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November 28
2020

PACIFIC OCEAN

Europeans saw Pacific Ocean for the first time 500 years ago

Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and the crews of his small fleet emerged from the strait at the southern tip of the Americas 500 years ago to become the first Europeans to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic. He named the vast, calm body of water Mar Pacifico, reflecting the stark contrast with their passage through the wild waters of the strait, which was later named after Magellan.

The navigator began the storied voyage in quest of a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands with five ships, departing from Spain on Aug 10, 1519. The voyage achieved its aim – and the first circumnavigation of the world in 1522 – but cost Magellan his life.

Magellan was convinced that he would lead his ships from the Atlantic to the southern sea by discovering a strait through the South American mainland. In 1520, days before finding the strait that separates Tierra del Fuego and the continental mainland, the Spanish captains mutinied against their Portuguese captain. Magellan crushed the revolt, executing one of the captains and leaving another ashore when his ship left to continue south.

According to History.com, only three ships entered the passage; one had been wrecked and another deserted. It took 38 days to navigate the treacherous strait, and 99 days to make the westward crossing across the Pacific. By the end, the men were out of food and chewed the leather parts of their gear to keep themselves alive. In late Mar 1521 they dropped anchor at the Philippine island of Cebú – only some 400 miles from the Spice Islands, now Indonesia. In fighting on Apr 27, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and left to die by his retreating comrades.

The survivors, in two ships loaded to the hulls with spice, continued the journey. One was lost. The other, the Victoria, continued west under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano. The vessel sailed across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at the Spanish port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, completing the round trip.

The feat endures with the naming of the fateful and storied strait after Magellan, and with the replica of Victoria. Built in 2012, Nao Victoria functions as a museum, arriving at ports made famous by Magellan’s expedition and at Tall Ship events.

#23357 Published: October 19, 2020

November 30-December 1
2020

AUSTRIA

OPEC and OPEC+ meet to tackle the collapse in oil prices

New OPEC president Abdelmadjid Attar, Algeria’s Minister of Energy, will seek elusive unity at the 180th OPEC Conference and the 12th OPEC and non-OPEC Ministerial Meetings in Vienna to halt the collapse in oil prices. OPEC’s 60th anniversary year is not one to celebrate as oil demand is plummeting faster than supply in the shrinking COVID-19 global economy.

He is likely to be seeking deeper production cuts than the historic 10 million barrel per day cut that ministers from OPEC and so-called OPEC+ agreed to at their April meeting. The agreement hit a roadblock after Mexico refused to agree to its share of the cuts after a marathon meeting that lasted more than nine hours.

Those April measures fell short as prices are still declining: the price of OPEC’s basket of 13 crudes stood at $45.33 a barrel on Aug 30, compared with $45.81 the previous day, according to OPEC Secretariat calculations.

There is also a pressing challenge of finding places to store surplus oil. OPEC estimates that as of June, commercial oil stocks in OECD countries were still rising. At 3.240 billion barrels, they were 301.5 million barrels higher than the same time a year ago, and 291.2 million barrels above the latest five-year average.

#23594 Published: September 2, 2020

December
2020

WORLD

Coronavirus drama started one year ago

The COVID-19 drama began a year ago as cases of pneumonia of unknown cause surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted on Dec 31, and much of the world locked down in the following months as deaths mounted. As the anniversary arrives there are signs of hope. A number of vaccines have shown promising results and vaccination programmes are expected to begin in the U.S., UK and Germany this month.

On Feb 11 the WHO named the disease COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019. At that point there were 43,103 confirmed cases of the infection and 1,018 deaths – more than the total number of deaths during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2004. By Mar 8 more than 100 countries had reported cases of COVID-19, and on Mar 11 the WHO declared it to be an official pandemic.

In the following months, most countries instituted extreme lockdowns out of what was termed "an abundance of caution." There were some notable exceptions. Belarus, for one, denied that COVID-19 was an issue and imposed no restrictions. Sweden made restrictions, such as so-called social distancing, voluntary.

By the end of April, the International Monetary Fund was describing the economic cost of the pandemic in apocalyptic terms. Over 200,000 people were known to have died from the disease, and it was just starting to take hold in parts of the developing world. At the same time, some Asian and European countries were beginning to see a decline in deaths and infections. In the United States the picture was mixed. Some states saw an easing of deaths and infections. In others, they were still rising. The looming November election gave every coronavirus measure in every state a political twist, and gave rise to an outbreak of partisan protests against the restrictions.

By the anniversary, there should be real numbers for deaths and economic damage to lend to arguments about which governments acted in a timely and appropriate manner, which overreacted or underreacted, which can be blamed for lying. The conclusions, without exception, will be a matter of political opinion.

#23492 Published: November 23, 2020

December
2020

UNITED STATES

PepsiCo releases snooze beverage

Driftwell, Pepsi’s answer to insomnia and stress, will be available online. The snooze factor is attributed to the 200 miligrams of L-theanine, an amino acid that’s found in green and black teas and some mushrooms, in the beverage. Some other beverage companies add cannabis extract CBD to their drinks.

Enhanced water Driftwell is a radical departure for Pepsi, which is best known for soft drinks that produce a caffeine and sugar buzz.

Some companies are making their own relaxation drinks by adding CBD to sparkling water and touting them as a sleep aid or a way to unwind. For the present, CBD is illegal in foods, drinks, capsules, ingestible oils and any other form of consumable product.

Driftwell also contains 10 per cent of the recommended daily value of magnesium, and comes in in 7.5-ounce mini cans and just one flavor: blackberry lavender. According to the company, it’s the perfect size for hydrating before bedtime without requiring another trip to the bathroom.

CNBC reports that Pepsi employees came up with an idea for a beverage to help consumers de-stress and relax before bed as part of an internal competition started in 2019 by CEO Ramon Laguarta. The concept won, and the food and beverage giant went to work to make it a reality.

#23612 Published: September 27, 2020

December
2020

UNITED KINGDOM

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and Stella Moris plan wedding at his prison

Imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Stella Moris, his fiancée and the mother of two of his children, plan a wedding at Belmarsh Prison in London before Christmas. He is fighting extradition to the United States, where he faces up to 175 years in prison if he is convicted of violating the Espionage Act.

The charge stems from WikiLeaks' publication of classified military and diplomatic cables in 2010. The U.S. government says WikiLeaks put lives at risk when it published the names of Iraqi and Afghan human intelligence sources, as well as those of journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates and political dissidents from repressive regimes.

The Australian-born Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador in 2012 until Apr 2019, when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and taken to prison. He and the South African-born Moris, a lawyer who had worked on his legal bid to halt his extraditions, began dating in in 2015. The two children, Gabriel, three, and his brother Max, one, were conceived at the embassy.

Assange has children from other relationships.

#23614 Published: October 6, 2020