First, don’t forget to send me a Christmas-themed cat photo as I requested yesterday evening. A few words of explanation (and the moggy’s name) will also be useful. Thanks!
It’s also Festivus, National Re-gifting Day, National Roots Day (about your ancestry, and I’ll soon have my results from 23AndMe), as well as Night of the Radishes in Oxaca, Mexico, Tibb’s Eve in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Tom Bawcock’s Eve in one of my favorite British towns, Mousehole(pronounced “Muzzle”) in Cornwall. Tom Babcock was a fisherman who went out in a storm to help catch fish to relieve a town famine. In his honor, the residents eat a most disgusting pastry: Stargazy Pie, a fish pie with fish heads protruding from the pie!:
The Night of the Radishes celebrates the radish in Oaxaca, native to China but introduced by the Spanish into Mexico (colonialism and cultural appropriation). People compete to carve the best radish, all of them displayed in Oaxaca’s town square (tonight!) Note the radish tacos!
News of the Day:
*Two pieces of good Covid-10 news in the face of the Christmas surges and lockdowns. First, research in South Africa shows that the omicron variant may be less severe than thought—even less severe than the delta variant
. . . A study by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) suggested that those infected with Omicron were much less likely to end up in hospital than those with the Delta strain. read more
COVID-19 cases also appear to have peaked in South Africa’s Gauteng province, where Omicron first emerged, it said.
The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, compared South African Omicron data from October and November with data about Delta between April and November.
“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” the NICD’s Professor Cheryl Cohen said.
But caveat emptor. These results are preliminary and not yet published.
Further, the FDA has just authorized the Pfizer antiviral pill for home use against the virus, and it appears to work against all variants!
The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s drug for adults and children ages 12 and older with a positive COVID-19 test and early symptoms who face the highest risks of hospitalization. That includes older people and those with conditions like obesity and heart disease, though the drug is not recommended for patients with severe kidney or liver problems. Children eligible for the drug must weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kilograms).
The pills from both Pfizer and Merck are expected to be effective against omicron because they don’t target the spike protein where most of the variant’s worrisome mutations reside.
. . . Patients will need a positive COVID-19 test to get a prescription. And Paxlovid has only proven effective if given within five days of symptoms appearing. With testing supplies stretched, experts worry it may be unrealistic for patients to self-diagnose, get tested, see a physician and pick up a prescription within that narrow window.
See the third tweet at the bottom for what may be the best Covid-19news of all.
*The Washington Post has a report, a photo, and a link to a paper describing the best preserved unhatched dinosaur ever found (h/t Paul). First, the stunning photo of the fossil, an ovoraptor found in China.
And some text:
By tucking their heads under their wings in the days before hatching, chicks can stabilize them and have a better chance of surviving the birthing process, the paper explained, adding that this behavior was thought to be unique in birds but now may be traced to dinosaurs.
*The two big trials of the moment, those of Ghislaine Maxwell and Elizabeth Holmes, are now in the hands of jurors. The Miami Herald reports that the jury’s repeated questions to the judge indicates that they’re carefully scrutinizing the testimony of the accusers (who say they were procured by Maxwell for sex when underage), and these questions have heartened the defense attorneys. The jury has taken a break for Christmas.
In the Holmes case, the Washington Post reports that the jurors asked the judge whether they could take the 39 pages (!) of jury instructions home with them to “review them at length.” No dice:
Lawyers on both sides agreed with his decision. The jurors have three months of evidence to sift through while considering their decision on whether Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing start-up Theranos, should be convicted on 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The jury is scheduled to be off Wednesday and reconvene Thursday.
