Omicron, Daunte Wright, Joan Didion: Your Thursday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Thursday.

1. The Omicron variant has pushed daily coronavirus cases higher than the peak of the recent Delta wave.

By most estimates, the U.S. is in for a significant winter surge. Some health authorities warn of one million cases a day before the end of the year. Although there are early signs that Omicron infections more often result in mild illness than previous variants, officials are warning that the new variant could overtax the health care system.

2. The Fed’s favorite inflation gauge hit the highest level since 1982.

The Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, which the Fed officially targets when it aims for 2 percent annual inflation on average over time, climbed 5.7 percent in November from a year earlier. The sharp run-up in inflation and its persistence leaves policymakers and economists trying to assess what will happen in 2022.

Despite consumer worries over supply chain problems, soaring inflation and Omicron, one tradition endures: last-minute Christmas shopping. We sent a photographer to busy shopping areas in New York City. This is what she saw.

3. The former police officer who killed Daunte Wright was convicted of manslaughter, after drawing her gun instead of her Taser in a traffic stop.

The jury of 12 took 27 hours over four days to reach two unanimous guilty verdicts for Kimberly Potter. Potter, a 49-year-old white woman, testified that she had never fired her gun on the police force in Brooklyn Center, Minn., until April 11, when she shot a single bullet into the chest of Wright, a 20-year-old Black man.

A judge will sentence Potter at a later hearing. She faces up to 15 years in prison on the first-degree manslaughter charge, the more serious of the two counts.

4. Joan Didion, whose sharp dispatches on California and tough, terse novels forged a distinct new voice in American writing, died at 87. The cause was Parkinson’s disease.

Didion came to prominence with a series of incisive magazine features that explored the fraying edges of postwar American life. She also wrote novels like “Play It as It Lays” and “The Book of Common Prayer,” and essentially created the modern grief memoir with her book “The Year of Magical Thinking,” for which she won a National Book Award.

A fifth-generation Californian, Didion once said: “Don’t you think people are formed by the landscape they grew up in?”

“She was our landscape,” the book critic Parul Sehgal writes in an appraisal. “She fashioned a style that was dominant, inescapable, catchy.”

4. Amazon agreed to let warehouse employees more easily organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide settlement with the National Labor Relations Board.

Under the settlement, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and would give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings.

The new settlement’s national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous agreement that Amazon has made. The labor agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history.

In other regulatory news, Tesla will stop letting drivers play video games in moving cars.

5. President Vladimir Putin of Russia delivered sharp criticism of the West for rising military tensions in Eastern Europe.

At a traditional year-end news conference, Putin said that Moscow was not to blame for talk of “war, war, war” because it was merely defending historically Russian territories. He said that the Biden administration had agreed to hold talks with Russia on Moscow’s security concerns starting in January, calling it a positive sign.

But he added that Russia would expect quick answers on its demands. Last week, Russian diplomats demanded a written pledge from NATO not to expand east.

The Pentagon is working on a plan to provide Ukraine with battlefield intelligence, senior administration officials said. The move could raise tensions further.

6. Merry Christmas from the Capitol riot “patriots.”

Defendants awaiting trial on charges related to the Jan. 6 attack sent out holiday greeting cards, photos of which recently appeared on a website that portrays the Jan. 6 defendants as wrongly imprisoned patriots. It is both a seasonal greeting and a political artifact — a reflection of their status as symbolic martyrs.

Separately, Donald Trump’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to block the release of White House records concerning the attack on the Capitol.

7. How do you catch a polar bear? The footprints usually give it away.

Research trips to the Arctic have helped scientists keep tabs on how the animals are coping with climate change. The rapid habitat changes are already affecting their behavior, but the bears themselves seem robust. If that begins to change, these annual field trips will help uncover problems early. Here’s how scientists pull them off.

A lot happened in climate news this year, starting with huge winter storms that plunged large parts of the central and southern U.S. into an energy crisis (much of Texas’ electricity grid is still vulnerable). But there was one overarching theme: Climate change is here.

8. The N.B.A. foul is never set in stone. As players reinvent the game, the officiating responds.

More than a century and multiple iterations of the game later, the N.B.A. rule book has preserved the basic idea of a foul since basketball’s inventor described it. But the rule has evolved with the game’s players and, in turn, referees have shifted what they emphasize. We examined the evolution of the foul, frame by frame.

Also from our Sports desk: Kyler Murray, Arizona’s quarterback, is the N.F.L.’s Gatsby — mysterious and magnetic, with a brain hard-wired to win.

9. DMX. Beverly Cleary. Larry King. Colin Powell. Mary Wilson.

The Times Magazine’s annual Lives They Lived issue remembers some of the artists, innovators and thinkers who died in the past year. They were notable names we grew up with on our TVs, radios and pages; researchers and activists who changed the way we think about the world; and everyday people who transformed the way we see it. And, a gorilla whose caretaker loved her like a child.

“I want people to be empowered and also have a damn good time,” said the filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, who died in September. Here’s a tribute to other artists we lost, in their own words.

10. And finally, a new carol for an old Christmas tradition.

Every year since 1918, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, performs its Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, one of Britain’s best-known festive traditions. But it’s not just a service consisting of Bible readings and traditional holiday music: Since the 1980s, the choir has also commissioned an original song for its Christmas service.

Broadcast live on radio stations worldwide, the service gives a composer an audience of about 100 million people. This year that honor goes to Cecilia McDowall, who wrote “There Is No Rose,” which is based on a 15th-century hymn that tells the story of Jesus’ birth.

Have a harmonious night.

Eve Edelheit compiled photos for this briefing.

Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

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