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Good evening. Here’s the latest.
2. Twenty pardons and commutations — and counting.
President Trump has granted clemency to two people who pleaded guilty in the special counsel’s Russia inquiry, four Blackwater guards convicted in connection with the killing of Iraqi civilians and three corrupt former Republican members of Congress.
Nicholas Slatten, above in 2014, one of the pardoned Blackwater guards, had been sentenced to life in prison for his role in a massacre of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad that left 17 dead, including two young boys. The Justice Department had gone to great lengths to prosecute him.
Amid the tumult, Mr. Trump is perhaps at the most unpredictable point in his presidency. “He is focused on the one area in which he is powerless to get what he wants,” write our White House correspondents in an analysis. “A way to avoid leaving office as a loser.”
3. The British government ordered more sections of England to be placed under the most restrictive lockdown measures as alarm grew over a variant of the coronavirus that may be more infectious.
All nonessential businesses must close and people cannot meet with those outside their households. The British authorities said severely curtailing human contact was the only way to protect people.
The French government lifted a 48-hour blockade of the British border, but a logjam of thousands of Europe-bound trucks could take days to clear as each driver is tested, above. And incoming traffic is slow: British supermarkets warned that some fresh goods could run short.
4. The virus that stole most of 2020 is now stealing Christmas, too.
Many people looked forward to a holiday with loved ones to soothe the heartache of a year of mourning. But new lockdowns are dashing those hopes, and home for the holidays now has an ominous meaning: There is nowhere else to go. Our Rome bureau chief looked at the situation in Italy — that’s Milan above — and beyond.
In the U.S., case numbers are about as bad as ever, and deaths are on pace to reach 325,000 before Christmas. But the rise in infections is no longer explosive, and many states are improving.
Many jobless Americans are facing a holiday of tough choices.
5. Another miserable bout of weather is headed for the eastern half of the U.S.
Heavy snow and blizzard conditions in the Great Plains are expected to lead to a wide range of hazardous weather through Christmas, disrupting holiday travel and potentially blacking out twinkling lights all the way to the East Coast. Tornadoes are possible in Florida. Above, Minneapolis.
Bitter cold and considerable snowfall are expected on Thursday in much of the middle part of the country, while heavy rain and flooding are forecast for Christmas Eve in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. Some utilities are already canceling holiday time off for power crews, anticipating that they could be needed to restore electricity.
6. Health officials were terrified that the virus would decimate America’s homeless, but their isolation appears to have helped.
The nature of homelessness makes gathering precise data challenging. At minimum, California and New York, the states with the largest homeless populations, had programs to provide thousands of hotel rooms for the most vulnerable people. Above, a team of medical workers at a camp in Oakland.
The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund was only in its sixth year when the worst U.S. pandemic hit. In 1918, as soldiers returned from war and New York navigated the health crisis, readers opened their wallets. In 2020, the generosity continues.
7. A year of bereavement.
The Times Magazine’s annual Lives Lived issue takes stock of some of the remarkable people we lost this year, like Bill Withers, Shere Hite, Breonna Taylor and Chadwick Boseman. Whether artists, scientists, innovators or ordinary people who became rallying cries, they changed our world.
Take Mary Wilson, above, the first Black senior zookeeper in Baltimore, who never touted the achievement. That “echoed so many Black people who had the distinction of working as firsts,” writes Kaitlyn Greenidge. “You don’t acknowledge it in the moment because to do so would have been too painful, too jarring, too breathtaking to actually go about getting the job done.”
Above all, this was the year of the empty seat at the table. We spent Thanksgiving with seven families who lost relatives to Covid-19.
8. We talked to Carey Mulligan about her new role in the dark #MeToo comedy “Promising Young Woman.” It may be the performance of her career.
She traded her typical period pieces to play Cassie, a disaffected med-school dropout whose life has never been the same since her best friend was raped in college. She comes up with a unique confrontational way to deal with her grief.
“I never feel like I need to agree with everything that a character does for me to be along with the ride, and we never do with men,” the actress said. By casting her, the film’s writer-director, Emerald Fennell, sought to steer clear of a stereotypical presentation of female revenge.
9. “It’s the greatest moment onstage to be able to say to the audience: This is for you and this is with you.”
That’s a view of the final aria of Handel’s “Messiah” from the bass-baritone Dashon Burton, one of nine performers we asked to guide us through the emotional arc of performing the classic piece — one of the holiday rituals we’ll be missing this year.
And every Christmas Eve, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, above, performs the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” live on radio stations worldwide, including about 450 in the U.S. The choirboys rehearsed for months and were hoping to sing live, but in the end, the risk seemed too high. Their recorded Dec. 1 rehearsal will be broadcast instead.
10. And finally, some of the largest creatures on Earth have been hiding from us.
New research suggests that a covert population of blue whales — which can clock in at up to 380,000 pounds — has been lurking in the Indian Ocean. And the group has its own signature anthem: a slow, bellowing ballad that’s distinct from any other whale song ever described.
Researchers were following a pod of different whales off the coast of Madagascar several years ago when they first heard the new song. “It’s like hearing different songs within a genre — Stevie Ray Vaughan versus B.B. King,” one scientist said. “It’s all blues, but you know the different styles.”
The find is “a great reminder that our oceans are still this very unexplored place,” said another researcher.
Have an intrepid night.
This is my last Evening Briefing for 2020 (I did it!). I’m off for a holiday break but leaving you in great hands. See you in 2021. -Remy