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Joe Judge’s Giants making troubling special teams errors

The last thing expected from a Joe Judge-coached team is happening to the Giants at the worst possible time.

Special teams - albeit three different units - have made critical mistakes to gift points to the opponent in three straight games.

The Bengals returned a kickoff for a touchdown. The Seahawks blocked a punt for a safety. And the Cardinals forced a kickoff-return fumble Sunday that set up their offense at the 21-yard line and led to the decisive touchdown in a 26-7 victory.

“This hasn’t been one thing,” Judge said. “It’s not a schematic disadvantage. We’re not getting isolated into something and we can’t make an adjustment. There haven’t been repeat mistakes, but, over six phases, if you have an issue in one phase per week, it’s going to be glaring and go ahead and be magnified over time.”

Because Judge is a former special teams coordinator for the Patriots, Thomas McGaughey is one of the best special teams coordinators in the business and McGaughey’s assistant, Tom Quinn, had the head job for 11 seasons under Tom Coughlin, there is a high level of expectation.

The Giants were ranked No. 3 in the NFL in special teams efficiency through 10 games, according to ESPN. They’ve since dropped to No. 12.

“We’ve got to coach it better. We have to play it better,” Judge said. “It starts with me.”

Even if returner Dion Lewis’ fumble is excused — Kyle Pitts kicked the ball loose, which is illegal if ruled intentional — there were other problems exposed.

Riley Dixon suddenly cannot execute directional punting, and his kicks down the middle of the field left Christian Kirk space for 77 yards on six returns. Dixon’s average of 48.8 yards per punt fell to 36.6 net yards. Punt coverage was one shoestring tackle away from disaster against the Bengals, too.

“We have to do a better job covering in space,” Judge said. “That comes down to playing with good field leverage, good space tackling. That comes into specialists doing their job. This has been a strength for us for most of the season.”

Fox rules analyst Dean Blandino said during Sunday’s broadcast Pitts’ kick looked intentional, but a judgement call cannot be overturned by replay. Either way, Lewis is not providing the Giants with a spark, was replaced in-game by C.J. Board and could leave an opening for Dante Pettis — one of the best returners in NCAA history — to make his Giants’ debut next week.

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Taylor Swift Shoots Down 'Woodvale' Album Rumors

Taylor Swift says there's not an upcoming album named Woodvale in the works. Swift joined Jimmy Kimmel on Monday, and addressed the rampant fan theories that have emerged since the release of her surprise album Evermore last week.


 The theory is tied to a semi-hidden message in a tree on the cover of her folklore album, which she dropped back in July. The word "Woodvale" is hidden amid the leaves in the black-and-white pic, and since Swift is prone to planting lots of elaborate hints about her upcoming work just about everywhere, it wasn't long before fans jumped on that as a major clue.

According to Swift, however, it was actually just an accidental error on her part when it came to planning out her album art.

"This takes a bit of explanation," Swift said, after Kimmel asked her directly about the rumors of a third album. "So, I tend to be sort of annoyingly secret-agenty about dropping clues and hints and Easter eggs. It’s very annoying, but it’s fun for fans and it’s fun for me because they like to pick up on things. And they’ll notice lots of things in music videos and photos or whatever. Sometimes I take it too far and make a mistake."

According to Swift, when she was recording folklore, she didn't want to tell anyone -- not even her team or management -- what the album was going to be called until right before it was released.

"I came up with a fake code name that had the same amount of letters as folklore. Chose a random name. I Chose Woodvale. Wanted to see how it would look on the album covers, I mocked them up, and then decided I don’t actually want to have a title on the album covers," Swift recalled. "[Then] we forgot to take the fake code name off of one of them."

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Another Victory Without Vaccaro

Preparation is everything in the National Football league. It’s what players and coaches do all week leading up to a game. In addition to organized preparation, teams also have to be ready for unexpected circumstances.

And the Tennessee Titans have faced plenty of such situations this season, especially recently.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro has been a late addition to the injured list twice in the last four weeks. He missed the Titans’ Week 11 contest against the Baltimore Ravens with a concussion, and he missed Sunday’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars with an illness.

In both instances, second-year safety Amani Hooker started in place of Vaccaro on short notice. And in both instances, the Titans won.

“That’s part of the job,” head coach Mike Vrabel said on Monday. “We have to make a roster designation an hour and a half before the game as to who is going to be active and who is not going to be. I think it’s always a good reminder when these things come up … everybody should be prepared to play in the football game up until that time. Guys were ready to go.

“... Kenny, hopefully we get him back this week. We will see where he is when we get back to practice.”

Hooker has indeed been ready to go in both of his starts this season.

In Sunday’s 31-10 victory over the Jaguars, Hookier played 100 percent of defensive snaps. He tied a single-game high with seven tackles and one tackle for a loss. In the first quarter, he extended a Titans’ drive when he rushed for four yards on a fake punt, moving the chains. It was the Titans second successful fake punt of the season.

In the overtime victory over the Ravens last month, Hooker made several crucial plays, including an interception in the third quarter, which led to the offense cashing in for a field goal on the ensuing possession. He also had two passes defended and made six tackles.

“I mean, regardless, it’s my job to prepare to play and go into a lot of positions if my name is called,” he said. “I know a lot of guys, a lot of people, if their name is called, then they do the exact same thing.”

Hooker’s play this season in 12 games has impressed the coaching staff. He and Malcolm Butler are tied for the team lead in interceptions with three. Additionally, Hooker has registered a career-high 39 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss of yards and seven passes defensed.

A fourth-round selection in 2019, Hooker was credited with 13 tackles as a rookie but did not have an interception or a pass defended.

With three regular season games remaining, it’s fair to say that Hookier has taken a big step in his second season. He has his mentality to thank.

“I just try to prepare as if I’m going to be starting at safety,” Hooker said. “That way I can help out (Kevin Byard) and (Vaccaro), (that) if they don’t see something, I can help them out on the sidelines. I just try to do my best to stay up to speed, try to stay neck-and-neck with Kenny and KB during the week about first- and second-down stuff, and not just the third-down stuff.”

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Japan's 'Twitter Killer' Sentenced To Death In Killing Of 9

A Japanese court sentenced a convicted murderer dubbed the, "Twitter Killer," to death early Tuesday.

Takahiro Shiraishi, 30, was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court for the murder of eight women and one man, according to reports. Shiraishi also robbed and sexually assaulted the eight women he murdered, some of whom were underage.

Shiraishi used Twitter to lure the women, who shared on the website they wanted to commit suicide. He told them he could help them kill themselves. But once in his apartment, Shiraishi strangled them to death. Afterward, Shiraishi dismembered their bodies and stored the body parts throughout his apartment. The man he killed was murdered to conceal the death of his first victim.

News of the shocking crime pushed Twitter to roll out new rules against promoting or encouraging suicide and social harm on the site. It also led Japan's government to expand telephone and online suicide support channels.

Shiraishi was arrested in 2017 for the killings, after police searched his apartment following complaints made by a victim's brother. The brother had discovered Twitter messages between Shiraishi and his sister, according to The Washington Post. When police arrived they found bodies stored in Shiraishi's freezer and other containers.


During his trial, Shiraishi's defense team claimed he deserved a lesser sentence because he helped the victims, who had wanted to die, commit suicide. But Shiraishi himself tanked this defense during his trial and said while on the stand that the women hadn't consented to being killed, according to The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

He specifically targeted most of his victims. He said during the trial, "It was easier for me to convince people with worries and other issues and manipulate them to my way of thinking."

Death penalty in Japan

Japan regularly executes prisoners, though at a slower rate than the U.S. Prisoners there are executed by hanging, according to the Death Penalty Database.

The date of the execution is kept a secret, to both the prisoner and their family. The offender is only notified on the morning of his execution.

There were three executions in the country in 2019, according to Amnesty International.

