Welcome to Wednesday, December 23, 2020—only two days till Christmas and the beginning of Coynezaa. It’s National Pfeffernüße Day, which refers to a glazed German gingerbread cookie. (I don’t think I’ve ever had one, but they sound good.) And, for you atheists and curmudgeons, it’s Festivus, made famous by Seinfeld.
In Mousehole (pronounced “Muzzle”), one of my favorite small villages in England, it’s Tom Bawcock’s Eve, the day to eat starrey-gazey pie (with fish heads protruding from the crust). In Oaxaca, Mexico it’s The Night of the Radishes, in which oversized radishes are decoratively carved.
Here’s starrey-gazey pie (yuck!):
. . . and carved radishes from Oaxaca:
Wine of the Day (below): This 19-year-old Rioja threw a sediment and also had a crumbly cork, requiring decanting through cloth. But it was a good thing, as it needed at least an hour of air to tame the tannins and allow the fruit to shine through. It is this kind of Rioja that I love: gutsy and flavorful, with an aroma of licorice and pepper instead of the Rioja specimens that are light and oaky, with notes of vanilla. I’ve seen it described as having the nose of “meat,” and although I can understand that due to its power, I can’t detect it.
The Viña Ardanza Reserva has been elaborated by La Rioja Alta since 1942! it is named after one of the founding families. It is only produced in the best years, and the 2001 vintage was rated “Excellent” by Rioja Control Board. La Rioja Alta thought so highly of this wine that it called it Reserva Especial, only the third time one of its wines has earned that designation, along with 1964 and 1973.
It was aged 7 years in barrel (3) and bottle (4) before it was even released. Looks as if it could improve for another few years. I’m looking forward to the other half bottle tonight, wondering if it will have improved over a day:
News of the Day:
The President-Eject has begun pardoning his buddies, his cronies, and other undeserving federal criminals as the end of his term approaches. He’ll save the most odious pardons for the end. As CNN reports:
President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced a wave of lame duck pardons, including two for men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller’s investigation, as well as ones for Republican allies who once served in Congress and military contractors involved in a deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians.
The pardons of former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, former US congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, and the four Blackwater guards involved in the Iraq massacre kick off what is expected to be a flurry of pardons and commutations in the coming weeks as Trump concludes his term.
Well, according to the Guardian, the coronavirus has finally invaded the last virus-free continent: Antarctica. Thirty-six Chileans at their research base on the Antarctic Peninsula have tested positive for the virus and have been evacuated to Punta Arenas, Chile for quarantine. It’s not clear how this happened, though ships provision the base regularly (h/t: Jez)
The big vaccine debate: if you get the coronavirus vaccine, can you still spread the virus? After all, even flu vaccine is only about 40% effective, but it also reduces the symptoms if ou still get it, so you might not know you have it while still passing it on to others. FiveThirtyEight reports, as we have here, that this aspect of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines hasn’t been tested. (h/t: Jean)
Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 323,002, a substantial increase of about 3,300 from yesterday’s figure—roughly 2.3 deaths a minute. The world death toll is 1,726,169, a HUGE increase of about 15,200 from yesterday’s total and the equivalent of about 10.6 deaths per minute.
Stuff that happened on December 23 includes:
- 1783 – George Washington resigns as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland.
- 1815 – The novel Emma by Jane Austen is first published.
A first edition (in three volumes, below) will run you about $32,500:
- 1919 – Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 becomes law in the United Kingdom.
What is this Act? Wikipedia explains:
The act enabled women to join the professions and professional bodies, to sit on juries and be awarded degrees. It was a government compromise, a replacement for a more radical private members’ bill, the Women’s Emancipation Bill.
- 1947 – The transistor is first demonstrated at Bell Laboratories.
- 1954 – First successful kidney transplant is performed by J. Hartwell Harrison and Joseph Murray.
This isn’t actually the first successful kidney transplant, but the first successful one between living patients. This procedure was done between identical twins, reducing the chances of an immunity-based rejection. The recipient lived another eight years and Murray (along with E. D. Thomas) won the Nobel Prize for the work.
- 1968 – The 82 sailors from the USS Pueblo are released after eleven months of internment in North Korea.
The crew was starved and tortured, which I believe is a violation of the Geneva Convention. The Pueblo remains in Pyongyang as an anti-America museum. Here’s a short North Korean tour of the ship:
- 1970 – The North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York, New York is topped out at 1,368 feet (417 m), making it the tallest building in the world.
