Well, for many it’s back to work today on December 27, 2021, the third day of Coynezaa (on this day my true love gave to me three matzo balls). It’s National Fruitcake Day, honoring the single fruitcake that is continually regifted around the West.
Wine of the Day: This 2018 cava (the Spanish equivalent of Champagne, and made the same way) is produced by the family of my ex-postdoc (now a professor), and that’s how I was introduced to the wine. I had it with Christmas dinner: roast Chicken, rice, and yams.
If you’re tired of paying $40 and up for French champagne, consider a good Spanish cava like this one. I believe I paid just a tad more than $20 for it, and it was a terrific bargain. It’s very dry, a pigeon-eye red color, with with lots of bubbles and toasty as well as tasty, I swore I could taste some red fruit in there, though it may have been a color-inspired illusion. Llopart is a reliable name in cava, and produces several different types. I believe I’ve tried them all over the years, including the top of the line Ex Vite that you can’t get in the U.S. If you see this rosé for around $20, snap up a couple bottles and put them in the fridge.
If you want a cheap(ish) but excellent bubbly, and can’t get Llopart, try Roederer Estate Brut from California, which runs abut $25.
A lovely glass:
News of the Day:
*Ed Wilson, the famous naturalist, evolutonary biologist, ant expert, and writer, died yesterday at 92. My post of earlier today gives a few memories I have of the man.
*I’ve lost track of how many Covid-19 “surges” we’ve had since I first heard about the virus, but, if you’re in the U.S., you’ll know we’re in the midst of another one (see below). Anthony Fauci says “things will be much better in January,” but how does he know?
And France, for the first time during the entire pandemic, has recorded more than 100,000 cases in a single day for the first time.
*Over at the Washington Post, Dave Barry reviews the year of 2021, first overall and then month by month—all in inimitable Barry style:
. . The spotlight now shifts to incoming president Joe Biden, who takes the oath of office in front of a festive throng of 25,000 National Guard troops. The national healing begins quickly as Americans, exhausted from years of division and strife, join together in exchanging memes of Bernie Sanders attending the inauguration wearing distinctive mittens and the facial expression of a man having his prostate examined by a hostile sea urchin.
. . . On the wokeness front, Dr. Seuss joins the lengthening list of individuals who are deemed to be Problematic, which also includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Pepe LePew and Mr. Potato Head. Also people are starting to take a hard look at the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and if you have to ask why YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.
*And once again, the Sunday NYT features a sermonette by Tish Harrison Warren, the Anglican priest whom the Paper of Record has chosen to hector us about Jesus. In yesterday’s column, “How Christmas Changed Everything“, Rev. Warren says that all of us in the West—even the Jews—are saturated in Christian values:
But if you live in the West, the claims of Christmas have profoundly shaped your life and view of the world. You don’t have to believe in Jesus or even think about him for that to be true. The West is “so saturated in Christian assumptions that it is almost impossible to remove ourselves from them,” said Tom Holland, a British historian and author of “Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.” He continued, “We tend to take for granted that the lowest of the lowest do have dignity.”
These same radical ideas reverberate down through the centuries. They eventually motivated the invention of hospitals, mass education, and widespread literacy. They inspired those who opposed slavery and influenced the contemporary idea of universal human rights. Charles Malik, a Lebanese Christian who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, said, “The ultimate ground of all our freedom is the Christian doctrine of the absolute inviolability of the human person.” In different ways over time, the belief in the dignity of even the weakest in society flowed from people meditating on this same shocking story that the church tells at Christmastime today.
But then she says this:
The development of the idea of universal dignity could be understood as a result of an invisible hand guiding societies toward “progress” or even as a series of random accidents. A.C. Grayling, a British philosopher, argues that seeds of this concept can be found in the thoughts of Socrates, Buddha, and Confucius. Scholars like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Israel trace the origin of human rights to the enlightenment era.
But at the end she still touts God/Jesus as the Fount of Morality. When will she stop this blathering, all founded on claims that aren’t true? When will the NYT say, “Okay, Tish—enough.”
*I did not know this, but in September the Center for Inquiry announced that the 2021 Richard Dawkins Award has been given to Tim Minchin. However, the video of the presentation, which includes a 90-minute conversation between Richard and Minchin (moderated by David Cowan) was just posted a week ago. I’ve put the video with the award and conversation below. From CFI:
In the 350-year-old Sheldonian Theatre, designed by the famed British architect Christopher Wren, musician, composer, comedian, actor and writer, Tim Minchin, received the 2021 Richard Dawkins Award before a sold-out crowd on October 10th, 2021.
