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What If Mars Never Lost Its Water?

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Mars used to be wet. That’s the overwhelming conclusion of the last two decades of Martian geological research based on data recorded by multiple probes and landers. It took us a lot longer to confirm the planet’s past state than its present one — we’ve had strong evidence suggesting arid conditions on Mars dating back to 1894, with additional confirming evidence gathered over the next 30 years. The current model for Mars’ transformation from a wet planet to a dry one relies on sublimation and the long-term damage our sun did to the Martian atmosphere after the planet’s global magnetic field shut down. But what if that’s not true?

That’s the argument presented in a new paper, which argues that the waters of Mars may not have technically gone anywhere.

The evidence we’ve gathered from rovers like Perseverance, Curiosity, Opportunity, and Spirit, together with planetary observations from orbiting satellites, collectively suggests that Mars enjoyed a relatively warm, wet era from 4.1B to 3.7B years ago. Some of the evidence for the so-called Late Heavy Bombardment comes from the large number of craters on Mars and the Moon that appear to have been created during this period. Craters formed during this era have eroded edges similar to what we would expect from flowing water. Craters created later, during the Hesperian period (~3.7 – 3 billion years ago), are much less eroded.

Several factors allowed Mars to hold an atmosphere during this period. The immense series of volcanos known as the Tharsis Bulge were actively under construction. The Tharsis Bulge is a volcanic province approximately the size of North America. The total amount of CO2 released during the Tharsis eruptions is thought to be sufficient to form a 1.5-bar atmosphere on Mars, with a global ocean up to 120m provided solely by this source. Tharsis is large enough that its formation may have caused Mars to tilt over to one side and changed the location of the poles in the process. Massive impacts could have delivered additional water of their own, and early Mars might have held enough surface water to cover the surface of the planet to a depth of 1,500 meters. These uncertainties are why the Global Equivalent Layer (GEL) estimates are so variable.

One reason scientists think Mars’ water evaporated is that the Martian atmosphere and water samples taken by Curiosity both show a surplus of deuterium relative to hydrogen compared with what we’d find on Earth. This suggests that lighter ordinary hydrogen was preferentially lost to space, while the heavier deuterium isotope remained.

The problem with the sublimation/atmospheric loss model is that current rates of loss are not high enough to account for the scope of Mars’ transformation over the past few billion years. The solar wind is known to have played a long-term role, but how do we account for the rest? One theory is that mass loss rates were much higher in the past. These researchers are suggesting that much of Mars’ water stayed right where it was and became bound up in surface minerals instead.

As time passed, water flowed downwards and froze at the surface, while other water sublimated away into space. Image from ScienceMag

We’re not talking about the idea of a layer of liquid preserved beneath the surface. The research report discusses “crustal hydration through irreversible chemical weathering, in which water and/or hydroxyl are incorporated into minerals.” The water is not available for other purposes on Mars; it’s locked directly within the crystalline structure of the minerals themselves.

Herein lies a critical difference between Mars and Earth. Mars has what’s known as a stagnant lid tectonic system, meaning that there are no plate tectonics and there is no system of recycling rock — or, critically, water. On Earth, plate tectonics carries water deep into the mantle while mid-oceanic volcanic vents return it to the oceans. This is called the deep water cycle.

So long as Mars’ volcanoes kept erupting, it maintained a deep water cycle of its own. Once that process began to slow, water began a one-way sequestration trip into the planet’s crust. Impacts and fading eruptions would have maintained a colder climate with at least intermittent liquid water for a long period of time — Mars dried out over several hundred million years — but the end of volcanism may have allowed between a third and almost all of Mars’ water to flow into the ground and form hydrous minerals. This means, by extension, that Mars’ water reserves are much higher than previously thought, though locked in a form we wouldn’t find all that useful.

We may not know if the report is accurate until if and when humans are able to conduct widescale geological surveys of subsurface rock, but it’s an alternate model for how Mars lost its atmosphere that explains current conditions well. It would also further imply that features of Earth such as plate tectonics may be vital to the long-term preservation of a biosphere capable of supporting intelligent life.

Image by Ittiz, CC BY-SA 3.0

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Secret recording suggests Iranian official concedes truth about downing of Flight PS752 may never be revealed

The Canadian government and security agencies are reviewing an audio recording in which a man — identified by sources as Iran’s foreign affairs minister — discusses the possibility that the destruction of Flight PS752 was an intentional act, CBC News has learned.

The individual, identified by sources as Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, is heard saying on the recording that there are a “thousand possibilities” to explain the downing of the jet, including a deliberate attack involving two or three “infiltrators” — a scenario he said was “not at all unlikely.”

He is also heard saying the truth will never be revealed by the highest levels of Iran’s government and military.

“There are reasons that they will never be revealed,” he says in Farsi. “They won’t tell us, nor anyone else, because if they do it will open some doors into the defence systems of the country that will not be in the interest of the nation to publicly say.”

On Jan. 8, 2020, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in the skies over Tehran with two surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 people aboard, including 138 people with ties to Canada.

CBC News has listened to the recording of the private conversation, which took place in the months immediately following the destruction of Flight PS752. CBC had three people translate the recording from Farsi to English to capture nuances in the language.

Security officials are studying the recording: Goodale

The details of the conversation, and the identities of the others involved, are not being released publicly due to concerns for individuals’ safety. CBC is not revealing the source of the recording in order to protect their identities.

Ralph Goodale, the prime minister’s special adviser on the Flight PS752 file, said the government is aware of the recording. Canada’s forensic examination and assessment team obtained a copy in November, he said.

Goodale said the audio file contains sensitive information and commenting publicly on its details could put lives at risk. 

