Inside Kim and Kanye’s stunning Los Angeles mansion

From CNN /By Jacopo Prisco

im Kardashian West and Kanye West have opened the doors of their California mansion to Architectural Digest magazine, which defines it as a “wildly idiosyncratic family refuge in suburban Los Angeles.”
The couple had previously shown glimpses of the home via Instagram, but they have now revealed in detail how they transformed the estate — which they bought in 2014 — into a “futuristic Belgian monastery,” as Kanye put it.
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 The kitchen island, topped with Shiro Tsujimura ceramic vases. Credit: Architectural Digest
They first laid eyes on the property in 2013, but it wasn’t love at first sight: “I thought the house was perfection. Kanye was less enthusiastic. He said, ‘It’s workable’,” Kim revealed.
The project came to life with the help of Belgian designer and tastemaker Axel Vervoordt, whose seductive simplicity intrigued Kanye: “When I saw the kind of work he was doing, I thought, this man could design Batman’s house. I had to work with him,” he told AD.
The house was reportedly purchased for $20 million, but Kris Jenner, Kim Kardashian’s mother, tweeted in 2018 that its value was $60 million.
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 The pool area. Credit: Architectural Digest
Following conversations that revolved around “a search for cosmic values of peace and positive energy,” as Vervoordt put it, the three embarked on a process of distillation: “We changed the house by purifying it, and we kept pushing to make it purer and purer,” the architect recalled.
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 Upholstered seating by Royere and a limestone cocktail table by Vervoordt grace the living room. Credit: Architectural Digest
That meant that the proportions of the mansion’s rooms were all changed and the furnishings were reduced to a minimum. The palette is neutral, conveying a feeling of calmness. The result is distinctly, and perhaps unexpectedly, minimalistic.
Although Vervoordt did most of the work, other designers also chimed in, including Claudio Silvestrin, who designed the master bath, Vincent Van Duysen, who helped furnish the living room and the children’s bedrooms, and Peter Wirzt, who oversaw the design of the gardens.
Tables and chairs by Jean Royère and a fiberglass sculpture by Anish Kapoor can also be spotted.
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 Architectural Digest
The couple are quick to point out that the pristine looking environment is kid-friendly and therefore suitable for their four children, North, Saint, Chicago and Psalm: “This house may be a case study, but our vision for it was built around the family,” Kanye said.

Julian Assange: What you need to know about the WikiLeaks founder

The Australian-born whistle-blower is facing espionage and hacking charges in the US, facing up to 175 years in prison.

 

From AL JAZEERA

On January 4, a British court blocked a United States request to extradite WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.

The US has charged him with hacking government computers and espionage after he obtained and published hundreds of thousands of classified documents between 2010 and 2011.

District Judge Vanessa Baraister said that such a move would be “oppressive” taking into account Assange’s mental health, saying he was at risk of suicide.

Assange was arrested in April 2019 by UK police from the embassy of Ecuador in London, where he had been granted asylum since 2012.

Here is what you need to know:

Who is Julian Assange?

 

Assange is an Australian-born computer programmer and founder of WikiLeaks – an international, non-profit whistle-blowing organisation that was created in Iceland in 2006.

The 49-year-old, a father, is WikiLeaks’ publisher and former editor-in-chief. In 2018, Icelandic journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson took over as editor.

Assange came to prominence in mid-2010 after WikiLeaks published US military logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, and US cable leaks in November that year.

Former US military personnel Chelsea Manning sent the information to Assange.

Manning was charged and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment in 2013 for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, and other offences.

The Espionage Act was passed to deter any interference in US military operations and prevent individuals and groups from supporting enemies of the United States.

Manning’s sentence was commuted in January 2017, days before then-US President Barack Obama left office.

What did WikiLeaks reveal?

 

WikiLeaks shot to fame in April 2010 after the website released a 39-minute video of a US military Apache helicopter firing over and killing more than a dozen Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists.

The footage leaked by private Manning led to global outrage, reigniting a debate over the US’s occupation of Iraq and wider presence in the Middle East.

In July that year, WikiLeaks, together with several media outlets, such as the New York Times, published more than 90,000 US military documents related to the War in Afghanistan.

These included previously unreported details about civilian deaths, friendly-fire casualties, US air raids, al-Qaeda’s role in the country, and nations providing support to Afghan leaders and the Taliban.

Months later, WikiLeaks published 391,832 documents related to the Iraq War. The reports, also referred to as The Iraq War Logs, provided on the ground details as reported by US troops, dating from January 2014 to December 2019.

The leaks were the single largest in US military history, exposing huge civilian casualties.

In November 2010, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables, in what is now better known as the Cablegate scandal.

Some 250,000 reports were released, dating back to 1996 up until February 2010. The cables provided analysis and insights from more than 270 US embassies and consulates from around the world.

What is Assange charged with?

 

After Assange was arrested, a grand jury in the state of Virginia charged him with one count of computer intrusion/hacking for allegedly assisting Private Manning in accessing classified documents.

In May 2019, Assange was further charged – under the US Espionage Act of 1917 – on 17 counts for soliciting, gathering and publishing US military and diplomatic documents in 2010, all provided by Manning.

Assange is the first publisher to be charged under the act.

The leaks highlighted in the indictment include the US diplomatic cables, information on Guantanamo Bay prison detainees and Iraq and Afghanistan activity reports.

What could happen to Assange?

 

On January 4, UK’s Old Bailey court in London denied the US government’s request to extradite Assange on mental health issues ground, saying he was a suicide risk.

“I am satisfied that the risk that Mr Assange will commit suicide is a substantial one,” Baraitser noted in her remarks.

The US government has said it will appeal the decision, with some expecting the trial to go all the way up to the UK Supreme Court.

If Assange is extradited to the US and charged under the Espionage Act, he could face up to 175 years in jail. On the less serious charge of computer intrusion, the WikiLeaks founder would receive a maximum of five years.

Extradition between the UK and the US is rare.

In 2012, a request from the US to extradite UK hacker Gary Mackinnon for hacking into US military databases was rejected. Similarly, the US refused a request from the UK earlier this year to hand over Anna Sachoolas, the wife of a US intelligence officer accused of killing a British citizen due to dangerous driving.

What happened to the sexual assault charges against him in Sweden?

 

The US indictment against Assange does not include any charges of rape, of which he was accused of by two Swedish women in 2010. Assange has repeatedly denied the accusations.

A Swedish court issued an international warrant for his arrest in 2010 so he could be extradited back to the nordic country. After being released on bail in the UK, Assange was granted asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012 by then-President Rafael Correa, where he resided for nearly seven years.

On November 19, 2019, all rape charges against Assange were dropped.

