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Three Days to Go…

Morning Reading – Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Photo by Scott Loftesness – 2017

Pandemic Year Two – The Atlantic

The pandemic will end not with a declaration, but with a long, protracted exhalation. Even if everything goes according to plan, which is a significant if, the horrors of 2020 will leave lasting legacies.

What Was Trumpism? – The Atlantic

“One of the most impressive [and] politically utile things Trump has done from the beginning is get his fans to internalize their support and perceive even a mild rebuke of him [and] his actions as a personal attack on them.”

Is Substack the Media Future We Want? | The New Yorker

Substack is a natural fit for the influencer, the pundit, the personality, and the political contrarian. It’s debatable whether this represents “a better future for news.” But it’s great business for Substack.

A Farm Family’s Business Caved In. Then the Neighbors Showed Up. – The New York Times

You know, I’d like to say, gee, it can’t be any worse than it was this year. But, you know, it sadly, it could always be worse. So we really don’t know what’s going to happen. Like I said, head down, butt up, push forward.

How 2020 Forced Facebook and Twitter to Step In – The Atlantic

Gone is the naive optimism of social-media platforms’ early days, when—in keeping with an overly simplified and arguably self-serving understanding of the First Amendment tradition—executives routinely insisted that more speech was always the answer to troublesome speech. Our tech overlords have been doing some soul-searching.

Surprise Ending for Publishers: In 2020, Business Was Good – The New York Times

With so many people stuck at home and activities from concerts to movies off limits, people have been reading a lot — or at least buying a lot of books. Print sales by units are up almost 8 percent so far this year, according to NPD BookScan.

These Tech Companies Are Paying Workers the Same Rates Across U.S. – WSJ

“We’re not making this change to save money,” said Dan Spaulding, chief people officer of Zillow. “We’re making this change to retain our employees.”

Startup cynicism and Substack, or Clubhouse, or Miami, or … | TechCrunch

All three are bets of optimism: Substack believes it can rebuild journalism. Clubhouse believes it can reinvent radio with the right interactivity and build a unique social platform. And Miami is a bet that you can take a top global city without a massive startup ecosystem and agglomerate the talent necessary to compete with San Francisco, New York and Boston.

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Last Monday of 2020

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Morning Reading – Monday, December 28, 2020 – Day 362

What I’m reading: The Patch by John McPhee. A collection of some of his previously unpublished short writing. As usual, a delight to read!

The Plague Year | The New Yorker (Lawrence Wright)

Infections often rose in counties where Trump held a rally. The surge in infections and deaths mocked his assertions that we were “rounding the turn.” The disease stalked him; it encircled him. On October 25th, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, declared, “We are not going to control the pandemic.” The Administration had given up. Covid couldn’t kill Donald Trump, but it could defeat him.

Lawrence Wright on How the Pandemic Response Went So Wrong | The New Yorker

The New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright—who has reported on Al Qaeda and the Church of Scientology—has followed the story of the pandemic unfolding in the United States since the first lockdowns in March. Wright walks David Remnick through key moments of decision-making in the Trump White House: from the reaction to the earliest reports of a virus to botched mask mandates and testing rollouts, up through the emergency-use authorization of the vaccine.

Trump signs stimulus bill into law and averts shutdown – The Washington Post

White House officials didn’t explain why the president decided to suddenly back down and sign into law a bill he had held up for nearly a week and had referred to as a “disgrace” just days earlier.

I read Boom Town by Sam Anderson over the holidays – a great book! Below is one of the best reviews of Boom Town that I came across…

Book review of Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, its Chaotic Founding, its Apocalyptic Weather, its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis by Sam Anderson – The Washington Post

What Anderson is tracing is the creation of a narrative, the story the city tells about itself. “I have come to believe, after my time there,” he observes, “that Oklahoma City is one of the great weirdo cities in the world.” The people to whom he introduces us in “Boom Town” bear this out.