He said the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment are evaluating the recording’s authenticity. A CSE spokesperson would not offer comment on the recording, saying the agency “does not comment on intelligence operations.”

“We’re treating all the evidence and all the potential evidence with the seriousness and the gravity that it deserves,” said Goodale.

“We understand in a very acute way the thirst among the families for the complete, plain, unvarnished truth and that’s what we will do our very best to get for them.”

On Jan.8, 2020 an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 minutes after taking off in Tehran, Iran. Everyone onboard died. (Associated Press)

‘They could have been infiltrators’

Zarif is Iran’s primary negotiator with the countries that lost citizens on Flight PS752, and is the voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the global stage.

Over the past year, Zarif has maintained the government’s official claim that human error was to blame for the disaster. Shortly after the crash, Zarif said it was “brave” of the military to claim responsibility — but added military officials kept him and the president in the dark for days.

Iran originally denied any involvement in the aircraft’s destruction. Three days after the crash, and in the face of mounting satellite evidence, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani admitted its military “unintentionally” shot down the plane. He blamed human error, saying the military mistook the jetliner for a hostile target in the aftermath of an American drone strike that killed a high-ranking Iranian military general in Iraq.

Former foreign affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has said he does not believe the destruction of the plane can be blamed on human error.

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne wouldn’t say whether he believes Flight PS752 was shot down deliberately. 2:00

On the Farsi-language recording reviewed by CBC News, the individual identified as Zarif is heard suggesting the downing was accidental — but later says it’s possible “infiltrators” intentionally shot down the plane.

“Even if you assume that it was an organized intentional act, they would never tell us or anyone else,” says the individual. “There would have been two three people who did this. And it’s not at all unlikely. They could have been infiltrators. There are a thousand possibilities. Maybe it was really because of the war and it was the radar.”

The individual goes on to say that “these things are not going to be revealed easily” by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or those higher up in the government.

The IRGC is an elite wing of the country’s military overseen by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader and commander-in-chief. The IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

In the recording, the man identified as Zarif points to Russia as an example of a country that was accused of involvement in shooting down a plane (Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014) but never admitted to it.

Push to compensate victims’ families

The individual also refers more than once during the recording to compensation as a means to close “the issue” and says Iran wants to compensate victims’ families to prevent other countries from turning the disaster into “an international crime.”

The individual says on the recording that while Iran would deliver the aircraft’s flight recorders to France for analysis, the data recovered wouldn’t show whether someone intentionally shot at the plane.

Despite international obligations stating the black boxes should be analyzed “without delay,” Iran didn’t move ahead with that process until six months after the crash. Goodale’s official report on Flight PS752, released in December, said Canada still hadn’t seen “full disclosure … on all relevant evidence.”

Iran proposed compensation of $ 150,000 for each of the victims’ families, but Canada rejected that offer. Goodale said Iran doesn’t have the right to offer compensation to victims’ families unilaterally.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was criticized for his demeanour in photos and videos released by Iran in Feb. 2020 following a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. (Reuters TV)

Recording is ‘significant’ evidence

Payam Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor and member of the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague, said the recording now in the hands of Canada’s intelligence agencies is a “highly significant” piece of new evidence.

He said Zarif is not involved directly in military or intelligence operations, so the recording is not a “smoking gun” offering conclusive proof that the aircraft’s destruction was intentional.

Zarif understands the inner workings of the IRGC and is a “highly influential and well-informed member of the highest level of the Iranian government,” Akhavan said, adding the recording suggests Iran did not conduct a proper investigation.

“The fact that he would say in a conversation that it is not at all unlikely that the destruction of 752 could have been organized and intentional is highly significant,” said Akhavan, who is also a senior fellow at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

“The fact that he sees that as a real possibility, I think, should make us pause and really consider whether there’s not something far more diabolical at play.”

‘We do not want to see any scapegoats’

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko told CBC News that this is the first time Ukraine has heard about this recording, although the RCMP has been helping Ukraine with its own criminal investigation. He said he wants Ukraine to study this information carefully.

“I think it’s another reason for us not to accept anything smaller than the truth,” Shevchenko said. “We do not want to see any scapegoats instead of real wrongdoers. We do not want to see the truth being hidden behind state secrecy. We want to get to the bottom of this.”

When asked if he thinks the downing of the plane was intentional, Shevchenko wouldn’t rule it out.

“At this stage, we cannot exclude any possibilities,” he said. 

“I think we are still so far away from having a clear picture on what happened … We obviously lack trust in our conversation with Iran. I think we have a feeling that Iran shares as little information as possible.”

Special adviser to Canada’s response to Flight PS752 Ralph Goodale (left), Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko, then-transport minister Marc Garneau and then-foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne attend a Flight PS752 demonstration on Parliament Hill on Oct. 5. (Ashley Burke, CBC News)

Final report won’t ‘tell us who pushed the button’

Shevchenko said Ukraine has proposed to Canada several ways the two countries could legally exchange information and evidence about Flight PS752, but they haven’t yet settled on a mechanism. He said this recording shows the two countries need to establish a “legally flawless channel” of communication.

“It’s going to be very difficult to go ahead with the criminal investigation,” he said. “So I think every piece of information like that is very important.”

Ukraine has received the final report from Iran on its aviation safety investigation and has until the end of the month to provide feedback. It’s still not clear when Iran will release the report publicly.

“I think we should all realize that this report can confirm that the plane was hit by a missile, but it’s not going to tell us who pushed the button,” Shevchenko said.

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Gerry Marsden, U.K. singer of You’ll Never Walk Alone soccer anthem, dies at 78

Gerry Marsden, the British singer who was instrumental in turning a song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel into one of the great anthems in the world of football, has died. He was 78.

