Holiday Disruptions, Jean-Marc Vallée, and the Year's Best Memes Everything you need to know for today in five minutes.

Good morning. It's Tuesday, Dec. 28, and we're covering another round of canceled flights, the passing of an accomplished director, and much more. Have feedback? Let us know at [email protected].

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Holiday Travel Disruptions

Holiday travel woes continued yesterday, with crew shortages due to COVID-19 coupled with winter weather in the West forcing hundreds of flight cancellations across the US. Almost 1,000 flights were nixed Monday, coming on top of more than 3,000 cancellations over the weekend. The most-impacted airlines included Delta and United, which canceled 6% and 5% of domestic flights, respectively. See current flight status around the country here.


The US is averaging more than 200,000 new COVID-19 cases per day (see data), a surge driven by the more transmissible omicron variant, holiday travel, and increased testing. 


Some experts have argued (NYT, paywall) hospitalizations have become a better metric for measuring the state of the pandemic. Hospitals are reporting around 71,300 total COVID-19 patients, a rise of about 12% over the past two weeks. Roughly 10% of the nation's beds are occupied by those with the disease; see the Health and Human Services' data dashboard here.


Separately, US health officials yesterday cut the recommended isolation time for those infected from 10 to five days.

NDAA Signed

President Joe Biden signed the government's defense authorization bill yesterday, allowing for roughly $768B in defense-related spending for fiscal year 2022. The final package represents a $25B bump for Pentagon spending over the administration's initial request of $715B, with the remainder going toward related programs. 


It marks the 61st consecutive year in which the annual package was passed—its consistency has made it a vehicle through which a slew of related provisions are tacked on. Among other items, the bill includes a 2.7% raise for service members, $28B for the nuclear weapons program, a reform to the reporting structure for sexual harassment, and more. 


Authorization is separate from funding, instead creating the statutory authority for programs, which are provided funding via appropriations bills. See more details and learn how the decision-making works at 1440's curated resource page on the federal budget process.  

Jean-Marc Vallée Dies

Director and producer Jean-Marc Vallée passed away Dec. 25 from a reported heart attack in his cabin outside Quebec City, Canada. The 58-year-old filmmaker is best known for “Dallas Buyers Club,” earning six Oscar nominations in 2014, including best picture. He followed with “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon, which earned two Oscar nominations. In addition, he won an Emmy Award and a DGA Award for the first season of “Big Little Lies.” Vallée also directed such films as "C.R.A.Z.Y.” and “The Young Victoria.”


Vallée began his career making music videos before moving into film in 1995. He was known for his creative vision and naturalistic approach, often giving actors freedom to improvise scenes. He shot many scenes with a handheld camera using natural light.


Vallée was a known fitness enthusiast and abstained from drugs and alcohol. His death was a surprise to many; see reactions and tributes here.

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Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Britney Spears, whose conservatorship ended in November, reportedly planning career comeback in 2022 including new music and branding partnerships (More)


> Several college football bowl games canceled or altered as teams drop out due to COVID-19 spread (More) | See current bowl lineup here (More)


> NBA alters COVID-19 protocols to allow asymptomatic vaccinated players and coaches to clear quarantine after six days (More)

Science & Technology

> Israel begins world's first study on the efficacy of a fourth COVID-19 booster shot; roughly 64% of the country is fully vaccinated (More)


> EO Wilson, renowned naturalist and biologist known as "Darwin's heir," passes away at age 92; in addition to a number of scientific awards, Wilson won two Pulitzer Prizes for general nonfiction (More)


> Study suggests feral horses organize herds into multilevel social structures, akin to small family units within a larger community (More)

Business & Markets

> Tech stocks lead US stock markets higher (S&P 500 +1.4%, Dow +1.0%, Nasdaq +1.4%); global markets also rise as US retail holiday sales rose 8.5% over last year (More)


> Apple temporarily closes over 20 retail stores across the US including all New York City locations amid omicron variant spike (More)


> China will allow foreign ownership of car manufacturing starting in 2022; 31 economic industries are still restricted or banned (More)

Politics & World Affairs

In partnership with Ground News

> Winter storm dumps more than a foot of snow across the Pacific Northwest, California, and elsewhere; snow forces a number of highway closures, causes a 20-car pileup in Nevada (More)


> Jury deliberations in Ghislaine Maxwell trial enter day five; jurors request testimony transcripts and whiteboard, signaling extensive debate (More) | Deliberations also continue in trial of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes (More)


> South Africa begins weeklong series of events and services honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner and global rights activist Desmond Tutu, who passed away Sunday at age 90 (More)

From our partners: How many news apps does it take to see the whole political spectrum? Just one. Ground News makes it easy to compare how a single story is being framed across the media landscape. They put a spotlight on stories that are underreported by both the left and the right. And they don't use your browsing history to show you content you already agree with. Download Ground News for free—it's the last politics news app you’ll ever need.



Archiving the Internet

Tech Radar | Joel Khalili. A profile of Brewster Kahle and his 25-year fight to create the internet's "Library of Alexandria" in the face of increasing threats. (Read)

The Organ Shaping Our Lives

MIT Press Reader | Alessio Fasano, Susie Flaherty. The history of our evolving understanding of the human microbiome, which we now know influences everything from the gut to the mind. (Read)



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Recapping the year's most touching items


Explaining the best memes of 2021.


... and the year's best podcasts


In 2022, become a better listener


The year's most fascinating deep-sea sightings.


Ten of the best data visualizations this year.


When elephants see their handler after an extended trip. (via Reddit)


An encyclopedic look at food sources and cultural recipes.


The best (and worst) reviewed movies of 2021.


Clickbait: The strangest New Year's Eve "ball" drops.


Historybook: President Woodrow Wilson born (1856); Comic book writer Stan Lee born (1922); HBD British actress Dame Maggie Smith (1934); HBD Denzel Washington (1954); Indonesia AirAsia flight crashes, killing 162 (2014).


"Luck is when an opportunity comes along and you're prepared for it."

- Denzel Washington

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