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Bosnia village with link to Mars enthralled by rover landing

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Bosnia village with link to Mars enthralled by rover landing

JEZERO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnian villagers are preparing to gather in front of a video screen in the yard of their community’s only school to watch NASA’s Mars rover attempt a difficult landing Thursday in a crater on the red planet named after their small village.

It will be a historic day for the 1,000 villagers, who hope that the planned landing of the Perseverance rover in Mars’ Jezero crater will also bring them some earthly rewards. Some are giving voice to feelings of pride, something rare amid the hardship and poverty that remains entrenched since the Bosnian war of the 1990s.

“When I first heard on TV that NASA named a crater on Mars after Jezero, I was surprised and I thought, ‘something good is finally happening to us. After years of hardship maybe this is a sign we can finally move forward,’” said Milan Kotanjac, a Jezero villager.

“It is very important for our municipality, for our people,” he added.

Many locals are hoping that the exploration of the Mars crater might inspire more attention and visitors to their own their small patch of the universe, a verdant Bosnian valley adjacent to the beautiful, river-fed Pivsko Lake.

NASA informed local authorities in 2019 of its plans to name a 28-mile wide crater on Mars after the village because it was once home to a river-fed lake like the one just outside Jezero, whose name means “lake” in the local language.

The news was personally delivered in September 2019 by the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, who presented the mayor with a letter from NASA’s director of Mars exploration honoring the connection between the village and the red planet.

The rover named Perseverance is headed Thursday for a compact patch in the crater that is filled with cliffs, pits, sand dunes and fields of rocks. The area could hold evidence of past life, and the rover is expected to gather samples at the spot for eventual return to Earth.

At first, there were some scattered negative reactions in the Bosnian village from those fearing it might be a distraction from the serious problems that remain unresolved so many years after the war, including poverty and a lack of job opportunities.

Most people simply joked that the mayor “will take us to Mars.”

But now a whiff of celebration hovers in the air as the big day approaches. It seems that hardly anyone has anything bad to say about NASA’s mission to scour the dried-out Jezero crater for evidence of life.

“We are very happy that it has brought attention to us, to our Jezero,” said villager Nedeljko Kovacevic.

Mayor Snezana Ruzicic said she hopes the new fame will allow the area to develop projects, such as youth camps devoted to space exploration for kids from across the country, which remains divided along ethnic lines.

Ruzicic said the coronavirus pandemic has forced her administration to scale back plans for a series of lectures for local youths on Perseverance’s mission. The original aim was to tell youth about how the exploration of the Jezero crater might help humanity determine if there has ever been life on another planet.

However, they did manage to organize an event in the center of the village last July for locals to jointly watch a live feed of Perseverance’s launch to Mars from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Ruzicic said. The children were invited to cover the village’s main street with paintings of how they imagine Mars, and they happily obliged, she added.

“I am sure that in the future it could inspire some good projects, good events in the municipality of Jezero,” Ruzicic said.

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Hawaii considering a rescue fine if hikers don’t follow signs

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Hawaii considering a rescue fine if hikers don't follow signs

Hikers who don’t follow trail signs in Hawaii could face more than just danger to their lives — they could also be required to pay for their own rescue. 

Hawaiian lawmakers are considering a bill that could require hikers to reimburse local rescue teams if they had to be saved because they left marked trails, entered clearly-marked private property or ignored signs saying a trail is closed, according to recent reports. 

SB 363 would also give those hikers additional, criminal fines for petty misdemeanor charges.

State lawmakers are also considering another bill, SB 700, which has been revised to allow local rescue teams to choose whether they have hikers reimburse them for any fees associated with their rescue. 

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, similar bills have previously been introduced in Hawaii’s House and Senate before.

This time, the bills are being considered as a way to help Hawaii’s budget, which is “straining” because of the coronavirus pandemic, the newspaper reported.

“It’s an issue that has been brought up in the past in a number of ways, especially in times when budgets are thin and resources are limited,” state Sen. Chris Lee told the Star-Advertiser. “It’s a discussion that everybody is interested in having this year.”