- 1972 – The 16 survivors of the Andes flight disaster are rescued after 73 days, surviving by cannibalism.
Two of the survivors hiked out seeking help. One of them, Nando Parrado, encountered two men on horseback and wrote this note, which soon summoned a helicopter and rescue:
- 1986 – Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California becoming the first aircraft to fly non-stop around the world without aerial or ground refueling.
The trip took 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds, and is still a record for a single flight. The emptyaircraft weighed less than 1,000 pounds, but carried 7,000 pounds of fuel. Here’s the plane:
Notables born on this day include:
- 1745 – John Jay, American jurist and politician, 1st Chief Justice of the United States (d. 1829)
- 1805 – Joseph Smith, American religious leader, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement (d. 1844)
- 1908 – Yousuf Karsh, Armenian-Canadian photographer (d. 2002)
Karsh was a great portrait photographer. Winston Churchill, as much of a curmudgeon as Matthew, gave Karsh just two minutes to take his picture. Winnie then lit a cigar. Karsh plucked it from Churchill’s mouth, whereupon the great man scowled—and at that moment Karsh snapped what became his most famous picture:
- 1929 – Chet Baker, American jazz trumpet player, flugelhorn player, and singer (d. 1988)
- 1967 – Carla Bruni, Italian-French singer-songwriter and model
Those who “fell asleep” on December 23 include:
- 1834 – Thomas Robert Malthus, English economist and demographer (b. 1766)
- 1953 – Lavrentiy Beria, Georgian-Russian general and politician, Russian Minister of Internal Affairs (b. 1899)
- 2007 – Oscar Peterson, Canadian pianist and composer (b. 1925)
- 2013 – Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian general and weapons designer, designed the AK-47 rifle (b. 1919)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili sees Szaron on the windowsill, where she used to sleep and watch the birds:
Hili: Does Szaron know that this used to be my favorite place?A: Ask him.Hili: I can’t because I’m ignoring him.
Hili: Czy Szaron wie, że to było moje ulubione miejsce?Ja: Zapytaj go.Hili: Nie mogę, bo go ignoruję.
And here’s a lovely picture of Szaron.
Caption: Szaron helps as much as he can.
From Jesus of the Day. I sent this to several of my cat-loving friends:
From Bruce: Guess the city with this skyline? I won’t provide the answer; I’ll just affirm the first reader who gets it right:
Uh oh. . . . somebody forgot and labeled the genders as “binary”.
This chart breaks down coronavirus cases by gender.
A year into this pandemic, and non-binary people are *still* totally immune!
I always knew they were superior.
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) December 22, 2020
Luana noticed this word change, and I retweeted it:
I get the motivation behind this change, but the description of "herd immunity" has nothing to do with how it is achieved, or how it should be achieved. https://t.co/PzJKtJwGP6
— Jerry Coyne (@Evolutionistrue) December 22, 2020
From Simon, who wondered what kind of mimicry this was. I told him it was “Clausian mimicry.”
Stunning mimicry, nature is amazing pic.twitter.com/jvZaLWbEsk
— Oded Rechavi 🦉 (@OdedRechavi) December 21, 2020
Tweets from Matthew. These first ones are about the WSJ’s wonky op-ed section, though I hear they’re good on the news itself.
How it started. How it's going. pic.twitter.com/3ekvQTtrqq
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) December 22, 2020
Look at the size of this monster!
Big beautiful cicadas out at the moment! pic.twitter.com/S3EU3Lns5Q
— Dr Lizzy Lowe ❤️🕷️ (@LizyLowe) December 22, 2020
I lectured for years on this caterpillar as an example of aposematic (“warning’) coloration, but it never crossed my mind that it could be a tarantula mimic. It even has eight obvious spider “legs”!
This caterpillar evolved to look like a tarantula
It's called the MONKEY SLUG CATERPILLAR which is great because it looks nothing like a monkey or a slug, wtf scientists
— Adam J Calhoun (@neuroecology) December 22, 2020
I tell you, Lizy Bean is going places. Look at that journal!
I want to brag about one of my students, Lizy Bean (shared with her permission). I give students a lot of flexibility on what they want their term project to look like. She decided on a Haeckel inspired naturalist journal on Cephalopod evolution and she absolutely nailed it. pic.twitter.com/LqiCjJBV2r
— Dr. Sarah Bengston (@EvoSarah) December 21, 2020