Last respects About 80,000 people are expected to converge on a soccer stadium in Johannesburg to pay their last respects to one of history's great leaders: Nelson Mandela, the political prisoner, South African president, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient who died last week at the age of 95. Mandela's body will then lie in state for three days while official services are held in all nine of the country’s provinces and around the world. Thandika Mkandawire, a former political prisoner who is now the Chair of the African Development program at the London School of Economics, wrote that “Mandela was the one individual of and to whom it can be said the African continent was unanimously proud and infinitely grateful.” A selection of some of Mandela’s own inspiring words, here.
Your tax dollars at work House and Senate negotiators are on track to achieving something they haven’t managed since 2011: a budget deal. It’s far from the “grand compromise” some have hoped for: it won’t significantly reduce the debt, close corporate tax loopholes, reform expensive entitlement programs, of even fully end the sequester. The deal should prevent more last-minute sky-is-falling budget theatrics, which would be a relief.
Time runs out for unemployment benefits Unemployment benefits for about 1.3 million jobless people are due to expire on Dec. 28. In his weekly Saturday address, President Obama argued that the benefits should be extended. “The holiday season is a time for remembering the bonds we share, and our obligations to one another as human beings,” the President said. “But right now, more than 1 million of our fellow Americans are poised to lose a vital economic lifeline just a few days after Christmas if Congress doesn’t do something about it.” Senator Rand Paul, on the other hand, said last week that extending benefits beyond 28 weeks “does a disservice to the people you're trying to help... You're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy."
Men, women, and brain research A recently released study on neurological connections from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows up an interesting difference between the brains of men and women. "[R]esearchers found that in men, fiber pathways run back and forth within each hemisphere, while in women they tend to zig-zag between the left, or 'logical,' and right, or 'creative,' sides of the brain," reports The Atlantic Magazine. Although the jury is still out on the impact of these findings, one possibility is that this interconnectivity makes women better at multitasking an idea supported by a recent study from the University of Glasgow. More important, however, is the medical impact. One neuroscientist from the University of California at Irvine points out, for example, that "pain medications don’t take male and female pain perception differences into account."
Susan Boyle and Asperger’s syndrome. Scottish singer Susan Boyle, who made a lot of people cry when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, was told when she was a child that she had brain damage. Bullies at school called her “Susie Simple.” But Boyle, 52, announced that she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism-spectrum disorder that affects social and communication skills. Boyle, now one of the best-selling British musicians, says she was “relieved” by the diagnosis. Being told that she was brain damaged “was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself."
Quotas in Montana? John Marshall, a libertarian writer, has submitted a Montana constitutional amendment that would require both houses of the state legislature to have equal numbers of men and women. The proposal has quite a few obstacles to overcome: the language has to be reviewed by the Attorney General and the Montana Legislative Services Division, and then needs the endorsement of 48,000 Montana voters before it qualifies for the 2014 ballot. “Women are better at sitting down and negotiating and compromising and coming up with legislation than men,” Marshall says, according to Salon, which points out the evidence to support his claim: “The women of the Senate are largely credited with putting aside partisanship and helping to deliver a deal to end the recent government shutdown, and they also have regular bipartisan dinners together, a small sign of civility in the midst of ever-increasing partisan hostility.”
Bitcoin bus. Bitcoin, the virtual currency that had been on the rise since the beginning of the year, crashed last week after the Chinese government said that while its citizens could trade in bitcoins, they’re not legal tender. “The price of the attention-grabbing crypto-currency got crushed, falling from a quoted $1,200 per "coin" to less than $600. At this writing, it's quoted on the Mt. Gox exchange at about $830,” the Los Angeles Times wrote on Dec. 7. For the rest of us, a bitcoin FAQ.
Reading is physical A study released by U.K research firm Voxburner says that "teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 24-years-old prefer physical books over e-books." Apparently, they liked the feel of the book, a notion supported by some scientific research. A Scientific American article about similar studies says that "modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension."
We thought fruitcake was the ideal building material... It took almost a ton of butter and 7,200 eggs, but a team in Texas has broken the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread house ever built. It was built by a group of volunteers to raise money for a local hospital. In its first week, about 600 people visited the edible house, raising $150,000. The 22-foot-high house can accommodate a family of five -- at least until it rains.
Have a great week!
Missed last week's issue? Here you go:
Is Multi-Tasking Frying Your Brain?
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Multi-Tasking Mania and the Art of Telecommuting
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Holiday stress pretty much has it all – condensed work schedules, the potential for family conflict, and, for many of us, awkward conversations about the feasibility of a fat bearded man fitting down the chimney, escaping the furnace, and delivering toys worldwide.
This year, I got a head start on my online shopping, then pretty much shot myself in the foot by agreeing to host a cookie-decorating party. I conceded defeat by telling my mom that the photo book -- her customary gift -- was going to be late this year, then took on an extra work assignment. What am I thinking?
There has to be a better way, and we’re counting on you to help us find it. Send us your best holiday stress-busting, getting-stuff-done, sanity-preserving tips, and we’ll run the best of them in our next newsletter.