Why is this case important?

 

While supporters of the Wikileaks publisher have welcomed the UK court’s decision, many have expressed caution – noting that the case was not decided on the grounds of press freedom.

According to rights groups, Assange’s possible extradition and sentencing in the US would be a serious threat to free-speech rights and to the work of investigative journalists around the world.

Amnesty International has said the effect of Assange being convicted on investigative journalists, publishers and anyone who publishes classified government material would be “immediate and severe”.

US lawyers argue that charges against Assange could be challenged under the US’s First Amendment law, which protects the right to freedom of speech and expression.

A brief history of the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop

From CNN /By Jacqui Palumbo

On the last day of each year, it has become a ritual for large crowds to gather in the brightly lit chaos of New York’s Times Square to ring in new beginnings. At 11:59 p.m. a dazzling ball descends down a pole, while attendees — and millions of people tuning in from home — count down from 60. At the stroke of midnight, the crowd erupts into a cacophony of sound, often pulling their loved one in for a ceremonial kiss.

New Year's Eve has its own set of rituals: the ball drop, resolutions and sealing the new year with a kiss.New Year’s Eve has its own set of rituals: the ball drop, resolutions and sealing the new year with a kiss.

This year, however, the Times Square ball will drop to empty streets. Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, no one will be allowed to gather in person, but there will be a virtual event for those wanting to watch it from home.

The Times Square Ball has had seven different designs.The Times Square Ball has had seven different designs.

 
This will mark the first year since 1904 that crowds will be prohibited from flocking to Times Square. Though the ball drop was canceled for two years during World War II, people still came to observe the tradition and hold a minute of silence.
Over the past century, the symbol of the New Year — the luminous ball — has evolved from a iron and wood cage adorned with light bulbs to a dazzling technicolor crystal object.
But how did this New Year’s Eve celebration start, and why do we commemorate the occasion by watching a ball descend down a pole?

Nautical inspiration

 

The Times Square ball began thanks to a Ukranian immigrant and metalworker, named Jacob Starr, and the former New York Times publisher, Adolph Ochs. The latter had successfully drawn crowds to the newspaper’s new skyscraper home in Times Square through pyrotechnics and fireworks to celebrate the forthcoming year, but city officials banned explosives from being used after just a few years.
In 1907, Ochs commissioned Starr, who worked for sign-making firm Strauss Signs (later known as Artkraft Strauss, which Starr served as president), to create a new visual display.
Crowds gather in Times Square to on December 31, 1938. The intersection has hosted New Year's Eve celebrations since 1904.
Crowds gather in Times Square to on December 31, 1938. The intersection has hosted New Year’s Eve celebrations since 1904.
The new concept was based on time balls, nautical devices that had gained popularity in the 19th century. As time-telling became more precise, ship navigators needed a standardized way to set their chronometers. Each day, harbors and observatories would raise and lower a metal ball at the same time to allow sailors to synchronize their instruments.
Both Ochs and the New York Times’ chief electrician, Walter Palmer, have been credited with the idea, allegedly inspired by the downtown Western Union Building, which dropped a time ball each day at noon. But Starr’s granddaughter Tama, who joined Artkraft Strauss in 1982 and now owns the business, said in a phone interview that she believes it was her grandfather who came up with the concept of the ball being lowered and lit up with the new year numerals at midnight.
One design of the New Year's Ball was an aluminum cage outfitted with lightbulbs.
One design of the New Year’s Ball was an aluminum cage outfitted with lightbulbs.
“The idea was to … have it illuminated with the brand-new electricity that had just come up to the neighborhood,” said Tama, who for many years served as foreperson at the Times Square ball drop. “And it was lowered by hand … starting at one minute to midnight, and that was the way it was done for many years.”
Though Manhattan had been partially illuminated by electricity since the early 1880s, the US National Park Service (NPS) notes that half of American homes were still lit by gas lights and candles until the 1920s. The sight of a glimmering ball lowering down from the dark skies would have seemed otherworldly.
When the ball reached the parapet with a sign displaying the numbers of the year, “the electrician would throw the switch, turning off the ball and turning on the numbers at the same time,” Tama said. “So it looked like the ball coming down transformed into the set of numbers.”
Artkraft Strauss, a sign company founded by Jacob Starr, was responsible for the ball design and its drop for nearly a century.
Artkraft Strauss, a sign company founded by Jacob Starr, was responsible for the ball design and its drop for nearly a century
All of Times Square got in on the theatrics. In the first year, waiters in nearby restaurants and hotels wore battery-powered “1908” top hats that they illuminated at the stroke of midnight.
“It looked like magic to people,” said Tama.

‘A minute outside of time’

 

There have been seven different Times Square balls since its first descent, from a 700-pound iron structure fitted with 25-watt light bulbs, to a lighter aluminum frame after World War II, to a “Big Apple” during the administration of the city’s former mayor Ed Koch.
During Mayor Ed Koch's administration, the ball changed to an apple as part of the "I Love New York" campaign.
During Mayor Ed Koch’s administration, the ball changed to an apple as part of the “I Love New York” campaign.
In 1995, when the ball got a glitzy update with rhinestones, strobe lights and computer controls, traditional signmakers were no longer needed — which meant that Artkraft Strauss, the company that had brought the ball to Times Square, was no longer needed either. Today’s ball is a collaboration between Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting, using 32,256 LEDs that can be programed to display millions of colors and patterns on its surface.
Nonetheless, Tama remembers her years on the roof of One Times Square fondly. She took turns with her brother supervising and playing timekeeper. When the last minute of the year arrived, the workers lowered the ball down using a complex pulley system.
Using a series of tape markers on the pole, Tama was responsible for telling them to speed up or slow down. With every ounce of their attention focused on the task, even the team’s breathing would sync up during the 60 seconds, she said.
For the millenium, the Times Square ball got a new look, with a crystal design from Waterford Crystal and lighting from Philips.
For the millenium, the Times Square ball got a new look, with a crystal design from Waterford Crystal and lighting from Philips.
In performing this ritual year after year, Tama sees an intrinsic link between the countdown, which she calls “a minute outside of time,” and the making of New Year’s resolutions.
“When you’re concentrating really hard, time seems to slow down,” she said. “It felt like the longest minute in the world. It felt like you had time to wash your hair, call your mother, change your life. You really can change your life in one minute — you can decide to be different. You can decide to be kinder and better.”

New coronavirus variant: What do we know?

From BBC/By James Gallagher

 

The rapid spread of a new variant of coronavirus has been blamed for the introduction of strict tier four mixing rules for millions of people, harsher restrictions on mixing at Christmas in England, Scotland and Wales, and other countries placing the UK on a travel ban.

