Wine of the Day: It’s no secret that I love Riojas, and I splurged on this one, buying three bottles and a decanter inside a fancy wooden box some years ago. This is the last of the bottles, now 11 years old. I think I paid about $50 per bottle back then, but now it runs from $80-$109. I wouldn’t buy it now, but am very glad I did then! The ratings by everyone are through the roof; the highest I’ve seen for any Rioja, and I’m looking forward to drinking it tonight with a holiday ribeye steak, biscuits, and green beans (I’m writing this on Friday evening). Let us see. . .
This is the best Rioja I’ve ever had. It’s old style, i.e., fairly gutsy, for newer Riojas are lighter and strive to be elegant. This is both, and I suspect it could age well for another couple of years. It had an overwhelming smell of cherries and roses, complex, and it goes down like velvet. I have half a bottle left and will mourn it when it’s gone. Most highly recommended if you want to put out that much dosh, for a gift, or a special treat. Muga is a reliable name in Rioja.
News of the Day:
*Stephen Sondheim, the most famous songwriter of modern musical theater, died yesterday morning at age 91. The cause of death is unknown. He’s been writing for years; you may recall that his Broadway debut was writing the lyrics to Bernstein’s tunes in “West Side Story”, and that was in 1957. The NYT writes:
In the 1970s and 1980s, his most productive period, he turned out a series of strikingly original and varied works, including “Company” (1970), “Follies” (1971), “A Little Night Music” (1973), “Pacific Overtures” (1976), “Sweeney Todd” (1979), “Merrily We Roll Along” (1981), “Sunday in the Park With George” (1984) and “Into the Woods” (1987).
Truth be told, I’m a fan of the old-style Broadway musicals whose tunes I can sing, like “Brigadoon”, “My Fair Lady”, and “Camelot”, and have found only one Sondheim song that I found comparable. But in tribute to the man, I’ve put it below. It’s both lovely and cerebral. Performer: J. Collins. (You can hear B. Streisand’s live version here; it’s not quite as good.)
Overnight the NYT added a wonderful video interview with Sondheim (the sound is on, but there are places where Sondheim speaks and you cannot here; that’s part of the video), as well as his final interview, given just a week ago. He seemed to be in reasonable health then, and a spokesperson said his death was “sudden.”
*The new Covid-19 variant found in South Africa, temporarily called “B.1.1.529” and now “Omicron”, is full of mutations: at least 40, with 30 of those in the spike protein alone. How such a multiple mutant arose is unknown, but it has infected people considered fully vaccinated, and has been found in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel. Countries are rushing to impose travel restrictions on people coming from southern Africa. It’s worrisome; as the New York Times reports:
On Friday evening, the World Health Organization gave the new version of the virus the name Omicron and called it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category. “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the W.H.O. said in its official description. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant.”
But before you get your knickers in a twist, read this:
. . . So far, only a few dozen cases of the new variant have been identified in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. There is no proof yet that the variant is more contagious or lethal, or could diminish the protective power of vaccines, but uncertainty on those questions was one factor in the speed of countries’ move toward restrictions.
I have to say, though, that I am worried (I’m always worried). I don’t think the world can take another big lockdown as we develop another vaccine, which will last only until another big variant arises.
*Big trouble’s a-brewing in Ukraine, where the President, Volodymyr Zelensky, declared that he has evidence of an impending coup involving Russia and a Ukrainian plutocrat. Russian troops are apparently massed on the border with Crimea, as they were massed in Russia in 2014 before that army took the Crimean Peninsula away from Ukraine.
Speaking at a news conference in Kiev on Friday, the President said he had received intelligence information, which included audio, indicating the coup is planned for December 1 or 2.
Zelensky said there was audio of Ukrainian and Russian plotters discussing the plan. Ukraine’s president said the alleged plotters also mentioned the name of one of Ukraine’s richest men, Rinat Akhmetov.
Zelensky alleged Akhmetov — the owner of Ukrainian financial and industrial holding company System Capital Management (SCM) — was “drawn into the war against the state of Ukraine” by people who surrounded him, but he didn’t explain what he meant or provide any evidence to support his allegations.
What will the U.S. do if Russia takes over Ukraine? Nothing but making a lot of noise and economic threats—just what they’ll do if China takes over Taiwan. But what can we do? Start a war?
*Below we see a tweet put up by the Washington Post last week, but when I went back to capture it, they’d taken it down. No surprise there! An SUV doesn’t drive itself through the crowds: a driver does. And the race of the murderous driver was embarrassing to the woke. Eventually they had to admit it. The headline of the original article, too, said the tragedy was caused by an SUV. Put that car in prison for life!
*The Post also has a list of Alexandra Petri’s choice of the 100 best Christmas songs. It’s DREADFUL. To show you this, her top choice, #1, is “Good King Wenceslas”, which nobody sings any more. Number 2 is—wait for it—”You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.” In contrast, one of my favorites, “Do you hear what I hear?”, is in the dumper: number 99! To add insult to injury, “Merry Christmas Darling” by the Carpenters (music by Richard) isn’t even on the list. So I’m gonna put them up, and Petri can shove it:
Johnny Mathis’s version of “Do you hear what I hear?”