Richard Dawkins gave a soaring and touchingly personal tribute to the awardee, calling him “a staunch upholder of rationalism, secularism, and scientific skepticism.”
In introducing the event, Robyn Blumner, CFI’s CEO, said that Tim is this year’s awardee because “Number one, the award criteria fits him to a ‘T,’ and number two, because he’s so freakin’ awesome.”
David Cowan, a CFI board member and Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur, masterfully moderated a lively 90-minute conversation between Richard and Tim, after sharing that he is a major fanboy of Tim’s and doing an on-stage selfie with him.
*I miss the reclusive Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic of the New York Times who departed in 2017. Her critiques were always incisive, even when I disagreed with them.I don’t know why she left, but she’s back with a literary retrospective and memoriam that is excellent: “Didion’s prophetic eye on America.” Of all the obits I’ve read about Joan Didion, who died this week, this is by far the best at pinpointing the power of her prose.
Didion’s utterly distinctive writing style — distinguished by its spareness, its surgical precision, its almost staccato yet incantatory rhythms — was also a tool for containing her often harrowing subject matter, be it her own experiences of loss and grief, reportorial assignments involving murder or war, or the melodramatic situations that the heroines in her novels so often faced. She had an eye for the prophetic detail and telling gesture, an ear for the line of overheard dialogue that might reveal all.
Didion prized control — getting the details correct in a story, making sure a recipe turned out exactly right — because she often felt it was elusive in her life as someone who suffered from migraines and Parkinson’s and morning dread. “You are getting a woman who somewhere along the line misplaced whatever slight faith she ever had in the social contract, in the meliorative principle,” she wrote. She described herself as “a sleepwalker,” “alert only to the stuff of bad dreams, the children burning in the locked car in the supermarket parking lot,” the coyotes by the interstate, the snakes in the playpen.
*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 814,970, an increase of 1,328 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,418,562, an increase of about 3,800 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on December 27 includes:
Here’s that great building: first a mosque, then a Catholic church, then a museum, and, as of last year, a mosque again.
Here I am in 2008, feeding the mosque’s famous resident cat, Gli. (I always carry cat food when I’m in Turkey.)
- 1831 – Charles Darwin embarks on his journey aboard HMS Beagle, during which he will begin to formulate his theory of evolution.
The Beagle was a small ship: 90 feet from stem to stern and 25 feet across. Here’s a cross-section. I’ve circled the Captain’s cabin (Darwin, contrary to popular belief, was not the ship’s naturalist, but was hired to keep Captain Robert Fitzroy (a depressive) company. Darwin would dine with Fitzroy in FitzRoy’s cabin (circled at right), but then repair to his room at upper left, which had his cot. Darwin was seasick when afloat, and spent as much time as he could ashore.
- 1845 – Ether anesthetic is used for childbirth for the first time by Dr. Crawford Long in Jefferson, Georgia.
- 1927 – Kern and Hammerstein’s musical play Show Boat, considered to be the first true American musical play, opens at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Broadway.
Here’s my favorite song from the 1936 movie, “Old Man River,” sung by the inimitable Paul Robson. Imagine: two Jews wrote a song about the travails of a black stevedore. (There was another movie version, in 1951, with Ava Gardner.) Note that he uses the word “darkies” for blacks—a word expunged in later versions.
30 million Russians died on Stalin’s orders, including many in the Ukraine, who starved to death after Stalin ordered their grain shipped elsewhere.
- 1935 – Regina Jonas is ordained as the first female rabbi in the history of Judaism.
Jonas, a German Jew, was murdered at Auschwitz in 1945, when she was only 42. Her photo:
- 1966 – The Cave of Swallows, the largest known cave shaft in the world, is discovered in Aquismón, San Luis Potosí, Mexico.
Here’s a caver A caver rappelling down from the cave’s mouth:
- 1978 – Spain becomes a democracy after 40 years of fascist dictatorship.
- 1996 – Taliban forces retake the strategic Bagram Airfield which solidifies their buffer zone around Kabul, Afghanistan.
- 2004 – Radiation from an explosion on the magnetar SGR 1806-20 reaches Earth. It is the brightest extrasolar event known to have been witnessed on the planet.
- 2007 – Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto is assassinated in a shooting incident.