So how has it gone from being non-existent to the most common form of the virus in parts of England in a matter of months?

The government’s advisers on new infections now say they have “high” confidence that it is more able to transmit than other variants.

All the work is at an early stage, contains huge uncertainties and a long list of unanswered questions.

As I’ve written before, viruses mutate all the time and it’s vital to keep a laser focus on whether the virus’ behaviour is changing.

Why is this variant causing concern?

 

Three things are coming together that mean it is attracting attention:

  • It is rapidly replacing other versions of the virus
  • It has mutations that affect part of the virus likely to be important
  • Some of those mutations have already been shown in the lab to increase the ability of the virus to infect cells

All of these come together to build a case for a virus that can spread more easily.

However, we do not have absolute certainty. New strains can become more common simply by being in the right place at the right time – such as London, which had only tier two restrictions until recently.

But already the justification for tier four restrictions is in part to reduce the spread of the variant.

“Laboratory experiments are required, but do you want to wait weeks or months [to see the results and take action to limit the spread]? Probably not in these circumstances,” Prof Nick Loman, from the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, told me.

How much faster is it spreading?

 

It was first detected in September. In November around a quarter of cases in London were the new variant. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December.

You can see how the variant has come to dominate the results of testing in some centres such as the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Laboratory.

Mathematicians have been running the numbers on the spread of different variants in an attempt to calculate how much of an edge this one might have.

But teasing apart what is due to people’s behaviour and what is due to the virus is hard.

The figure mentioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was that the variant may be up to 70% more transmissible. He said this may be increasing the R number – which indicates if an epidemic is growing or shrinking – by 0.4.

That 70% number appeared in a presentation by Dr Erik Volz, from Imperial College London, on Friday.

During the talk he said: “It is really too early to tell… but from what we see so far it is growing very quickly, it is growing faster than [a previous variant] ever grew, but it is important to keep an eye on this.”

There is no “nailed on” figure for how much more infectious the variant may be. Scientists, whose work is not yet public, have told me figures both much higher and much lower than 70%.

But there remain questions about whether it is any more infectious at all.

“The amount of evidence in the public domain is woefully inadequate to draw strong or firm opinions on whether the virus has truly increased transmission,” said Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham.

How far has it spread?

 

It is thought the variant either emerged in a patient in the UK or has been imported from a country with a lower ability to monitor coronavirus mutations.

The variant can be found across the UK, except Northern Ireland, but it is heavily concentrated in London, the South East and eastern England. Cases elsewhere in the country do not seem to have taken off.

Data from Nextstrain, which has been monitoring the genetic codes of the viral samples around the world, suggest cases in Denmark and Australia have come from the UK. The Netherlands has also reported cases.

A similar variant that has emerged in South Africa shares some of the same mutations, but appears to be unrelated to this one.

Has this happened before?

 

Yes.

The virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China, is not the same one you will find in most corners of the world.

The D614G mutation emerged in Europe in February and became the globally dominant form of the virus.

Another, called A222V, spread across Europe and was linked to people’s summer holidays in Spain.

 

What do we know about the new mutations?

 

An initial analysis of the new variant has been published and identifies 17 potentially important alterations.

There have been changes to the spike protein – this is the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway to our body’s cells.

One mutation called N501Y alters the most important part of the spike, known as the “receptor-binding domain”.

This is where the spike makes first contact with the surface of our body’s cells. Any changes that make it easier for the virus to get inside are likely to give it an edge.

“It looks and smells like an important adaptation,” said Prof Loman.

The other mutation – a H69/V70 deletion, in which a small part of the spike is removed – has emerged several times before, including famously in infected mink.

Work by Prof Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge has suggested this mutation increases infectivity two-fold in lab experiments.

Studies by the same group suggest the deletion makes antibodies from the blood of survivors less effective at attacking the virus.

Prof Gupta told me: “It is rapidly increasing, that’s what’s worried government, we are worried, most scientists are worried.”

Where has it come from?

 

The variant is unusually highly mutated.

The most likely explanation is the variant has emerged in a patient with a weakened immune system that was unable to beat the virus.

Instead their body became a breeding ground for the virus to mutate.

Does it make the infection more deadly?

 

There is no evidence to suggest that it does, although this will need to be monitored.

However, just increasing transmission would be enough to cause problems for hospitals.

If the new variant means more people are infected more quickly, that would in turn lead to more people needing hospital treatment.

Will the vaccines work against the new variant?

 

Almost certainly yes, or at least for now.

All three leading vaccines develop an immune response against the existing spike, which is why the question comes up.

Vaccines train the immune system to attack several different parts of the virus, so even though part of the spike has mutated, the vaccines should still work.

“But if we let it add more mutations, then you start worrying,” said Prof Gupta.

“This virus is potentially on a pathway for vaccine escape, it has taken the first couple of steps towards that.”

Vaccine escape happens when the virus changes so it dodges the full effect of the vaccine and continues to infect people.

This may be the most concerning element of what is happening with the virus.

This variant is just the latest to show the virus is continuing to adapt as it infects more and more of us.

A presentation by Prof David Robertson, from the University of Glasgow on Friday, concluded: “The virus will probably be able to generate vaccine escape mutants.”

That would put us in a position similar to flu, where the vaccines need to be regularly updated. Fortunately the vaccines we have are very easy to tweak.

From royal splits to PR crises, Queen Elizabeth had a rough 2020. But the pandemic gave her renewed relevance.

From CNN /By Max Foster and Lauren Said-Moorhouse

London (CNN)2020 was a tumultuous year for most people, and that’s no less true for Queen Elizabeth II.

Britain’s monarch has long occupied two roles — one as the head of the state and nation, the other as the head of her own family — and over the past 12 months she has been forced to confront crises on both fronts.
Here’s a look back at one of the Queen’s most challenging years to date.

A rocky start

 

The new year was barely underway when Prince Harry and his wife Meghan announced to the world — and the rest of the family — they were quitting their roles as senior royals.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex said in a bombshell statement on their official Instagram account on January 8 they hoped to continue supporting the monarch but wanted to seek financial autonomy. The pair credited the Queen with providing the encouragement “particularly over the last few years” that led them to make such a dramatic announcement.
But CNN understands conversations over the couple’s future were already underway and the Queen was “disappointed” that her grandson had opted to reveal as much publicly. The monarch had explicitly told Harry to continue negotiations privately and was said to been left “upset.”
Prince Harry and Meghan depart Canada House on January 7 in London, England.

