Welcome to what the Chinese would call 駝峰 (Hump Day): December 22, 2021: National Date Nut Bread Day. The bread is okay, but I’d prefer to just eat straight Medjool dates (the best!) I buy organic Medjools from Amazon, and favor this brand, which is reliable and fresh–not to mention huge and delicious. Kept in the fridge, and then warmed in the microwave, they’re a real treat.
And while we’re on the wonderful Medjool, here’s how they’re farmed, which explains why they’re so expensive:
News of the Day:
At last! The White House, via the Washington Post, has an update on the promised First Cat (they just got another First D*g):
The Bidens also had indicated early on that they had plans to adopt a cat, with Jill Biden going so far as to say that one — an apparent female — was “waiting in the wings.” However, no White House cat has yet materialized, much to the chagrin of the president’s feline-loving constituency.
LaRosa confirmed Monday that the new cat is a female and said she will join the Bidens in the White House in January.
I’ll believe it when I see it. We’ve heard this stuff before. (h/t Karl)
*I’ve now decided that Russia is going to start trouble in Ukraine. They’ve already massed many troops along the border, but now are threatening a cyberattack on Ukraine, and how can the West counter that? Further, Putin is now making ominous statements about NATO, statements that imply that Russia might take military action. As CNN reports:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country has “every right” to “react harshly to unfriendly steps” as the US and NATO continue to pressure Moscow over its aggression towards Ukraine.
He has blamed the current tensions in Europe on NATO’s expansion following the fall of the Soviet Union and said Russia has been forced to respond.
Putin also discussed the situation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, the Kremlin said in a statement
According to a readout published by the Kremlin, Putin reiterated his demands to Scholz.
“Vladimir Putin informed [Olaf Scholz] about Russian proposals for long-term, legally binding security guarantees, excluding any further NATO advance to the east, as well as the deployment of offensive weapon systems in countries adjacent to Russia,” the statement said.
My prediction, which is mine: Russia’s going to invade Ukraine, though it may begin with cyberattacks.
*Several big telecommunication companies, like AT&T and Verizon, are rolling out 5G Internet in December or January, and getting rid of the old 3G frequencies. (This is why I had to get a new iPhone, as my old 5s couldn’t handle 5G.) But now two big-time airline manufacturers—Boeing and Airbus—have warned that 5G internet near airports could interfere with radioaltimeters, devices crucial for landing planes. Internet providers have said “it’s not a problem”, which isn’t a very useful response. However, I have seen plenty of people use their 3G cellphones in the air when they weren’t supposed to, and haven’t seen any issues with navigation. Remember, we were always told to turn off our phones because they could affect navigation, and I always did, but there were plenty of people chattering away before landing.
*Remember the 12 missionaries kidnapped by a gang in Haiti 2 months ago? Five additional hostages had been freed, and I reported that the remainder were freed a few days ago. It wasn’t clear whether any ransom had been paid (the kidnappers wanted $1 million per hostage). Well, it turns out the 12 hostages weren’t freed but escaped—they walked away to freedom. As the AP reports:
Over time, the hostages agreed to try to escape, and chose the night of Dec. 15 to flee.
“When they sensed the timing was right, they found a way to open the door that was closed and blocked, filed silently to the path they had chosen to follow, and quickly left the place they were held, despite the fact that numerous guards were close by,” Showalter said.
. . .Captive missionaries in Haiti found freedom last week by making a daring overnight escape, eluding their kidnappers and walking for miles over difficult, moonlit terrain with an infant and other children in tow, according to the agency they work for, officials said Monday.
The group of 12 navigated by stars to reach safety after a two-month kidnapping ordeal, officials with the Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based agency that the captive missionaries work for, said Monday at a press conference.
*Now is the winter of our discontent, or at least that’s what yesterday’s poll suggests, with only 15% of responders thinking that next year will be a good one:
*Vinon Menon, chair of the Physics Department at City College of New York in Harlem, found a cardboard box sitting in the office of his department, addressed to simply “Chairman, Physics Dept.” of his college. It had languished there unopened for nine months. When he opened it up, he found this:
Yep, a cool $180,000 in $50 and $100 bills, with a letter that went this way:
An enclosed letter to Dr. Menon explained that the cash was a donation meant to help needy physics and math students at City College.
. . . The letter explained the donor’s motivations. “Assuming that you are bit curious as to why I am doing this, the reason is straightforward,” wrote the donor, who said he or she “long ago” took advantage of the “excellent educational opportunity” of attending both Stuyvesant High School and earning a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics at City College, which helped lead to “a long, productive, immensely rewarding” scientific career.
