Welcome to the end of the work week: Friday, December 17, 2021. It’s National Maple Syrup Day, and I really do love the stuff. It’s really good over vanilla ice cream or mixed with yogurt. There used to be three grades—A, B, and C, with C being the darkest and having the best maple-y flavor. Now they’ve changed the rankings so there’s no hierarchy (sound familiar?); there are four grades that you can see here. I would recommend you get the “very dark color with strong taste” grade, produced at the end of the sugaring season. It’s not only better, but cheaper: a rare example of a product for which price is negatively correlated with quality. I’d recommend this specimen from Amazon.
It’s also Underdog Day, Pan American Aviation Day, which has the same rationale as Wright Brothers Day, a United States federal observance by Presidential proclamation. It was on this day that the Wright Brothers made their first successful flight in 1903. And it’s National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day (why do people wear those?)
Reader Bill found the ugliest sweater of all, and he sent me a picture with a : ” I just saw this posted on Facebook. The FB site is Distractify, but they posted it in 2014. A friend reposted it tonight.”
As a generous gesture, reader Cate Plys baked me a fantastic homemade blueberry pie yesterday, and brought it over to my crib when it was still warm. Not only that, but she added pint of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream on the side. This was without a doubt the best blueberry pie I’ve ever had—bursting with fresh blueberries and a thick, buttery, flaky crust. Yum! Many thanks to Cate! (I just had some for breakfast, too.)
She adds: “This is the Cook’s Illustrated classic American pie recipe, with 4 TBSP of instant tapioca added to the filling ingredients.”
Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) highlights Émilie du Châtelet; Wikipedia describes her achievements:
Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet (French pronunciation: [emili dy ʃɑtlɛ] (listen); 17 December 1706–10 September 1749) was a French natural philosopher and mathematician during the early 1730s until her death due to complications during childbirth in 1749. Her most recognized achievement is her translation of and commentary on Isaac Newton’s 1687 book Principia containing basic laws of physics. The translation, published posthumously in 1756, is still considered the standard French translation today.
She also had a philosophical magnum opus, Institutions de Physique, which got a lot of attention:
News of the Day:
*The data say that we’re headed into another surge season for Covid-19, this time with Omicron prognosticated to replace Delta as America’s most common variant. (According to the NBC Evening News last night Omicron replicates 70 times higher than Delta in the human airway.) Hopes for a festive winter are fading:
Offices are canceling holiday parties. Broadway performances are being shuttered because of breakthrough infections among the casts. College finals are being moved online, and some colleges and universities are switching back to remote instruction after the winter break, at least for a time.
Coronavirus cases are spiking again in New York City, beyond anything seen since last winter, and in much of the United States, where the Delta variant remains by far the dominant version. The country is reporting more than 120,000 new cases a day on average, according to a New York Times database — a 40 percent increase from two weeks ago, and 70 percent more than when cases stopped falling in early November.
While most people who are unvaccinated remain at much higher risk, a combination of factors — widespread transmission, waning immunity and the circulation of highly infectious variants — has led to breakthrough infections among the vaccinated.
It’s these breakthrough infections that worry me as a geezer, though I’ve had my booster. My main self-protection is becoming more hermitic, though I will be on those two trips to Antarctica in March—unless they’re canceled. If you haven’t gotten your booster, please do so!
*The remaining 12 Christian missionaries kidnapped by a Haitian gang have been released (17 were originally kidnapped, and five were already released). Remember that the kidnappers demanded a random of $1 million per hostage, and the US said “we don’t pay randoms.” But somehow a ransom was paid (I presume with government “help), though it wasn’t $15 million:
The gang that authorities said was responsible for the kidnappings, 400 Mawozo, had initially demanded a ransom of $1 million per hostage, according to Haiti’s then-justice minister Liszt Quitel.
A ransom was paid to the 400 Mawozo, according to the source. A US official also said that a ransom was paid, but not by the US government. Though the exact amount is not known, the source said it was far less than the original request of $1 million per hostage.
Paying ransom, of course, just encourages more kidnappings, and it doesn’t matter whether the U.S. government does it directly or facilitates the payment: the encouragement is the same.
*It seems to me that this op-ed headline in the Washington Post is a bit hyperbolic (click to read):
I’m no fan of S&M’s dawdling, but they are not pondering whether democracy is worth saving. They’re pondering their own political future as well as whether they want to try ditching the filibuster rule. Everybody’s getting so damn apocalyptic these days! At any rate, voting-rights bills and the Build Back Better package is on the table. If the Republicans had the White House, and thus the key tie-breaking vote, the Democrats would be favoring the filibuster. Or so I think.