His friend Pete Price said on Instagram after speaking to Marsden’s family that the Gerry and the Pacemakers frontman died after a short illness related to a heart infection.

“I’m sending all the love in the world to (his wife) Pauline and his family,” he said. “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Marsden was the lead singer of the band that found fame in the Merseybeat scene in the 1960s. Though another Liverpool band — The Beatles — reached superstardom, Gerry and the Pacemakers will always have a place in the city’s consciousness because of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

“I thought what a beautiful song. I’m going to tell my band we’re going to play that song,” Marsden told The Associated Press in 2018 when recalling the first time he heard the song at the cinema. “So I went back and told my buddies we’re doing a ballad called You’ll Never Walk Alone.

WATCH | Gerry Marsden performs You’ll Never Walk Alone at Liverpool game:

Marsden is best known for his band’s rendition of the song from Carousel, which was a 1945 musical that became a feature film in 1956.

The Pacemakers’ cover version was released in October 1963 and became the band’s third No. 1 hit on the British singles chart.

It was adopted by fans of the soccer club Liverpool and is sung with spine-tingling passion before each home game of the 19-time English champion — before coronavirus restrictions have meant that many matches have been played in empty stadiums.

Its lyrics, showcasing unity and perseverance through adversity — including “When you walk through a storm, Hold your head up high, And don’t be afraid of the dark” — have been a rallying cry for the Liverpool faithful and the song’s title are on the Liverpool club crest.

A ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ banner is seen prior to a match between Liverpool and West Ham United in Liverpool, England, in October 2020. (Peter Powell/Pool/Getty Images)

The song has also been adopted by supporters of Scotland’s Celtic and Germany’s Borussia Dortmund.

Liverpool tweeted alongside a video of the fans in full voice that Marsden’s voice “accompanied our biggest nights” and that his “anthem bonded players, staff and fans around the world, helping create something truly special.”

‘Liverpool legend’

The song was embraced during the outset of the coronavirus pandemic last spring when a cover of the song, which featured Second World War veteran Tom Moore, reached number one. Moore had captivated the British public by walking 100 laps of his garden in England in the run-up to his 100th birthday in April to raise some 33 million pounds ($ 57 million Cdn) for the National Health Service.

The Cavern Club in Liverpool, the music venue which was the venue for many of The Beatles’ early gigs, described Marsden as a “legend” and a “very good friend.”

Marsden leaps over fellow Gerry & the Pacemakers band members in this April 1964 photo. (PA via AP)

In 1962, Beatles manager Brian Epstein signed up the band and their first three releases reached No. 1 in 1963 — How Do You Do It? and I Like It as well as You’ll Never Walk Alone. Later hits included Ferry Cross the Mersey and Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. The group split in 1967 and Marsden pursued a solo career before reforming the band a few years later.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood singer Holly Johnson, who is from Liverpool and covered Ferry Across The Mersey tweeted that Marsden was a “Liverpool legend.”

Marsden is survived by his wife Pauline, whom he married in 1965. The couple had two daughters.

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Trump says he’ll leave White House if electoral college votes for Biden, but he may never concede

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will leave the White House if the electoral college votes for president-elect Joe Biden, the closest he has come to conceding the Nov. 3 election, even as he repeated his unfounded claims of massive voter fraud.

Speaking to reporters on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, Trump, a Republican, said if Democrat Biden — who is due to be sworn in on Jan. 20 — is certified the election winner by the electoral college, he will depart the White House.

But he also said it would be hard for him to concede under the current circumstances and declined to say whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration.

“This election was a fraud,” Trump insisted in a sometimes rambling discourse at the White House, while continuing to offer no concrete evidence of widespread voting irregularities.

Biden won the election with 306 electoral college votes — many more than the 270 required — to Trump’s 232, and the electors are scheduled to meet on Dec. 14 to formalize the outcome. Biden also leads Trump by more than six million in the popular vote tally.

WATCH | Trump says he will leave the White House if the electoral college votes for Biden:   

U.S. President Donald Trump, in a testy exchange with reporters, finally says he will leave the White House if Joe Biden is declared the winner of the electoral college vote. 1:06

Efforts to overturn results have failed

Trump has so far refused to fully acknowledge his defeat, though last week — with mounting pressure from his own Republican ranks — he agreed to let Biden’s transition process officially proceed.

Asked if he would leave the White House if the electoral college votes for Biden, Trump said: “Certainly I will. Certainly I will. And you know that.

“But I think that there will be a lot of things happening between now and the 20th of January. A lot of things,” he continued. “Massive fraud has been found. We’re like a third world country.”

Desperate efforts by Trump and his aides to overturn results in key states, either by lawsuits or by pressuring state legislators, have failed, and he is running out of options.

In the United States, a candidate becomes president by securing the most electoral votes rather than by winning a majority of the national popular vote. Electors, allotted to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on their population, are party loyalists who pledge to support the candidate who won the popular vote in their state.

Several election law experts have pointed out that Trump does not have to concede

Trump says he’ll go to Georgia

During the news conference, Trump went on to denounce officials in battleground states he’d lost, including Pennsylvania and Georgia, as “communists” and “enemies of the state.”

State officials and international observers have repeatedly said no evidence of mass fraud exists, and Trump’s campaign has repeatedly failed in court.

Trump announced he’d be travelling to Georgia to meet with what he said would be tens of thousands of supporters on Dec. 5, ahead of two runoffs there that will likely determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate.

Emily Murphy, the top official at the General Services Administration, declared Biden the “apparent winner” Monday, a procedural yet critical step that allowed for the transition to begin in earnest. She cited “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.”