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2020: When a Pandemic and Extreme Weather Collided

The coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States in March, just as the annual severe weather season was kicking off.

At the same time states were issuing lockdowns, closing schools and telling everyone to stay home, forecasters were warning of tornadoes and flooding and, as the year went on, hurricanes, heat waves and wildfires.

Officials worried that people would be reluctant to leave their homes in case of an evacuation. Some communities said they wouldn't open shelters, and if they did, they should only be used as a last resort.

Health departments, emergency management agencies, the National Weather Service, the American Meteorological Society, FEMA and the CDC all chimed in, offering advice and safety procedures for sheltering.

Like so many things in 2020, the new coronavirus made weather-related emergencies and disasters more complicated. And of all the years, this was the one that had to have a record string of tropical storms and hurricanes, some of the hottest temperatures ever seen on Earth and a wildfire season like no other.

Hotel Rooms Instead of Shelters

The American Red Cross provided more than 1 million overnight stays to people during weather-related evacuations this year, four times the annual average over the past 10 years.

"2020 was an unprecedented year on so many levels, and disaster response-wise [it] was no different," Red Cross spokesperson Greta Gustafson told weather.com in a recent interview.

The agency, accustomed to helping run shelters where cots are laid out in tight rows and crowds of people are fed en masse, changed it up this year to accommodate social distancing, in many cases setting up check-in points where people were handed hotel vouchers.

In the biggest disasters the Red Cross responded to – wildfires in California and Oregon and hurricanes in Louisiana – 90% of the overnight stays were in individual hotel rooms, Gustafson said.

And in places where group shelters did open, strict protocols were in place.

"Even myself – as a worker – I had to get my temperature taken, I needed to make sure that I was wearing a mask, and there was hand sanitizer everywhere," Gustafson said.
Outbreak at Hurricane Hunters Base

In June, at least five employees at NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters base in Lakeland, Florida, tested positive for COVID-19. While there were no indications the outbreak impacted hurricane forecasting, the pandemic did change the way flights operated.

The number of personnel that would normally fly on the planes, a critical tool in hurricane forecasting, was cut to a minimum. Where once 18 people were on board, including multiple meteorologists and other scientists, engineers, pilots and navigators, that number dropped to nine, with only critical crew members on board, the Orlando Sentinel reported.


Cleaning of planes was increased and a medical officer monitored the health and wellness of flight crews, NOAA spokesperson Jonathan Shannon told weather.com when the outbreak was reported.

The outbreak was also a stark reminder of how the coronavirus had invaded nearly every part of society, even those critical to helping keep people safe during severe weather.
Weather Models Affected

The sudden drop-off in air traffic as both domestic and international travel came to a screeching halt left computer models lacking in some data that guides day-to-day forecasting.

As part of their routine flying operations, commercial aircraft collect observations of temperature and wind. Many airlines send the data to government weather agencies and other users around the world. More than 800,000 such transmissions were sent in 2017, according to the American Meteorological Society.

By late March of this year, the volume of aircraft weather observations over the U.S. had dropped by more than half. Worldwide, the number had declined 75 to 80% by May, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

In a report on the impacts of the pandemic, the WMO said many users turned to other technology, such as using more satellites and weather balloons, to fill the data gap left by the drop in air travel.

"The crisis has provided a reminder of the danger of over-reliance on observations of opportunity, such as aircraft-based observations. While these data are unquestionably highly valuable ... the COVID crisis has shown that their availability is determined entirely by commercial and operational constraints of the airlines that provide them," the report said.

It added that, going forward, "it will be crucial to maintain a certain level of investment in core observations" for the specific purpose of weather, climate and the environment.
Critical Climate Research Suspended

As universities shut down and laboratories scaled back, critical climate research was in some cases put on hold. In particular, annual research trips to Antarctica were canceled or shortened.

"It is gut-wrenching," Nancy Bertler, director of the Antarctic Science Platform in New Zealand, told National Geographic in August. "We only have a few years left to make some very significant changes to avoid the worst of climate change consequences, and we can’t afford to wait a year."

While Antarctica has some of the harshest conditions on the planet, the nearly 2.5-mile-thick layer of ice that sits on the continent is a key record of climate change and environmental impacts. Scientists also monitor ice melting, temperatures and other data to track the past and future of global warming.

A few dozen remote research stations scattered across the region support thousands of scientists each year from October through May, which is summertime at the South Pole. Those stations aren't equipped to deal with coronavirus, nor did researchers want to risk spreading the disease.

Travel restrictions also made it more difficult to go forward with the research season.
Firefighters Battled The Virus, Too

At least 43 cases of COVID-19 were reported among crews battling the Cameron Peak Fire in October, the largest wildfire in Colorado state history. In November, a spokesperson for the National Forest Service told Wildfire Today that more than 200 of the service's firefighters had tested positive since the start of the pandemic.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, which includes a database of reviews and advice from firefighting agencies around the country, has more than 50 reports on how COVID-19 has impacted wildfire response efforts. Many of them detail the successes and failures of maintaining coronavirus protocols while fighting often massive blazes that involve crews from multiple agencies.

The protocols put in place this year included fewer personnel riding in vehicles together; restrictions on where and how they can get food; smaller fire camps; social distancing in gathering areas; temperature checks; and other mitigation measures.

But firefighters on the ground say it's not as easy as it sounds, especially in a community where familylike relationships are the norm.

"People will try and handshake, they will come up on you (close)," Shawn Faiella, superintendent of the Lolo National Forest’s interagency hotshot crew in Montana, wrote in his account of lessons learned during a fire early in the season. "You must be vigilant and tell them to back off. And while this is a great part of fire culture – it's just not the right time."

Faiella noted that while coronavirus protocols should be a priority, "It is damn tough to take these practices to the fireline."

As the season exploded into what would be one of the worst in history for several states, firefighter trainings were canceled, work and training were done remotely where possible, departments scrambled to gather PPE and a change in overall operations took place, according to a year-end summary from the wildland fire center.

"Distilling things down, the pandemic provided a general disheveling of our standard operating procedures," the summary said. "It hasn’t been all good and it hasn’t been all bad."

Among the challenges: Crews from different areas had different baselines for social distancing and mask-wearing.

The Long, Dark Winter

As we head into the heart of winter, the intersection of coronavirus and weather shows no sign of abating. Health experts correctly predicted that cases would surge in the fall and winter, in part because people tend to gather indoors more in cooler weather.

Agencies that serve the homeless say those who have no place to live are especially at risk from COVID-19. Due to social distancing requirements, the shelters that give them a warm place to sleep when temperatures drop are facing limited capacity.

"The challenge is going to be extreme this winter," Michael Basford, director of Wisconsin's Department of Administration's Interagency Council on Homelessness, told Wisconsin Public Radio.

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Putin Congratulates Biden After Electoral College Vote

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia congratulated Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday on having won the American presidential election — more than a month after the Democrat became the U.S. president-elect.

Mr. Putin’s long delay in offering congratulations, while President Trump has refused to accept the election results, was widely viewed as a prelude  to a frosty relationship between the Kremlin and Mr. Biden’s White House. On Tuesday, after the Electoral College confirmed Mr. Biden’s victory, the Kremlin ended its wait and announced that Mr. Putin had sent the former vice president a “congratulatory telegram” marking his “victory in the United States presidential election.”

“Vladimir Putin wished the president-elect every success and expressed confidence that Russia and the United States, which bear special responsibility for global security and stability, can, despite their differences, effectively contribute to solving many problems and meeting challenges that the world is facing today,” the Kremlin’s statement said.

Mr. Putin had been one of the last major holdouts among world leaders in sending Mr. Biden the sort of congratulatory message that is routine in international diplomacy, even among adversaries. China congratulated Mr. Biden on Nov. 13, 10 days after Election Day.