*Yesterday Joe Biden awarded the nation’s highest military decoration—the Medal of Honor—for three soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iran. Two of them got the medal posthumously, and one of the dead was the first African-American to get the Medal since the Vietnam war. Read about their deeds at CNN.
*Reader David sent me a hilarious obituary (yes, they can be) from the Fayetteville (NC) Observer, which starts in an unusual way (click on screenshot to read the rest, which is equally weird. The first sentence: “A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday” (click screenshot to enlarge. The late Ms. Corren, though Jewish, loved ham and atheism! The obituary was written by her son.
*Planning on making a cheesecake for the holidays? Think twice, as NPR and other sites report, Kraft’s, the maker of the famous “Philadelphia Cream Cheese” brick, is paying people not to make cheesecakes! That’s because there’s a shortage of schmear, and they want to help alleviate the problem, which is especially bad in New York City. The details:
Kraft Heinz, which owns the Philadelphia brand, is offering to reimburse thousands of holiday shoppers $20 each for desserts they bake or buy that don’t contain any cream cheese.
“You may not be able to find Philly to make a cheesecake,” reads its website. “So get any other dessert on us.”
The “Spread the Feeling” promotion will run from Friday to Jan. 4, but dessert devotees will have just two days to try to claim a spot. The company says that 10,000 online reservations will open at noon ET on Friday, and another 8,000 will become available at noon the next day.
Note, you have a link above, note that reservations start at noon ET today, and they’re gonna go fast!
*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 802,194, an increase of 1,288 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,355,749, an increase of about 7,300 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on December 17 includes:
Thie was the Roman Mardi Gras!
- 1790 – The Aztec calendar stone is discovered at El Zócalo, Mexico City.
It now resides in Mexico City’s Museum of Anthropology, one of the best and most interesting museums in the world. I went there, but no photos are allowed. Here’s the famous stone from Wikipedia; it was carved between 1502 and 1520.
- 1819 – Simón Bolívar declares the independence of Gran Colombia in Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar in Venezuela).
- 1903 – The Wright brothers make the first controlled powered, heavier-than-air flight in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Here’s a photo of that historic event, with Orville aboard and Wilbur watching:
- 1933 – The first NFL Championship Game is played at Wrigley Field in Chicago between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. The Bears won 23–21.
- 1938 – Otto Hahn discovers the nuclear fission of the heavy element uranium, the scientific and technological basis of nuclear energy.
They don’t mention that Hahn won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944 (he also discover strontium-rubidium dating). Here he is:
- 1944 – World War II: Battle of the Bulge: Malmedy massacre: American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion POWs are shot by Waffen-SS Kampfgruppe Joachim Peiper.
In the Malmedy massacre, German soldiers shot 84 American prisoners of war in cold blood. That’s a violation of the Geneva Convention, but the Germans did it regularly to Soviet soldiers and vice versa. Americans were usually treated better, but not this time. Here are the bodies of those unfortunate POWs:
- 1961 – Niterói circus fire: Fire breaks out during a performance by the Gran Circus Norte-Americano in the city of Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, killing more than 500.
Curiously, no animals were killed, though several elephants escaped.
Here’s part one of that episode, and you can see part two here:
- 2010 – Mohamed Bouazizi sets himself on fire. This act became the catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring.
He lived until December 31, and here are some photos, which you might not want to look at. There was no chance he would survive with such extensive third-degree burns. (He had burns over 90% of his body.) But his death ignited a revolution.
- 2014 – The United States and Cuba re-establish diplomatic relations after severing them in 1961.
But it’s still illegal for Americans to buy Cuban cigars!
Notables born on this day include:
- 1778 – Humphry Davy, English chemist and physicist (d. 1829)
- 1807 – John Greenleaf Whittier, American poet and activist (d. 1892)
- 1903 – Erskine Caldwell, American novelist and short story writer (d. 1987)
- 1908 – Willard Libby, American chemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1980)
Libby got the Prize for devising radiocarbon dating, which has revolutionized anthropology and archaeology. Here he is:
- 1929 – William Safire, American journalist and author (d. 2009)
- 1936 – Pope Francis
- 1987 – Chelsea Manning, American soldier and intelligence analyst
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, but served only 4 years when her sentence was commuted by Obama. She’s a transwoman, and now makes her living from speaking engagements.