All attempts to trace the donor, who used a fake name and a fake address, have been unsuccessful, but after a police investigation showed no evidence that the money came from crime, the department accepted the dosh, which will “two full tuition scholarships each year for more than a decade.” Now that’s what you call altruism (though probably not biological altruism)!
*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 808,404, an increase of 1,351 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,388,050, an increase of about 8,400 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on December 22 includes:
- 401 – Pope Innocent I is elected, the only pope to succeed his father in the office.
- 1808 – Ludwig van Beethoven conducts and performs in concert at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, with the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto (performed by Beethoven himself) and Choral Fantasy (with Beethoven at the piano).
Beethoven was already becoming deaf by then (by 18 he couldn’t hear a thing), and it’s amazing to me that he could play in this state and write music while deaf. He must have heard everything in his head, but I suppose some composers do that anyway.
- 1864 – American Civil War: Savannah, Georgia, falls to the forces of General Sherman.
- 1885 – Itō Hirobumi, a samurai, becomes the first Prime Minister of Japan.
Here he is as a samurai, and then as PM. A stint in the University of London convinced Itō that Japan should become Westernized, and so he gave up his sword.
- 1891 – Asteroid 323 Brucia becomes the first asteroid discovered using photography.
- 1894 – The Dreyfus affair begins in France, when Alfred Dreyfus is wrongly convicted of treason.
Dreyfus in his cell on Devil’s Island (a stereograph) in 1898. He was freed the next year and eventually declared not guilty.
- 1944 – World War II: Battle of the Bulge: German troops demand the surrender of United States troops at Bastogne, Belgium, prompting the famous one word reply by General Anthony McAuliffe: “Nuts!”
Here’s the message from the Germans to McAuliffe:
To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.
The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.
There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.
If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.
The German Commander.
To the German Commander.
The American Commander.
The German commander was confused at this reply, and asked the American what it meant. The reply, “In plain English? Go to hell.”
Here’s McAuliffe (circled) and his staff at Christmas dinner in Bastogne, December 25, 1944. The next day American troops relieved the troops.
And here being given the Distinguished Service Cross by George Patton for McAuliffe’s defense of Bastogne. (Note Patton’s ivory-handled pistol.)
- 1968 – Cultural Revolution: People’s Daily posted the instructions of Mao Zedong that “The intellectual youth must go to the country, and will be educated from living in rural poverty.”
One of my Chicago colleages, Manyuan Long, a geneticist, was forced to work several years as a farmer before resuming his education.
- 1984 – “Subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz shoots four would-be muggers on a 2 express train in Manhattan section of New York, United States.
Goetz served a year for possession of a firearm, but not for attempted murder or manslaughter. He later was convicted in a civil suit but pleaded bankruptcy because he couldn’t pay the $43 million judgement. He’s still supposed to pay it off.
- 1989 – Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate re-opens after nearly 30 years, effectively ending the division of East and West Germany.
Here’s a news report showing the opening; it’s very heartening:
- 1990 – Lech Wałęsa is elected President of Poland.
- 2001 – Richard Reid attempts to destroy a passenger airliner by igniting explosives hidden in his shoes aboard American Airlines Flight 63.
Here are the shoes, which failed to explode. Reid is serving a life-without-parole sentence in a Supermax prison, ADX Florence:
- 2010 – The repeal of the Don’t ask, don’t tell policy, the 17-year-old policy banning homosexuals serving openly in the United States military, is signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Notables born on this day include:
- 244 – Diocletian, Roman emperor (d. 311)
- 1858 – Giacomo Puccini, Italian composer and educator (d. 1924)
Here’s Puccini with Toscanini. Can you tell which is which?
- 1869 – Edwin Arlington Robinson, American poet and playwright (d. 1935)
- 1887 – Srinivasa Ramanujan, Indian mathematician and theorist (d. 1920)
The story of Ramanujan, born to a poor family in India, and how he achieved his potential when G. H. Hardy took him on in Cambridge. Here’s a group of scientists in Cambridge, ca. 1914-1919, with Ramanujan in the middle and Hardy (of “Hardy-Weinberg” fame to geneticists) on the extreme right. Ramanujan died at only 32 of tuberculosis.
Ramanujan on an Indian stamp:
And a famous (and true) anecdote about Ramanujan (from Wikipedia):
The number 1729 is known as the Hardy–Ramanujan number after a famous visit by Hardy to see Ramanujan at a hospital. In Hardy’s words:
I remember once going to see him when he was ill at Putney. I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. “No”, he replied, “it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”
- 1912 – Lady Bird Johnson, American beautification activist; 38th First Lady of the United States (d. 2007)
- 1923 – Peregrine Worsthorne, English journalist and author (d. 2020)
I never heard of this dude but I like his name!