However, Mr. Putin was not alone in withholding good wishes, with some of Mr. Trump’s closest allies overseas taking a wait-and-see approach. These included Poland’s right-wing government, with President Andrzej Duda waiting until this week to offer his congratulations.

“After the election of the Electoral College, I would like to congratulate you on the successful election result and wish you a successful term of office,” Mr. Duda said in a statement. “Relations between Poland and the U.S.A. are a pillar of security, European and trans-Atlantic stability.”

The Kremlin had said that since Mr. Trump had not conceded, it was waiting for an “official announcement” of the American election result. The delay in recognizing Mr. Biden as president-elect also allowed Russian state media to underline, for its domestic audience, what it cast as the chaotic and illegitimate nature of American democracy.

But the Kremlin also recognizes that it will need to work with Mr. Biden — not least on nuclear arms control, with a major treaty limiting American and Russian nuclear warhead numbers expiring on Feb. 5. Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin have signaled that they would like to extend the treaty, but they will not be able to make it official until after Mr. Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

“Russian-American cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual respect would respond to the interests of the peoples of both countries and the entire international community,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Biden, according to the Kremlin.

Mr. Putin added: “For my part, I am ready for interaction and contacts with you.”

Mr. Biden, however, has promised to take a tougher line on Russia than did Mr. Trump. Underscoring the tensions, American officials acknowledged on Monday that the State Department and parts of the Pentagon were among the government entities compromised by a sophisticated Russian hacking attack.

Mr. Biden will also need to decide how to respond to mounting evidence that the Russian government was behind the poisoning in August of Aleksei A. Navalny, the country’s most prominent opposition leader, with a military-grade nerve agent. Officers from a Russian spy unit with expertise in poisons trailed Mr. Navalny for years and were nearby when he was poisoned, a team of investigative journalists reported on Monday.

“The mode of attack leaves no doubt as to where the responsibility lies — the Russian state,” Mr. Biden said of the Navalny poisoning in September, criticizing Mr. Trump for inaction. “As president, I will do what Donald Trump refuses to do: work with our allies and partners to hold the Putin regime accountable for its crimes.”

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Jackson returns to save Ravens with 47-42 win over Browns

Lamar Jackson's only thought was to rescue his teammates.

Like any other superhero.

Jackson emerged from the locker room, saved the game and maybe Baltimore's season with a 47-42 win over the Cleveland Browns in a wild, back-and-forth Monday night game in which the teams combined to tie a 98-year-old NFL record.

Back on the field after being sidelined by cramps, Jackson threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown and then set up Justin Tucker's 55-yard field goal with two seconds left as the Ravens (8-5) stayed in the playoff picture.

A game dripping with playoff intensity delivered with endless drama and numerous twists, none bigger than Jackson running back onto the field for a fourth-down play after his backup, Trace McSorley, had suffered a knee injury.

Jackson, who missed a recent game with COVID-19, said he received fluids in the locker room and was getting stretched when he saw McSorley get hurt.

“I’m still stretching and I’m like, ‘We gotta go out there,’” he said. “It was fourth down, my guys were making great catches and we came out with the victory. As soon as I saw him go down, I came out of the locker room.”

Jackson first hit Brown for the TD and then, after getting the ball back with 1:04 left, got Baltimore in position for Tucker, who made 70 straight field goals inside 40 yards before missing last week. He made this one look pretty routine, providing an uplifting moment for the Ravens after they spent the past two weeks dealing with a virus outbreak and numerous scheduling changes.

“It’s definitely good that we made that kick, given everything this team is going through right now,'” Tucker said. “It keeps us in the playoff picture. We definitely needed to have this one. What the world saw on Monday Night Football was a Ravens team playing with guts.”

It was a gut punch for the Browns (9-4), who had rallied from a 14-point deficit to take the lead while Jackson was out.

The Browns had one last chance after Tucker's kick, but a series of laterals on the final play ended with a safety that affected gamblers all over the country. The Ravens were favored by three on the opening line.

“There can either be good or bad to come from this,” said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, whose 22-yard TD pass to Kareem Hunt with 1:04 left tied it. "You can start pointing fingers, but that’s not this team. We know that we need to fight and make the plays to win when we need to.”

The NFL's top two rushing teams combined for nine rushing touchdowns, tying a league record set in 1922 by Rock Island and Evansville and then Racine and Louisville.

Jackson rushed for two touchdowns and 124 yards. He completed just 11 passes, but five of them came after he returned from the cramps.

With the Ravens down 42-35, Jackson came running back onto the field after McSorley suffered what looked like a serious leg injury when he slipped on a slick FirstEnergy Stadium field that was tough for players to cut on all night.

Jackson spent the first half slipping all over the place before changing cleats.

With no margin for error on fourth-and-5, Jackson calmly rolled to his right — and after getting the Browns to think he was going to run — he found a wide-open Brown in the middle of the field.

"That was a big-time play. We needed that," tight end Mark Andrews said. "It’s hard to describe this game because everyone was doing their thing. Just a lot of fun.”

Even after Jackson's throw, Mayfield wasn't going to be denied. He drove the Browns 75 yards, hitting Hunt for the score.

Jackson then showed why he's a superstar.

The reigning NFL MVP completed two straight passes to Andrews, who missed the past two games with COVID-19, for 28 yards and moved the Ravens in range for Tucker, one of the most accurate kickers in league history.

Mayfield had shaken off a costly interception and brought the Browns back, scrambling from the pocket a la Jackson and scoring on a run with 6:33 left.

The Browns were beaten 38-6 by the Ravens in Week 1, but Cleveland looked like a different team — like a playoff team.

“That's a really good football team with a lot of heart,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s a game that’s going to go down in history. Our guys had faith and trust and belief and sometimes that’s what it takes.”

Nick Chubb had two TD runs for the Browns, while Gus Edwards had two for the Ravens.


Injured Browns cornerback Greedy Williams revealed on Twitter that he's been dealing with axillary nerve damage in his shoulder since getting hurt in training camp. He hasn't played this season.

Cleveland was counting on Williams to handle the starting cornerback spot opposite Denzel Ward, who missed his third straight game with a calf injury.


Ravens: CB Jimmy Smith left in the second half with a shoulder injury. ... CB Marcus Peters left with a calf injury in the fourth quarter.

Browns: Defensive star Myles Garrett missed one play in the first half with an elbow injury. ... Rookie LT Jedrick Wills went off briefly in the third quarter with a leg injury, but came back.

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Ann Reinking, Tony-Winning 'Chicago' and 'All That Jazz' Star, Dies at 71

The dancer and choreographer also starred onstage in 'A Chorus Line' and onscreen in 'Annie' and 'Micki + Maude.'

Ann Reinking, the Tony-winning choreographer and star of stage and screen who appeared in Chicago, Annie and All That Jazz, has died. She was 71.

Her manager, Lee Gross, told the Associated Press that she died Saturday while seeing family in Seattle.

"The lights on Broadway are forever more dim this morning and there is one less star in the sky," dancer and choreographer Christopher Dean, who teaches Reinking's great niece, said in a Facebook post on Monday. "The good news is that heaven has the very best choreographer on earth now. Thank you Ann for having the most profound impact on my career. We are even more blessed by the entire Reinking family who have welcomed us in and been a huge part of our lives this past year. The world will miss Ann so much!! The angels are all singing 'We got Annie!!'"

Born in Seattle and trained as a ballet dancer, Reinking made her Broadway debut in 1969 in Cabaret after moving to New York just a few years earlier. She caught the attention of choreographer and director Bob Fosse, who would become her mentor as well as a romantic partner, while appearing as a chorus performer in 1972's Pippin.

She earned her first Tony nomination as Joan of Arc in 1975's Goodtime Charley and soon landed major roles, replacing Donna McKechnie as Cassie in A Chorus Line (1976) and Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart in Chicago (1977). She earned her second Tony nom in 1978 for Fosse's Dancin'.