2020 Was a Breakout Year for Crispr | WIRED

Last but certainly not least, in October, the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for Crispr genome editing. It was both a stunning choice (as a DNA-altering tool, Crispr has only been around for 8 years) and a completely expected one. Crispr has completely revolutionized biological research since its arrival in 2012

Covid-19 made digital the default. Will it stay? – The Washington Post

“2020 reinforced the fact we nerds have known: Network is just omnipresent,” says Om Malik, a venture capitalist at True Ventures. “We aren’t going online. We live online.”

Tracing the first steps of a fantastic voyage – SF Gate (Chris McGinnis)

During my senior year in high school I read a book by James Michener called “The Drifters,” about a group of American kids who ran off to Spain, bought an old VW camper van and rambled around that country, which added fuel to the fire growing in me to get out of town.

Cancel New Year’s Eve Forever | The New Yorker

Can’t we ring in 2021? We have vaccines. We have a new President, who is merely the devil we know and not the actual devil. “Conversations with Friends” will première on Hulu in the spring, and we are very likely to see thin, sexy Irish people smoking and cheating on one another. That’s all true. But 2021 is going to be bad

The Best Champagne to Buy in 2020 – Eater

Suffice it to say that Champagne is not for everyone this year; such is the weight of the world we inhabit.

Imagine – Gotham Gal

When this pandemic is over we need to take a deep look at a future where anger and selfishness over power begins to wane.

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Christmas Eve 2020

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Morning Reading – Thursday, December 24, 2020

These breakthroughs will make 2021 better than 2020 | Bill Gates

When I think back on the pace of scientific advances in 2020, I am stunned. Humans have never made more progress on any disease in a year than the world did on COVID-19 this year. Under normal circumstances, creating a vaccine can take 10 years. This time, multiple vaccines were created in less than one year.

Who Made the Vaccine Possible? Not WHO – WSJ

There would be no Covid-19 vaccine today had there been no venture capitalists prepared to invest before a product or profit was visible, no corporate leadership willing to double down with the companies’ own money in the spring to fund a crash effort to produce a vaccine by year-end, and no researchers pursuing a dream about mRNA as an unprecedented route for vaccines.

Trump vs. a GOP Senate – WSJ

President Trump is leaving office as he entered, with a whirlwind of action that gets more attention than it accomplishes. He may also take down his party’s chances of winning the Senate runoffs on Jan. 5. Does he care?

For a Defeated President, Pardons as an Expression of Grievance – The New York Times

Critics accused Mr. Trump of using his power to obstruct justice by rewarding allies who impeded the investigation against him. “The pardons from this President are what you would expect to get if you gave the pardon power to a mob boss,” Andrew Weissmann, a top lieutenant to Mr. Mueller, wrote on Twitter.

The Problem With Pardons Was Clear From the Start – The Atlantic

George Mason, however, deserves his reputation for the precision of his predictions. Many have proved uncanny, and, at least in one case, his anticipation of the future is almost eerie. Remarkably, Mason predicted Donald Trump’s pardon of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone more than 230 years ago.

Donald Trump’s pardoning spree tests boundaries of authority | Financial Times

“Anyone who cares about the constitution and the state of our democracy has cause to be concerned.”

With Paul Manafort’s Pardon, Kleptocracy Won – The Atlantic

The president clearly intended to obstruct justice. By implicitly promising a pardon, he thwarted Manafort’s cooperation with Mueller, and wrecked the probe. Manafort might well have advanced Mueller’s investigation to an even more damning conclusion. Instead, the stymied investigation ended prematurely.

The Year the Fed Changed Forever – The New York Times

“We crossed a lot of red lines that had not been crossed before,” Mr. Powell said at an event in May.

Why 2020 felt like a time warp, according to science – Vox

But time itself has felt different this year, our relationship with it altered significantly by the pandemic. Whatever comfort we once derived from considering the past is gone. Now it’s a stark reminder of all that we had, all that we took for granted, and what we must still reckon with — that our future is not likely to look like what we’re used to.