*Here are the results of yesterday’s poll on how readers feel about that most odious of confections: candy corn.
*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 777,090, an increase of 1,013 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,209,483, an increase of about 7,000 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on November 27 includes:
- 1095 – Pope Urban II declares the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont.
- 1809 – The Berners Street hoax is perpetrated by Theodore Hook in the City of Westminster, London.
This was some hoax:
Hook had made a bet with his friend Samuel Beazley that he could transform any house in London into the most talked-about address in a week, which he achieved by sending out thousands of letters in the name of Mrs Tottenham, who lived at 54 Berners Street, requesting deliveries, visitors, and assistance.
He was never implicated in the hoax, but the resident of 54 Berners Street weren’t happy.
- 1835 – James Pratt and John Smith are hanged in London; they are the last two to be executed for sodomy in England.
Pratt and Smith were seen supposedly having sex in the rented room of another man, William Bonnil, who wasn’t there when the landlord said he saw buggery through the keyhole. This is doubtful; as Wikipedia notes:
The conviction of the three men rested entirely on what the landlord and his wife claimed to have witnessed through the keyhole; there was no other evidence against them. Modern commentators have cast doubts on their testimony, based on the narrow field of vision afforded by a keyhole and the acts (some anatomically impossible) the couple claimed to have witnessed during the brief length of time they were looking.
- 1895 – At the Swedish–Norwegian Club in Paris, Alfred Nobel signs his last will and testament, setting aside his estate to establish the Nobel Prize after he dies.
Nobel made a fortune, largely because he invented dynamite. Ths story behind the prizes is supposedly this:
After reading an erroneous obituary condemning him as a war profiteer, Nobel was inspired to bequeath his fortune to the Nobel Prize institution, which would annually recognize those who “conferred the greatest benefit to humankind”
Click on the screenshot below to go to the Nobel Prize organization’s 17-minute narrated slideshow about Nobel’s will. The story is fascinating, with many twists.
- 1896 – Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss is first performed.
- 1924 – In New York City, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held.
Here’s that first parade with an inflatable Pinocchio:
- 1954 – Alger Hiss is released from prison after serving 44 months for perjury.
- 1968 – Penny Ann Early becomes the first woman to play major professional basketball for the Kentucky Colonels in an ABA game against the Los Angeles Stars.
I didn’t know this, but her appearance was brief:
Penny’s moment came on Wednesday, November 27, 1968, against the Los Angeles Stars. Wearing a miniskirt and a turtleneck sweater with a number 3 on the back (to represent the three boycotted races at Churchill Downs), Early warmed up with the players during pre-game and sat on the bench with the team
During the first half of play, during a timeout, Coach Rhodes reluctantly sent Early to the scorer’s table, where she officially checked into the game. In the Kentucky backcourt she took the ball out of bounds and inbounded it to teammate Bobby Rascoe. He then quickly called a timeout and the Colonels removed Early from the game to a standing ovation from the spectators. Afterward, she signed hundreds of autographs to adoring onlookers making history once again.
- 1975 – The Provisional IRA assassinates Ross McWhirter, after a press conference in which McWhirter had announced a reward for the capture of those responsible for multiple bombings and shootings across England.
Norris and Ross were identical twins who jointly put out the Guinness Book of World Records, which is still going. But Ross didn’t like the behavior of the Irish in England. Here they are:
- 1978 – In San Francisco, city mayor George Moscone and openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk are assassinated by former supervisor Dan White.\
White served only 5 years of a 7-year sentence for manslaughter, but then killed himself two years after his release.
- 2006 – The House of Commons of Canada approves a motion introduced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognizing the Québécois as a nation within Canada.
- 2020 – Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, is assassinated near Tehran.
The assassination was carried out by Mossad with the full knowledge of the U.S. (i.e., Trump). It was carried out with a satellite-operated machine gun that was operated remotely.
- 2020 – Days after the announcement of its discovery, the Utah monolith is removed by recreationists.
Notables born on this day include:
- 1874 – Chaim Weizmann, Belarusian-Israeli chemist and politician, 1st President of Israel (d. 1952)
- 1903 – Lars Onsager, Norwegian-American chemist and physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1976)
As I’ve recounted before, Onsager got me kicked out of the dorms at Rockefeller University, where I started grad school. He was visiting; our bedrooms shared a bathroom, and he complained that there was women’s lingerie in the bathroom (true, but not mine!). Out I went! But I had to look at his damn false teeth every day, sitting in a glass on the sink!
- 1917 – Buffalo Bob Smith, American actor and television host (d. 1998)
- 1937 – Gail Sheehy, American journalist and author
- 1940 – Bruce Lee, American-Chinese actor, martial artist, and screenwriter (d. 1973)
- 1942 – Jimi Hendrix, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (d. 1970)
Hendrix (below) was in the Army, as he was given a choice of joining up or going to jail. He lasted about a year, neglecting his duties to play the guitar, and was given an honorable discharge:
- 1951 – Kathryn Bigelow, American director, producer, and screenwriter.
