” theory next month.)

After a slow start in vaccinations, Canada has surpassed the U.S. in the percentage of its population that has received at least one dose of a vaccine. Canada has pushed out its second-dose schedule to several months (instead of 3 weeks) to allow more of its residents to get their first doses faster. Here’s a chart of the U.S. and Canada’s first-dose rates:

And here’s the per-capita case rate between the two countries, both of which are trending downward now that a larger share of their populations is at least partially vaccinated. That said, Canada’s lockdown rules are currently much stricter than in the U.S., where most states have now rescinded mask mandates and are returning to business as usual.

Japan is getting ready for the Olympics in the shadow of a low vaccination rate and an elevated (but still relatively low) case rate. Only 6 percent of Japan’s population has received one dose of a vaccine, compared to 49 percent in the United States. Japan’s per-capita case rates are currently about half that of the U.S. and have been much lower throughout the pandemic.

Opening day is scheduled for July 23. No international visitors will be allowed to attend, and organizers hope to welcome Japanese fans to the stadiums. Recent polls have found that 60 to 70 percent of people in Japan want the games canceled.

The Belarus military intercepted a passenger plane traveling from Greece to Lithuania and forced it to land. Upon landing, the government arrested a man who’s been a vocal opponent of the country’s leader. The CEO of RyanAir, the airline whose plane was intercepted, called it a “state-sponsored hijacking.” European airlines are now avoiding the company’s airspace. Here’s a brief look at the history of the country’s ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, from The Economist:

“Mr Lukashenko’s eagerness to use repression against his people and his unwillingness to give up power have already earned him a reputation as Europe’s last dictator. Last year he stole an election and cracked down on the huge protests that followed. How has he ruled Belarus for the past 26 years?”

Belarus has a population of 9.5 million (about the same as Michigan) and is about the same size as Kansas. It’s a former Soviet republic and strategically important for its energy pipelines connecting Russia and Germany. The CIA describes the country as a “presidential republic, although in fact a dictatorship.”

Belarus (highlighted) intercepted a passenger plane and arrested a government opponent as he was flying from Greece to Lithuania. Map from CIA World Factbook.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa, a volcano has killed 32 people and left thousands homeless. Lava is flowing into the city of Goma, which has a population of 670,000. Here’s a photo of the volcano, Mt. Nyiragongo, from 2014:

Bernard Arnault briefly became the richest person in the world, surpassing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as the stock of his luxury-goods company rose. Arnault owns LVMH, which is short for Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy.

Amazon plans to buy MGM, the famous Hollywood studio. Many of the films MGM has made over the years have been sold to other studios already, but the sale will include the James Bond films and a large library of others that will allow Amazon to expand its streaming catalog.

Golfer Phil Mickelson became the oldest player to win a PGA major tournament, winning this year’s PGA Championship in South Carolina at age 50.

Stargazers from the western U.S. to eastern Asia and Australia observed a lunar eclipse and “blood moon” on Wednesday morning, as Earth briefly passed directly between the sun and the moon. The red coloration is a result of sunrises and sunsets from around the planet reflecting onto the moon. The next total lunar eclipse will be on May 16, 2022, and will be visible from most of North and South America.

Eric Carle, the renowned children’s author and illustrator, passed away at age 91.

Until next time, enjoy your Hiatus.