"I'm beyond words to hear of the sudden and untimely passing of my dear friend Ann Reinking. The world has lost such a beautiful soul and talent," Broadway legend Chita Rivera said in a statement. "We met during the original Chicago and remained close friends to this day. Just the other day I received my annual holiday poinsettia from her! I loved sharing the stage with her whenever we could. Her spirit and razzle-dazzle will be with me forever."

Reinking made her film debut in Fosse's semi-autobiographical All That Jazz, playing a version of herself called Kate Jagger, in 1979. She returned to the silver screen as secretary Grace Farrell in 1982's Annie and also played the eponymous Micki Salinger in 1984's Micki + Maude. In 2019's FX television drama Fosse/Verdon, Reinking was portrayed by Margaret Qualley.

She began choreographing in the late '80s and worked on the 1996 revival of Chicago as both a star and choreographer, the latter work landing her her first Tony. Reinking additionally co-created, co-directed and co-choreographed 1999's Fosse, which landed her a third Tony nom, for direction.

''You have to have tunnel vision as a dancer to get to where you're going,'' she told The New York Times in 2002, by which time she was choreographing and directing. ''But once you get there, you have to save yourself by spreading your horizons. It's the paradox of this profession. The very thing that makes you very good will destroy you."

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The Rod Serling Christmas Movie You Never Saw

A Christmas Carol is the definitive Christmas story. Yes, you might try and argue it’s the nativity, but the volume of movie adaptations begs to differ, and I can tell your heart’s not in it. And yes, I see those of you rushing to the comments to tell us it’s Die Hard and I think you’re very big and clever.

But A Christmas Carol has everything, all the trappings of Christmas, that sliver of darkness running through the whole thing, and above all a strong seasonal message to remind us what Christmas is about.

The story has been reimagined and retold endless times since Charles Dickens’ book came out, from textually accurate recreations such as A Muppet Christmas Carol (seriously) to modern-day reimagining like the Bill Murray vehicle, Scrooged.

And across all of these different retellings, the seasonal message is usually the first casualty. Scrooge’s lesson is often softened into “charity is good” or “don’t be mean to people”, or, at its worst, Scrooge’s sin is made out to be that he doesn’t like Christmas.

But A Christmas Carol itself is unflinching in its look at poverty, and poverty as a direct result of the actions of the powerful, and Scrooge’s argument for “decreasing the surplus population” still wouldn’t look out of place in several mainstream journalism outlets today. Very few adaptations of the book, even the faithful ones, capture the anger that runs through the original story. It’s not a general anger at the idea of “meanness”. It’s a very specific anger targeting political ideas and rhetoric that people held then and now.

Over a hundred years later, Rod Serling was another writer who wasn’t afraid of using his writing to express political anger. Anyone who’s seen even a handful of episodes of The Twilight Zone will know Serling used his platform to target McCarthyism, war, bigotry, and conformity.

The opening narration of one of the most famous episodes, ‘To Serve Man’, reads:

“The world went on much as it had been going on, with the tentative tip-toeing alongside a precipice of crisis. There was Berlin to worry about, and Indo-China and Algeria and all the other myriad of problems, major and minor, that somehow had lost their edge of horror because we were so familiar with them.”

That atmosphere of dull, routine, existential terror will sound familiar to anyone who has just lived through the post-2016 Hell Years.

But while Serling was determined that The Twilight Zone would tell stories about the issues he cared about, he also had to fight tooth and nail against networks and advertisers that wanted nothing less than to be associated with anything “political”. So Serling’s political messages were frequently veiled in magic, “Men from Mars” and hypothetical futures.

So it’s surprising that, in all 156 original Twilight Zone episodes, most of them written by Rod Serling himself, that the show never tried its own twist on the classic Christmas story that was in many ways tailor-made for the Twilight Zone treatment.

Except Rod Serling did write his own take on A Christmas Carol, as a TV movie featuring Peter Sellers, and it’s been almost completely forgotten.

A Carol for Another Christmas

A Carol for Another Christmas was a TV movie, aired on the American Broadcasting Company on the December 28 1964. It was the first in a planned series of movies promoting the United Nations. The final one of these films, about a UN narcotics agent, is believed to be the last story written by Ian Fleming before his death.

That A Carol for Another Christmas was part of this series is probably why Serling was free to be far more openly and explicitly political than we’ve seen in even the angriest episodes of The Twilight Zone. It takes the line “Mankind was my business!” from Charles Dickens’s story, and turns it into a tale about America’s role on the international stage. It doesn’t linger on the trimmings of Christmas, instead taking a long, hard look at the dead, the dying and the suffering. At times it feels like a Christmas special from the makers of Threads.

The film also boasts a turn by Peter Sellers as a terrifying post-apocalyptic cult leader.

Peter Sellers appears in a modern remake of A Christmas Carol penned by the writer of The Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes seems like a genuine piece of television history, and yet it’s virtually impossible to find today. Since its first broadcast in 1964, the film was only available to view at the Paley Center for Media in New York and Los Angeles and the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles, and rare bootleg copies.

In 2012 TCM broadcast it for the first time since its original showing, and has done annually since, and has made it available for limited-time on-demand streaming via TCM.com. But there has never been a home video or DVD release and the film has never been broadcast elsewhere.

So as we go into a recap of the film itself, we’ll issue the standard spoiler warning, but also beware that if you’re waiting to watch it yourself you might have a long search ahead of you.

Three Very Different Ghosts

Watching A Carol for Another Christmas is a strange experience. The film is both frighteningly relevant but also weirdly dated, and extremely of its time. The structure of the story is the one you already know.

Scrooge- here called “Daniel Grudge”, is approached by his nephew, argues with him about Christmas, then is approached by three ghosts bearing the three usual messages, “You weren’t always this way”, “Others are not like you”, and finally “This is what will happen if you continue this way”.

Grudge, a wealthy industrialist, is approached by his nephew, Fred, who is furious because Grudge has put a stop to a foreign academic exchange scheme, and we’re already seeing here where Serling is leaving the source material behind.

Grudge’s sin isn’t mere miserliness. He’s an all-out American isolationist. He wants the foreigners to stay behind their fences while America stays behind its own, and Fred’s argument that America has no choice but to engage in the international community falls on deaf ears.

Grudge’s motive for this is that his son, Marley, is a soldier who has died fighting a war elsewhere (based on the timing we can reasonably guess it’s Vietnam). He’s angry that every 20 years the US gets dragged into a foreign war, and sees the UN and foreign exchange schemes and similar as getting involved in and giving handouts to places where it isn’t America’s business. His ideal is for the USA to stay behind its fence, building faster jets and bigger bombs so that other countries know to leave it alone.

After seeing a brief apparition of Marley, Grudge is transported to a boat, filled with coffins covered in the flags of different nations. The Ghost of Christmas past that introduces himself to us is as the war dead. Not just the American war dead, but an amalgamation of everyone who ever died in a war.

In a line that will have unexpected resonance for modern viewers, Grudge describes the war dead as a “sucker brigade”.

It’s a fascinating but confusing exchange. Serling, through his stories and his words, was openly against the Vietnam War, and yet his proxy, the Ghost of Christmas Past, makes a passionate case for America’s involvement in foreign wars “every twenty years” with a clear nod towards the combat in Vietnam. Ultimately, the Ghost of Christmas Past is arguing for the importance of talking. “When you don’t talk, you fight,” he says.

The most chilling moment comes when the Ghost reminds Grudge of his comment that other countries need to know America “isn’t too chicken to use the bomb”, and points out that they already know it.

The next scene takes Grudge back to his naval service, inspecting a hospital in Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped, and for a piece of 1960s prime-time Christmas viewing, it does not pull its punches. Rod Serling served in the occupational force in Japan and he has no time for sugar-coating this.

A doctor introduces young Grudge to Japanese children who looked up as the bomb detonated and had their faces flash burned off. The film lingers on these children and refuses to move on until you get a sense of the true horror of Hiroshima. It’s something you can’t picture TV doing today, and definitely not on ABC on the 28th of December.