 Prince Harry and Meghan depart Canada House on January 7 in London, England
Harry and Meghan had hoped to carve out a role the establishment had never seen before, a hybrid position where they would choose which formal positions they would keep and which they would leave behind while they developed their own private income streams and independence. It’s clear they also felt unsupported and unprotected by the palace machinery against what they felt was a constant barrage of media abuse and lies.
But royal roles are in the gift of the monarch, and the Sussexes’ “half-in, half-out” model wasn’t seen as workable. The Queen was left in the uncomfortable predicament of trying to give her beloved grandson what he wanted without compromising the institution. It was perhaps the most delicate moment for the British monarchy since the aftermath of Diana‘s death in 1997.
The situation culminated in a crisis summit at her Sandringham residence where she was joined by the heir to the throne Prince Charles, his elder son Prince William and Harry. In a statement after the meeting, the Queen said Harry, Meghan and their son Archie would “always be much loved members of my family.”
“I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life,” she said. “I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.”
The terms of the split stipulated that while the pair would always remain part of the family, they would no longer use their HRH titles; they would receive financial assistance from Charles, and could supplement their income with appropriate opportunities.
Harry’s frustration over the result was evident. “It brings me great sadness that it has come to this. The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly,” he told a charity event in London in late January.
“Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.”
By the end of March, Harry and Meghan’s transition out of their royal roles was complete. The current arrangements are due to be reviewed by the Sussexes and the rest of the family in March.
It was a dramatic start to the year, but arguably left the monarchy in a stronger position. The Crown can modernize as much as it likes, but ultimately it’s built on a hierarchy, and the direct line of succession — Elizabeth, Charles and William — showed a united front.

Charles catches Covid-19

 

Having settled the family drama, the Queen was immediately presented with one the biggest crises she’s ever faced as head of nation — keeping everyone united as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the country went into an uncomfortable lockdown.
As Covid-19 spread through the UK, she was prevented from doing what she does best when her busy diary of public engagements was suddenly curtailed. She made the decision to relocate from Buckingham Palace in London to form a bubble in Windsor with Prince Philip and key staff “as a sensible precaution.”
Prince Charles is seen on a monitor as he speaks during the opening of the "NHS Nightingale" field hospital, at the ExCeL London exhibition center, in London on April 3.

 Prince Charles is seen on a monitor as he speaks during the opening of the “NHS Nightingale” field hospital, at the ExCeL London exhibition center, in London on April 3.
Those words rang true days later, when Prince Charles announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. The Prince of Wales was said to have had only mild symptoms and is otherwise in good health, but the mere fact that the 71-year-old was unwell emphasized to all how the virus did not discriminate.
William also caught Covid-19 in the spring, but only revealed it later in the year, telling an “observer” that he opted not to go public with his diagnosis because “there were important things going on and I didn’t want to worry anyone.” His decision to initially withhold news of his illness from the public sparked some criticism.

Royal resilience

 

As cases and deaths from the virus across the UK started to spiral in April, so too did criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic. In co-ordination with Downing Street, the Queen agreed to address the nation in a televised speech.
“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all,” the Queen said in early April.
The Queen seldom makes national addresses, save for Christmas and when a new Parliament is installed. The moment was a somber but reassuring acknowledgment of the hardships society was facing. News channels the world over — including CNN — broke in as the pre-recorded video was broadcast to the UK and the 54 nations of the Commonwealth.
In the speech, she drew on her first broadcast alongside her sister Princess Margaret in 1940 to relay that the nation and those watching would overcome the current crisis.
“We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do,” she said, while also thanking frontline healthcare professionals.
Royal expert and historian Kate Williams said the speech sounded a note of hope that many Britons needed to hear in that moment.
“It’s so rare that she gives an address [and] the address she gave was so striking,” Williams said. “It was dark days when everyone was very isolated, [and] couldn’t go out at all … it was a quite brilliantly delivered speech.”
That optimistic sentiment — which she would echo in other 2020 speeches marking events like Easter and the 75th anniversary of VE Day — reasserted her role as a hands-on leader and set the tone for how she and her family would conduct themselves for the remainder of the year. After imploring the public to remain at home, the royal family transitioned from walkabouts to video calls, embracing a new work-from-home life like millions of other Britons.
“We all knew Brexit was coming, but Covid is what we didn’t see coming … the Queen feels it’s her job to lead by example and to hold leaders to account,” Williams said. “I don’t think it’s been easy for her not being able to have face-to-face meetings with the Prime Minister — that’s what she prefers.
“This is one of the great crises of recent British history. More people have died than in the Blitz. It is like the war. I don’t think that she thought she was going to have a quiet few years in her 90s but … a lot of what she’s seen are political crises and diplomatic conflicts and conflicts, and this is very different. It cannot be solved by getting people together around a table.”

A new normal

 

The Queen would not reopen the royal diary of engagements until July 17, when she knighted Captain Thomas Moore — the 100-year-old World War II veteran who had raised millions for the UK’s National Health Service. Hours earlier, she had attended a private wedding ceremony for her granddaughter Princess Beatrice. And as the spring wave finally abated, members of the royal family resumed socially distanced engagements with the public at foodbanks, hospitals and businesses hit by the pandemic.
Williams said it has always been very important to the Queen to be there for the public and it will have been hard for her that Covid has limited her movements. She says the Queen knows for monarchy to work “it needs to be seen.”
“It’s part of the contract it has with the people. It doesn’t work if you just sit in the palace,” she added. “Monarchy has had to completely reinvent in the same way that businesses have had to.”
It hasn’t been a year entirely untainted by scandal: lingering questions remain over Prince Andrew’s relationship with the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein. The Queen never said anything publicly about the matter, but she made a major statement in accepting what was billed as Andrew’s decision to step back from public duties. The move came in the wake of Andrew’s disastrous interview with the BBC in late 2019, when he denied having sex with an underage girl and said he had seen nothing suspicious when he was around Epstein, a convicted pedophile. It would have been a painful decision for both Andrew and his mother but ultimately one that again she felt was right for the institution.
The latter part of the year also saw the family face several other challenges.
In October, the Queen undertook her first public engagement since the spring lockdown — a visit to Porton Down science park in southern England with William. But she was criticized by some for not wearing a mask despite a resurgence in the virus. In response, Buckingham Palace said the Queen had chosen to forego a mask after consulting her own medics and scientists at the military research facility. Social distancing guidelines were in place at the event and everyone the British monarch met had tested negative for the virus. A month later, she appeared in a mask for the first time at a commemorative ceremony in London.
The Queen during a ceremony in Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior on November 4.

