Editor’s Note: 2020 has been a hell of a year. I’ve been self-isolating in an apartment with my mom since February, aside from brief excursions to the local drug store to pick up mom’s medications that failed to arrive via the post (Thanks for screwing over the USPS Donald Trump, aka 💩🔥💰 and 🤥🤥👖🔥 liar, liar pants-on-fire, GOP mob boss, liar-in-chief, draft dodger, Putin’s pocket toy, criminal, grifter, the single worst President ever). I hope you die in prison) and exciting trips to the front door to receive sporadic groceries.
I’m taking the rest of this year and at least the first week of 2021 off. It’s been rough. Feel free to enjoy my annotated edition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, my site about Celtic Studies, my site about technology, or the other extended pieces on this site accessed via the menus above.
Finally, you can buy me a coffee if you’re so inclined.
I hope you stay safe, self-isolated, warm, with food, and good books, and music, and for everyone’s sake, stay socially distant and wear a mask if you go out. Don’t be a maroon. Think about the lives of others.
You should read this for 12/25/2020:
Art, Music, and Film
There’s a hypnotic crackle before a whoosh of sound flies from ear to ear. It’s followed by a heavenly chorus that might be whales whistling, frogs calling or the chirping of an alien bird. It sounds celestial because that’s what it is. The noise is the aurora borealis: the northern lights.
Biden has long said his education secretary nominee would be a teacher or educator. “We need an education secretary who understands that education isn’t just what we do,” Biden said, “it’s who we are.”
An educator, Cardona certainly is. After starting his career as an elementary school teacher, he became a principal for 10 years (he was named Connecticut principal of the year in 2012), and he then became an assistant superintendent in Meriden, Conn., a district just south of Hartford that serves about 9,000 students. It is also where he was born and attended public schools.
Books, Libraries, Writing, and Language
Although the Gospel of Matthew does not give individual names to this regal trio, we know them as Balthasar, Caspar and Melchior, thanks to a Greek manuscript from AD500. It was in the middle ages, too, that they were promoted from astronomers to kings. And a text attributed to the Venerable Bede, the historian monk from Northumbria, makes Balthasar black. Despite Bede’s assertion, there are very few images of a black Balthasar before 1400, possibly because medieval Europeans had so little concept of Africans. It was only with the dawning of the Renaissance that Balthasar’s colour began to be emphatically depicted. In fact, the trumpeting, joyous festive subject of “the adoration” inspired some of the richest portrayals of black people in European art.
Through the YouTube bulletins, I started to regain my fluency and even grew an affection for the stoic, no-nonsense delivery of the channel anchor. At the same time, I asked my sisters to switch to speaking Sylheti with me. They are all married to Bengali men and therefore speak it more frequently. Sadly, this had mixed results. As soon as we encountered friction, we intuitively switched to English.
Nevertheless, I persevered – listening, absorbing, practising. Over the following months, my vocabulary improved rapidly. I regained words I’d lost and learned ones I’d never known. For many second-generation immigrants, fluency is too long gone, so I was deeply grateful that mine could be revived.
The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle and Netflix have agreed to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the author’s estate, which alleged that the film Enola Holmes infringed copyright by depicting a warmer and more emotional version of Sherlock Holmes.
Netflix moved to have the case dismissed, going in quite hard on the details of the Estate’s claims. For starters, in Enola Holmes, um, no dogs. Added to that, the motion provides ample evidence of Sherlock having feelings and empathy prior to the protected works and that such ideas are not protectable anyway. The rest of us, meanwhile, waited patiently to see if the mystery of whether or not you could break copyright in this way could actually succeed in court.
Author Gar Anthony Haywood about his new Slant book, In Things Unseen: A Personal Miracle on a Public Stage: Q&A with Gar Anthony Haywood
Coronavirus | COVID-19
Douglas County officials said last week that a person knowingly went to work while suffering symptoms and later tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Two recent outbreaks in the county, which were reported by the Oregonian on Tuesday, were traced back to that individual and the ensuing infections forced hundreds of county residents into self-quarantine.
So far, 59 cadets out of a suspected 73 have admitted to taking part in the scam in which the students “shared answers and made the same mistakes,” Lt. Col. Chris Ophardt, a West Point spokesman told NPR.
Food and Drink
Organic meat production just as bad for climate, study finds “Analysis also found the lowest impact meat was still far more damaging than the worst plant foods.”