The Forgotten Radicalism of Jesus Christ – The New York Times

The lesson from Jesus’ life and ministry is that understanding people’s stories and struggles requires much more time and effort than condemning them, but it is vastly more rewarding. And the lesson of Christmas and the incarnation, at least for those of us of the Christian faith, is that all of us were once outcasts, broken yet loved, and worth reaching out to and redeeming.

Recipe recommendation: My slow roasted Tri-tip makes a delicious holiday meal! Enjoy!

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Eight Days Remain

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Morning Reading – Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Eight days remain before we close the door on the year 2020.

The Department Store That Does Holiday Cheer Like No Other – The New York Times

On the night before Christmas, my father would leave a cigar and a drink on the mantel for Santa. (This was Greenwich Village.) In the morning, while I pillaged the presents, I never failed to notice that the cigar had been smoked down to the butt. And the brandy in the glass was all gone.

Fauci’s Christmas Eve: Turning 80 and fighting the pandemic – The Washington Post

“There is no option to get tired. There is no option to sit down and say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had enough,’ ” he said. When fatigued, he recalled, he would tell himself: “I’m gonna dig deep and just suck it up.”

How to Abuse a Presidential Pardon – The Atlantic

As we await Trump’s Christmas pardons, with the expectation that many will be self-serving and injurious to the pursuit of justice, the intertwined tales of Taft and Nixon help explain why, after two centuries, we are still so vulnerable to bad pardons, a power that the Framers left unchecked.

How Biden’s design team helped defeat Donald Trump

Unlike Trump’s branding, which used a sledgehammer of aggressive, repetitive, messaging, the Biden design team reached key demographics with the precision of a scalpel.

How Claude Shannon’s Information Theory Invented the Future | Quanta Magazine

When I started graduate school, my adviser told me that the best work would prune the tree of knowledge, rather than grow it. I didn’t know what to make of this message then; I always thought my job as a researcher was to add my own twigs. But over my career, as I had the opportunity to apply this philosophy in my own work, I began to understand.

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Day 356

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Morning Reading – Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Shigeru Miyamoto Wants to Create a Kinder World | The New Yorker

The interesting thing about interactive media is that it allows the players to engage with a problem, conjure a solution, try out that solution, and then experience the results. Then they can go back to the thinking stage and start to plan out their next move. This process of trial and error builds the interactive world in their minds. This is the true canvas on which we design—not the screen. That’s something I always keep in mind when designing games.

US credit card applications tumble | Financial Times

Demand for consumer credit in the US has fallen dramatically during the Covid-19 crisis, with credit card applications falling to multiyear lows, according to a Federal Reserve survey released on Monday.

USPS struggles to deliver mail by Christmas – The Washington Post

“No parcels are moving at all,” said one postal worker in Michigan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly. “As bad as you think it is, it’s worse.”

Trump assembles a ragtag crew of conspiracy-minded allies in flailing bid to reverse election loss – The Washington Post

President Trump has turned to a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists, media-hungry lawyers and other political misfits in a desperate attempt to hold on to power after his election loss.

So long, 2020. We won’t miss you. – The Washington Post

I believe I speak for humankind, with few exceptions, when I say we will all be overjoyed to see the back of this awful year.

JPMorgan M&A Co-Chief Anu Aiyengar Rakes in Billions for the Bank – Bloomberg

As JPMorgan Chase & Co. searches for its first major acquisition in more than a decade, Anu Aiyengar will have a hand in shaping the giant bank’s future.

Mark Zuckerberg Has Another Answer to Bitcoin. It’s Called Diem – Bloomberg

Given Zuckerberg’s tendency to issue half-hearted apologies before going back to breaking things, it’s not surprising that he’s gearing up for a second attempt to launch Libra next year.

Investors pour $1bn into buying up small merchants on Amazon | Financial Times

Instead of trying to build new consumer-goods brands from scratch, the new ventures each plan to buy up dozens of small merchants that have already proven successful on Amazon.