 “Watching Makes all the Difference”

The Ghost of Christmas Present at first seems far more like the one we remember from the Muppets. A man in a dressing gown gorging himself on a banquet. The Ghost of Christmas Present isn’t here to take Grudge on a rooftop flight, however- even with 1960s TV budget permitting.

Instead, the dark background lights up to reveal this banquet table is right next to the barbed wire fence of an internment camp for displaced peoples, another image that is horribly resonant for modern audiences. As Grudge criticises the ghost for eating his feast while starving refugees watch, the Ghost simply responds that the “watching makes all the difference”.

Once again, Serling isn’t here to talk about “the needy” as some vague concept to make people feel better about themselves. He talks about giving people around the world vaccinations for their children, rolls off figures such as 13 million people with tuberculosis, 130 million with malaria, three billion suffering from hunger. He talks about people closing their windows as violent crimes occur in the street- mere months after the murder of Catherine Susan Genovese, the story which would eventually lead to the codifying of the “By-Stander Effect”.

The Ghost of Christmas Past says “You were not always like this”, the “you” is America, the “were not always like this” is (even with Hiroshima) a somewhat rose-tinted view of America’s foreign policy interventions.

The Ghost of Christmas Present says “Others are not like you”, and in this case shows us the suffering around the world and the USA’s responsibility to it.

Anyone who’s seen a version of A Christmas Carol before knows what comes next, and it doesn’t take a Ghost of Christmas Future to guess what the next vision will entail.

Grudge finds himself in his local town hall, a bombed-out wreck. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a far more verbose spirit of Christmas future than we’ve come to expect, points out that in this future people have “less need for a platform for debate”.

One of the things that most jars with a modern audience watching this film, aside from an oddly uncritical perception of America’s role on the world stage, is the film’s constant refrain that “debate” is a good thing. In this film “debate” is what you do instead of fighting, it’s a way to find compromise, to solve problems. It rings very strangely in a time when “debate” is mostly associated with rhetorical games played in bad faith, and the idea we have some sort of duty to listen to and validate even the most toxic ideas.

We learn, unsurprisingly, that when the talking stopped the fighting started, and now the last few humans are living in the radioactive ruins of the civilisation that came before.

Then we meet Peter Sellers’ character, the Imperial Me. This is Sellers at his most comic and sinister, dressed up like an 18th-century pilgrim wearing a huge hat with “ME” written on it in giant sequins. Sellers is leading a horde of post-apocalyptic cultists to war against a nearby community that wants to “talk” and “debate”. The Imperial Me takes Grudge’s philosophy to its ultimate extreme, all that anyone should look out for is themselves. The Individual Me is above all, and after this tribe has killed off all the other rival tribes, they will set to killing each other, until the last individual is alone in the perfect society.

I’ve friends who work in the NHS with patients who won’t wear a mask “because it protects you, it doesn’t protect me”, so this scene hasn’t lost any of its bite.

Anyway, you know how the story goes from here. Grudge asks if these are things that will be or things that may be. He wakes up at home on Christmas morning. He reconciles with his nephew, admitting that “no man is an island”.

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Google to Let Users Opt Out of Gambling Ads

Google is going to introduce a new feature that will let users to limit ads related to alcohol and gambling if they don’t want to see them.

The feature will be rolled out to users in a phased manner, beginning with YouTube Ads in the US, and then gradually Google aims to introduce this for Google Ads and YouTube globally in early 2021. Countries with legal restrictions against serving gambling and alcohol ads will not see any change in their policies.

 In a blog post, the company said that it will provide YouTube users with more controls to limit ads on sensitive topics such as gambling. For this, it is adding a new feature in Ad Settings that will allow users to limit targeted advertising for such topics.

“We’ve heard feedback that some people would prefer to limit ads in certain categories like gambling so today, we’re launching a new control in Ad Settings, enabling people to see fewer gambling ads, as an additional option,” Google said.

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How to Observe Today’s South American Total Solar Eclipse

Today, Dec. 14, observers along a narrow path in northern Patagonia, crossing Chile and Argentina, will witness one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena: a total eclipse of the Sun. Such an event usually draws travelers from around the world. But because of COVID-19 and its attendant restrictions, few Americans or international travelers are there to see it in person.

Argentina’s borders have been largely closed to Americans, and Chile only recently has allowed travelers in without them having to quarantine for 14 days. Many tours and flights were canceled. The few persistent travelers who recently arrived in Chile, with proof of a recent negative Covid test and other documentation, have been able to move freely despite alleged non-travel zones.

After seeing the spectacular July 2019 total solar eclipse from northwestern Argentina at the foot of the Andes (see photo above), I had been looking forward to returning to South America for today’s eclipse, but that was not to be. Between travel uncertainty and the threat of COVID-19, I opted to stay home in New York, but I will be checking out some of the live feeds that I detail below to view the eclipse vicariously.

The path of today’s eclipse across South America is somewhat similar to the 2019 event, except that the Moon’s shadow will track about 300 miles farther south, crossing northern Patagonia. It is now approaching midsummer in the southern hemisphere, while the 2019 eclipse occurred during South American winter. And while last year’s eclipse occurred in the late afternoon for Chile and Argentina, this one will happen when the Sun is very high (~76 degrees) in the sky.

The eclipse starts at dawn in the Pacific, about 500 km east of the Marquesas islands, and then the Moon’s shadow tracks across 2,000 miles of open ocean before the northern edge of the shadow passes over Isla Mocha off the Chilean coast, crosses the coastline near the town of Saavedra, and then sweeps across Chile and Argentina, the center line passing near the Chilean resort towns of Villerica and Pucon. Mid-eclipse occurs near the town of Sierra Colorada in central Argentina at 1:14 p.m. local time (11:14 a.m. E.T.) where totality is at its maximum duration of 2 minutes 10 seconds and the Sun is high in the sky (76 degrees). The Moon’s shadow soon completes its passage of South America, the center line passing near the resort of La Gruta on the Golfo San Matias, and then its sweeps out into the South Atlantic, with totality ending at sunset about 120 miles off the African coast west of Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Even the eclipse’s partial phases are largely visible only in the Southern Hemisphere, and will not be seen in North America at all. Fortunately, some organizations plan to live-stream the event. Watching a feed is no substitute for being there in person, but it can be a worthwhile experience, as I discovered while monitoring several feeds from the 2016 eclipse from Indonesia and Woleai atoll. NASA has a page up for the eclipse and will be doing a live feed starting at 10:30 a.m. on NASA TV’s public channel. SLOOH, a robotic telescope service, also will run a live feed starting at 9:30 a.m. Canal 10, a news station in Rio Negro, Argentina, will live-stream the event in Spanish. Time and Date is also doing a live stream starting at 9:30 a.m. It is great that there are such a variety of live feeds because there is no guarantee of clear weather at any given site.

Compared with some total eclipses, which often cross remote and poorly accessible parts of our planet, today’s event would have been relatively easy for travelers to get to were it not for COVID-19. Not so the eclipse of December 4, 2021, in which the path of totality crosses western Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and will require some extreme travel to observe. There will be expeditions to view the eclipse from a chartered flight, from a cruise ship, and from a camp in Antarctica, with passengers flown there from the southern tip of South America. All are expensive propositions, with flights costing upwards of $12,000, cruises (which can last three weeks or more) at least $15,000, and a stay of several nights in Antarctica running about $40,000.

The following solar eclipse, in 2023, with the best observing prospects in Australia’s remote North West Cape Peninsula, will be easier but still challenging. But mark your calendar for April 8, 2024, when a relatively long eclipse—with totality lasting up to 4 minutes 28 seconds, is due to cross Mexico, the United States, and Canada’s Maritime Provinces, with the cities of Mazatlan, Dallas, Indianapolis, Buffalo, and Rochester all squarely within the path of totality.