She left home 15 years ago to go to university before starting a career as a chartered surveyor. But as she married and thought about children, the “emotional pull” of being able to live and work on a farm again was too much. She’s now returned to take over the tenancy of the 100-cow dairy farm, near Chester, from her father.
But it is a very different dairy industry from her father’s childhood. Back in the early 1950s the UK had close to 200,000 dairy farmers. Today, there are barely 10,000. Her farm is small in an industry where herds of 500 are commonplace and the average has doubled to 150 in the past two decades.
. . .
Ankers doesn’t have to look far to see the direction farming is heading. Across the hedgerows at the back of her farm is one of the biggest dairy farms in the country. The farm houses almost 3,000 cows, all of which spend their lives indoors and eat food brought to them by machines. It’s a slick-looking operation with dozens of farmworkers charged with keeping the milk flowing.
History and Archaeology
When Venetians invented quarantine in 1348, the government proclamation was based on the fact that this cosmopolitan city could put two and two together. The Venetian Republic had based its thriving economy on trade by sea and it became obvious that when foreign ships arrived, an outbreak of plague sometimes followed. They began with keeping ships at bay, making them sit offshore in the Venetian lagoon for 30 days. That time frame soon increased to 40 days, from which we get the word quarantine (quaranta means 40 days in Italian and Veneziano, the language of Venice).
Researchers win £1m grant to unlock secrets of Viking-era treasure trove “Galloway Hoard comprising more than 100 objects lay undiscovered for 1,000 years before discovery in 2014.”
The haul contains an unparalleled range of precious metal and jewelled items, including a rare gold ingot, a unique gold bird-shaped pin and a decorated silver-gilt vessel, the only complete lidded vessel of its type ever discovered in Britain and Ireland.
Inside the vessel were beads, amulets of glass and rock crystal, a silver penannular brooch and five Anglo-Saxon disc brooches not previously found in Scotland. Parts of the find were wrapped in fragile textile bundles.
Taken altogether, the hoard hints at hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and beyond, and, according to researchers, it provides a rare opportunity to research and reveal many lost aspects of the Viking age.
Science and Nature
Researchers have examined ancient DNA preserved in elephant tusks that were among the cargo of a 487-year-old shipwreck.
Their forensic examination of the 100 tusks pinpointed the devastation caused to the elephant population by centuries of ivory trade.
On this single ship, researchers found genetic evidence of 17 distinct herds of the threatened animals.
Today, scientists can find only four of those herds surviving in Africa.
Two peculiar ‘crop circles’ have recently been spotted in Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture. Viewable only from above, they were formed by sugi (Japanese cedar) trees.
The first word that hackers had carried out a highly sophisticated intrusion into U.S. computer networks came on Dec. 8, when the cybersecurity firm FireEye announced it had been breached and some of its most valuable tools had been stolen.
”We escalated very quickly from the moment I got the first briefing that, ‘Hey, we have a security incident of some magnitude,’ ” FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia told All Things Considered co-host Mary Louise Kelly. ”My gut was telling me it was something we needed to put people on right away.”
Mandia was right. Within days, the scope of the hack began to emerge.
Multiple U.S. agencies were successfully targeted, including the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Energy and Homeland Security as well as the National Institutes of Health.
The hackers attached their malware to a software update from Austin, Texas-based company SolarWinds, which makes software used by many federal agencies and thousands of private companies to monitor their computer networks.
In one previously unreported issue, multiple criminals have offered to sell access to SolarWinds’ computers through underground forums, according to two researchers who separately had access to those forums. […] Security researcher Vinoth Kumar told Reuters that, last year, he alerted the company that anyone could access SolarWinds’ update server by using the password “solarwinds123”
Apple has a hardware security and privacy manual for people at risk from abusers, exploiters: Device and Data Access when Personal Safety is At Risk
If you’d like to revisit what you share with other people, or restore your device’s original settings for any reason, this guide can help you understand what information you are sharing via your Apple devices, and how to make changes to protect your safety. It includes step-by-step instructions on how to remove someone’s access to information you’ve previously granted: from location data on the Find My app, to meetings you’ve scheduled via Calendar. . . . If you’re concerned that someone is accessing information you did not share from your Apple device, this guide will also help you identify risks, and walk you through the steps to help make the technology you rely on as private and secure as you want it to be.
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Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, known as Madame or Countess d’Aulnoy, invented the term “conte de fée” or fairytale, when she published her major collection of them in 1697-98. Unlike her contemporary Charles Perrault, or later authors such as Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, today her work rarely appears outside anthologies.