General Services Administration administrator Emily Murphy, pictured in 2019, declared Biden the ‘apparent winner’ of the election Monday, a procedural yet critical step that allowed for the transition to begin in earnest. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

More lawsuits filed

But one day after Trump said his administration should begin working with Biden’s team, three more lawsuits were filed by allies attempting to stop the certification in two more battleground states.

In Minnesota, a judge did not rule on the suit and the state certified the results for Biden. Another was filed in Wisconsin, which doesn’t certify until Tuesday. Arizona Republicans filed a complaint over ballot inspection; the state certification is due Monday.

And the campaign legal team said state lawmakers in Arizona and Michigan would hold meetings on the election “to provide confidence that all of the legal votes have been counted and the illegal votes have not been counted in the November 3rd election.”

In Pennsylvania, where state Republican lawmakers met at Gettysburg on Wednesday to air grievances about the election, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani attended in person and Trump dialled in from the Oval Office.

“We have all the evidence,” Trump asserted. “All we need is to have some judge listen to it properly without having a political opinion.”

But the strongest legal rebuke yet came from a conservative Republican judge in federal court in Pennsylvania, who on Saturday dismissed the Trump team’s lawsuit seeking to throw out the results of the election. The judge admonished the Trump campaign in a scathing ruling about its lack of evidence. The campaign has appealed.

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In sports, you’re never the winner ’til it’s over

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

It ain’t over ’til it’s over

One of the great things about sports is that everyone accepts the premise that the game ends when the rules say it ends. No one argues they should be declared the winner because they were leading through three quarters, or two periods, or after Game 3 of a best-of-seven series. We keep counting the points until it’s actually over.

So here, for no reason at all, are three famous examples of teams losing their leads — not because they were “stolen,” but simply because there was more game left to play.

1972 Summit Series: Canada vs. Soviet Union

In one of the great surprises in hockey history, the mysterious Soviet national team found itself 3-1-1 through the first five games against Canada’s collection of NHL stars. But, even at the height of the Cold War, the teams had agreed to play eight games, and so they did. Canada won the next two and the series looked like it might end in a deadlock with Game 8 in Moscow knotted at 5-5 in the final minute. But, in an early example of Russian meddling, the Soviets sent word that they’d claim victory because they were plus-1 in goal differential for the series. Luckily for democracy, Paul Henderson rendered that argument moot.

1993 NFL wild-card playoff game: Houston vs. Buffalo

Warren Moon threw four touchdown passes as the visiting Oilers raced out to a 28-3 halftime lead on the Bills, and they made it 35-3 with a pick-6 just after the break. But 28 minutes still remained, so the game continued and Buffalo backup quarterback Frank Reich threw four touchdowns to engineer an epic 41-38 comeback win capped by Canadian Steve Christie’s field goal in overtime.

2014 Olympic women’s hockey gold-medal game: Canada vs. United States

As the clock dipped under four minutes left in the third period, the Americans led 2-0 and could taste their first Olympic gold in 16 years. But the bitter rivals kept playing because, well, that’s just the way it works, and Brianne Jenner cut Canada’s deficit to 2-1 with 3:26 left. After Canada pulled its goalie for an extra attacker, the U.S. almost sealed the win with an empty-netter, but the puck hit square off the post and stayed out. Marie-Philip Poulin then scored the tying goal with 55 seconds left and potted the winner in overtime to give Canada its fourth consecutive Olympic gold.

Marie-Philip Poulin scored the tying goal against the United States with seconds remaining in the gold medal game. Poulin would later score the game-winning goal in overtime. (Getty Images)


The NBA took another step toward returning before Christmas. As expected, players’ union reps voted last night to approve the league’s plan for a 72-game regular-season schedule that begins Dec. 22 and allows for the Finals to be completed before the Summer Olympics open on July 23. Training camps are expected to open Dec. 1, which is only 25 days away. Several key details still need to be worked out, including what the salary cap will be for next season and what portion of players’ salaries will be held in escrow and likely kept by the owners to defray the massive financial hit they’ll take if/when fans aren’t allowed in arenas (about 40 per cent of expected revenue will be lost, the league claims). Read more about the framework for the season here and how the schedule could be problematic for Canada’s hopes of qualifying for the Olympic men’s tournament here.

Milos Raonic made the semifinals of the Paris Masters tournament. The Canadian survived two match points to beat Frenchman Ugo Humbert in a final-set tiebreaker, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7). Raonic’s next opponent is Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, who’s ranked fifth in the world. Raonic is ranked 17th and has lost both his meetings with Medvedev. The winner will likely face Rafael Nadal in the final. The Paris Masters is equal in quality to Canada’s Rogers Cup. Both are worth 1,000 rankings points to the champion, which is the most you can earn outside of the Grand Slams and the season-ending ATP Finals. Read more about Raonic’s quarter-final win and watch highlights here.

Canadian swimming star Kylie Masse won another 100-metre backstroke race. The reigning (and back-to-back) world champion at that distance prevailed again in today’s final session of an International Swimming League match in Budapest. Yesterday, Masse won the 50m backstroke and finished third in the 200 back. Her team, the Toronto Titans, placed third among the four teams in the match. Watch her latest win here.

Major League Soccer’s regular season wraps up on Sunday and two of the three Canadian teams are still alive. Toronto FC is definitely going to the playoffs, and it can win the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best regular-season record. Toronto and Philadelphia lead MLS with identical 13-4-5 marks. But Philly has an insurmountable edge in goal differential, so Toronto needs a better result in its match vs. the New York Red Bulls than Philadelphia gets vs. New England. Meanwhile, the Montreal Impact sit ninth in the Eastern Conference and need to avoid dropping below 10th in order to qualify for a play-in match. A win on “Decision Day” vs. 13th-place D.C. would ensure that. A draw or a loss and they’ll need help. The Vancouver Whitecaps have already been eliminated from playoff contention in the Western Conference.