 The Queen during a ceremony in Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior on November 4.
The latest installment of “The Crown” brought a fresh flurry of international interest to palace gates in November. The fourth season of the Netflix drama heralded the arrival of Princess Diana, and painted Charles as a petulant prince and cruel husband. Critics said the portrayal of Charles — along with a number of other scenes — was inaccurate, and it prompted a call from one UK government official for Netflix to tack an extra disclaimer onto each episode of series.
“It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction, so as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the UK’s Mail on Sunday. “Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.” Netflix refused to add the warning to the show.
And in December, several family members were accused of breaking coronavirus regulations. In pictures published by The Mail Online, William and his family appeared to be walking alongside his uncle Prince Edward and his family during an outing to a Christmas-themed woodland walk. The photographs seemingly contravened England virus rules, which limits outdoor gatherings to just six people.
The Queen and members of the royal family gave thanks to local volunteers and key workers for their work in helping others during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas at Windsor Castle on December 8.

 The Queen and members of the royal family gave thanks to local volunteers and key workers for their work in helping others during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas at Windsor Castle on December 8.
Like millions of Britons, the monarch sacrificed the traditional holiday festivities with her family at Sandringham. Instead, for the first time in 33 years, she remained at Windsor with 99-year-old Prince Philip.
The situation is a fitting way to end the year, according to royal historian Williams. “It’s unprecedented for them to be spending it just the two of them. Even in the war, [Christmas] was a big family time,” she said.
The Queen acknowledged what a sad and unusual festive season it would be for many in her annual Christmas speech, assuring those missing out on time with loved ones, and whose only wish was for “a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand,” that “you are not alone.”
This year has seen the world grapple with something nobody could have predicted 12 months ago. For the Queen’s part, she has reaffirmed her position as the unifier-in-chief for family, and for nation.
At a time in her life when she might be expected to step back, the Queen has shown she is still in charge, even as she delegates more duties to Charles and William. Any rumors that she plans to abdicate and handover the crown have been quashed for another year.

Facebook-Apple skirmish is the latest in a fight that stretches back more than a decade

From CNBC/By Steve Kovach

Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a slap at the business practices of Big Tech rivals during an impassioned speech at a privacy conference in Brussels in October 2018.

“Every day, billions of dollars change hands, and countless decisions are made, on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations. Our wishes and fears, our hopes and dreams,” Cook said. “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold.”

Although Cook didn’t call out Facebook by name, it was clear Mark Zuckerberg’s company was one of the targets. Facebook built an empire by hoovering up the data of its users to inform its targeted ad system. Its revenue topped $20 billion last quarter, and nearly 99% of it comes from advertising.

The speech was just one in a series of jabs Cook and Zuckerberg have taken at each other over nearly a decade. The tensions between Facebook and Apple date to the iPhone’s infancy and the quest for control over the next wave of computing.

In a 2014 cover story in Time, for example, Zuckerberg criticized Apple and Cook’s stance on privacy:

“A frustration I have is that a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers,” Zuckerberg said. “I think it’s the most ridiculous concept. What, you think because you’re paying Apple that you’re somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they’d make their products a lot cheaper.”

The war of words over the last decade highlights the fundamental difference in opinion between two giants over how business should be done on the internet.

In Facebook’s view, the internet is the Wild West, with a multitude of competing platforms offering innovative services for free. You may not pay for them with your money, but you pay by allowing your data to be tracked and packaged so advertisers can plop things you’d want to buy right in front of your face as you travel between devices and services.

In Apple’s view, the internet is just an extension of the personal computing revolution the company helped start in the 1980s, and your phone is the most personal device of all. You should know what companies are going to do with the information collected through that phone before you share it.

A decadelong fight

The war of words culminated last week with Facebook’s two-day campaign against Apple. The ads called foul on an impending change to the iPhone’s operating system designed to alert you when an app will track your personal data like location and browsing history, which companies like Facebook use to target their ads. The alert gives you the option to block the tracking before using the app.

Facebook claimed that Apple’s move is designed to crush small businesses that rely on that targeted advertising to reach their customers online. It also warned — without evidence — that Apple’s move would force app makers to stop offering free, ad-supported apps to their customers. Instead, they would have to charge customers through digital subscriptions or other fees. Conveniently for Apple, it takes a cut of transactions conducted through its platform, including purchases or subscriptions that users make through apps they download on its App Store.

Facebook painted a devious picture of Apple in the campaign: Here’s a company with complete control over the rules of its platform, making a change designed to squeeze small businesses and force them into a paid model, of which Apple will take a cut. Facebook delivered that messaging in newspaper ads, blog posts, Instagram posts and a glitzy website featuring small business owners who use Facebook to advertise.

Apple pushed back on Facebook’s accusations. The company said the pop-up you’ll see in apps is only designed to let you know when and how an app plans to track you, not ban tracking altogether. App makers like Facebook also have room in the pop-up and other screens to make their case to you for why you should allow tracking. Apps are still free to collect all the data on you that they were before, but you’ll have to give them deliberate permission to do so. According to Apple, it’s just the latest in a string of privacy-centric features it has added to products over the years.

The roots of the squabble stretch back more than a decade.

In the iPhone’s infancy, there was a great debate over what the mobile internet should look like. Would it look the internet on a desktop PC, where people mostly used a mobile web browser to visit websites, with everything built on openly published standards? Or would users switch between a collection of internet-connected software “apps,” giving more control to the companies that owned the mobile platforms?

Facebook, which was born on the open internet, favored the former option and pushed for rich web apps written to emerging standards. But it lost the fight in large part because of Apple, which pushed the app model as the default way of accomplishing tasks on the iPhone, then insisted that its own App Store would be the only legal and easy way to find and install those apps. (Google smartly played both sides, investing in the Android mobile platform and its own Google Play app store, as well as building out its Chrome web browser and exercising influence over web standards.)

As the future became clear, Facebook made attempts to build its own smartphone so it wouldn’t have to concede so much control to Apple or Google. The device never saw the light of day, and Facebook instead developed a software “skin” for Android devices that featured its own services. That was also a flop.

Today, Facebook is laying the groundwork to own the next major computing platform so it doesn’t have to play by another company’s rules again. That’s why it’s currently developing products like digital glasses, which the company is expected to launch in 2021.

In the meantime, Facebook has to deal with Apple.

Facebook’s end game is unclear

It’s ironic that Facebook accused Apple of abusing its market power last week, just days after the FTC and a group of state attorneys general sued Facebook, alleging antitrust violations and recommending a breakup of the company.

On top of that, Facebook’s argument exposed its own hold on the digital ads market. Small businesses wouldn’t have to rely so much on Facebook if Facebook had a viable competitor for these companies to advertise through.

Apple faces similar government scrutiny, although there have been no formal antitrust lawsuits. In October, the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust released an epic report on the “monopoly power” of the four biggest tech giants, alleging Apple uses its control of the App Store to squash potential competitors.

