It’s the very last day of 2020: Thursday, December 31. Everyone will be glad to see this year leave and not slam the door behind it. Appropriately, it’s National Vinegar Day. It’s also Hogmanay (the Scottish New Year) and National Champagne Day, which of course coincides with New Year’s Eve. Other New Year’s Eve related holidays are: First Night (United States), Last Day of the Year or Bisperás ng Bagong Taón, special holiday between Rizal Day and New Year’s Day (Philippines), Novy God Eve (Russia), and Ōmisoka (Japan).
Google celebrates the New Year with a Doodle. Click on the screenshot and wait for the confetti:
News of the Day:
Here’s a pleasant surprise. Remember when we auctioned off an autographed and illuminated copy of Faith Versus Fact for $5300 not long ago? All the money went to Helen Keller International (HKI) to relieve malnutrition and eye disease throughout the world. We had hoped that our donation would be matched 1:1 by Friends of HKI, but that offer was time-limited. Well, when Kelly Houle, the artist who illuminated the book, called up HKI after she got no response to her email, we found out that they’re actually going to match our donation two to one, so HKI will get almost $16,000 for its cause (82.5% of donations go for programmatic activities. Thanks to friends of HKI for their generosity, and to Kelly for finding out about this new offer. Sadly, I haven’t written any more books to do this for, so this may be the last such auction, and I doubt that Speciation will find any takers. (An earlier auction for WEIT netted over $10,000 for Doctors WithoutBorders.)
Mary Ann of Gilligan’s Island died. Her real name was Dawn Wells, and she died of Covid-19 complications at 82 (can it be that long since she was the “nice girl” on the show?)
It looks as if Mitch “666” McConnell won’t even let the stimulus bill passed by the House—you know, the one with the $2000 instead of the $600 dollar checks—get to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Dear god, one of the great benefits of having both Senatorial seats go Democratic in January (and I’ve got my fingers crossed) would be that we won’t have to put up with that blathering Frog Man as majority leader any more. He’s a liar, a dissimulator, and charitable as I try to be, I don’t think he’s out to help the American people.
But do we really need these handouts? According to the NYT, economics experts say they won’t help stimulate the economy, as most people plan to put their checks in the bank. The experts think that the money should really go to those who need it most and will use it: the unemployed.
Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 342,577, a huge increase of about 3,800 deaths from yesterday’s figure, and about 2.6 deaths per minute. The world death toll is 1,814,712, another big increase of about 14,700 over yesterday’s total and representing about 10.2 deaths per minute from Covid-19—more than one every 6 seconds.
Stuff that happened on December 31 includes these events:
- 1600 – The British East India Company is chartered.
- 1759 – Arthur Guinness signs a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum and starts brewing Guinness.
For 50 years the symbol of Guinness was a toucan. Why? Get the answer here.
- 1853 – A dinner party is held inside a life-size model of an iguanodon created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Sir Richard Owen in south London, England.
What? Well, yes, here it is, from Joe Cain’s website: “Dinner in the Iguanodon model, image as it appeared in Illustrated London News, 07 January 1854.” Joe was an undergraduate student whom I helped mentor at the University of Maryland; now he’s a professor of the history and philosophy of biology at University College London.
- 1857 – Queen Victoria chooses Ottawa, then a small logging town, as the capital of the Province of Canada.
- 1879 – Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent lighting to the public for the first time, in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
The first successful test in Edison’s lab of this lamp was only on October 22 of that year. Here’s the great man and one of his lamps:
- 1907 – The first New Year’s Eve celebration is held in Times Square (then known as Longacre Square) in Manhattan.
Here’s the first celebration, but the date given elsewhere in several places is 1904 rather than 1907. Fix it, Wikipedia! I didn’t know that Times Square was named after the New York Times. There is no celebration tonight; only the third time it hasn’t happened since it began (the others were during WWII: 1942-1943). I went one year when I lived in New York, but it was a wonderful aggregation of people who were marinated in fellow feeling.
- 1946 – President Harry S. Truman officially proclaims the end of hostilities in World War II.
- 1991 – All official Soviet Union institutions have ceased operations by this date five days after the Soviet Union is officially dissolved.
- 1992 – Czechoslovakia is peacefully dissolved in what is dubbed by media as the Velvet Divorce, resulting in the creation of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.
- 1999 – The first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, resigns from office, leaving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the acting President and successor.
- 2000 – The last day of the 20th Century and 2nd Millennium.
- 2011 – Samoa and Tokelau skip the day of December 30, 2011 as they jump to the other side of International Date Line, changing their time zones.