And finally…

The Red Sox pulled a Steinbrenner. Less than a year after firing manager Alex Cora because of his involvement in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal, Boston is reportedly rehiring him for the job. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred identified Cora as the ringleader of Houston’s scheme to steal opposing catchers’ signs during its run to a World Series title in 2017, when he was an assistant coach, and suspended him for the 2020 season. The ban expired about a week ago, and the Red Sox wasted no time in bringing back the guy who led them to a franchise-record 108 wins and a World Series championship in 2018. Still, they’ve got a long way to go to match the five times Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired and fired manager Billy Martin in the ’70s and ’80s.

Tonight and tomorrow on CBC Sports

Women’s golf: The third round of the Korean LPGA Tour’s Hana Financial Group Championship is streaming live Saturday from midnight-3 a.m. ET, with a replay from noon-3 p.m. ET. The final round starts Saturday at 11 p.m. ET, with a replay Sunday at noon ET. Watch all the streams on CBCSports.ca or the CBC Sports app.

Grand Prix of Figure Skating — Cup of China: The second Grand Prix of the season (Skate America was two weeks ago, then Skate Canada was cancelled) began Friday. It concludes Saturday with the free skates in each competition, beginning with the ice dance at 1:30 a.m. ET. Watch them all here or on the CBC Sports app.

International Swimming League: Road to the Olympic Games is replaying races from the two ISL matches that happened this week. Watch the shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoon on the CBC TV network. Check local listings for times.

FIG Gymnastics Friendship and Solidarity Competition: Live stream Saturday at 11 p.m. ET, replay Sunday at noon ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

You’re up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.

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Happy 35th, NES: The Console I Always Wanted and Am Glad I Never Got

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Yesterday marked the 35th birthday of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s launch in North America. On October 18, 1985, the NES went on sale in limited markets across America (a broad launch would follow in September 1986). To say that initial expectations were low might be an understatement. The North American market was still reeling after the video game collapse of 1983, and plenty of pundits had limited expectations for Japan’s first game console.

Nintendo was sensitive to the risk of introducing a new video game console just two years after the market’s implosion, and it took specific steps to make the NES look more like a VHS player than a then-traditional top-loading console like the Atari 2600. Large, bulky cartridges and a front-loading device were intended to distance Nintendo from Atari and earlier competitors, while devices like ROB (Robotic Operated Buddy) positioned the NES as a unique toy rather than just a video game player.

A 1985 CES brochure, uploaded as fair use to Wikipedia. ROB is remembered for being a brilliant marketing fakeout much more than for its actual contributions to gaming.

In terms of technical specs, the NES is powered by a 1.79MHz (NTSC) or 1.66MHz (PAL) Ricoh 2A03 CPU with a second-source MOS 6502 inside and a whopping 2KB of onboard RAM. Most NES games are between 8KB and 1MB, with 128KB to 384KB being most common. The system also contains an onboard Picture Processing Unit (PPU), again developed by Ricoh. The PPU offered 2KB of dedicated video RAM and a color palette of 48 colors and six shades of gray. The machine can display up to 64 sprites on-screen at a time and displayed images at a standard 256×240 pixels. The actual guts of the NES were quite similar across the world, though the console’s loading mechanism, shape, and game controllers varied by region.

Image by Bololabich, CC BY-SA 4.0

All of this, I learned later. When I actually encountered the NES in real life, my reaction was immediate: I wanted one. Unfortunately, or so I thought at the time, my parents did not.

PC Gaming in the Mid-to-Late 1980s Kinda Sucked

Now, before anyone takes my head off, let me be clear: I love the computer games of the mid-to-late 1980s: Space Quest, Hero’s Quest Quest for Glory, King’s Quest, Zork, and Ultima IV would be just a few examples. There were some all-time great games produced in this era — but none of them realistically compared with what Nintendo could achieve.

Today, PC gamers pride themselves on having access to hardware consoles can’t match. Thirty-five years ago, it was the other way around. Nintendo shipped seven million NES systems in 1988, nearly matching the number of Commodore 64s that had been sold in its first five years. By 1990, 30 percent of American households owned an NES, compared with 23 percent with a PC.

Playing on the NES was fluid in a way that no IBM PC or clone equivalent of the time could deliver. Characters could move quickly across screens, and games transitioned nearly instantly from one area to another. Compared with the slow, disk- or hard-drive-based games that ran on PCs, the NES felt positively zippy. In a game like The Legend of Zelda, you could theoretically move continuously through each area, dodging enemies in real-time. Games like Commander Keen would finally begin to close the gap with Super Mario Bros. (Captain Comic doesn’t count), but SMB was a much faster platformer than CK, and it had shipped five years earlier. Super Mario World on the SNES actually came out the same year as the Commander Keen series and was clearly the better, more complex game.

There were a few years where I was pretty unhappy about not being allowed to own a console. My parents were not fond of gaming of any kind, but PCs at least held the potential for educational uses. Consoles, at least in my parents’ eyes, did not.

I doubt they realized the long-term impact of their own decision. I learned to tinker with MS-DOS because being a gamer required it. I learned to upgrade my own hardware and eventually build my own systems for the same reason. My love of gaming drove my interest in hardware, and my interest in hardware drove my career. Even my desire to game on better hardware was once driven by wanting a way to match or exceed console performance as opposed to forever playing second fiddle.

Happy birthday to the console that changed my life, even though I never got to own one.

