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Your Friday Briefing: Boosters and Vaccine Equity

Jacob Scott

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We’re covering W.H.O. worries about the vaccine gap and tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Will boosters worsen the vaccine gap?

As wealthy nations step up their booster campaigns to confront the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the World Health Organization is concerned that vaccine equity could be further undermined.

“Broad-based administration of booster doses risks exacerbating inequities in vaccine access,” Alejandro Cravioto, a W.H.O. immunization official, told reporters on Thursday.

The rate of booster shots that are being given daily is outpacing first shots around the world.

Most current infections, which are still overwhelmingly being driven by the Delta variant, are affecting unvaccinated people, the W.H.O. said, which means that getting vaccines to those who have no protection should be the priority.

In some countries with low vaccination rates, supply is only part of the story. A New York Times analysis of data highlights the countries where infrastructure issues and the public’s level of willingness to get vaccinated may pose larger obstacles than supply.

Ukraine says it would stand no chance against Russia

Ukrainian generals say that if Russia were to invade, they would need military help from the West.

New tanks, armored vehicles and ships have been delivered to frontline units fighting Russian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists. But that would not be enough to repel the full-on Russian assault that Ukrainian and Western officials fear Moscow might be preparing.

Intelligence services say there is no indication that the Kremlin has made up its mind whether to do so.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia dismissed concerns about the troop buildup on the border during a video call with President Biden on Tuesday, and he shifted blame to the U.S. and NATO for supporting Ukraine. Biden ruled out sending U.S. forces to Ukraine to deter Russia. He held a call with Ukraine’s president on Thursday.

Details: U.S. intelligence officials have found that Russia has devised plans for an offensive involving 175,000 troops. Ukraine has only slightly more troops in its entire military. It is outgunned on land, at sea and in the air.

Political dynamics: NATO promised Ukraine full membership in 2008, but without explaining how or when. Putin sees that promise as an ongoing threat to Russia.

India’s farmers are ending their protest

After a year of sustained protests that forced the government to roll back deeply unpopular farm laws, India’s farmers said that they were ending their action.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stunned the nation last month when he announced that his government would repeal three laws that had been passed in September 2020. Last week, Parliament signed off on the repeal without debate.

The protesting farmers had other demands. On Thursday, they said Modi’s government had agreed to discuss and resolve the major ones, including a countrywide law guaranteeing minimum prices for crops and a withdrawal of tens of thousands of charges filed against demonstrating farmers.

Quotable: “It’s a complete victory,” Ramandeep Singh Mann, an engineer who became a farmers’ rights activist, said. At the same time, he acknowledged, there was much to be resolved. “In every movement, you don’t get everything,” he said.

Big picture: India’s farmers staged what may have been the largest single protest in recorded history, according to Slate, when 250 million people participated in a 24-hour strike and tens of thousands marched to New Delhi. Here’s how India’s farmers got Modi to back down.

THE LATEST NEWS

Asia Pacific

In Pittsburgh, Memphis and Los Angeles, huge billboards have popped up declaring, “Birds Aren’t Real.” On Instagram and TikTok, Birds Aren’t Real accounts have racked up hundreds of thousands of followers. The 23-year-old creator of this viral movement knows that it’s not true. The effort is really about poking fun at the depths of misinformation.

ARTS AND IDEAS

Best-of lists, simplified

The onslaught of best-of lists in December can be overwhelming. Consider this a guide to the guides.

For the music nerds, Pitchfork unveiled its annual list of best songs. It pairs well with The Times’s wide-ranging picks for best albums of the year. Each of our pop music critics made lists, and two albums overlapped on all of them: Tyler, the Creator’s “Call Me if You Get Lost” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour.”

In the Book Review’s 10 best fiction and nonfiction titles, there are ruminations on race in America and generation-spanning sagas. Craving some art? Of the year’s many ambitious exhibitions, two consistent themes were the African American South and climate change. In New York’s Madison Square Park, Maya Lin’s “Ghost Forest” contrasted the park’s greenery with a grove of dead, environmentally damaged Atlantic white cedars. Teenagers are repurposing the wood to make boats.

The return of in-person experiences was another recurring theme: The fall theater season was “as exciting as a child’s first fireworks,” Jesse Green writes, and the ritual of watching movies on a big screen made even the most mediocre movies glorious, Manohla Dargis writes in her list of best films.

There was also great TV. Many of our critics’ picks covered subjects like class conflict and pandemics. A personal favorite: “Reservation Dogs,” a meandering, occasionally surreal comedy about four teens desperate to escape their Oklahoma reservation. It’s full of the kinds of details “that can only come from loving the thing you want to leave,” James Poniewozik writes.

Find all of The Times’s best of 2021 lists here.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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