- 2019 – The World Health Organization was informed of cases of pneumonia with an unknown cause, detected in Wuhan. This later turned out to be COVID-19, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notables born on this day include:
- 1514 – Andreas Vesalius, Belgian anatomist, physician, and author (d. 1564)
- 1869 – Henri Matisse, French painter and sculptor (d. 1954)
Matisse was a cat lover; he owned many cats and painted a few. Here he is in bed with his moggies and one of his cat canvases:
- 1908 – Simon Wiesenthal, Ukrainian-Austrian Nazi hunter and author (d. 2005)
- 1937 – Anthony Hopkins, Welsh actor, director, and composer
- 1941 – Sarah Miles, English actress
From Wikipedia: “Miles stated, in 2007, that she had been drinking her own urine for 30 years for health reasons.” She also had an affair with Stephen Spielberg and has a New Age belief in crop circles. here she is in her most famous film, “Ryan’s Daughter“:
- 1943 – John Denver, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (d. 1997)
- 1943 – Ben Kingsley, English actor
- 1948 – Donna Summer, American singer-songwriter (d. 2012)
- 1965 – Gong Li, Chinese actress
Those who departed this life on December 31 include:
- 1691 – Robert Boyle, Anglo-Irish chemist and physicist (b. 1627)
- 1877 – Gustave Courbet, French-Swiss painter and sculptor (b. 1819)
Here’s a Courbet, Woman with a Cat, 1864, from the Worcester Art Museum. The cat looks okay but the woman’s head looks compressed from top to bottom:
- 1972 – Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rican-American baseball player and Marine (b. 1934)
- 1985 – Ricky Nelson, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (b. 1940)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has a question:
Hili: Does the Earth know that it is starting another run around the Sun?A: No.Hili: So, who invented New Year?A: The producers of calendars with some help from astronomers and emperors.Hili: Never mind: Happy New Year.
Hili: Czy Ziemia wie, że zaczyna kolejne okrążenie Słońca?Ja: Nie.Hili: To kto wymyślił Nowy Rok?Ja: Producenci kalendarzy, z pewną pomocą astronomów i cesarzy.Hili: Wszystko jedno, szczęśliwego Nowego Roku.
Here’s a “spot the cat” photo from Steve. It’s not hard, but it gives you a chance to practice your spotting skills:
A meme from Nicole:
From Titania. I well remember that HuffPost article, and in fact wrote about it last April. The author is a selfish moron.
If you refuse to take the vaccine, you’re an alt-right conspiracy theorist covidiot.
If you take the vaccine, you’re glorifying western scientific imperialism and sending out an anti-Chinese dog whistle for white nationalists.
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) December 30, 2020
Some good news from Simon. Although the “UK mutant strain” of the virus apparently does spread faster, it doesn’t increase the risk of reinfection (which is already almost zero, I think) and, importantly, it doesn’t decrease the effectiveness of the vaccines.
We used our database of 579 COVID patient samples to evaluate immune evasion the UK variant (B.1.1.7). Overall takeaway is reassuring: we see no evidence that the reported mutations would substantially increase reinfection risk or decrease vaccine efficacy. (1/n) pic.twitter.com/fUqzqNSb1p
— Winn Haynes (@hayneswa) December 29, 2020
A tweet from Barry. I can’t believe the first poster didn’t notice the mushroom cloud!
It has a cat watching a nuclear detonation.
It's like reading the tea-leaves, but with actual prophetic power.
— Slender Skeptic (@SlenderSkeptic) December 30, 2020
Maarten Boudry once again touts the musical abilities of his new cat Winston Purrchill. And, in face, here Winston plays Purcell. As Maarten says, “Nice pedal work, too!”
— Maarten Boudry (@mboudry) December 30, 2020
You definitely need the sound up on this one!
2020: The Year In Review.
Nothing sums up this year better than a hedgehog fart. 🔊🆙
— Paul Bronks (@SlenderSherbet) December 30, 2020
Matthew said, “Tough choice, Jerry”, but it wasn’t really a choice. I just enjoyed the duckling pwning the kitten:
— World birds (@worldbirds32) April 27, 2020
Crikey! Live and learn. . . .
This tree appears to have been hit by lightning.
Just under the bark is all the moist tissues, which are vessels for water and carbohydrates, These conduct electricity better than the drier wood in the centre. The intense heating by the current results in the bark exploding off pic.twitter.com/adiR4HjjZx
— Science girl (@gunsnrosesgirl3) December 30, 2020
Pinker wins today!
Long Bet 9: A bioterror or bioerror will lead to one million casualties in a single event within a six month period starting no later than Dec 31 02020.
— Long Now Foundation (@longnow) December 29, 2020