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How Digital Contact Tracing Could Work in the US, and Why It May Never Happen

It’s widely agreed that re-opening major portions of our economy relatively safely will require an extensive testing and contact-tracing system. Manual contact tracing — where those who test positive are interviewed about recent travel and person-to-person contacts — is expensive, hard to scale, and error-prone. So it is natural to see if digital technologies can help.

There are almost as many different approaches to how that might work as there are countries. But they fall into a few broad categories in terms of which technologies they use, how much data they store, and how they protect privacy. Here’s a look at some of the current and planned efforts, with a focus on those being piloted for deployment in the US.

All Roads Lead to the Smartphone

While there are some limited efforts using dedicated devices that have proven effective in controlled situations such as nursing homes, for broad deployment among the general public the obvious device of choice is the smartphone. Most people have one, they have a broad array of sensors, and they can be programmed to run custom apps. But “most people” isn’t “all people,” and many older phones don’t have the needed capability to run some of the proposed apps. So even phone-based solutions will need to deal with making their platform ubiquitous.

Stanford, Google, Apple: Protecting Privacy Via BLE

Sample screenshot of the Covid Watch appPerhaps the most “private” solution being proposed is one that was first publicized as Covid Watch, led by Stanford researcher Christina White and now embraced by the unlikely alliance of Apple and Google. This solution relies entirely on logging anonymized Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) contacts between two users. Each phone broadcasts a random ID that changes every 10-20 minutes — meaning it should be impossible to use the IDs to track a specific user or find out more about them. At the same time, nearby phones log all the IDs they receive. So far, no data has left anyone’s phone.

When a user tests positive for infection, they can get a code from a medical professional that allows the app to upload the recent (probably last 14 days worth of) random IDs that their phone has broadcast. At least once a day, phones running the app download a full set of “infected” IDs, and compare them with the list they have logged. If there is a match, then the user gets the day, duration, and signal strength of the contact, so they know that they may have come in contact with someone who was infected.

Limits to Bluetooth-Based Tracking

Unfortunately, Bluetooth is limited when it comes to assessing the nature of a contact, in at least three important ways. First is that by itself, it doesn’t provide much help in ascertaining the nature of the contact. Was I simply walking behind someone on the sidewalk while practicing safe distancing and wearing a mask, or was I near them in a crowded store? The Stanford prototype only notes contacts that last more than 15 minutes. That’s helpful in screening out spurious events, but it might also screen out some important contacts — like the checkout line in a grocery store, or passing through a TSA checkpoint.

The second issue is that Bluetooth-only tracking doesn’t help with object-based infections. For example, when Singapore studied its early cases, they came to the conclusion that one patient got infected simply by using the same church pew that an infected person had earlier. Since the two people weren’t there at the same time, and no location information is recorded, a pure BLE solution wouldn’t have identified that situation as a possible contact. This would also hold true for the possible case where the virus survives in the air after the infected individual has left the area.

Finally, the BLE-only schemes don’t really make life any easier for those with the task of doing contact tracing manually. Because there isn’t any location data, and the contact data is anonymous, they need to start from scratch with the traditional interviews of the infected person and then painstakingly recreate their potential contacts. That’s one reason some government officials, like North Dakota governor and former Microsoft executive Doug Burgum, have urged that the adoption of solutions that include anonymized GPS-based location data, such as the state’s new Care19 app. He used the example of a checkout clerk in a big box store who tested positive. They could opt to share their data, which would allow anyone who had been in that store recently to be alerted.

On a broader level, the Google-Apple plan also isn’t a complete system. It requires public health agencies to implement the servers and the framework. However, many public health agencies have already said they would prefer a system that gave them access to data, including hot spots, rather than simply allowing users to interact essentially peer-to-peer. For these reasons, despite the obvious clout of Apple and Google, other groups are turning to solutions that include location data, typically acquired by logging GPS data.

MIT Private Kit: Safe Paths — A Proposal for “Safe” GPS-Based Tracking

MIT's Private Kit leverages both Bluetooth and GPSMany people are concerned by the amount of location tracking that already takes place, so MIT researchers led by Ramesh Raskar realized they had taken on a difficult challenge when they set about designing a system to allow digital contact tracing while preserving privacy. Like the Google and Apple solution, their Private Kit mobile app uses Bluetooth to help determine possible contacts.

But it also uses GPS data and combines that with the Bluetooth data to create a location trail. If the user is infected, they can upload a 28-day history of their locations to the complementary web app Safe Places, where their health care provider can anonymize it. The user can specify certain locations such as their home to be removed from the log before it is shared. A redacted and hashed version is then distributed to other app users. By comparing the hashed results, that user can then be notified if they might have come into contact with an infected person.

There are a couple of major practical advantages to this approach. First, you can see where the contact occurred and thereby get a sense of how important it was likely to be (on a bike path or in a store, for example). The system also gains the ability to show locations you visited where an infected person had been there previously, even if they had already left by the time you arrived.

To help protect privacy, location data doesn’t leave your phone unless you are infected and opt to share your location trail with your healthcare provider. That data is then redacted and hashed before being shared. However, the current process for redacting, uploading, and then comparing location trails for matches currently involves a lot of manual steps. That helps with privacy but may not make it ideal for broad adoption.

Will Any Digital Contact Tracing System Work in the US?

There are good reasons to suspect that no contact tracing solution is going to become wildly popular or universally adopted in the US and in many countries in Europe. Getting people to do anything voluntarily is hard, and that’s especially true if it involves opting into a system that has potential for leaking yet more of their personal data — no matter how many promises are made by the organizations involved. Similar efforts fielded for flu or other pandemics have had fairly low take-up rates.

