December 2014

December 2014

Bad dog, Rex. Bad dog. You’re going straight to hell, Rex. To comfort a boy mourning the loss of his pet, Pope Francis remarked during one of his weekly audiences at the Vatican that, in fact, dogs and “all of God’s creatures” are welcome in heaven. No mention of cats and pot-bellied pigs.

Perhaps it was childhood fear of water lilies. “All art is pain,” goes the old expression. Or neurosis (that’s a slightly newer expression). The puncher of a perfectly innocent £10 million Monet in the National Gallery of Ireland indicated that in his case, art was just a handy platform for getting “back at the state.” The state got back at him with a five-year prison sentence. Upon release, he will be banned from all art galleries for 15 months.

Prediction, past. Winston Churchill had a curious thought in 1944, telling a Harvard crowd: “The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” But how would such empires communicate? Computer code? Mandarin Chinese? Otto von Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor” of Germany in the 1800s, predicted the dominant fact of the 20th century would be that England and the United States speak the same language. There were 185 million Britons and Americans the year Churchill spoke. Now up to a billion people on the planet speak fluent English (14 percent of the world population).

Prediction, future. Statistics offer insights into some of the world’s most pressing questions, such as how the Atlanta Falcons lost last weekend. Now universities are employing data on thousands of students’ previous grades to determine how others might fare in the same course. Impressive, but it wouldn’t have taken a computer to know about the D that I got in calculus.

O Tannenbeard. Declining sales of Gillette and Schick probably result in part from their recent tendency to try and sell just plain razor blades that look like Boeing 747s. One other reason might be the hipster-driven revival of beards, which this season can even come sporting Christmas ornaments.(Any popcorn is accidental.)

You are what you buy. But if you’re from Boston, you know that. You know everything. New Yorkers spend about 41 percent more of disposable income – around $9,930 more – on status goods like watches, suits, and shoes than do the rest of us. Bostonians blow it on college and private-school tuition, coffee, and books (wicked smaht!). Atlanta applies more disposable income to motorcycles, vitamins, funerals, and lawn equipment.

Parental Guidance Suggested. Yearned for, in fact. Children’s Christmas lists can vary and sometimes even surprise. A recent survey of 2,000 British parents showed some predictable responses from their kiddies – for example, a baby brother or sister, a pet (see Pope Francis, above), or maybe an iPhone 6. But then there were these two: “a dad” (No. 10) and “a mom” (No. 23, probably because most kids already have one). Hope every child gets his or her wish this Christmas.

Quote to note:

“Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.” – Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1809-1892, “In Memoriam”

Thanks for reading.

In this space we could tell you that this month we have been dealing with sexuality on varsity teams in California, or medical misallocations in Massachusetts, or labor strife in Texas (all true). But instead, let’s just take a look at this astonishing example below of what we could call the gigantic American heart.

Teachers are now paid much better than the average American worker but often have no money for basics like books and paper. But look at this:

  • Number of teachers receiving money for projects in response to their Internet requests: 214,005 (94% of all requests were funded)
  • Students helped because their teachers cared enough to ask: 13,373,814
  • Classroom projects funded at public schools by this method: 527,188
  • Schools represented: 60,181
  • Generous givers like you who said yes: 1,592,989
  • Dollars personally raised from you and me by teachers who asked: $291,709,184. Call it $292 million.

How did this happen?

Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. God bless us every one. 

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