That may be a long wait for those seeking to see their first (or next) total solar eclipse. But in the interim—although it’s no substitute for seeing the eclipse with your own eyes—we can at least count on having live feeds of those eclipses we can’t attend.

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Gmail, YouTube down: Google services back online after widespread outage

Google services suffered a widespread outage that lasted over an hour on Monday, as users around the world complained that they couldn't access their email. According to DownDetector, the problem appears to have affected Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Hangouts and Google Meet. 

The outage began at around 6:25 a.m. ET (3:25 a.m. PT), and continued for over an hour. Google's own Workspace Status Dashboard showed all its services to be suffering outages without exception. But Google Search appeared to still be working, as did Chrome. At around 7:40 a.m. ET (4:40 a.m. PT) services appeared to start coming back online.

The outage will undoubtedly mean a terrible start to the week not just for Google, but for all the workers, students and businesses around the world who rely on Google Services.

Google didn't immediately address the problem on social media or respond to request for comment about the outage. The BBC reported that a spokesperson for Google had said they were unable to access their email.

The hashtag #GoogleDown was trending on Twitter, with people complaining of being unable to do their jobs, complete assignments and meet important deadlines. Other users mused over our collective dependency on Google, wondering if it was perhaps, in fact, bad.

The cause of the outage is as yet unclear, but Google will be likely be keen to get to the root of the problem to prevent a repeat of the situation in future.

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Eminem Cosigns Barack Obama's Dramatic Reading Of His '8-Mile' Smash 'Lose Yourself'

Eminem’s 2002 hit “Lose Yourself” has been utilized as a motivator for sports teams, used in commercials to push products and even pulled into presidential campaigns. The Academy Award-winning single from Slim Shady’s 8 Mile soundtrack is also admired by former United States president Barack Obama.

In a sit-down with Attn, Obama broke down how he turned to Hip Hop whenever in need of inspiration.


“Whenever I needed some inspiration on the presidential campaign, I often turned to music,” Obama said. “It was rap that got my head in the right place. Two songs especially: JAY-Z’s ‘My 1st Song’ and Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself.’ Both are about defying the odds and putting it all on the line.”

Obama also managed to pull off a dramatic reading of “Lose Yourself,” which not only went viral but also caught the attention of Eminem who shared the post on his Instagram Stories with a simple prayer hand emoji.

The power of “Lose Yourself” was harnessed recently for an individual close to Obama, former vice president Joe Biden. The now President-Elect picked the popular song for a 2020 presidential campaign video as a way to toast Michigan voters and highlight America working for a better tomorrow in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After Biden became the projected winner of Michigan during the November 4 election, numerous Shady fans took to Twitter to credit Em for swinging the state in Biden’s favor. After a number of lawsuits filed by Donald Trump and his legal team to overturn election results in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania were dismissed by the Supreme Court on Friday (December 11), the Electoral College will formally certify Biden as the winner of the 2020 Election on Monday (December 14).

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How To Create A Great Future: Taking Stock And Moving Forward

As each day brings us closer to the end of 2020, it’s a rare person who isn’t cheering for the close of this terrible, horrible, very bad year. But before you slam shut your daybook or agree with yourself to repress the majority of your experiences this year, take time to take stock.

Hard times are—well—hard, but they do force us to find new solutions and cope in new ways which foster innovation and resilience. Going through really tough situations together is also one of the primary ways we strengthen bonds with others, and this connectedness can be especially good for our wellbeing.

This might have been the year when you were laid off, or took a pay cut. Perhaps the new job you’d landed was cancelled or your promotion never came through. At the same time, 2020 may have been the year when you spent more time with your family, finally saw the payoffs of your at-home fitness equipment or started your own Etsy store. It’s been a year of downs, for sure. But it may have had some ups as well.

Now is the time to reflect, regroup and take stock so you can hit the ground running again when the time is right. Here’s what to consider as you look back and look forward in order to get a great start to your future:

Consider Where You Started

Give conscious thought to what you were doing (and, if you can remember, what you were thinking) at the beginning of 2020. It may feel especially far away—practically when dinosaurs roamed the Earth—because this was, of course, before we had a clue about the wallop the pandemic would pack. But as much as possible, get clear on that starting point. What were your plans and hopes? Give yourself an extra pat on the back if you accomplished all your goals in spite of the pandemic. But give yourself a break if you didn’t achieve all you’d hoped—for obvious reasons. Use your original aims as a starting point for where you’ll go from here, building on where you’ve been, and refreshing intentions for where you’ll go.

Consider What You’ve Achieved

Reflect on all you’ve accomplished in the last 12 months. Think broadly about your work, your family, your volunteer contributions, your network and your wellbeing. Define your achievements in more than just traditional terms. Success anytime, but especially in 2020, doesn’t have to mean you wrote a best-seller, received three promotions or won the Nobel Prize. Give yourself credit for the ordinary. You may have maintained your sanity, kept up your motivation for your job, helped a child with at-home learning or gotten groceries every week. In 2020, even the easy things became hard—so give yourself credit for all you’ve slogged through.

Consider What You’ve Helped Others Achieve

Any high school or college student will chide their parents to get a life of their own, but in truth, the accomplishments of our friends and family really are relevant. We are all part of a community and the connections created and sustained are still worthy of praise— as is the support given to others—whether up close or from a distance. It’s not about taking credit for others’ deeds, but it is about reminding yourself about your role in the community. If you donated to the food bank, helped a coworker or wrote letters to elderly residents of a nearby care facility, you’ve made a contribution to the whole—and to their success.

Consider What You’ve Learned

Post traumatic growth is a psychological concept which suggests that traumatic times can result in positive outcomes. Perhaps you’ve learned a new skill (how to teach a child, how to knit, how to coach grandma about her video technology). Perhaps you’ve gained a new window on yourself—what you can handle, how much you can endure and what matters to you most. Perhaps you took on a project at work outside your normal responsibilities. Perhaps you’ve gained greater empathy for those around you. The brain is plastic, not elastic. When it is stretched, it doesn’t go back to the way things were, it develops to a new level—and you can begin 2021 from this new, expanded place. The things you learn are especially valuable to take forward and tap into for the future.

Consider What You Leave Behind

To clear space for the new lessons you’ll take along, you can also leave things behind. This will be especially rich for 2020. Consider what you want to ditch, purge or eliminate. I know a large company who was moving to a new building and they had a bonfire event for employees. Each person had the opportunity to write what they wanted to leave behind on a piece of paper, so it could be tossed into the fire. It was a celebration and a reminder of all they were intentionally choosing to let go. Perhaps you want to leave behind an old mindset or a belief that was holding you back. Perhaps the job that was eliminated wasn’t that great for your career anyway. Perhaps you can decide to turn your back on fear or anxiety or even those extra few pounds you attribute to the pandemic. Getting clear about what you no longer need can be powerfully positive for your wellbeing as you move forward.

Consider What’s Ahead

This is the best part. Take time to dream, hope and ideate about the future. Your ambitions don’t have to be big. And in fact, sometimes small is best. Give thought to new habits you want to cultivate, new behaviors you want to foster and new horizons you want to explore. Beyond the obvious goals you may set for career, finances and physical health, also consider how you want to develop new skills, new connections or new ways you can contribute in your community. Remind yourself about what’s working and what you’re proud of. Plan to invest energy in maintaining these areas of success, at the same time you look toward reaching, stretching and growing forward.

There’s a saying that applies here: “In the end, it will all work out. If it hasn’t worked out yet, it’s not the end.” Everyone gets an asterisk for 2020. It’s been a tough year. If your career dipped or plateaued, if your sales plummeted or if your emotions were in the dumps, you know circumstances had a lot to do with these conditions. But we humans are nothing if not adaptable, so with the end of 2020, you have the opportunity to pull yourself up, focus on the future, maintain hope for all that will come next and begin again.