The approach of several Asian countries has been much more aggressive, partially because of new procedures put in place after the SARS epidemic. South Korea publishes the travel history of anyone who is confirmed to have Covid-19 — including what public transit they’ve taken — and broadcasts their location. Singapore’s popular TraceTogether app is similar to the Google/Apple proposal except instead of an automated, private, broadcast, contact tracers can access the information of all the other users that an infected individual was in contact with, and follow up with them directly. Even there, though, the TraceTogether app has only been downloaded by a minority of people. The most extreme is China, where the government has gone full Big Brother with travel and medical histories combined with various kinds of online data and scanned QR codes to control access to locations and even purchases.

It seems unlikely that the US, or most European countries, are willing to come close to the type of strong-arming it would take to mandate universal adherence to a digital contact tracking system. We may, however, get one or more solutions deployed broadly enough to at least make the job of human contact tracers a little easier.

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It’s 2021 or never for Tokyo Olympics, says IOC’s Dick Pound

It could be 2021 or never for the Tokyo Olympics.

Dick Pound, Canada’s longtime International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, said he doesn’t foresee being able to delay the Tokyo Games by another year.

“The Japanese have said we can keep the ball up in the air for a year, but not longer than a year,” Pound said in an interview with CBC Sports’ Scott Russell on Friday. “We really have to hope that we get this act together in time for 2021.”

Pound, 78, broached the idea of postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic a day before the change was made official on March 24. The Tokyo Olympics are now scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.

The Japanese Organizing Committee (JOC) is the best he’s seen, Pound said Friday, and was thus prepared for all the fallout caused by postponement. Now, the St. Catharines, Ont., native is hoping the rescheduled Olympics could become a flashbulb moment in a post-pandemic world.

“[The JOC] says, ‘It’s important to us and yes, we think we can do that.’ Then by all means yes, let’s give the kids a chance, let’s give the world a chance to weather this storm,” Pound said. “Come back and you can emerge from an existential threat to humanity with this huge gathering of the youth of the world.”

Global gathering

As most of the world enforces strict physical distancing guidelines, and as professional sports ponder how to hold events with as few as two athletes, the idea of 11,000 athletes around the globe congregating in one place seems nearly impossible.

But Pound says the universality of the Olympics is what makes the event so great.

“It’s a really intricate tapestry when you look at all the arrangement,” Pound said. “But that said, that’s the huge benefit of having an event that’s not just a series of world championships brought together in a television studio. It’s the people reacting with people that really matters.”

WATCH | Pound says universality of Olympics could shine through in 2021:

CBC Sports’ Scott Russell spoke with International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound about the power of the Olympics and why it’s important to still hold the 2020 Games. 4:00

Pound competed in the 1960 Olympics in Rome as a swimmer, where he placed sixth in the 100-metre freestyle. He said it was his experience there — being able to meet people outside of his own sport and his own country — that sparked his lifelong Olympic passion.

And so he had a message for today’s athletes, now forced to wait another 12 months for their potentially life-altering experience.

“Hang in there. We’re trying to preserve that experience for you. It’s postponed a little but you’re resilient. If you’re an athlete, you learn a lot more from your setbacks than you do from your wins,” Pound said.

“Everybody in the world hopes that this event can be put back together a year later and the world will have a chance to see you in action. You’ll have a chance to do your best and everybody will feel good about the outcome.”

Financial cost of postponement

Beyond the athletes, the financial reverberations of Olympics’ postponement will be felt throughout the world.

“I think what we’re likely to find, somewhat to our horror, is that many of the [international sport federations] are so dependent on their share of the Olympic revenues that they really can’t carry on at the level they’re doing now, or would like to do, without making some changes,” Pound said.

The IOC will evaluate each sporting body to determine which may benefit most from revenue-sharing from the parent committee, he said.

There are also alternatives for the Olympics that the IOC is considering to cut costs, Pound said, though the idea of single-site Games — such as placing the Summer Olympics permanently in Greece — remains unlikely.

“It’s completely impractical and the Games are so universal now that they’re not Greek Games — they belong to the world,” he said. “And it’s very hard to say to all of the rest of the world, ‘Sorry, you’re just out of luck. Don’t even think about applying to be host.'”

Instead, some of the so-called frills of the Olympics, whose value may not match cost, are being examined. “It’s serious but not fatal,” Pound said of the financial fallout.

“From the perspective of the Olympic movement, there’s a potential loss of revenue and potential increase in the costs. But frankly, that’s worth it if we can get these Games on one year later than scheduled.”

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Never mind Trump’s tweets. Keep an eye on his plan for reopening the economy

The conversation about reopening the economy is farther along in the United States than in Canada, for a variety of political and non-political reasons.

Never mind eye-popping tweets from President Donald Trump. The actual White House plan is more detailed, and more cautious, than his tweets let on.

Meanwhile, the U.S.’s vast ecosystem of think-tanks is churning out ideas for kick-starting the economy. And several states are inching toward a gradual reopening.

American actions will affect Canada.

Just look at the auto industry. It operates across borders, with people carrying pieces back-and-forth in the process of assembling cars. 

Numerous auto companies already have a target date in mind for resuming production: They’re aiming for May 4, according to Flavio Volpe, head of Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

Here’s where things stand.

What Americans want: a go-slow approach

It’s hard to miss the spectacular sight of protesters honking car horns, waving Confederate flags and pressing angry faces against windows as they demand the lifting of lockdown orders.

They’re a small group of mainly Trump supporters, and they’re being egged on by Fox News and the president. 

Protesters at the Ohio legislature on Monday demanded the lifting of lockdown orders. But this is not the prevailing sentiment in the U.S. In fact, it’s not even Trump’s own policy. (Joshua A. Bickel/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

But this is not the prevailing sentiment in the U.S. 

What various polls show, including one from Pew Research and one from Gallup, is that the vast majority of Americans want to do this slowly and carefully. 