Both companies have rejected claims that their businesses violate antitrust laws. But Facebook has now created an environment where two giants facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.S. and around the world are trading barbs over which one is more guilty when it comes to abuse of market power.

It’s also hard to tell what Facebook’s end game is here. Apple is not going to backtrack on a key privacy feature for the iPhone, and Facebook is not going to risk losing millions of users by yanking its apps off the App Store.

Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s director of privacy and public policy, told CNBC this week that the company will still comply with Apple’s new rules, and there’s no chance Facebook would flagrantly violate them to ignite a legal battle like the one Apple and “Fortnite” developer Epic Games are embroiled in now. (Facebook said last week it would support Epic in its lawsuit against Apple.)

“Our goal is simple,” Satterfield said. “We want Apple to start listening. They dropped this policy back in June with no meaningful consultation. … Considering the far-reaching impact, it’s important businesses can plan for it.”

It’s also difficult to buy Facebook’s stated argument against the pop-up. For years the company has argued that its users prefer the personalized and targeted ads that its data collection enables, as opposed to random ads served to a broad audience with no targeting. If that’s true, then users should have no problem enabling the tracking when Apple shows them the pop-up.

In August, Facebook undercut that argument when it released data from a study showing enough people would disable tracking to cause a 50% drop in revenue through its third-party ad networks. The company also warned investors this year that its own revenue would take a hit when Apple starts enforcing the tracking tool.

Facebook said it would prefer to use its own privacy checkup tools to help users limit what data to share, instead of the notification Apple will show you.

Apple said its customers want more privacy controls built into the iPhone. After years of criticizing the business practices of Facebook, the company has routinely added privacy features to tamp down on the abuses it’s seen on its devices.

“Look at what we’ve done with the controls we’ve built in,” Cook said in a 2018 interview with Axios when asked why companies like Google and Facebook are allowed to thrive on the iPhone despite his criticism of their practices. “We have private web browsing. We have an intelligent tracker prevention. What we’ve tried to do is come up with ways to help our users through their course of the day.”

It wasn’t just Apple pushing back against Facebook’s arguments. Groups of small business advertisers, the same ones Facebook said it was trying to protect, took over Facebook’s #SpeakUpForSmall hashtag on Twitter and filled it with complaints about the lack of attention they get compared with Facebook’s larger ad clients the day the campaign launched.

And Bloomberg published a report earlier this week full of similar complaints from advertisers over the company’s automated ad buying tools. BuzzFeed published a story Tuesday citing Facebook employees who were just as confused over the anti-Apple crusade as the small business advertisers.

For its part, Facebook spokeswoman Ashley Zandy told CNBC the company has heard from many supportive companies and that it allows its employees to speak freely and question company strategy.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of balanced and nuanced coverage of the announcement,” Satterfield said. “I think we’re pleased.”

Exclusive: Apple targets car production by 2024 and eyes ‘next level’ battery technology – sources

(Reuters) – Apple Inc is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The iPhone maker’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have proceeded unevenly since 2014 when it first started to design its own vehicle from scratch. At one point, Apple drew back the effort to focus on software and reassessed its goals. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who had worked at Tesla Inc, returned to oversee the project in 2018 and laid off 190 people from the team in 2019.

Since then, Apple has progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, two people familiar with the effort said, asking not to be named because Apple’s plans are not public. Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, which has built robo-taxis to carry passengers for a driverless ride-hailing service.

Central to Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design.

Apple declined to comment on its plans or future products.

Making a vehicle represents a supply chain challenge even for Apple, a company with deep pockets that makes hundreds of millions of electronics products each year with parts from around the world, but has never made a car. It took Elon Musk’s Tesla 17 years before it finally turned a sustained profit making cars.

“If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” said a person who worked on Project Titan.

It remains unclear who would assemble an Apple-branded car, but sources have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles. And there is still a chance Apple will decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker, rather than the iPhone maker selling an Apple-branded car, one of the people added.

Two people with knowledge of Apple’s plans warned pandemic-related delays could push the start of production into 2025 or beyond.

Shares of Tesla ended 6.5% lower on Monday after their debut in the S&P 500 on Monday. Apple shares ended 1.24% higher after the news.

Apple has decided to tap outside partners for elements of the system, including lidar sensors, which help self-driving cars get a three-dimensional view of the road, two people familiar with the company’s plans said.

Apple’s car might feature multiple lidar sensors for scanning different distances, another person said. Some sensors could be derived from Apple’s internally developed lidar units, that person said. Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models released this year both feature lidar sensors.

Reuters had previously reported that Apple had held talks with potential lidar suppliers, but it was also examining building its own sensor.

As for the car’s battery, Apple plans to use a unique “monocell” design that bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack by eliminating pouches and modules that hold battery materials, one of the people said.

Apple’s design means that more active material can be packed inside the battery, giving the car a potentially longer range. Apple is also examining a chemistry for the battery called LFP, or lithium iron phosphate, the person said, which is inherently less likely to overheat and is thus safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.

”It’s next level,” the person said of Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”

Apple had previously engaged Magna International Inc in talks about manufacturing a car, but the talks petered out as Apple’s plans became unclear, a person familiar with those previous efforts said. Magna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

To turn a profit, automotive contract manufacturers often ask for volumes that could pose a challenge even to Apple, which would be a newcomer to the automotive market.

“In order to have a viable assembly plant, you need 100,000 vehicles annually, with more volume to come,” the person said.

Some Apple investors reacted to the Reuters report on the company’s plans with caution. Trip Miller, managing partner at Apple investor Gullane Capital Partners, said it could be tough for Apple to produce large volumes of cars out of the gate.

“It would seem to me that if Apple develops some advanced operating system or battery technology, it would be best utilized in a partnership with an existing manufacturer under license,” Miller said. “As we see with Tesla and the legacy auto companies, having a very complex manufacturing network around the globe doesn’t happen overnight.”

Hal Eddins, chief economist at Apple shareholder Capital Investment Counsel, said Apple has a history of higher margins than most automakers.

“My initial reaction as a shareholder is, huh?” Eddins said. “Still don’t really see the appeal of the car business, but Apple may be eyeing another angle than what I’m seeing.”

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco, Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; and Paul Lienert and Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Jonathan Weber, Edward Tobin and Sonya Hepinstall

Exclusive: Apple targets car production by 2024 and eyes ‘next level’ battery technology – sources

(Reuters) – Apple Inc is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The iPhone maker’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have proceeded unevenly since 2014 when it first started to design its own vehicle from scratch. At one point, Apple drew back the effort to focus on software and reassessed its goals. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who had worked at Tesla Inc, returned to oversee the project in 2018 and laid off 190 people from the team in 2019.