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How To Help Your Team Set Goals—And Crush Them

In business and in life, good things start with goals. Setting difficult but achievable ones helps teams unlock their true potential. Without them, development and progress are haphazard, if they occur at all.

Goal setting is one of the most difficult parts of management. Here’s what I’ve learned about setting goals effectively for my team:

1. Start Small

While you want your team to accomplish great things, the best way to set goals is to start small. Biting off more than you can chew is discouraging. Nobody wins if your team members fall off the wagon immediately.

If your team’s ultimate goal is to double revenue by the end of the year, break that goal down into smaller ones. If signing four new clients would boost your revenue by 10%, make that a monthly goal. Do that month-over-month, and you’ll have 120% more revenue by the year’s end—a healthy 20% beyond your annual goal.

There’s nothing wrong with having a long-term goal. Just make sure you lay out attainable stepping stones along the way. 

2. Write it Down

Writing down your goals helps you commit them to memory. Post them in a visible location to keep them top of mind.

Don’t be picky about how or where your team does this. Maybe someone prefers to line their desktop monitor with Post-it notes. Perhaps others want to write down their goals on a whiteboard. Make sure they have the tools they need to work how and when they want.
3. Make Goals Measurable

A goal won’t do much for you if you don’t have a way to measure your progress. Saying that your goal is to have a successful month may be true, but how do you measure that?

Make sure your goals can be quantified. Does “having a successful month” mean hiring two new team members? Converting a certain number of users from free to paid accounts?

To make this easy, employ the SMART goal framework. These goals are:

    Specific: If it’s not clear what the goal is, your team will struggle to achieve it.
    Measurable: Will your progress be measured in dollar signs? Headcount?
    Attainable: If you can’t possibly achieve a goal, it’s just a dream.
    Relevant: Does your goal actually map to your business objectives? If not, it’s a waste of time.
    Time-based: Set a reasonable time horizon. Can you get this done in a week? A month?

4. Follow Up Often

Chances are, the goals you set with your team can’t be accomplished in a day. Long-term goals require frequent check ins. Touch base with your team at least once a week to gauge their progress.

Here, it’s important to listen at least as much as you speak. If one of your employees is struggling to achieve their goal of acquiring four new clients by the end of the month, ask them what you can do to help. You might be able to offer some encouragement, fresh leads, or a new sales tool. 

5. Offer Incentives

While it certainly feels good to achieve your goals, putting together the right incentive structure can promote progress through rewards. What the “right” incentives are will vary by your goals and team dynamics.

Some teams benefit from the competition. For example, maybe your salespeople need a vacation. Putting together an all-expenses-paid trip can motivate them to clinch those year-end sales.

Other teams benefit from collaboration. If your marketing team can qualify a certain number of leads each week, perhaps they all see a bonus in their paycheck. If the team doesn’t achieve its goal, though, then nobody receives the reward.
6. Praise Success

Often, the best reward is simple recognition of a job well done. Praise each team member who achieves their goal.

This is best done among peers. A little bit of praise from you goes a lot further if the whole team hears it.

Hold a short team meeting each month to review what goals were met and to recognize who achieved each of them. Ask them about what they learned that they can pass on to the wider team. 

7. Set New Goals Together

Once you’ve accomplished one goal, don’t stop there. Think of each goal as a mile marker toward an even bigger goal. The moment you stop setting them, you begin to stagnate in your pursuit of that greater goal.

You can have several goals lined up in advance, or set a new one as each one is checked off the list. What’s most important is keeping a goal in your team’s sights.

As your employees get accustomed to achieving goals, ask for their help setting new ones. Setting goals collaboratively results in greater buy in, which in turn results in bigger wins. You get the idea.

As you watch your team grow, be sure to keep track of the goals they’ve knocked out. You’ll be shocked at how far they—and you—have come.

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Tips From An Expert: How To Get Started On Wine Collecting

For most wine enthusiasts, becoming a collector wasn’t something they set out to do; it just sort of happened.

Looking back, I wish that ten years ago, when I started to think about collecting, I had someone to take me under their wing and help me think strategically. To be fair, there was no dearth of willing wings, but I was loath to let on that I didn’t really know what I was doing.

The truth is that most of us are just winging it, seduced by the latest sale or trendy region and rarely doing much in the way of long-term thinking. Of course, there are people whose approach is purely rational and profit-driven, but I have very little wisdom to impart to them. Instead I’ve assembled a guide for those just on the verge of becoming collectors to figure out where to start.

Identify Your Goals

To quote motivational speaker Simon Sinek, start with why: what do you hope to achieve by stockpiling bottles rather than just buying a nice one whenever you fancy? Money might be a factor. In this age of rapidly rising prices, it can be tempting to see wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leroy as sure bets to increase in value. However, allocations of these examples are increasingly rare and buying on the secondary market carries risks. Plus the cost of storage, trading fees and taxes can put an unhealthy dent in your profits if not carefully managed.

Another fairly straightforward reason to collect wine is to guarantee your ability to drink well a decade or more down the line. Wines that are somewhat affordable now might not be by then. Even if you can plump for newly released vintages, properly matured bottles might well be out of your league.

A less common but very valid reason to collect might be that you enjoy mature wines that are rarely available second-hand, like Oregon pinot noir or New Zealand chardonnay. Because these wines aren’t yet broadly deemed “collectible”, resellers aren’t often interested in stocking them and the wineries themselves rarely have a library of “back vintages” (older vintages). These may not increase much in value, but if you enjoy them then to you they are, effectively, priceless.

A final reason, though you may not love admitting it, is that you want a flashy collection to impress your friends. There’s no shame in this and it’s better to accept it so you can construct your collection accordingly. You’ll want to buy a lot more mature wine that’s ready for drinking now or you’ll be of advanced years before you’re ready to drink with the big dogs.

Prepare Yourself

While I wouldn’t say training from a professional organisation is necessary, you should have at least a basic understanding of how to taste wine, particularly for spotting quality and age-worthiness. Though professional wine courses will give you a grounding in tasting, the best way to gain experience tasting mature wines is to join events run by enthusiasts’ organisations like the International Wine & Food Society or standalone groups like the Hong Kong Wine Society, which provide varying degrees of rigour in tasting and are good places to meet fellow collectors.

Promotional organisations like the Knights of Alba for Piedmont, Confrerie de Chevaliers de Tastevin for Burgundy, the Ordre de Coteaux de Champagne and the Commanderie de Bordeaux are great venues as well. Many wine merchants organise dinners where you will likely encounter someone who can give you an entrée into an association or private group of wine lovers.

Visiting the regions themselves is a wonderful way to understand the wines on a more profound level. However, you can’t just sign up for a guided tour (unless you’re in California, and even there many cult properties are off-limits). For your first visit, it’s often better to join a trip organised by a professional group to give you access to interesting producers. Otherwise, you may find yourself limited to the often uninspiring options that accept walk-in visitors.

Do your homework, but don’t put your faith in scores, which might be appealing for their simplicity, but completely erase differences in style. I would start by choosing a region I like, try to find, say, five favourite producers and then stick to them for several years, until I get an adequate sense of their wines’ development over time. That experience can be applied to a much broader range of wines going forward.

Finally, to understand wine’s investment potential, there are several helpful online tools. The London International Vintners Exchange, or Liv-Ex, is a marketplace with useful price indices. A pro subscription to Wine-Searcher is a great tool for determining individual prices, while another data-driven tool, Wine-Lister, aggregates critics’ scores and past performance to generate a single score of a wine’s market potential.

Set Yourself Up

There are a few key things required to consider yourself a collector:

If you ever plan to resell your wine, you need professional storage. A bonded warehouse in London like Octavian Vaults or London City Bond is the gold standard; you usually won’t have your own account but instead store with a merchant who does. Expect to spend about Åí15 per case annually.