According to Gallup, over 70 per cent of Americans want to wait and see what happens with the spread of the virus; another 10 per cent want to wait indefinitely; and just 20 per cent would return to normal activities immediately.

Polls do show a partisan gap — to some extent. 

WATCH | Freeland on talks with Trump about reopening the border

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke with reporters on Thursday 2:38

Republicans and rural residents are supportive of relaunching earlier than Democrats, more of whom live in crowded cities and rely on mass transit. That said, neither poll shows a Republican majority favouring instant reopening.

Neither does Trump’s plan. The plan he released this week offers broad guidelines to states as they formulate their plans for reopening. 

The comeback plan: Phase 1, 2, 3

Trump on Friday posted all-caps tweets reading “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!” — a not-so-subtle message suggesting dissent against Democratic governors’ isolation orders, which one ex-federal prosecutor described as criminally negligent.

But Trump’s actual blueprint is more nuanced, and lays out a three-stage approach. It’s up to state governors to decide when each phase should start.

Take sporting events as an example. 

Games would start without live fans. Trump describes it as, “Made for television.” Eventually, stadiums would allow some fans. “Maybe they’ll be separated by two seats,” Trump said.

The new normal at the White House: physical distancing at a news conference in the Rose Garden last week. (Leah Millis/Reuters)


Then, finally, you’d have larger crowds again. 

It’s the same for restaurants. In an initial phase, tables are spaced apart and waiters may wear face shields. In a hair salon, barbers and stylists are wearing protective gear.

That’s the kind of incremental comeback envisioned by leaders of Canada’s business community.

“A phased approach,” said Brian Kingston, of the Business Council of Canada. “This is going to be a very long process.” 

There are already blueprints for the auto sector.

Auto-parts maker Lear has publicly released its plan, which calls for one infrared thermometer for every 100 employees; and guaranteed supplies of soap, disinfectant, shields and gloves. 

The company would stagger shifts and lunch breaks, after some of its workers died in Mexico.

Volpe, of the parts manufacturers’ association, said a night shift and a day shift might start a half-hour apart so that there’s less crowding and more time for cleanups.

WATCH | Trump sidesteps questions on tweets saying three states be ‘liberated’

Donald Trump redirects subject to gun control, away from COVID-19 risks of opening states too soon. 1:26

Production would ramp up slowly. 

He said companies couldn’t instantly start at 100 per cent capacity even if they wanted to because their suppliers’ schedules have also been disrupted.

“You might aim for 50 per cent of volume in Week 1,” Volpe said. 

“Then another 10 per cent the next week.” 

The nightmare scenario

Here’s what terrifies the business community: reopening too quickly then having to close again. The fear is not just over the implications for human health and the broader economy. It’s also a fear of cash-flow problems.

Volpe said what scares companies is burning through cash to build products, then the economy stalls, the goods gather dust in the factory, and there’s no revenue coming in.

“Companies risk bankruptcy, failure, if we go through a restart and have to shut down again,” Volpe said.

Phase 1 of reopening will see sporting events in empty stadiums, Trump says. It’s happening elsewhere, including at this April 2 baseball game in South Korea. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

The Business Council is urging the Canadian government to go slowly. It released a letter this week asking for consultations.

“A terrible outcome would be a W-shaped recovery,” Kingston said. “That would be absolutely disastrous.” 

The big hurdle: testing

Every serious examination of the next steps identifies mass testing as a necessary requirement. And North America isn’t there yet.

One of the more conservative U.S. estimates, from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute (AEI), says the U.S. would need at a minimum 750,000, and at a maximum 3.8 million, tests per week.

A proposal at Harvard University is far more aggressive: at a minimum, it calls for one to 10 million tests in the U.S. per day if the country tracks people’s movements closely; and possibly hundreds of millions of tests per day without close tracing.

That capacity could exist by early summer, says the paper.

Canada is still testing fewer than 20,000 per day, which, accounting for population size, would put it near the low end of the AEI range, and far lower than what other papers suggest. This week, Health Canada approved a portable DNA analyzer to add capacity.

Early reopening will include unusual scenes, as people take special protective measures. Restaurants and hair salons may look different. With the lockdown lifted in Wuhan, China, barber Yang Guangyu wears a handmade mask while working on a customer. (Aly Song/Reuters)

The U.S. is testing just over 150,000 a day, according to one often-cited resource

All testing helps — even poor-quality tests with a high failure rate will reduce the spread, says Paul Romer, the Nobel Prize-winning economist.

As for contact tracing, the left-leaning Center for American Progress proposes using a phone app that people would have to download if they want to get a test or board a plane. It suggests the app’s data should be handled by a non-profit.

Co-ordination, or chaos

Another thing that worries business is a case-by-case scenario where different jurisdictions have different rules.

This is true within countries and between them.

Within Canada, the Business Council letter acknowledged that different provinces might move at different paces. 

But it pushed for national protocols that every province can apply. 

Here’s what the protocols look like in the U.S.: The White House says states should consider Phase 1 of reopening only after documented cases trend downward for 14 days; and hospitals can treat all patients without crisis measures; and with robust testing in place, including antibody testing, for health-care workers.

For the record, those are essentially the same things Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited when asked this week what it will take to reopen the economy: He mentioned a downward trend in cases, “massive” testing and contact tracing.

But Trudeau added: “We’re still many weeks away from talking about actually doing anything to reopen our economy.”

Then there are international norms.

Volpe said the private sector is working to introduce shared standards at different facilities. There’s some concern in his sector that governments aren’t co-ordinating as closely. 

“Companies are all talking to each other,” Volpe said. “And one of the questions companies are asking is, ‘Are the governments talking to each other?'”

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