Since then, Apple has progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, two people familiar with the effort said, asking not to be named because Apple’s plans are not public. Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, which has built robo-taxis to carry passengers for a driverless ride-hailing service.

Central to Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design.

Apple declined to comment on its plans or future products.

Making a vehicle represents a supply chain challenge even for Apple, a company with deep pockets that makes hundreds of millions of electronics products each year with parts from around the world, but has never made a car. It took Elon Musk’s Tesla 17 years before it finally turned a sustained profit making cars.

“If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” said a person who worked on Project Titan.

It remains unclear who would assemble an Apple-branded car, but sources have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles. And there is still a chance Apple will decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker, rather than the iPhone maker selling an Apple-branded car, one of the people added.

Two people with knowledge of Apple’s plans warned pandemic-related delays could push the start of production into 2025 or beyond.

Shares of Tesla ended 6.5% lower on Monday after their debut in the S&P 500 on Monday. Apple shares ended 1.24% higher after the news.

Apple has decided to tap outside partners for elements of the system, including lidar sensors, which help self-driving cars get a three-dimensional view of the road, two people familiar with the company’s plans said.

Apple’s car might feature multiple lidar sensors for scanning different distances, another person said. Some sensors could be derived from Apple’s internally developed lidar units, that person said. Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models released this year both feature lidar sensors.

Reuters had previously reported that Apple had held talks with potential lidar suppliers, but it was also examining building its own sensor.

As for the car’s battery, Apple plans to use a unique “monocell” design that bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack by eliminating pouches and modules that hold battery materials, one of the people said.

Apple’s design means that more active material can be packed inside the battery, giving the car a potentially longer range. Apple is also examining a chemistry for the battery called LFP, or lithium iron phosphate, the person said, which is inherently less likely to overheat and is thus safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.

”It’s next level,” the person said of Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”

Apple had previously engaged Magna International Inc in talks about manufacturing a car, but the talks petered out as Apple’s plans became unclear, a person familiar with those previous efforts said. Magna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

To turn a profit, automotive contract manufacturers often ask for volumes that could pose a challenge even to Apple, which would be a newcomer to the automotive market.

“In order to have a viable assembly plant, you need 100,000 vehicles annually, with more volume to come,” the person said.

Some Apple investors reacted to the Reuters report on the company’s plans with caution. Trip Miller, managing partner at Apple investor Gullane Capital Partners, said it could be tough for Apple to produce large volumes of cars out of the gate.

“It would seem to me that if Apple develops some advanced operating system or battery technology, it would be best utilized in a partnership with an existing manufacturer under license,” Miller said. “As we see with Tesla and the legacy auto companies, having a very complex manufacturing network around the globe doesn’t happen overnight.”

Hal Eddins, chief economist at Apple shareholder Capital Investment Counsel, said Apple has a history of higher margins than most automakers.

“My initial reaction as a shareholder is, huh?” Eddins said. “Still don’t really see the appeal of the car business, but Apple may be eyeing another angle than what I’m seeing.”

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco, Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; and Paul Lienert and Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Jonathan Weber, Edward Tobin and Sonya Hepinstall

Best Classical Christmas Music: 10 Essential Pieces

From udiscovermusic

Explore our selection of the best classical Christmas music including Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’.

Christmas is steeped in musical tradition, and its classical canon glistens with festive jewels. Our selection of the best classical Christmas music is a snapshot of many Christmases-past: feelings of joy, celebration, reflection and nostalgia are bound up in these beautiful, timeless scores. Pour yourself a glass of mulled wine, relax, and listen to these classical Christmas masterpieces featuring magnificent choral works and orchestral fantasies. Merry Christmas!

Listen to Classical Christmas on Apple Music and Spotify and scroll down to explore our selection of the best classical Christmas music.

Best Classical Christmas Music: 10 Essential Pieces

10: Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ

Berlioz’s musical telling of The Childhood of Christ makes for perfect Christmas listening. This oratorio, written in 1854, tells the Holy story from Herod’s decree in Judea to the journey of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Christ. From the drama of ‘The Dream of Herod’ to the lilting tranquillity of ‘The Shepherd’s Farewell’, Berlioz’s warm-blooded, romanticism brings depth and colour to the biblical story.

9: Britten: A Ceremony of Carols

Britten’s Ceremony of Carols showcases a host of heavenly voices accompanied simply by angelic harp. The use of only treble voices evokes a sense of child-like innocence, creating a warm, magical atmosphere. The piece itself is a selection of medieval carols, still in the original language, preserved in Britten’s refreshing compositional idiom. A wonderful classical stocking-filler.

8: Liszt: Weihnachtsbaum

Liszt’s Christmas Tree Suite for solo piano is a classical Christmas delight. The twelve pieces are, by Liszt’s standards, wonderfully simplistic in their composition and not too challenging to play; indeed, they were dedicated to Liszt’s eldest grandchild and sing of childlike wonder and innocence. This connection to younger generations permeates the score which, steeped in festive nostalgia, is a lesser-known gem in Liszt’s piano oeuvre and one of the best pieces of classical Christmas music.

7: Byrd: O Magnum Mysterium

A Christmas message from 400-years-ago, delivered in glorious choral counterpoint. Written in 1607, Bryd’s O Magnum Mysterium, is a beautiful motet for 4-part choir, and is a meditation on the wondrous Holy birth. A warm, subtle blend of ethereal voices with deep, resonant harmonies relay the text:

O great mystery
and wonderful sacrament
that even the animals saw
the new-born Lord
lying in a manger.
Blessed Virgin, whose womb
was worthy to bear
our Lord Christ

There is a tangible profundity to this piece: it feels vast yet intimate, celebratory yet reflective.

6: Finzi: In Terra Pax (On Earth, Peace)

Picture a frosty winter morning. Hazy, muted strings and glowing harp gradually melt away, warmed by the depth of a pure, pristine baritone solo, angelic soprano and a choir of heavenly voices. In Terra Pax takes its text from St Luke’s account of the first Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, flanked by verses from Robert Bridges’ poem, Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913. The listener is at once swept away by the enchanting narrative and enveloped in a mass of warm strings and voices in this magical Christmas scene-setter.

 

5: Bach: Magnificat

Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Magnificat is a musical setting of the biblical canticle Magnificat – the Latin text of the story of the Virgin Mary as told in the Gospel of St. Luke. In 1723, soon after he had been appointed the Director of Music and Organist of St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, Bach set the text of the Magnificat, originally composed in Eb major, which was first performed on Christmas Eve 1723. The following year Bach produced a new version, which he transposed into D major, to be performed at the feast of the Visitation in July. Magnificat is one of Bach’s most popular vocal works.