In Asia, facilities either have locker-type set-ups that you alone can access or managed systems where you need never actually touch the wine. While the latter might seem less of a hassle, be cognizant there may be fees any time bottles are moved in or out.

Unless you delight in making unexpected discoveries among your own possessions, you’ll also need a record-keeping system. Professional storage helps, but if you store wine in many locations it’s best to have a consolidated database, whether an online service like CellarTracker or a humble Excel spreadsheet. You will need to be diligent about updating and should create a column with suggested drinking dates or you’ll end up missing the window on many wines.

Finally, choose a proper sales channel. For most beginners, I recommend merchants, particularly English ones with longstanding supplier relationships. There are the oldies Berry Brothers and Rudd (BBR), Corney and Barrow and Justerini and Brooks, plus comparative newcomers Farr Vintners, Goedhuis & Co, Fine + Rare and Bordeaux Index (BI)—all good choices. Alternatively, many storage facilities and merchants like BI, BBR and Fine + Rare have online marketplaces or exchanges. (There are also standalone exchanges like Cavex and Wine Owners that cater principally to collectors; their advantage is that fees tend to be lower than for merchants.)

Merchants’ exchanges also usually stipulate that the wine be stored with them or at least in a facility that meets certain standards, and those that do take possession of the wine will usually also note flaws like low fill levels, overseas import labels or damage to cork, capsule or label. These are probably your best bet if you want to amass an impressive collection quickly.

Be very careful at auctions, as the enticingly low starting prices and high-adrenaline environment can quickly lead to buyers’ remorse, particularly for those who forget to factor in commissions of 20 per cent on the hammer price.

Once you have a few years of collecting experience, you might explore en primeur, which involves buying wine while it is still in the barrel, to be delivered about two years after the harvest. However, there are risks: the prices aren’t always better than buying back vintages, and should the merchant go out of business before the expected delivery date, you might be out of luck. These wines typically take decades to mature, so this only works if you’re not in a rush.

And steer clear of “wine funds” that promise guaranteed returns and a veritable “expert” managing your portfolio. Mostly unregulated and prone to shady behaviour, wine funds also have more mundane issues like long investment periods, long redemption periods and hefty fees.

Buyer Beware

If you stick to reputable merchants or buy directly from producers, you shouldn’t have to worry much about counterfeits. However, for bottles older than 15 years, paper trails are less likely to be complete and labelling may be inconsistent (especially in countries like Italy), so a good supplier is extra important.

Authenticity is vital, but poor provenance affects real bottles just like fake ones. The more stops a bottle makes, the more opportunity for damage. In Asia, US import labels are often an ominous sign, as many come from questionably stored collections. As opposed to fairly temperate locales like France or the UK, origins with extreme climates are riskier still.

Having had one too many poor experiences with second-hand wine from Australia, I mostly avoid it.

My Approach

My own motive for collecting has always been to protect myself from being priced out of the market. Looking at Liv-Ex, you can see clear differences in regions’ recent performance: growth for the Rhône Valley and Bordeaux has been comparatively slow, while for Burgundy it has been astronomical. The first two are probably not headed for imminent unaffordability, but Burgundy is arguably already too expensive.

Hence I’m focused on Champagne and Italy, two regions that have seen considerable growth over the past five years (I also adore the wines).

I might also glance at recent reports from Wine-Lister or a magazine like Decanter to figure out which brands are trending. If a property I don’t know well is taking off, I try to sample some older wines to form a view. Meanwhile, if one of my favourites has become a hot ticket, I know I need to buy quickly.

If I were just starting today, I would set a budget for one year with roughly half allotted to purchases meant to be consumed within the next two years (reds aged 10-30 years; whites and champagne aged 5-20 years) and the other half for wines to store for at least five years (releases that are currently at least five years old). I would make adjustments depending on my “why”. Over time, I would reduce my “drink now” budget as my stored wines become ready to drink. The goal should be to buy wines that appreciate enough to cover the cost of their storage.

You won’t always get it right: many wines won’t appreciate at all and will be widely available pre-aged, so you might kick yourself for wasting money storing them. But you’ll develop a better sense of which wines tend to rise in price and which don’t, and hopefully, you will enjoy many great bottles along the way.

Five I Wish I’d Bought

Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, so here are the wines I should have bought in my early days of collecting

Jacques Selosse Initial Blanc de Blancs NV

I remember the days when this creamy, hazelnut-suffused NV from superstar grower Jacques Selosse was no more than a slight self-indulgence and a hip alternative to your nicer big-house NV Brut. Having experienced a 110 per cent price increase since autumn 2010, it’s now more of an occasional treat.

Armand Rousseau Clos St Jacques Premier Cru 1993

This wine used to feel like the insider’s grand cru (Clos St Jacques is a premier cru but many argue it deserves grand cru status). These days it’s priced like one, having risen 430 per cent in value since 2010. However, 1993 was a deeply underrated vintage and remains lower in price than other strong vintages from the Nineties. The wine itself remains a lyrical, perfumed epiphany.

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva 2004

Ten years ago, Roberto Conterno’s Monfortino was considered roughly on a par with his uncle Aldo Conterno’s Granbussia, though many believed the brighter future belonged to the seamless and approachable Granbussia.

It’s a sign of the swing towards traditionalism that Monfortino, with its austere, unyielding grip only gradually unveiling tar and rose laced splendour, has risen 200 per cent in price while similar vintages of Granbussia have only gained about 50 per cent.

Roagna Asili Vecchie Viti 2004

Had I known that the unassuming Luca Roagna, with his wild, heath-like vineyards and penchant for handsoff winemaking, would be the name to watch by the end of the decade,

I might have been less quick to glug down his ethereal, unexpectedly dainty Barbarescos. Now that they’ve increased 360 per cent in price in a decade, I’ve become sadly stingy with my Asili.

Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2004

It was already apparent a decade ago that these wines were rock-star material, and a 560 per cent price increase later, it’s confirmed. These hardcore traditionalists have eschewed every trend—single-cru Barolo, aggressive green harvests, new oak ageing—and have come out smelling of roses, both literally and figuratively. Their beguiling mix of rigour and blossoming charm has proved a dynamite combo.

Five I Plan to Buy

Wisdom comes with experience. And these winners are coming home with me now

Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2002

Inexplicably one of the most undervalued prestige cuvées in an era that fetishises single sites, the Clos des Goisses has a winning blend of generosity and poise that makes it a true wine lover’s champagne. The vintage’s blazing acidity will keep this baby singing for decades to come.

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2004

Long held back by its hokey “Champagne Charlie” moniker, Charles Heidsieck has undergone a major restoration of credibility thanks in large part to the Blanc des Millénaires. They are only released ten years after the vintage and epitomise the house’s rich, smoky, sexy style.

Azelia Barolo Bricco Voghera Riserva 2014

The Scavinos of Azelia have long lived in the shadow of their cousins at Paolo Scavino, with whom they share the famous Bric del Fiasc. Despite having taken a fairly modernist path through the 2000s, since the 2010s they have been producing a more elegant, vertical style but with serious ageing potential. The 2014 Voghera Riserva promises to be a sleeper hit when it is released in a few years’ time.

Sassicaia 2001

Sassicaia, despite being the quintessential Super Tuscan, has never led the pack on price (except the legendary 1985). It’s also one of the most consistent agers, far more like Bordeaux than fickle Burgundy. The 2001 is an aroma juggernaut, evincing layer upon layer of sophistication, polish and intrigue as the night wears on.

Montevertine Le Pergole Torte 2015

In the move towards traditionalism, Pergole Torte, the first 100 per cent sangiovese Super Tuscan, stands as a somewhat ironic standard bearer, a novelty (first made in 1971) that feels more traditional than wines with much more history. The 2015 is a powerful vintage for what is normally a delicate framed wine, but the extra stuffing (braced by still-ample acidity) suggests it has more staying power than most.