Bold start. Smooth finish. The newsletter that interesting people love.
When I went to get my Christmas tree this week, the florist told me I wasn’t the only one buying it early. “People need something,” she shrugged at me — and having a twinkling tree here while I write is certainly making it easier to get up in the morning. Hopefully today’s digest will do the same for you: We’ve got koala bears, we’ve got the Hulk of theoretical physics and we’ve got a 75-minute silent movie you’ll actually want to watch. Who can resist?
Britain beat every other Western country in approving a COVID-19 vaccine, but the European Union has criticized its superfast regulatory process. That’s even as the Red Cross is worried about vaccine skepticism, and health workers in the U.S., which had its worst virus death toll yesterday, worry that giving the shot to the elderly and vulnerable first could backfire. Do you think Britain rushed the vaccine? Vote on Twitter. (Sources: Reuters, NYT, CBC, NPR)
2. Heat Is On
“There is no vaccine for the planet,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres yesterday, serving a reminder that even if the pandemic passes, carbon emissions are 60 percent higher than three decades ago, with 2020 predicted to be the second hottest year on record. Namibia is less worried about preserving the earth: It’s auctioning off 170 elephants to anyone with a place to keep them. (Sources: DW, The Guardian, Reuters)
3. Tech a Seat
Even Republicans are balking at President Donald Trump’s plan to veto a military funding bill if lawmakers don’t include unrelated provisions to punish social media companies for flagging his tweets. Meanwhile Trump has hinted at a 2024 run. Also running: Nicolás Ernesto Maduro Guerra, son of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who hopes to win a congressional seat in Sunday elections in Venezuela. (Sources: Reuters, Washington Post, The Guardian, Al Jazeera)
4. Where Is the Lai?
He’s in jail, of course. Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai, 73, has been charged with fraud and detained until an April hearing in what’s seen as part of China’s larger crackdown on pro-democracy voices. That treatment might make it harder to woo Wall Street’s rich and mighty, though, as China’s currently trying to do in its efforts to ease the trade war. (Sources: BBC, WSJ)
An Australian family learned how dumb koalas really are when they returned home one day to find a confused marsupial perched on their plastic Christmas tree trying to snack on it. After the family convinced the koala rescue hotline that it wasn’t a prank, rescuers untangled Daphne (that’s her name now) and put her on a real tree outside — but not before she became a TikTok sensation.
No one could have foreseen a crisis like the pandemic. But businesses — particularly Black-owned firms that are traditionally undercapitalized — can prepare for the next one now. The road to financial health includes revisiting your spending priorities, saving money into emergency funds and mapping out expenses in a budget, says Tosh Ernest, head of Wealth at JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways Program.
This Oxford epidemiologist has sparked controversy this year with her opposition to Britain’s COVID-19 lockdowns, based on predictive models that other scientists have disputed. Good thing she has a fallback career: She’s published novels in English and Bengali, and translated the works of Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize, into English.
The former Wall Street banker grew up in Senegal and started a fashion blog to indulge her passion for design. But it wasn’t enough: Now she lives a double life as a California math teacher and a West African fashion star, using equations to inform her designs.
Vietnam has caught the attention of the world for its decisive strategy in containing the pandemic and low number of COVID-19 cases. But that’s not the only thing about the Southeast Asian nation that stands out.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Vietnam’s relatively virus-free 2020 means it’s poised to become the economic star of 2021. In a year when the world’s most powerful economies shriveled to nothing, Vietnam’s has grown 2.4 percent, among the best in the world, and is forecast to balloon even more in 2021.
2. Feel the Beat of the Tambourine
In the post-war 1980s, Communist-controlled Vietnam was one of the world’s poorest countries, with an almost total ban on Western music. But good diplomatic relations with Sweden meant that ABBA’s joyful pop slipped through and became a massive hit, and is still loved across the country. Read more on OZY.
3. Mighty Kick
At 11, Nguyen Cong Phuong wasn’t welcome on his local youth soccer team because he was too shrimpy. Now he’s a national hero, known as Vietnam’s Lionel Messi for his idiosyncratic playing style and scoring prowess. Though his country’s never qualified for the World Cup, 2022 could be his year. Read more on OZY.
Vietnamese coffee is famous around the world, but its secrets are just as special. What particular production process gives Vietnam’s most prized — and the world’s most expensive — coffee variety its distinctive taste? Tell us.
If the global pandemic has benefited anyone, it’s animators. Unlike other movie genres, animation can safely film, since it doesn’t require actors to be in physical proximity on set. Get up to speed with these favorites.
The first feature-length film from Latvian animator Gints Zilbalodis is an extraordinary 75 silent minutes, in which a parachuting explorer lands on a beautiful island and must explore. After being stuck inside for weeks, this movie is even more of a trip.
2. Over the Garden Wall
This autumnal cult classic consists of 10 short episodes, so consider this a star-studded mini-binge. It’s a game of spot the voice (yes, that is Elijah Wood) that takes you on a melancholy journey through a fantastical forest to find the secrets of the Unknown.
3. Maya and the Three
Emmy-winning Mexican animator Jorge Gutiérrez is the brains behind this upcoming Netflix series about a warrior princess in mythical Mesoamerica, which is being marketed as a Mexican Lord of the Rings. While you’re waiting, watch his movie The Book of Life, which was nominated for a Golden Globe for its gleeful Day of the Dead vibe.
Today on ‘The Carlos Watson Show’
Meet the boss mom. Fashion designer, entrepreneur and mom of five Kimora Lee Simmons joins Carlos to talk about rebuilding her fashion brand Baby Phat for the next generation with the help of her daughters, and why ‘Blasians’ are having a moment. Watch later today.
The Kindest Places on the Internet
It can be hard to find a little bit of genuine softness this year, but here are the internet spots I return to when I need a little break and a smile.