4: Handel: Messiah

An epic rumination on the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, Handel’s 1742 oratorio is a stalwart fixture in both Easter and yuletide programmes and one of the best pieces of classical Christmas music. The first part, often referred to as the ‘Christmas’ part, features the iconic choruses ‘And He Shall Purify’ and ‘For unto us a Child is Born’. Performances of the Christmas part of the work are often concluded with the endlessly joyful ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.

 

3: Prokofiev: ‘Troika’ from Lieutenant Kijé suite

This exultant orchestral melody is probably best known as the climax of Greg Lake’s ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’, but it was originally written by none other than Prokofiev for his Lieutenant Kijé suite. A ‘troika’ is a three-horse Russian sled: the excited flurry of strings, shimmering bells and festive brass depict a magical sleighride through the glistening snow. What could be more Christmassy!

 

2: Bach: Christmas Oratorio

This almost three-hour choral festive extravaganza is one of the best pieces of classical Christmas music. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is divided into 6 cantatas, each to be performed in the days following Christmas. The first part, performed on Christmas Day, pronounces the Holy birth; the second, for the 26th, describes the annunciation to the shepherds; the third, the adoration of the shepherds, and so on. Each section has its own distinctive character, brought to life in Bach’s masterful composition, and is in equal parts intense, reflective, and jubilant.

 

1: Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky’s timeless ballet, The Nutcracker, is top of our list. A Christmas Eve ball, toys that magically come to life, the enchanted land of the Sweets, waltzing snowflakes and dancing sugarplum fairies – this is a Christmas cracker of a piece. Tchaikovsky’s score captures the childlike wonder of this festive fairy tale with resplendent orchestra, twinkling percussion and, at moments, soft sweeping choir. The Nutcracker is an absolute classic – no Christmas would be complete without it.

The Darker Side of Christmas

In many times and places, the joyful holiday has been a time for melancholy reflections and ghostly visitations.

From The Wall  Street Journal

In this pandemic year, many of us will be celebrating Christmas under the shadow of grief and uncertainty. But Christmas, like the pagan winter festivals that preceded it, has always carried more than a hint of darkness. The joyous celebration of the birth of the Christian savior has often been an occasion for melancholy and nostalgia, particularly when families are separated by war or other tragic events.

In November 1863, during the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s son Charles was seriously wounded in battle. A few weeks later on Christmas, Longfellow wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” reflecting on how the carnage “mocks” the holiday’s promise of “peace on earth, good-will to men.” In 1943, Bing Crosby’s recording of the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” spoke to millions of soldiers and their families who couldn’t celebrate the holiday together: “I’ll be home for Christmas/If only in my dreams.” And in 1967, as war raged in Vietnam, Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” looked forward, like Longfellow’s poem, to a happier future: “Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars/When we have learned what Christmas is for.”

 

In the 19th century, telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve was a popular tradition.

Christmas melancholy often takes a ghostly form. In the 19th century, telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve was popular in Britain and North America, a tradition that inspired many writers to create their own. The narrator of Henry James’s psychological horror story “The Turn of the Screw” calls it “gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be.” Charles Dickens wrote a series of ghost stories published yearly at Christmas. “A Christmas Carol” is the most famous, but there were many others, including “The Signalman,” in which a railway worker receives spectral warnings of impending accidents. In the 20th century, continuing the tradition, Christmas has been a popular setting for horror movies, such as “Black Christmas” (1974) and “Krampus” (2015), which draws on German folklore about a demonic anti-Santa Claus who eats naughty children.

Many cultures have similar traditions about a Christmas visitor who punishes bad children, rather than bringing presents to good ones. In France, Père Fouettard (“Father Whipper”) is said to beat badly behaved children with a whip. On Christmas Eve in South Africa, homes may be haunted by Danny, a boy who was beaten to death by his grandmother for eating cookies left out for Santa.

Italy’s La Befana is more sad than scary. When the Christ child was born, she was invited by the three Magi to join them on the journey to Bethlehem, but she declined because she was too busy tending her house. She soon regretted her decision and went out to look for the wise men, but they were already gone. Ever since, on the Feast of the Epiphany—the holiday in early January that commemorates the visit of the Magi—she travels the world in search of the infant Jesus, leaving gifts for children wherever she stops.

Today, when we tend to think of Christmas as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”—as the hit song from 1963 calls it—it might seem strange to associate the holiday with melancholy and horror. But those elements are certainly present in the original Christmas story. After all, the child born in the manger is destined to suffer and die on the Cross; one of the gifts brought to the newborn Jesus by the Magi is myrrh, traditionally used in embalming. The Christmas carol “We Three Kings” makes the connection explicit: “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume/Breathes a life of gathering gloom/Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/Sealed in a stone cold tomb.”

On the Christian calendar, Christmas is surrounded by other grim memorials and observances. On Dec. 7, the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Guatemalans start the Christmas season with La Quema del Diablo, “The Burning of the Devil,” burning Devil-shaped piñatas to symbolically cleanse their homes of evil. The day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day throughout much of the world, is also St. Stephen’s Day, which commemorates the stoning to death of the first Christian martyr. And on Dec. 28, the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches observe the Feast of the Holy Innocents, in honor of the infant boys of Bethlehem massacred on the order of King Herod, who according to the Gospel of Matthew hoped to do away with the prophesied King of the Jews. In many Latin American countries, the feast is celebrated like April Fools’ Day, with jokes, pranks and creative “fake news” stories in the papers.

Another source of Christmas darkness comes from the season, since it is celebrated during the darkest, shortest days of the year. Long before Christianity, late December in the northern hemisphere was a time for midwinter festivals full of mirth and light. In fact, the New Testament never says that Jesus was born in the winter; the traditional date of Christmas wasn’t adopted until the year 325. This allowed the Christian holiday to displace the old pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. But some traditions remained unbroken. The practice of bringing evergreen plants like holly and mistletoe into the house at Christmastime began with the pagans, who used them to symbolize the continuation of life even in the midst of winter’s barrenness.

Solstice celebrations weren’t meant to mourn the darkness but to celebrate the fact that after the solstice, the days would gradually get longer. Winter ends and summer returns; so, too, wars and pandemics eventually end. And for Christians, the infant Jesus who grows up to die on the cross will also be reborn. The darkness of Christmas is an indispensable part of the holiday, reminding us that while it can never be banished, it can be acknowledged and absorbed into our celebration.

 

—Dr. Hansen is Master Lecturer of Rhetoric at Boston University’s College of General Studies.

Corrections & Amplifications

The Christmas carol “We Three Kings” includes the lines “Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying.” An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted the first word as “suffering.” (Corrected on Dec. 20.)

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the December 19, 2020, print edition as ‘The Darker Side Of Christmas.’