- 1945 – Diane Sawyer, American journalist
- 1949 – Maurice Gibb, Manx-English singer-songwriter and producer (d. 2003)
- 1949 – Robin Gibb, Manx-English singer-songwriter and producer (d. 2012)
The Gibbs (born very close to the day I was in 1949) were fraternal twins, of course. Here’s a short video featuring them singing together. I can’t believe that there’s only one Bee Gee left alive—Barry.
Fiennes played Amon Göth, brutal commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp in Poland. Here’s one scene of his performance (trigger warning: a shooting):
Those who expired on December 22 include:
- 1902 – Richard von Krafft-Ebing, German-Austrian psychiatrist and author (b. 1840)
Kraft-Ebbing’s most famous work:
- 1939 – Ma Rainey, American singer (b. 1886)
- 1940 – Nathanael West, American author and screenwriter (b. 1903)
- 1979 – Darryl F. Zanuck, American director and producer (b. 1902)
- 1989 – Samuel Beckett, Irish author, poet, and playwright, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1906)
- 1995 – Butterfly McQueen, American actress and dancer (b. 1911)
- 2014 – Joe Cocker, English singer-songwriter (b. 1944)
Cocker and his doppelgänger John Belushi on Saturday Night Live in 1976. Belushi is fantastic:
Here’s some interesting stuff about Cocker from Wikipedia:
In 1978, Cocker moved onto a ranch owned by Jane Fonda in Santa Barbara, California. Pam Baker, a local summer camp director and fan of Cocker’s music, persuaded the actress to lend the house to Cocker. Baker began dating Cocker, and they married on 11 October 1987. The couple resided on the Mad Dog Ranch in Crawford, Colorado.
While performing a concert at Madison Square Garden on 17 September 2014, fellow musician Billy Joel stated that Cocker was “not very well right now” and endorsed Cocker for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before his tribute performance of “With a Little Help From My Friends”. Cocker died from lung cancer on 22 December 2014 in Crawford, Colorado, at the age of 70. He had smoked 40 cigarettes a day until he quit in 1991. Cocker is buried in the town cemetery in Crawford, Colorado.
- 2019 – Ram Dass, American spiritual teacher and author (b. 1931)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili makes her Christmas wishes known (notice that she doesn’t care about Kulka or Szaron!):
Hili: You have to buy something for the holidays.A: Do you have any orders?Hili: Yes, chicken breast for me and it doesn’t matter what you buy for yourself.
Hili: Trzeba kupić coś na święta.Ja: Masz jakieś zamówienia?Hili: Tak, dla mnie filet z kurczaka, a dla was wszystko jedno.
From Linda, a great xkcd strip:
From Stephen. The lesson is clear: d*gs are superstitious and cats are empiricists.
A physics-nerd tweet from Gethyn:
— Luigi Foschini (@luigifoschini) November 13, 2021
Moar Jesus from Ginger K.:
— The UnVirgin Mary (@TheUnvirgin) December 14, 2021
From Barry, two tweets (I like the kitty one, which isn’t fake):
TFW you watch Spiderman and Mission Impossible back to back. pic.twitter.com/UYuEsMqxOh
— Sanho Tree (@SanhoTree) December 16, 2021
From the Auschwitz Memorial:
22 December 1938 | A Dutch Jewish girl, Margaretha de Groot, was born in Amsterdam.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) December 22, 2021
Tweets from Matthew: SPOT THE BOBCAT! The reveal is below the fold.
— Mairi Poisson (@maipoisson) December 21, 2021
Capybara paradise in Japan. These are the chillest of all mammals save sloths, but they get a yearly warmup in a Japanese hot spring, complete with their favorite noms. A rodent onsen! Sound up:
Ahead of the winter solstice tomorrow, the capybara of Nasu Oukoku Zoo took their annual yuzu hot bath
— Spoon & Tamago (@Johnny_suputama) December 20, 2021
A comparison: The dinosaur femur isn’t that much longer than the elephant’s, but is much more robust.
Triceratops femur on the left and African elephants leg on the right pic.twitter.com/sgALsQvxLC
— Human For Scale (@HumanForScale_) December 20, 2021
Amazing body art. Translation: “A beautiful peacock-of-the-day”, the French name of the European Peacock butterfly, Aglais io:
Un joli Paon-du-jour (Aglais io).🦋 pic.twitter.com/K3RqlFDSDn
— André Arcadio Fuster (@AAFuster) December 20, 2021
Here;s a real one:
Click “read more” to see the bobcat!