First, it’s howling a gale out there: here’s the ambient temperature when I woke up an hour ago. That’s the equivalent of -23° C, and the wind chill gives an equivalent temperature of -32° F or -36° C. But I had to come to work, for this is where my espresso machine is. “Breezy” in my iPhone weather isn’t the half of it!
BUT. . . I’ve seen colder here!
Greetings on the week’s end: it’s Friday, December 23, 2022: two days until Koynezaa begins, and it’s National Pfeffernüße Day, celebrating the gingerbread cookie that we’ve culturally appropriated. A variety of gingerbread cookie, they are not to be eschewed, but rather chewed:
It’s also Festivus, a parody holiday made popular by the sitcom Seinfeld, as seen in the video below, HumanLight (celebrating secular humanism in the U.S.), Night of the Radishes (Oaxaca City, Mexico), Tibb’s Eve in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Tom Bawcock’s Eve in Mousehole, Cornwall.
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the December 23 Wikipedia page.
*How can one defend a law that women are barred from higher education? What possible good could come from that? Well, of course, this is just what happened in Afghanistan, and the country’s education minister used the only justification he could: religion (which poisons everything).
The minister of higher education in the Taliban government on Thursday defended his decision to ban women from universities — a decree that had triggered a global backlash.
Discussing the matter for the first time in public, Nida Mohammad Nadim said the ban issued earlier this week was necessary to prevent the mixing of genders in universities and because he believes some subjects being taught violated the principles of Islam. He said the ban was in place until further notice.
In an interview with Afghan television, Nadim pushed back against the widespread international condemnation, including from Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. Nadim said that foreigners should stop interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
Earlier on Thursday, the foreign ministers of the G-7 group of states urged the Taliban to rescind the ban, warning that “gender persecution may amount to a crime against humanity.” The ministers warned after a virtual meeting that “Taliban policies designed to erase women from public life will have consequences for how our countries engage with the Taliban.” The G-7 group includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.
Other reasons he gave for the university ban were women’s failure to observe a dress code and the study of certain subjects and courses.
“We told girls to have proper hijab but they didn’t and they wore dresses like they are going to a wedding ceremony,” he said. “Girls were studying agriculture and engineering, but this didn’t match Afghan culture. Girls should learn, but not in areas that go against Islam and Afghan honor.”
He added that work was underway to fix these issues and universities would reopen for women once they were resolved. The Taliban made similar promises about high school access for girls, saying classes would resume for them once “technical issues” around uniforms and transport were sorted out, but girls remain shut out of classrooms.
While Western “progressives” bang on about Israel being an apartheid state, they’re curiously silent about this REAL apartheid state, which demonizes, besides women, non-Muslims, gays, atheists, and apostates. Could it be because Muslims—even the Taliban—are perceived as “oppressed people of color.” Well, this country is oppressing half of its citizens!
*The cryptocurrency fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried, after deciding not to fight extradition from the Bahamas, is back in the U.S. and has been set free on the highest bond I’ve ever seen:
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was released on a $250 million bond Thursday and ordered to detention in his parents’ Palo Alto, Calif., home, after the former executive’s first appearance in a New York federal court following his extradition from the Bahamas.
Mr. Bankman-Fried, charged with engaging in criminal conduct that contributed to the cryptocurrency exchange’s collapse, came to court shackled by the ankles and wearing a charcoal gray suit. He sat quietly at the defense table, flanked by his lawyers.
Mr. Bankman-Fried left the courthouse in a black SUV. At a later date he will enter a plea on charges that he engaged in fraud and other offenses, a federal magistrate judge said. The next court hearing is set for Jan. 3.
Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein set the bail package, which requires Mr. Bankman-Fried to be under electronic monitoring and restricts his travel to parts of northern California and New York.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos called Mr. Bankman-Fried’s alleged crimes “a fraud of epic proportions” and said he believed the $250 million bond was the largest ever. The judge said the bond would be cosigned by four financially responsible people, including one non-family member.
The evidence against Mr. Bankman-Fried includes the testimony of multiple cooperators and more than a dozen witnesses from FTX and his crypto-trading firm Alameda Research, as well as encrypted text messages and tens of thousands of pages of financial documents, Mr. Roos said.
The erstwhile billionaire is going down, and all that cryptocurrency can’t save him.