Bigelow (below) was the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar for “The Hurt Locker”, which also won Best Picture.
- 1953 – Steve Bannon, American media executive and political figure
- 1955 – Bill Nye, American engineer, educator, and television host
- 1957 – Caroline Kennedy, American lawyer and diplomat, 29th United States Ambassador to Japan
Those who succumbed on November 27 include:
- 8 BC – Horace, Roman soldier and poet (b. 65 BC)
- 1852 – Ada Lovelace, English mathematician and computer scientist (b. 1815)
There aren’t many photographs of Lovelace (often regarded as the first person to envison computer programs), as she died of uterine cancer at only 36. Here she is:
- 1901 – Clement Studebaker, American businessman, co-founded Studebaker (b. 1831)
- 1934 – Baby Face Nelson, American criminal (b. 1908)
Here’s a mugshot from 1931, and he did have a baby face (his real name was Lester Gillis. He died in a shootout with the feds near Chicago.
A fun fact: “In 1943, O’Neill disowned his daughter Oona for marrying the English actor, director, and producer Charlie Chaplin when she was 18 and Chaplin was 54. He never saw Oona again.” Here’s the man:
- 1975 – Ross McWhirter, English author and activist, co-founded the Guinness Book of Records (b. 1925)
- 1978 – Harvey Milk, American lieutenant and politician (b. 1930)
- 1978 – George Moscone, American lawyer and politician, 37th Mayor of San Francisco (b. 1929)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is “helping” Andrzej:
A: May I also play with this mouse?Hili: Not now.
Ja: Czy mogę też pobawić się tą myszą?Hili: Nie teraz.
From Cats, Beavers, and Ducks on FB: a lovely tattoo
From Matthew: “Ollie has come to sit on my lap while I finish this article:
I hear that these funerals are a speciality of North Dakota:
A hot-potato tweet from Titania:
The only reason white people have children is so that they can simulate the experience of owning a slave.
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) November 24, 2021
From Luana; I refer to the second tweet. Plants learned to associate wind with the presence of light, which they need. The fan cue took precedence over light in trained plants. This showed associative learning in plants for the first time. Now, how do plants learn without a nervous system? Read the Nature paper for more details:
I haven’t read the paper on touch-me-nots that’s said to demonstrate learning in the first tweet, but could it be that the plants simply ran out of turgor pressure after repeated foldings and unfoldings?
And another possible example: Pea plants may learn by association like Pavlov's dogs, despite not having brains. https://t.co/27EPtJghqk
— Steve Stewart-Williams (@SteveStuWill) November 23, 2021
From Ginger K.: A light pillar above Mt. Etna, subject of a readers’ wildlife entry the other day. Read the link to get a better idea of how the pillar arises:
What happening above that volcano? Something very unusual — a volcanic light pillar. More typically, light pillars are caused by sunlight, but this shot by Giancarlo Tiné, shows us one made by the glowing magma of Mount Etna [read more: https://t.co/Vz8guybdQA] pic.twitter.com/QzeUbHlqFS
— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973b) November 15, 2021
From the Auschwitz Memorial.
27 November 1905 | A Czech Jewish woman, Ilsa Strossová, was born in Brno.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 27, 2021
Tweets from Matthew. Larry, the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, is interviewed by the Polish media. Did they expect him to meow? (“DS” is 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives.)
The Polish PM was running late arriving to DS for a meet and greet. and so the Polish media decided to interview @Number10cat instead. think he was negotiating for some kielbasa sausage snacks. pic.twitter.com/OL4l0xQ6EU
— Justin Ng (@justin_ng) November 26, 2021
This is pretty amazing. Moas were driven extinct in New Zealand by hungry locals around 1440 A.D. They had only one natural enemy, a huge raptor, and so were pretty tame. The Maori just went up to them and clubbed them in the head.
Ok, so I have been fortunate enough to see many incredible things in the @NHM_London collections. But I honestly think this is possibly the most amazing.
A mummified MOA HEAD and FOOT, preserved MOA POOP and a MOA EGG 🤯
I cannot stress enough how incredible this was!! pic.twitter.com/s5D6tb0q9i
— Josh Luke Davis 🏳️🌈 (@JoshLukeDavis) November 24, 2021
Yes, baby echidnas are called “puggles.” You probably know that they’re the only egg laying mammal (monotreme) besides the platypus.
A close-up of Weja, because who doesn't love a short-beaked echidna puggle?! You can support the work of our two wildlife hospitals and help save Aussie wildlife by calling 1300 369 116 or visiting https://t.co/YnXTLT3Ao7 #forthewild #tarongawildlifehospital pic.twitter.com/PAaEFOrPEd
— Taronga Zoo (@tarongazoo) November 25, 2021