According to the newspaper, the state’s Fire Department opposes the bills. 

“The Honolulu Fire Department does not want to deter anyone from calling 911, thinking there is going to be a cost associated with them getting help,” HFD spokesperson Carl Otsuka told the Star-Advertiser.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Chairwoman Suzanne Case, previously supported an earlier version of SB 700 that required hikers to pay back their rescue costs in written testimony, according to the Star-Advertiser.

“The Department is in support of any strategy that will incentivize the general public to stay within authorized managed areas and already has statutory penalties for violation of laws and rules adopted specifically for going into closed areas,” Case wrote. “While these penalties are in place, absent enforcement and citations, they are clearly not a deterrent.”

The Star-Advertiser reported that Case also noted in her testimony that the DLNR would defer to counties — who are responsible for search and rescue operations — on whether they required hikers to pay for their rescue or not.

According to the Star-Advertiser, hikers frequently get into trouble on the islands and rescuing them can be a dangerous and expensive task.

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Museums are safest indoor activity, study finds

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Museums are safest indoor activity, study finds

For people fatigued with quarantine amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study from Germany recommends what to do after getting out of the house.

Don’t go out to eat or get a haircut, don’t go shopping for food or go to the gym —  go to a museum.

According to the Berlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin) in Germany, the risk of COVID-19 infection via aerosol particles is far lower in museums than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices and on public transportation.

Variables considered were the quality of the airflow, the type of activity carried out in the space, and the dose of aerosol particles inhaled by people in a room.

“What is clear from the study is that it is above all the situations in which we like to be that are unfavorable,” said Martin Kriegel, who helped lead the study. “Situations in which many people come together in a confined space: there you can not ventilate sufficiently, it will always be an unfavorable situation.”

Outdoor activities all increased last year in the face of canceled indoor events and cautions about the dangers of catching the virus while around other people inside.

The study said food shopping, dining indoors or exercising in a gym are at least twice as risky as visiting a museum to view art.

Museums, however, haven’t been considered essential to the populace.

Celeste DeWald, the executive director of the California Association of Museums, told the New York Times earlier this month: “It’s frustrating to see crowded shopping malls and retail spaces and airports, yet museums are completely closed and many have not been able to reopen at all for the last 10 months. […] There is a unique impact on museums.”

Critics think museum closure is a political matter.

In a column for the Los Angeles Times, art critic Carolina A. Miranda called California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s policies “absurd.” Museums in the Golden State remain closed to visitors.

“The wildly uneven criteria speak more to the powerful, well-funded lobbies helping shape public health policy than to anything resembling science or even common sense,” Miranda wrote. “At a moment in which it is possible to get a tattoo or paw the goods at Chanel in Beverly Hills, it should be possible to visit a museum. Period.”

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Italian mafia employs new strategies during COVID-19 lockdown: report

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View of the Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda, empty, with no tourists and closed shops and restaurants , on January 27, 2021.

Italy’s mafia reportedly provided stimulus for some struggling small businesses in the country and there is concern that these establishments will become beholden to these mobsters going forward.

The Financial Times, citing a study by Rome’s interior ministry on organized crime, reported that small or mid-sized businesses in the country were given the funds, but the mafia then reverted to the “traditional intimidatory conduct aimed at acquiring control of their economic activities.”

There is fear that these businesses could become “an instrument for money laundering and recycling illicit capital.”

It has been widely reported that Italy’s economy has suffered a dramatic blow from the coronavirus outbreak. The country is pinning its recovery hope on Mario Draghi, its new prime minister who has been credited with saving the euro. He has been tasked with figuring out how to best employ the $240 billion in relief funds from Europe the country will receive to combat the virus and bring back the economy.

Reuters reported that the Italian economy shrank by 2.0% in Q4 2020, and 8.8% over the whole year. The report called it the “steepest annual GDP drop for Italy since WW2.

The FT reported that there has been a drop in some crimes normally associated with organized crime like counterfeiting and robberies, but possible arsons—that could be tied to racketeering—were comparable to 2019.

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