*This offends my American sense of egalitarianism: the NYT reports that the emergency room at New York University has secretly given priority to VIPs and bigwigs—for years.
Doctors say Room 20 is usually reserved for two types of patients: Those whose lives are on the line. And those who are V.I.P.s.
In September 2021, doctors were alerted that Kenneth G. Langone, whose donations to the university’s hospital system had led it to be renamed in his honor, was en route. The octogenarian had stomach pain, and Room 20 was kept empty for him, medical workers said. Upon his arrival, Mr. Langone was whisked into the room, treated for a bacterial infection and sent home.
The next spring, Senator Chuck Schumer accompanied his wife, who had a fever and was short of breath, to the emergency room. As sicker patients were treated in the hallway, the couple were ushered into Room 20, where they received expedited Covid-19 tests, according to workers who witnessed the scene. The tests came back negative.
NYU Langone denies putting V.I.P.s first, but 33 medical workers told The New York Times that they had seen such patients receive preferential treatment in Room 20, one of the largest private spaces in the department. One doctor was surprised to find an orthopedic specialist in the room awaiting a senior hospital executive’s mother with hip pain. Another described an older hospital trustee who was taken to Room 20 when he was short of breath after exercising.
The privileged treatment is part of a broader pattern, a Times investigation found. For years, NYU’s emergency room in Manhattan has secretly given priority todonors, trustees, politicians, celebrities, and their friends and family, according to 45 medical workers, internal hospital records and other confidential documents reviewed by The Times.
On hospital computers, electronic medical charts sometimes specify whether patients have donated to the hospital or how they are connected to executives, according to screenshots taken by frustrated doctors in recent years and shared with The Times.
“Major trustee, please prioritize,” said one from July 2020.
Dozens of doctors said they felt pressure to put V.I.P.s first. Many witnessed such patients jumping ahead of sicker people for CT scans and M.R.I.s. Some said medical specialists, often in short supply, were diverted from other cases to attend to mild complaints from high-priority patients.
. . . Eleven doctors told The Times that they had resigned from the emergency department in part because they objected to favoring V.I.P.s.
The hospital, of course, denies everything. But they’re no longer in the financial trouble they were in 13 years ago.
Stop it, NYU!!! In fact, the hospital has been put on probation for favoring VIPs and donors and mistreating poor patients. The behavior of the ER is even more horrible than I’ve described above. I recommend you read the piece.
*I think I’ve written about this before, but the Washington Post has a new story about a Vaughn Smith, carpet cleaner in Washington, D.C. who, as a “hyperpolyglot,” can converse in 24 languages, and knows words and phrases in many more.
“So, how many languages do you speak?”
“Oh, goodness,” Vaughn says. “Eight, fluently.”
“Eight?” Kelly marvels.
“Eight,” Vaughn confirms. English, Spanish, Bulgarian, Czech, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian and Slovak.
“But if you go by like, different grades of how much conversation,” he explains, “I know about 25 more.”
Vaughn glances at me. He is still underselling his abilities. By his count, it is actually 37 more languages, with at least 24 he speaks well enough to carry on lengthy conversations. He can read and write in eight alphabets and scripts. He can tell stories in Italian and Finnish and American Sign Language. He’s teaching himself Indigenous languages, from Mexico’s Nahuatl. to Montana’s Salish. The quality of his accents in Dutch and Catalan dazzle people from the Netherlands and Spain.
In a city where diplomats and embassies abound, where interpreterscan command six-figure salaries at the State Department or the International Monetary Fund, where language proficiency is résumé rocket fuel, Vaughn was a savant with a secret.
He’s had a rough life, and doesn’t know how to monetize his skills:
And so began an adulthood marked by jobs that came and went. Vaughn has been a painter, a bouncer, a punk rock roadie and a Kombucha delivery man. His friends encouraged him to start a YouTube channel, but after a bout of depression, he stopped filming. On days when there aren’t carpets to clean, he helps a friend tint office building windows. He was once a dog walker for the Czech art collector Meda Mládková, the widow of an International Monetary Fund governor. She kept him on as a caretaker of her Georgetown home, which was the closest he ever came to having a career that utilized his languages. Visitors to the house spoke nearly every Eastern European dialect, and before long, so did Vaughn.
. . .But when she explained the traits associated with being on the autism spectrum, they felt entirely familiar to Vaughn.