*I didn’t know about the Netflix show “Emily in Paris,” but an old Paris hand, Jason Farago, takes it apart in the NYT in one of the funniest nasty reviews I’ve seen. What really twists Farago’s shorts is that they filmed an episode in one of his favorite and little-known bistros, now sure to attract hordes of tourists. I feel his pain! A bit of the review:
I have friends who say they watch idiotic television like this to “turn their brains off,” but I had the opposite sensation: My brain was so untaxed it started working overtime. When I wasn’t scrolling on my phone, I found myself involuntarily writing new episodes that could bring a little real Paris into the Place Emily. After an hour they just started writing themselves: Emily mistypes an address in her taxi app, and ends up at an Éric Zemmour rally. Emily’s best friend from Dubai visits, but her head scarf causes a commotion at Savoir …
But Paris, in “Emily in Paris,” is less a city than a series of convertible backdrops. Lunch at the Café Marly at the Louvre. Coffee on the roof of Galeries Lafayette. Drinks at the bar of the Lutetia Hotel. Above all there is the Place Emily, the perfect little left-bank hideaway, where our American takes over my square for her own private dinner party.
*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 810475, an increase of 1,349 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,396,088, an increase of about 8,000 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on December 23 includes:
- 1688 – As part of the Glorious Revolution, King James II of England flees from England to Paris, France after being deposed in favor of his nephew, William of Orange and his daughter Mary.
- 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 of this puppy will cost you $33,400:
Note that no name is given on the title page:
- 1947 – The transistor is first demonstrated at Bell Laboratories.
Here is “A replica of the first working transistor, a point-contact transistor invented in 1947.”
It was between identical twins, and so was a success—the recipient lived 8 more years and died of nephritis from his pre-transplant condition. This was the first time surgery had ever been performed on a patient (the donor) without anything being wrong. In 1990 Murray shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine with E.D. Thomas for work on transplantation.
Here’s the transplantation team: (left to right): Harrison, Merrill, Murray
- 1968 – The 82 sailors from the USS Pueblo are released after eleven months of internment in North Korea.
The Pueblo is now an anti-American museum moored in Pyongyang. Here’s a DPRK propaganda photo of the prisoners, secretly flipping off the photographer:
- 1970 – The North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York, New York is topped out at 417 metres (1,368 ft), 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.
13 survivors were ultimately rescued after two of them first climbed the peak behind this memorial as the crash site, but had to return. The rescue occurred when two hiked down and saw some men across a river. They threw a letter, wrapped around a rock, across the river, which led to the rescue.
The note that brought 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.
Amazing: they were aloft for 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds. Here’s a 13-minute video of the flight from start to finish:
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)
- 1854 – Henry B. Guppy, English botanist and author (d. 1926)
- 1902 – Norman Maclean, American author and academic (d. 1990)
Maclean was one of our: a professor of English at the University of Chicago. He’s best known for his wonderful book, A River Runs Through It.
- 1929 – Chet Baker, American jazz trumpet player, flugelhorn player, and singer (d. 1988)
Here’s Chet Baker and his Quintet in Belgium in 1961:
- 1952 – William Kristol, American journalist, publisher, and political activist/pundit
- 1958 – Joan Severance, American actress
- 1963 – Donna Tartt, American author
Tartt (below) wrote The Goldfinch, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013. I’ve been contemplating reading it—should I? Tartt is five feet tall and dresses in men’s clothes, sometimes with combat boots. Here she is interviewed by Charlie Rose:
- 1967 – Carla Bruni, Italian-French singer-songwriter and model
Those who took their last breath on December 23 include:
- 1939 – Anthony Fokker, Indonesia-born Dutch pilot and engineer, designed the Fokker Dr.I and Fokker D.VII (b. 1890)
- 1948 – Hideki Tojo, Japanese general and politician, 40th Prime Minister of Japan (b. 1884)
Tojo supervised many events that were war crimes, “including the massacre and starvation of civilians and prisoners of war. He was also involved in the sexual enslavement of thousands of mostly Korean women and girls for Japanese soldiers, an event that has consistently brought renewed strains to modern Japanese-Korean relations. He was hanged for his actions in 1948. Here he is with his decorations.