Now Princeton University Press will release a new collection of her work in March, The Island of Happiness, featuring illustrations and an essay by the artist Natalie Frank. It also contains the first English translation of The Tale of Mira, one of D’Aulnoy’s earlier works, which sees the beautiful Mira kill scores of men — “Anyone who saw her fell desperately in love with her. However, her pride and indifference made all of her lovers die” — until she falls for a man who is indifferent to her.
Tampax is facing perhaps its greatest existential threat – the growing number of women choosing not to have periods at all. Last year, the faculty of sexual and reproductive healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists issued an updated guideline, stating that there was no health benefit to taking a week-long break from the pill to have a sort of faux-period. Women simply no longer need to shed blood if they don’t want to.
‘I am not afraid to fight’: the female Afghan colonel who survived the Taliban’s assassins “Saba Sahar, who returned fire while protecting her daughter, survived one of a wave of recent assassination attempts that have killed six policewomen.”
💩🔥💰 Trumpery 💩🔥💰
The controversy followed a September 2020 executive order where President 💩🔥💰 ordered federal agencies to submit diversity training programs to the Office of Personnel Management for prior approval. The order said 💩🔥💰 was acting “in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal contracting, to promote unity in the Federal workforce, and to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”
The whistleblowers’ letter said 💩🔥💰 was reportedly inspired to take action after watching a critic of diversity and inclusion programs on Tucker Carlson’s program on Fox News.
The OPM rules have proved confusing and unworkable, leading many federal agencies and contractors to cancel all their programming.
🤥🤥👖🔥 pardons Blackwater contractors jailed for massacre of Iraq civilians “Four guards fired on unarmed crowd in Baghdad in 2007, killing 14 and sparking outrage over use of private security in war zones.”
Donald 🤥🤥👖🔥 has pardoned four security guards from the private military firm Blackwater who were serving jail sentences for killing 14 civilians including two children in Baghdad in 2007, a massacre that sparked an international outcry over the use of mercenaries in war.
The four guards – Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten – were part of an armoured convoy that opened fire indiscriminately with machine-guns, grenade launchers and a sniper on a crowd of unarmed people in a square in the Iraqi capital.
. . .
The pardons are one of several the US president has granted to American service personnel and contractors accused or convicted of crimes against non-combatants and civilians in war zones. In November last year, he pardoned a former US army commando who was set to stand trial over the killing of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker, and a former army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire at three Afghans.
See also this Twitter thread from @adamnlawyer Ali Kinani was 9 years old when he was shot in the head by Blackwater guards on September 16, 2007 in Baghdad Iraq. @realDonaldTrump just pardoned his killers. I represented Ali’s and five other families in a civil lawsuit against Blackwater and Erik Prince for the killings.
Yesterday evening, President Donald 💩🔥💰 issued 15 pardons and five commutations, including two for individuals found guilty of charges arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He is reportedly considering a raft of other Christmas pardons—for sympathetic allies, for loyal retainers, and even for family members.
This article is a close, analytic look at the history and underlying theory of Presidential pardons.
Pay It Forward and Make It Better
SetApp: A Suite of macOS Apps for a Single Price Affiliate link for a great collection of 75+ apps for a single price.
From the jury selection process that took place over three days in June for the trial of Martin Shkreli, an investor and hedge fund founder who is facing eight counts of securities and wire fraud. In 2015, when Shkreli was CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, the company raised the price of its drug Daraprim by 5,000 percent. In 2016, Shkreli was widely criticized for defending the 400 percent increase in the price of EpiPen, an emergency allergy injection sold by Mylan. More than two hundred potential jurors were excused from the trial. Judge Kiyo Matsumoto presided. Benjamin Brafman is a lawyer representing Shkreli.
Tree.fm is a website full of soundscapes from real forests around the world, which play while displaying a full-screen photo of the location where they were recorded. Click “listen to a random forest” and you’ll be transported to Madagascar to listen to some lemurs, or to Ghana to hear some peacefully rushing water, or to Russia, where a bird I’ve never heard of puts on a vocal performance.
Chestnuts roasting on a dumpster fire: 16 extremely 2020 Yule Log videos I wish to call your attention in particular to the “relaxing MAGA crackling fireplace,” wherein “California woodworker Big Poppa Woodworks offers the soothing sight of a crackling blaze, topped with all-too-familiar red caps meeting the same fate as Rudy Giuliani’s legal career.”
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Buy me a Coffee! If you find this post or this site interesting, and would like to see more, buy me a coffee. While I may actually buy coffee, I’ll probably buy books to review.