Westerners Grow Wary of China Travel Over Threat of Detention – Bloomberg

Interviews with a dozen executives, diplomats, consultants and academics show many of them believe there is an increased risk in traveling to China and — since the passage of a security law in June — the financial hub of Hong Kong.

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Monday Musings

Photo by Scott Loftesness – Rome 2016

Morning Reading – Monday, December 20, 2020

Trump Is Losing His Mind – The Atlantic

Given Trump’s psychological profile, it was inevitable that when he felt the walls of reality close in on him—in 2020, it was the pandemic, the cratering economy, and his election defeat—he would detach himself even further from reality.

Trump’s Bad Exit – WSJ

Mr. Trump doesn’t want to admit he lost, and he can duck the inauguration if he likes. But his sore loser routine is beginning to grate even on millions who voted for him.

The Cyber Threat Is Real and Growing – WSJ

Using a network-management company’s supply chain of updates to penetrate targeted networks is exceptionally smart. This tactic will spawn imitators, and not only among governments.

He Wanted to Count Every Vote in Philadelphia. His Party Had Other Ideas. – The New York Times

“Democracies have embedded within themselves what it takes to undo themselves. America will obviously never be defeated by an external force that would end the republic. It’s only possible to end it from within.”

How Russia Wins the Climate Crisis – The New York Times

Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.

How I Blew My Bitcoin on Sushi – The New York Times

It’s a great time to be a longtime owner of the currency, and a painful time to be a person who once spent 10.354 Bitcoin (including tip) on a dinner for strangers. Yes, that person is me.

The Greatest Restaurant City in America Is Hurting More Than You Know – The New York Times

It’s as if pages of a cherished scrapbook are being ripped out and thrown away, one after another after another. We’re losing the past along with the present and the future. We’re losing the very refuges we might have gone to for solace.

A Christmas Star? Jupiter and Saturn Alignment Sparks Comparisons – WSJ

Jupiter and Saturn will appear to nearly touch in the night sky on the winter solstice this Monday, in a rare alignment that has happened only twice since the Middle Ages.

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The Weekender

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Morning Reading – Saturday, December 19, 2020

Shields and Brooks celebrate a lifetime in American politics | PBS NewsHour

I grew up when a man was in the White House who said very simply, the measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we provide enough for those who have too little. … — it was Franklin Roosevelt.

How Trump’s denial and mismanagement led to the covid pandemic’s dark winter – Washington Post

As for the president, he did not appear at all.

Dreaming of My Vaccination Day | The New Yorker

How will I know who’s vaccinated? Will the local papers write up vaccination announcements with black-and-white photos, detailing who got vaccinated, and when, and what makes them and their vaccinations so special?

How CA theme parks are pivoting to rescue their lucrative holiday seasons

At this time last year, Disneyland was so busy that on December 27, the park hit capacity and stopped selling tickets or allowing passholders through the gates. This year, it’s a different story.

How suspected Russian hackers outed their massive cyberattack – POLITICO

The suspicious log-in prompted the firm, FireEye, to begin investigating what it ultimately determined to be a highly damaging vulnerability in software used across the government and by many Fortune 500 companies.

How to Understand the Russia Hack Fallout | WIRED

This is the core danger of a supply chain attack such as the SolarWinds breach. Attackers get a huge amount of access all at once and can have their pick of the victims while responders are left playing catch up.

The US Should Remove Its Nukes from Europe – Defense One

Bringing the B61s home would be a first step in openly acknowledging that. It’s long past time that Oppenheimer’s “two scorpions” analogy ceased to apply.

How newsletters are making big bucks from your inbox | Financial Times

The weird thing about the email-newsletter revolution is not how big it has become but why it is happening now. How did something compiled by churches, clubs and far-flung families for hundreds of years suddenly become a hot, multimillion-dollar, VC-backed industry?