Right before he was arrested in 1945, he tried to shoot himself in the heart but missed and survived, only to be hanged in three more years. Here’s after his botched suicide attempt. Wikipedia says this:
After recovering from his injuries, Tojo was moved to Sugamo Prison. While there, he received a new set of dentures, made by an American dentist, into which the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor” had been secretly drilled in Morse code. The dentist ground away the message three months later.
- 1953 – Lavrentiy Beria, Soviet general and politician, head of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (b. 1899)
Beria was a nasty piece of work. As Stalin’s head of the secret police (NKVD), he was responsible for the death of thousands, including 22,000 Polish intellectuals and soldiers shot in the Katyn Forest in 1940 (Stalin always claimed that the Nazis had done it). He was also a sexual predator who kidnapped and raped hundreds of women, and killed many of them. In the end, Beria was tried for treason shortly after Stalin’s death and shot; reportedly on his knees and begging for his life.
Here’s the evil man:
And here’s an important document, the order for the Katyn Massacre (caption from Wikipedia):
- 1973 – Charles Atlas, Italian-American bodybuilder and model (b. 1892)
Remember these ads for his body-building system?:
- 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 again bemoans the death of reason. Someone give her Pinker’s new book!
Hili: Skepticism is a niche for reasonable people.A: A tiny niche.
Hili Sceptycyzm jest niszą rozsądnych.Ja: Bardzo malutką niszą.
From somewhere on Facebook (I can’t recall): a woman sharing a snack with a gorgeous mallard hen:
From Ken, who says, “This one should send the anti-vaxxers into lower earth orbit.” What could go wrong?
A Swedish company has come up with a microchip that can be inserted under the skin so that users can carry their Covid passports in their arm. pic.twitter.com/Vkl82q7dGR
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) December 21, 2021
Also from Ken, who adds, “One needn’t be able to read the past-performance charts in The Daily Racing Form to figure this one out”. The first group are infection cases; the second group is deaths.
Latest CDC data by vaccine status:
Unvaccinated: 451 cases per 100k
Vaccinated: 134 cases per 100k
Boosted: 48 cases per 100k
Unvaccinated: 6.1 deaths per 100k
Vaccinated: 0.5 deaths per 100k
Boosted: 0.1 deaths per 100k
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) December 20, 2021
Speaking of vaccinations, reader Barry sent this tweet saying, “Holy crap, indeed!”
Holy crap: US Army Creates Single Vaccine Effective Against All COVID and SARS Variants
Within weeks, researchers expect to announce that human trials show success against Omicron—and even future strains
— Steve Stewart-Williams (@SteveStuWill) December 22, 2021
From Ginger K., who asks, “Seriously, what’s the difference?”
2021. 1958. pic.twitter.com/5R9tHtZzph
— Free Black Thought (@FreeBlckThought) December 14, 2021
Tweets from Matthew, who love mimicry as much as I do. And I have NEVER heard of a feather mimic! Note that the video was taken by the late great Andreas Kay, naturalist nonpareil and rediscoverer of my eponymous frog Atelopus coynei.
An incredible feather mimic caterpillar from Ecuador
even taking steps back periodically to give the appearance of a dropped feather, moving in the breeze.
— Science girl (@gunsnrosesgirl3) December 21, 2021
I forgot whether I tweeted this before, but it’s worth seeing again. A 110-pound millipede that was eight feet long!
2.5m-long 50kg millipede!!! https://t.co/K6DTVPRNY0
— Rebecca Morelle (@BBCMorelle) December 21, 2021
There are times I admire Francis Collins, head of the NIH who just announced he’s stepping down. This is not one of those times:
these two tweets are not unrelated pic.twitter.com/eqxQ6oq1b1
— Michael Eisen #912238 (@mbeisen) December 21, 2021
Matthew said, “this will cheer you up”, and it did!
225 year old cat and kitten prints on my fireplace hearth pic.twitter.com/ERxfn1sGB2
— Michael's Cat (@michaelscat2) December 19, 2021