Those who said goodbye on December 17 include:
- 1830 – Simón Bolívar, Venezuelan general and politician, 2nd President of Venezuela (b. 1783)
- 1833 – Kaspar Hauser, German feral child (b. 1812?)
- 1957 – Dorothy L. Sayers, English author, poet, and playwright (b. 1893)
- 2009 – Jennifer Jones, American actress (b. 1919)
- 2011 – Kim Jong-il, North Korean commander and politician, 2nd Supreme Leader of North Korea (b. 1941)
A propagandistic portrait of the Supreme Leader with his dad, the founder of the despotic dynasty:
- 2013 – Janet Rowley, American geneticist and biologist (b. 1925)
- 2016 – Henry Heimlich, American doctor (b. 1920)
Yes, the Heimlich, inventor of the Maneuver, which you can learn about here. I think that it’s recommended now that you don’t do this, but lean the person over a chair and pound on their back very hard, but I’m not a doctor so look around for the best procedure.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is still cynical (and tired):
A: We have to get up and see what’s going on in the world.Hili: This is a very stupid idea.
Ja: Trzeba wstać i zobaczyć, co się dzieje na świecie.Hili: To bardzo głupi pomysł.
And Andrzej has a picture of baby Kulka:
A meme from Divy:
And another Christmas cat meme from Bruce:
From Woody via reddit. Okay, how did they do this?
From Simon (music on). Santa brawl! Rechavi likes to take videos or photos and give them a scientific slant.
When multiple post docs get assigned the same project pic.twitter.com/DVRRBeQ0Ul
— Oded Rechavi 🦉 (@OdedRechavi) December 16, 2021
From Barry, a chrysomelid (leaf beetle) with wonderful feet. But why are they like that?
Yes, common here, and they have the best feet. The best. pic.twitter.com/AdfspGpZvl
— Dr. Sheena Cotter (@sheborg) December 15, 2021
From Ginger K. Trigger warning: violence.
WARNING: Graphic image. Not suitable for all viewers. pic.twitter.com/KmdCNsNNwe
— Cat Food Breath (@CatFoodBreath) December 9, 2021
From Luana: A gallery of optical illusions:
Nice little collection of optical illusions
Credit: ibrohimmuhammad84 on TikTok pic.twitter.com/eRRGHe60qx
— Steve Stewart-Williams (@SteveStuWill) December 9, 2021
Tweets from Matthew. First, a Millipede+; if you look at the link, you’ll find a new species of millipede found deep in a drill hole in Australia. None of the 7,000 known species of “thousand-leggers” had close to a thousand legs: the previous record was 750. But this one (quote from the link):
The “true” millipede has been dubbed Eumillipes persephone. The new species was discovered in a borehole, drilled as part of a Western Australian mining operation, almost 200 feet (60 meters) below the Earth’s surface. It’s the first millipede to live up to its multi-legged moniker with a staggering 1,306 legs.
I think “staggering” (my emphasis) is the wrong adjective here. . . At any rate, I want to know if every individual of a given millipede species has the same number of legs. Kudos to the reader who can find the answer for me. Does every E. persephone individual have 1,306 legs?
🐛🐛 UH>>> Researchers have discovered the first 'true' millipede with MORE THAN 1,000 LEGS in WA. All the textbooks (and Wikipedia!) need to be rewritten…
— jack ryan 🙏 (@dctrjack) December 16, 2021
And, a molecular phylogeny (below) shows that elongation in millipedes has evolved repeatedly and independently. (Matthew’s note: “LOOK AT THE FIGURE!”)
Using genome sequencing and phylogenomics, we showed that super-elongation in the millipede class Diplopoda (>180 segments) has repeatedly evolved—especially in those taxa that live in subterranean microhabitats pic.twitter.com/gvGZew34U0
— Millipede Lab (@apheloria) December 16, 2021
National stereotypes (translation: “This is genuinely funny. And true”).
Deze is echt hilarisch. En waar. pic.twitter.com/gTtrDTgqwT
— Jan van der Meer (@JanvdMeer) December 15, 2021
What it looks like to plunge into the Sun’s corona. Play the video first, and then see the IDs of the planets below:
NASA's Parker Solar Probe plunged deep into the Sun's corona & passed directly through streamers of solar plasma. The view out the window was…staggering. https://t.co/LLy8fB2dmZ pic.twitter.com/4fWkHIgmlA
— Corey S. Powell (@coreyspowell) December 15, 2021
Thank you Andrew & Karl!!! Okay, so just to make sure I have this right: pic.twitter.com/7kIjVN8TIr
— Grant Tremblay (@astrogrant) December 15, 2021