More Security and Less Fanfare for Biden’s Inauguration
Like his 2020 campaign style, Joe Biden will hold a tightly secured and somewhat virtual inauguration as fears of a repeat January 6 protests have the nation’s capital on lockdown. Secret Service special agent in charge Michael Plati says they have taken every scenario into account and that the event earlier this month “is a poignant reminder of what can happen.”
The inauguration, themed “America United,” has been designated as a national special security event that enables communication and funding with multiple law enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C. To compare this presidential inaugural, the State of the Union, the Super Bowl, and the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are all national security events. The National Mall is closed to the people and surrounded by 21,000 National Guard troops. The Washington Monument is also closed to the public for an undetermined duration.
The Virginia Department of Transportation issued road closures around the capital, stating compliance with the Secret Service security protocols:
“The Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia State Police will support the United States Secret Service Joint Transportation Plan, which calls for several bridge and road closures from Virginia into Washington, D.C.”
As is tradition, there will be a “pass in review” of the armed forces signaling allegiance to the new commander in chief.
President Trump will not be in attendance, but Vice President Mike Pence has agreed to attend the traditional peaceful transition of power. Unlike most inaugurations of the past, there will not be a parade nor any inaugural galas.
Just When You Think You Have Seen Everything
A new record has been set for the earliest figurative art. Found in a cave in Indonesia, a painting of pigs at least 45,500 years old has been discovered. This discovery now dwarfs the timeframe of similar cave paintings found in France depicting humans and animals a mere 17,000 years ago dubbed the Lascaux paintings.
Researchers began working in Sulawesi, Indonesia, 70 years ago and have found 300 caves with figurative art. The latest discovery was made by Maxime Aubert, a professor of archeological science at Griffith University in Australia. “We stress that this is only a minimum age,” the professor explained. “The rock art in this region could very well be 60,000 to 65,000 years old. We just need more samples.”
The new painting is a series of three to four Sulawesi warty pigs combined with human hands.
Dating prehistory finds – especially on cave walls – can be tricky. In Sulawesi’s caves, the limestone is porous and promotes the formation of speleotherms – mineral deposits formed by water precipitating through rock. Examples of speleotherms you might be familiar with are stalactites and stalagmites. In this case, microscale deposits have built upon the walls, including those that contain artwork.
Other types of Pleistocene or prehistoric art dating methods include measuring thorium and uranium ratios in mineral deposits that cause decay.
Other researchers caution that there could be much older sites in the world that have yet to be discovered. Still, for now, it appears Indonesia is claiming the oldest figurative artwork found to date.
What About the Latest COVID Discoveries?
Just as the vaccine for COVID-19 begins to be distributed, health professionals have discovered new strains that appear to be more contagious. New variants of the virus have been found in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Brazil. But what makes them different from the virus that already hit?
All three have mutations in the spike protein – the part of the virus that attaches to human cells – making the new strains more efficient at infecting cells and spreading to other people.
Experts believe the “Kent” strain in the U.K. developed in September and could be up to 70% more transmissible or infectious. But what many people do not understand is that there are many thousands of different versions of COVID circulating already. Any virus can mutate slightly as it moves from person to person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is more threatening. Most variations so far appear to be inconsequential.
The South Africa variant was discovered in October, and it has different changes in the spike protein than the U.K. strain, which appears to make it resistant to the vaccine just approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Although scientists believe that the vaccinations will deter the spread, they also advise the continuation of protocols such as washing hands frequently with soap and water and social distancing.