- [See below]
Notables born on this day include:
- 1571 – Johannes Kepler, German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer (d. 1630)
- 1822 – Louis Pasteur, French chemist and microbiologist (d. 1895)
- 1901 – Marlene Dietrich, German-American actress and singer (d. 1992)
- 1905 – Cliff Arquette, American actor and comedian (d. 1974)
- 1906 – Oscar Levant, American pianist, composer, and actor (d. 1972)
- 1930 – Marshall Sahlins, American anthropologist and academic (d. 2021)
- 1943 – Cokie Roberts, American journalist and author (d. 2019)
From Wikipedia: “She received the nickname Cokie from her brother, Tommy, who as a child could not pronounce her given name, Corinne.”
- 1946 – Polly Toynbee, English journalist and author
- 1952 – Tovah Feldshuh, American actress, singer, and playwright
- 1952 – David Knopfler, Scottish singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer
Here’s “Sultans of Swing” with Dire Straits. I love this song, and Mark Knopfler’s solo is justifiably famous; his brother David is on rhythm guitar.
- 1971 – Savannah Guthrie, American television journalist
Savannah’s 50 today, but sure doesn’t look it! Here she is this year:
Those who went underground on December 27 include:
Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV, surely painted from life:
- 1834 – Charles Lamb, English essayist and poet (b. 1775)
- 1923 – Gustave Eiffel, French architect and engineer, co-designed the Eiffel Tower (b. 1832)
- 1938 – Calvin Bridges, American geneticist and academic (b. 1889)
Bridges, a student of academic great grandfather T. H. Morgan, was himself a crack Drosophila geneticist as well as a ladies’ man, for he was very handsome:
- 1938 – Osip Mandelstam, Polish-Russian poet and critic (b. 1891)
- 1950 – Max Beckmann, German-American painter and sculptor (b. 1884)
Beckmann, whose work I like, painted several pictures with cats in them. Here’s one, “Friedel Battenbuerg” (1920):
- 1972 – Lester B. Pearson, Canadian historian and politician, 14th Prime Minister of Canada, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1897)
- 1981 – Hoagy Carmichael, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and actor (b. 1899)
- 2007 – Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani politician, Prime Minister of Pakistan (b. 1953)
I was always sweet on Bhutto, but she was assassinated, which was practically inevitable. She was known to her friends as “Pinky” because she was an unusually pink baby.
- 2015 – Meadowlark Lemon, American basketball player and minister (b. 1932)
- 2016 – Carrie Fisher, American actress, screenwriter, author, producer, and speaker (b. 1956)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron are plotting how to get food.
Szaron: We have to discuss.Hili: There is nothing to discuss. We have to meow until they come and give us what we want.
Szaron: Musimy się naradzić.Hili: Nie ma nad czym debatować, trzeba tak długo miauczeć, aż przyjdą i dadzą nam to, co chcemy.
From Pyers, the biggest spoiler of all time (yes, I know that it was intended to foreshadow the Crucifixion):
The painting is Adoration of the Magi (center panel of St. Columba Altarpiece, painted in 1455 by Rogier van der Weyden:
From Bruce, a d*g tweet:
From Jesus of the Day:
From Ricky Gervais, touting his third season of his series After Life. I really like the show, though some are less keen on it. And. . . it has Diane Morgan!
— After Life (@AfterLife_Fans) December 15, 2021
Two Ginger K., duplicitous advertising!
On Christmas Day, in millions of homes all over Japan, people are eating KFC. Marketing has them convinced that this is an American custom. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/JmPdSFTIFZ
— TimTheEnchanter 🏳️🌈🏴☠️⚛️💉💉💉✊🏼 (@TimTheGodmocker) December 25, 2021
Speaking of fast food, Bette Midler decries the perfidies of capitalism:
— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) December 14, 2021
From the Auschwitz Memorial:
A Polish woman, Józefa Warchoł.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) December 27, 2021
Tweets from Dr. Cobb. First, Nature red in mouth and pseudopod:
— Matthew Cobb (@matthewcobb) December 26, 2021
This really makes me hungry. There’s nothing like an English Christmas with beef or roast goose, and finished off with a steamed pudding:
This triumph of a Yorkshire pudding cooked by a mate yday to go with roast beef. Doubling up as a crib for baby Jesus. pic.twitter.com/kQCCHsC79C
— Kate Bex 💙#NHSblueheart (@K80bex) December 26, 2021
Now he lives in Israel and fools my people with his deceptions. He also has a museum, which I will NOT visit should I visit the country:
Only thing baffling about Uri Geller is that people are still buying his schtick. https://t.co/0BR8h3xodc
— David Craven (@davidjcraven) December 26, 2021
Have a very veggie Christmas!
— Irena Buzarewicz (@IrenaBuzarewicz) December 25, 2021