Maybe this, he thought, was why he hadn’t understood his teachers. Why some adults thought he was rude. Why people tell him he could be using his talents for all kinds of careers, but he doesn’t really know where to look or the steps he would need to take to get a more formal, professional job.
“Of course, I have tried,” he says. “But nothing has worked out.”
I hope the article will lead to a better life for Vaughn. BTW, the Post tested his skills, and they checked out, and there’s a 1-minute video of him speaking about ten different languages.
Here’s a conservative list of Vaughn’s talents:
*Finally, “The Chord”, as described in the NYT article, “‘Everyone wants to hear’ this one chord in a Christmas carol.” What chord is it? Read on:
Of all the music heard around Christmas, few passages rival the awe and mystery of one chord, known as the “Word of the Father” chord.
Click on the link just above to hear it: it comes at 3:36. I must say that I wasn’t particularly impressed. But read on:
It’s a rare instance of powerful drama in holiday liturgical music, more akin to Edward Elgar’s depiction of God in “The Dream of Gerontius,” or the opening of the fifth door in the Bartok opera “Bluebeard’s Castle”: a moment of total release, embracing the unknown.
In British choral circles, this moment is referred to simply as “The Chord.” It comes halfway through the final verse of the popular Christmas carol “O Come, All Ye Faithful” (or “Adeste Fideles”), in a mid-20th century arrangement by David Willcocks, an original editor of the widely used “Carols for Choirs” series and a former director of music at King’s College, Cambridge. Willcocks, following a rising figure full of anticipation, places an explosive, half-diminished seventh chord under the text “Word,” resolving it elaborately over the next few measures.
“It’s a startling moment,” David Hill, the musical director of the Bach Choir, said in a telephone interview. “I remember being a boy of 10 playing it in my church in Carlisle, and loving every moment of it, thinking: ‘What is this? This is outrageous!’”
There’s a youthful glee in the way the popularity of “The Chord” has grown; today, the discerning church musician can get it printed on pretty much anything, including T-shirts and tree ornaments. It’s a moment, Hill said, that “everyone wants to hear. It puts a great big smile on your face.”
But “The Chord” is much more than just a crunchy harmonic moment: It carries a deep symbolic resonance for the Christian community, and represents a key moment in the creation of Britain’s carol industry. . .
To learn why it’s a “key momen” in the creation of the carol industry, read for yourself.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, all the cats are here, but Hili’s outside:
Szaron: Come inside, it’s cold out there.Hili: But it’s too crowded inside.
Szaron: Chodź do domu, tam jest zimno.Hili: Ale w domu jest zbyt duży tłok.
From Malcolm: a SuperDrone, a battery-powered Superman:
A toot of God from Mastodon:
From Masih: Afghan girls weeping when told they can’t go to university. If this wasn’t a family-oriented website, I’d curse the Taliban in very salty language:
Heart-wrenching video I’ve received from Afghanistan where women are no longer allowed into universities.
Misogynistic regimes, whether Taliban, Islamic Republic in Iran or ISIS, have 1 thing in common: they hate women. We must fight against these regimes.pic.twitter.com/xsnQQcxJTd
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) December 22, 2022
From Barry: This cat is aping Maru!
I can fit . . . 🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/iFEQQsRXkV
— Dave (@SpotTheLoon2010) December 21, 2022
From Steve Pinker; I had no idea that the Carter Center was leading the campaign to wiping out guinea worm, and with great success. (Can you name the other two diseases that have been eradicated?)
The world thanks you, Jimmy Carter. https://t.co/uTRAMbSsYh
— Steven Pinker (@sapinker) December 22, 2022
From the Auschwitz Memorial: an industrialist who survived but five days at Auschwitz. Was he gassed, or he simply couldn’t take it?
A Polish Jew Szaja Silberpfennig.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) December 23, 2022
From Matthew: Merry Catmas!
A cat Christmas. 🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/qG1fwmhacn
— Dave (@SpotTheLoon2010) December 21, 2022
What a beautiful butterfly! It’s found in Mexico and south to South America.
A cat Christmas. 🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/qG1fwmhacn
— Dave (@SpotTheLoon2010) December 21, 2022
And male students supporting the female Afghani students who have just been denied a college education:
Males students in Afghanistan are walking out of their exams in protest of the Taliban's decision to ban female students in education beyond 6th grade. pic.twitter.com/BLP6J0xfJw
— AskAubry 🦝 (@ask_aubry) December 21, 2022