Barry Ritholtz and Josh Brown Won’t Predict The Market, But They’ll Talk About Anything Else. | Barron’s

When I met Barry, I said, “Whatever you’re doing, I want to be part of it.” He said, “I don’t deal with clients. That will be your role.” In my blog, I share what I’m learning in real time. There’s always a new topic—cryptocurrency, tariffs, interest rates, the intersection of elections with markets. I try to share my own process.

What to Do Before You Die: A Tech Checklist – WSJ

There are two big areas to this topic. The first is how new technology can capture our important life stories, perhaps in new interactive ways, for the generations to come. The second, more mundane part is dealing with your digital life—how your accounts, files and folders can make it into someone else’s hands.

Al Cohen, D.C. magic shop proprietor and mentor to many, dies at 94 – The Washington Post

“I never get tired of it, every day is a fun day,” he told The Post. “What more can you ask from life?”

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Friday Favorites

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Morning Reading – Friday, December 18, 2020

Mark Shields and the Best of American Liberalism – The New York Times

Mark, like many who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s — including Joe Biden — was imprinted with the idea that politics is a deeply noble profession, a form of service, a vocation.

Donald Trump’s New Brand Is Loser | The New Yorker

Whatever the other reasons are for his ongoing post-election temper tantrum, it couldn’t be more clear that Trump is also motivated by the simple psychological fact that he really, really hates being called a “loser.” It’s one of his favorite insults, and a label he would do anything to avoid having affixed to his own name.

Opinion | Russia hasn’t just hacked our computer systems. It’s hacked our minds. – The Washington Post

The most startling fact about 2020 is not that Trump tried to overturn the results of the election. Many of us predicted he would try. What is stunning is that, according to the polls, 60 million Americans believe his assertions and the series of lies that sustain them.

Can We Do Twice as Many Covid-19 Vaccinations? – The New York Times

While we know that the single dose can protect against disease, we don’t yet know how long this immune protection will last, and at what level. However, there is no rule that says that vaccines must be boosted within weeks of each other.

How to Reform the Presidency After the Wreckage of Trump – The New York Times

The strength of a presidency is measured by its capacity for effective executive leadership. Mr. Trump’s record of feckless leadership was closely related to his unrelenting efforts to defy or destroy constraining institutions.

Republicans’ road ahead is still blocked — and not just by Trump – The Washington Post

The GOP’s inability to maintain internal discipline leaves it vulnerable to extreme ideas.

Why Mail-Order Citrus Is Totally Worth It: A Smart Shopper’s Guide – WSJ

Buy direct from small growers and you’ll rediscover old varieties like the aforementioned Daisy mandarin, with a deep-orange flesh that Mr. Karp calls “god come to earth in a citrus fruit,” or the sweet-tart Temple orange that fell out of favor, having been deemed too seedy.

‘Unsinkable’ Review: Set Ablaze, Still Fighting – WSJ

To make such details compelling reading is an accomplishment. More significantly, Mr. Sullivan takes pains to illuminate and honor a lost world.

Coronavirus Ended Japan’s Tourist Boom, but Kyoto Carries On – WSJ

Act as if things are normal and you’re one step closer to ensuring that they really are.

The Monday When America Came Back – WSJ (Peggy Noonan)

It seems a funny thing to say of public policy, but so much of what doesn’t work in life has to do with an absence of love.

Schedule send – Austin Kleon

My dream is to never have to answer email at all. John Waters says real wealth is never having to deal with assholes, but real wealth for me would also mean no email.

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Thursday’s Tidbits

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Morning reading – Thursday, December 17, 2020

How Savannah Guthrie and Kristen Welker Won the 2020 Election Coverage | Vogue

In a season of political tumult, amid an increasingly polarized and partisan media landscape, Guthrie and Welker have emerged as pillars of the fourth estate—two roundly tough-but-fair network newswomen determined to hold leaders of both parties to account.

Thank the Supreme Court, for Now – The New York Times

Texas v. Pennsylvania had the form of a Supreme Court case. But it was a Potemkin village of a case, with the proper Gothic typeface on the front cover but nothing inside that resembled sound legal argument. It’s as if someone filed a case asking the court to exercise its original jurisdiction and declare the moon to be made of green cheese.

Wait Until March – The Atlantic

Keep your fingers crossed, knock on wood, sprinkle evil eyes in every nook and cranny, and offer a thought and a prayer and more coffee to the millions who will be working hard to pull this off. The future—even the near future—looks hopeful, even as the current moment looks particularly grim.

Germany’s Winning Covid Strategy Has Stopped Working – WSJ

Scientists, politicians and psychologists say many Germans, including some in the government, made a fatal error of judgment after Germany emerged comparatively unscathed last summer: They thought they were safe.

Pfizer vaccine: Trump administration pushing for more doses this spring – The Washington Post

That means the supply of remaining vaccine could be up to 40 percent greater, though the drugmaker cautions that it’s uncertain how many extra doses are available.

I Was the Homeland Security Adviser to Trump. We’re Being Hacked. – The New York Times

The actual and perceived control of so many important networks could easily be used to undermine public and consumer trust in data, written communications and services.

Dianne Feinstein is the least of our problems – The Washington Post

Biden’s team of top advisers is so stuffed full of friends of the family that the only place to stick spring-chicken outsider Pete Buttigieg, 38, was at the Transportation Department, which shows you how sensitive the incoming administration is to the optics of the age imbalance — and how insensitive to the substance.

This Is Not the Way New Yorkers Normally Greet a Major Snowstorm – The New York Times

The snow day began nine months ago. And in the sort of reversal that could only happen in this pandemic era, a heavy snowstorm is, to many, a most welcome change, something new to look at from the windows that New Yorkers have lived behind since March.

Inside the font factory: meet the man who shapes the world’s letters | Financial Times

Everywhere you look, even if you don’t notice it, there’s a Dalton Maag font.

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Mid-Month

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Morning Reading – Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Vaccine Arrived in a 63-Pound Box, Packed in Dry Ice – The New York Times

“Hospital workers, Cuomo’s people. Every one of us realized at that minute, just how profound that was going to be. We were putting a woman on the moon. It was a lunar landing.”

FT People of the Year: BioNTech’s Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci | Financial Times

The mere fact that a safe and effective inoculation is available less than a year after the genetic sequence for a new, pneumonia-like pathogen was released puts the achievement by Dr Sahin and Dr Tureci, who are the FT’s People of the Year for 2020, alongside the greatest medical breakthroughs of our time.

Giving Trump credit for the vaccine is the best way for Biden to unite the country – The Washington Post

The genius of Operation Warp Speed was the decision to run the vaccine development process in parallel rather than sequentially.

Three-quarters of states will elect governors in the next 2 years. Here’s a field guide. – POLITICO

Thirty-eight of 50 states — accounting for nearly 85 percent of the U.S. population — will hold gubernatorial elections between 2021 and 2022. A dozen states are likely in play, if not more, raising the potential for one party to expand its influence across the nation.

Glennon Doyle and Biden Campaign Manager Jen O’Malley Dillon on Politics, Motherhood, and Doing Hard Things | Glamour

She is the first woman to manage a successful Democratic presidential campaign, the first woman to run a campaign that ousted an incumbent president, and of course the first person to spearhead a winning ticket in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic.

A wake-up for the world on cyber security | Financial Times

Any IT system, moreover, is only as secure as its weakest link. A central feature of this attack is that it utilised the supply chain, gaining access via software from a commercial supplier.

Christmas Trees Are the Hot New Pandemic Item – The Atlantic

There appears to be a run on Christmas trees. Over the past two weeks, the media have started to pick up on the apparent frenzy, but putting numbers to these observations is a little tricky because the industry is almost charmingly low on data.